Wondering Through the Middle East

Where there is trust, the shortest route to a person’s beliefs is a straight question, but at this time where in the Middle East is there trust. Instead there are inner convictions, unspoken and often misguided, militating against peace. People are surely too complex and my credentials too sparse for more than guesses, so take much of what follows as such. Since often questions say more than they ask, also freely discard those of mine that seem to say too much and take the rest as starting points.

The inquiry addresses these topics:

  • Terrorism throughout the region
  • Palestinians and Israelis
  • Iraq and the Coalition
  • The quest for peace

Terrorism throughout the Region

Something in the Middle East literally comes with the terrain. Few visitors or residents were there before 1900, but everything about the place fills one with a sense of having been there from its beginnings. This must be overwhelming among the pious, who journey back daily through scripture.

  1. Are those, shaken from the hallowed past by the incongruity of a shared holy land, also jarred from its intimated longevity? From its promise of wisdom?
  2. What of this call to al-Jihad?

I hear a call to oneness with ancestors who once held civilization’s baton, unashamedly grasped from Jews, Greeks and other infidels : a baton unnoticed through the blood meant to highlight it; convenient blood since terrorists have less to say than to suppress, less to suppress in themselves than coerce from others.

  1. Although not respect, is being feared at least a start towards respect?

Instilling fear assures one of but a well counterfeited respect. At the beginning of November 1995 Yitzhak Rabin was poised and able to oversee a peaceful separation of Palestine from Israel. The collective misery to both sides of the Aqusa Intifada would never have occurred but for the assassin, Yigal Amir. Clearly Rabin’s direction threatened Amir’s rapture with a longevity extending out from the depths of an ancient past.

  1. Does destroying indicate a greatness that eclipses the destroyed?

No, by destroying Yitzhak Rabin, specter-ridden Amir took his place alongside those other destroyers: malaria-ridden mosquitoes and rabid dogs. Daily somewhere someone murdered is absurdly taken as somehow less than the murderer. Ask the family of any victim, fallen by any weapon, wielded for any vision throughout the Middle East. Destroying neither indicates nor precludes greatness, but those confused about the matter refer outwardly to the United States as an evil, while inwardly considering her a prize.

Early in 1969 Jan Palach looked out upon a sea of dismay that was much like his own. The Czech people, who were as one in their joyful Prague Spring, had become each isolated in his (or her) own desolation. Jan immolated himself and only himself; by this he became an indelible reminder of a Czech togetherness that had transcended past gloom, an endurance that had persevered past agonies.

  1. Why do some self-immolators draw in others?

They are the ones who rage the loudest, for they are the ones who bought into aspersions to Arab worth. They carry with them a mark that doesn’t even exist. To end personal physicality is beyond comprehension; to escape it, far more compelling.

At ground zero, not only are the carrier and victim obliterated but so also is the boundary separating them. Therein lays a more likely motive: one blows up with company to become one with a victim and somehow leave the scene with a better life.

(1/1/2006) The night before their 9-11 flight, some terrorists visited a strip club. Was this faith that a blessing of total expiation would be bestowed with that act or were they merely preparing for a new life as “decadent” Americans?

  1. What does self-immolation block (or perpetuate)?
    • The carrier of a bomb is a thread leading back to the terrorist leadership. Self-immolation cuts the thread blocking investigators from following it back to that leadership.
    • It also blocks the sacrifice from sticking around and witnessing what he or she has done. Terrorist leaders are surely as wary of remorse as of capture.
    • Years ago, when Saddam’s son-in-law, Gen. Hussein Kamal, returned to Iraq and death, most considered him rather foolish. To me it is more likely that his family had been threatened with the sort of treatment that could only have sprung forth from a certain type of mind. Former Baathists who were privy to daddy’s extortion may be carrying the technique forward. If so, the immolation would be blocking our awareness of yet another hell.
    • (The sacrificial victim dies an instant before it all happens but leaves an impression of having seen it all; in fact, the only true witnesses are the blessed. Media accounts then spark an unbearable curiosity among those directing such action and those longing one day to be its centerpiece. Sadly the two meet, restarting the cycle.)
  1. Is self-immolation of itself a form of courage that ennobles Islam or Muslims?

To me the driving force behind courage is not the risking of life, limb or spirit, but rather the will directing us towards the wellbeing of ourselves or those we care about. Were the need fulfilled without risk, the deed’s inherent worth would be undiminished; but when confronted by an imperative to risk, courage recognizes, accepts and acts thus.

The subliminal intent, of blasting out of one’s own personhood, to be more adequate to a dozen virgins waiting in paradise, is not the stuff of courage or cowardice; it is of human frailty. So is the conviction that one’s sins are so terrible that only self-immolation will exculpate them.

If terrorists are threatening Iraqis with the choice of self-immolating or having insurgent wrath wrought upon their families, then certainly the saving of one’s family would elevate the act to that of courage; but not the saving of ones neighbors from taking hold of their own futures through democratic processes—not in any way.

  1. Wherein lays the appeal of a self-immolator?

It is in a subtle illusion of his (or her) being empowered over human mortality: “If only they did not disappear, they might tell us their secret.”

  1. What sort are they who direct or encourage this sacrifice?

Those who live vicariously, die vicariously. Driven by curiosity they are each out testing the waters of their own mortality with someone else’s toe. Can encouraging the flower of Islam to abuse the welcome of café, street, bus, train or aircraft, as one’s proxy in death or portal in transcending a flaccid existence, be anything but cowardice.

  1. Aren’t those who direct simply officers sending troops into battle?

There are these important distinctions:

    • Their need for anonymity generates a strange ongoing deceit between them and their command.
    • The range of their spit leaves hardly a chapter of the Geneva Convention dry.
    • Beneath their indignation at the death or injury of civilians by enemy action, lies an inner satisfaction in what they take as their Jihad having been affirmed, and their enemy discredited.

That those thirsting for respect or some milk sweetened with honey follow them pass a hundred oases towards a parched mirage indicates years of practice at spinning little, white mirages.

  1. What about those who behead?

The French Revolution is history, and there are no Jacobins to defend themselves, but the self-deception of replacing one’s own head with that of an admired person has long come more easily than that of replacing the full Monty. Being hooded prepares the terrorist torso for its new identity while the disparate disposal of severed parts prolongs that fantasy of life-death empowerment.

All too soon the victim’s misery, now cold, ceases to distract the terrorist from his (or her) own, while the head “upgrade” just doesn’t seem to hold as expected. Rather than offering a simple rear exit, this theater of the macabre has an addictive quality that just keeps bowing and bowing.

Palestinians and Israelis

The people of Palestine-Israel want a place to live in peace and to be respected in their dealings with others. For those who are religious that respect is crucial in preserving ancient teachings, since how the people of Islam or Judaism allow themselves to be treated reflects upon their respective legacies as much as how they treat others. The need to live with respect is beyond reproach, but each plan tugs at this need with its own assumptions.

  1. Is fulfillment by either side incompatible with that by the other?

In many countries racially different persons live side by side in mutual respect, but two races often form an explosive critical mass that is somehow quelled by further diversity, while one race offers the soporific illusion of simply getting along with oneself.

  1. Is Israel-Palestine by virtue of precedence exclusively a Judaic ancestral home?

Ironically almost everyone is descended from people who sojourned in what is now Israel-Palestine. The primitive passage out of Africa was through that terrain; long before written history forefathers of all aboriginal Europeans, Asians, Australians and Americans dwelled in and eventually continued on out of the now disputed land. The Islamic, Christian and Judaic ways were all practiced there but still without exclusivity. At a time when the regions diverse religious sites needed to be shielded from intolerance there were a people who had had those lessons newly burnt into their very being and in that region Jews had exclusivity.

  1. Does the presence on Israeli territory of sites hallowed by Islam connote a servitude to Judaism?

Only bitterness would see a smear in that minimal stewardship. Who would infer such of Christian sites present in Israel, the Wailing Wall in Jordan (before 1967) or Bethlehem in Palestine (when there formally is a Palestine). No one, so wherefore is the Temple Mount different from all other sites.

  1. Have Israelis wanted to annex the occupied territories since 1967?

Yes, but only those unaware that in a democracy many children become many constituents. Had Palestinians in ‘67 any democratic experience, they might have asked the Knesset to pass up suzerainty in favor of reestablishing an inclusive Israel, a true democracy.

  1. What might Palestinian (or Israeli) leaders have opposed in such a democratic union?

Some guesses:

    • They did not realize that voting could have in time fulfilled the hopes of their own diaspora even in a Jewish state.
    • They were so accustomed to hereditary or foreign governance that a change to self-governance provoked high anxiety.
    • A generation (1948-1967) that had been raised in bitterness could not share a line at the polls.
    • (Fearing a flood of Palestinian electors into their politics, the Israeli leadership neither suggested nor would have acquiesced to such.)
  1. Does a suicide bomber unwittingly help some Israelis?

Whenever settlers made a parcel of Palestinian land disappear, such a bomber would be there to distract from that sleight of hand with a carnage that blurred the line between stolen land and informal, punitive damages in a class action suit.

Whenever holocaust survivors dwelled upon inner thoughts of personal negligence in not facing Nazi anti-Semitism, such a bomber would offer him or herself up as a prop in the staging of This Will Not Happen Again.

Whenever Palestinians emerged capable of setting an example above the bickering, of bringing a new complexion to their people’s world image, some bomber (with entourage) would upstage them. The region now its pax muralis (wall peace).

Iraq and the Coalition

  1. Would the Coalition have moved against an Iraq absent oil?

Unlikely, there is so much suffering in the world that tales of misery tend to lose themselves in their own multitude. Nor would the threat of irresponsible weapons proliferation have been so disconcerting, since oil sold on the black market bought both the matches with which Saddam Hussein so enjoyed playing and the relief from sanctions that he so enjoyed divvying out.

What follows is a very different question.

  1. Did the Coalition invade Iraq to gain control over Iraqi oil?

A democratically elected Iraqi leadership will delegate responsibilities for the handling of the nation’s oil. Only the most hardened cynic could imagine a United States both wanting and believing possible the resting of control over that oil from that governing body. It was about oil but, more accurately, about the denial of oil’s power from a homicidal maniac. In such hands this wonderful fuel would only have fueled those driving the world to misery.

Had Saddam Hussein weapons of mass destruction he could have used them against Israel or the United States with impunity. He need not have inflicted them himself or even passed them on to al Qaeda; closer contacts such as Hezbollah, Hamas or al Fatah would have done and these terrorists could easily have shared their consignment with al Qaeda.

  1. But whom could Hussein trust with a weapon of such enormity that might find its way back to him unexpectedly?

Only an old friend and fellow Baathist could elicit such trust, but relying upon his inhibition and judgment, smacks of Russian roulette with a dictator who ultimately would have decided for himself whom he could or could not trust.

He certainly had weapons of mass destruction a decade ago and just before 2003 he made covert demonstrations, alluding to their continued presence.

  1. Would he have thrown away the billions that went into their development without reaping the ultimate benefit?
  • There are many square miles under which the weapons could have been buried, and many Shiites were available to transport, excavate and bury them. Those Shiites could have been kept incommunicado until their task was finished and certainly Saddam Hussein, as revealed, would not have hesitated to make that silence permanent.

In spite of all claims to the contrary, weapons known only to a handful might easily lay below Iraq’s soil, while a father with no interest in reprieving his sons’ killer lied above it.

  • Suppose that the major cost for weapons of mass destruction was the working out of a capacity for their development: obtaining designs, locating reliable sources (mechanisms and raw materials) and developing the skills to handle them. That preparedness alone would constitute a de facto arsenal with a lag time of several years. Perhaps someone pointed out to him how wealth accruing after the embargo would surely shorten such a lag time.Were these weapons either non-existent or subject to delayed production, the strategy of moving first in force against al-Qaeda’s stronghold in Afghanistan would seem to have been finer. Perhaps some future bulldozer will unearth a different truth, some future introspection ponder: (Kerry) Would I have sent troops into Afghanistan on my timetable? (Bush) Was my decision tainted by poor or good intelligence?
  1. Why did some NATO allies withhold both military and logistical support?
  • France has many beautiful structures, and Algiers taught her the trauma of explosive parcels.I do not wish such horror on my worst enemy, certainly not on the French. Understandably it is awkward for their leadership to speak about this (the clearest of all motives), leaving me wondering where such anxiety ends and the following begins.
  • Those who withheld support were uneasy with a precedent of preempting hostile action with hostile action. Such would leave murky the meaning of aggressor or painfully clear its assignation.The Coalition’s “aggression” was never acquisitive, placing it in actuality—if not in appearance—leagues apart from the more common scourge of history. Its nations have interests in the area, but none of them are possessive.

    For non-coalition countries that other aggression by the Baathist regime upon Iraqi personhood was contained within borders that they clearly respected. Hell for neither the tormented nor the tormentor supported an understanding of the distinctions within acquisitiveness being asserted here, but any nation’s leadership ought to have been clear about this and its importance. Whether they considered the invasion benevolent, inappropriate or acquisitive is another issue, a NATO ally should have openly acknowledged the ambiguity nascent in aggression’s common usage. The historic connotation of that term will be recognized as groundless, upon the Coalition fulfilling a request by an elected Iraqi government to withdraw.

  • Some were reluctant to offend Arab sensibility. The action would certainly be taken by some as a double insult: pluralism in an authoritarian sea and liberation by outsiders.
  • A government, some of whose influential members slept with the enemy, could have been coaxed on less delicate grounds to avoid the war.These allegations suggest that some NATO nations were out of the Coalition before it was proposed and that international consensus can be a fickle master.
  1. How do insurgents regard their protector, Allah?

From time to time mosques, cemeteries, mourning tents and other religious sites became tools of their war: an arms depot, a point of ambush or a bivouac. Disrespect for the sanctity of these sites brutally paralleled insurgent disregard for the lives of fellow civilians and fighters. Alas, when face to face with this abuse of Allah, too many found solidarity in closing their eyes rather than clearing their throat.

Along with this exploitation of sacred places, military and international law proscribe the murder of innocent civilians and acts of torture or degradation against prisoners.

  1. Have Coalition soldiers intentionally killed innocent civilians?

It happens, but not as often as the killing of enemy soldiers dressed in civilian clothing or of civilians dressed in weaponry. The people of Fallujah were warned that anyone carrying a weapon would be treated as a combatant, because under fire it is difficult to distinguish between those carrying a weapon and repositioning themselves, those brandishing their power symbol, and those having a commercial interest in a weapon newly pilfered from a dead combatant. This prize value of rifles further confuses those trying to count civilian casualties, since the remains of an unarmed civilian are indistinguishable from those of an out-of-uniform combatant whose weapon had been removed. Finally, just as there are combatants who shift position to be shielded by civilians so are there civilians who unwittingly become combatants by shifting position to shield.

  1. How do Baathist and American prisoner abuse differ?

The abuse is rightfully condemned. Those confused about this would understand better had they ever lived across from someone who turned their music way up or who got off on humiliating others. One might then agree with the Red Cross statement: “What prisoners at Abu Ghraib underwent was tantamount to torture.” But Baathist prison guards were never interested in tantamount to anything; for them it was always vile and unadulterated torture. Unfortunately the perception of what was done under our watch will linger.

  1. How did the rules of prisoner interrogation lose clarity?

Admittedly the President and Secretary of Defense wanted better intelligence and applied pressure towards that end. I doubt that the regular military’s chain of command would have imagined itself being beyond the Geneva Convention but may have neglected to add clear guidance in passing along orders. I doubt also that the intelligence chain of command totally grasped the distinction in their world of secrecy between preserving a methodology that might otherwise be compromised and preserving one that might otherwise be embarrassing. Anticipating a shield of secrecy, intelligence operatives may have found soldiers of a lesser rank and coaxed them by their own guidance.

  1. Is the of Do Coalition forces by their presence insult or threaten Iraq as self-determining?

Democracy is simple: the leadership answers to its own people not to those of other nations; a mullah attains office by eliciting trust not stupor. Whoever is insulted or frightened by all of this knows well what he or she would do in an exchange of circumstances.

  1. Will pressure applied of by the insurgents hasten the departure of the Coalition?

The Coalition is dedicated to leaving behind a stable democracy. When the sun comes out, the coat is taken off; when the wind blasts fiercely, the coat is held tightly. Being about recruitment, this wind is deliberate in how it blows.

The Quest for Peace

  1. What is the new impediment to peace?

When one nation attacks another, the international community may retaliate against or impose sanctions on the aggressor. Without such possibilities international laws on aggression would be moot. Unfortunately, by secluding themselves within nations while remaining separate from the governmental processes, terrorists are a de facto loophole in this chapter of international law. They have turned the code against aggression into a suicide pact; adherence to it, into a violation nature’s first law.

Henry David Thoreau, Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King instructed their contemporaries to refuse both violence towards and co-operation with evil. Unfortunately we are more pawns of war than masters of peace and so we fumble terribly at binding the standout imperative, non-violence, with its blurry counterpart, non-cooperation.

These cornerstones of peace plied their non-violent non-cooperation against the policies of democracies. Non-cooperation, applied from within against a brutal regime, is either covert or suicidal; applied from outside, it is unrestricted and often formidable.

During the acquisitive Iran-Iraq war of the 80’s, the outside applications had been available. Material support might have been withheld from the combatants, or defensive support extended to both sides by the open broadcast of each troop and aircraft movement, as it was picked up by AWAC surveillance. Instead the region was blinded by fear of Islamic fundamentalism; the United States, by a rage over the taking of hostages.

Such guidance was dismissed; a chance was lost; and many devotees of Saddam Hussein or Ayatollah Khomeini became fodder for their canon. The failure to assert peace has since haunted the region.

  1. How might a dove falter in its quest for peace?
  • By being distracted from war by its in-the-face mortality.
  • By letting an easy non-cooperation choose what is evil.
  • By not recognizing the time-sensitivity of acts of non-cooperation.
  • By perching upon the branch of peace too near to indifference and the easy mark.
  • By glorifying the path not taken while cursing out against the one that cannot hide its misery.
  • By alighting before war’s rumbling pool, only to soften towards scruples that are no more than self-reflections.
  1. How might a hawk be drawn into war?
  • Same pool but toughening up to different scruples.
  • By the sheer capacity of its own talons.

Now consider a two-year-old that finds its way onto the ledge of a third floor, open window. By choosing to explore, the infant may also have unwittingly chosen to plummet. Contrary to the dictates of pride it is clear that each of us from time to time puts him or herself (or others) out on such a ledge, unaware of the real consequences of being there.

Thus ignorance sets limits on how free are our choices, whether or not someone imposes upon the selection; and any Middle-East peace process is compelled to pass between two very different promises of freedom:

  • The theocratic ideal is freedom from the consequences of conduct lying outside of a code, formed upon ancient interpretations of human experience. Adherence to that code is considered too important to wait upon the personal acquisition of its inherent sentiment or understanding.
  • The democratic, multifaceted ideal is freedom, by legal restraints, from the inordinate powers of both government and others; by universal education (including honestly shared experience), from consequences lying unnoticed within one’s choices; and, by separation of church and state, from coercion into a legacy that does not touch one’s heart.

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