Encountering War

As the world watches with horror, yet another round of violence destabilizes the Middle East.

Keep in mind that we are watching this unfold on the news or reading about it on Facebook. We do so from a dizzying and uncomfortable height. From here, we safely look out onto the dark and bloody ground where the forces between right and wrong, good and bad, and freedom and tyranny do battle. It is painful to watch and even more painful to encounter our own impotence.

We are bystanders. Let’s not lose sight of that. 

Israel is important because that is where we encounter our own biases, and in some instances our own naiveté. Some people are brave enough to give voice to this by getting involved in the dialogue, by making real efforts to encounter and acknowledge the human predicament within them and serve the greater purpose of finding meaning in a disorientating world.

For anyone interested in actually living their morality and not giving lip-service to one form of rhetoric or another, this means choosing to take a moral stance aligning ourselves with those whom we might not entirely agree with or even want to. 

I don’t think it is intelligent to justify any position with bravado or conjecture. We cannot know what it must be like to be on the receiving end of hostility, justified or not. Saying, "I'd kill if I had to," seems horrible to consider. I would hope that neither I nor anyone I know should ever have to be faced with that gruesome quandary. In truth, as much as I find the violence against the Palestinian population in Israel deplorable, what I find more deplorable—disgusting even—is the alignment between the stated goals of Hamas and the sickening brutality of Muslim extremism. I cannot ignore this point. To do so is reckless and irresponsible. 

I have met, broke bread with, and enjoyed many thoughtful conversations with Muslims of all stripes, including reformists and even extremists. Many of them harbor tremendous resentment for America. They have damn good reasons for it, given the last twelve years. Having just spent three months living in observantly Muslim countries, I know this first hand. The prevailing doctrine is one of fear, intolerance and disdain for the West. Some of this is absolutely justified, but much of it is borne of a lack of education and archaic conservatism. The very notion that Hamas has in its charter the eradication of the Jewish people cancels out the notion of rational argument, and yet, I want to acknowledge Muslim anger. Even though extremists want to establish an authoritarian global caliphate that would exclude or exterminate those opposed, I want care for their dispossessed. Most of all, I want to help these people see that they cannot suppress their own populations with brutality, and that to live by the sword most certainly guarantees death by it. I have to admit this is my own naiveté at work. The people battling in Syria under the ISIS flag would most likely have my head on a pike if I showed up in Iraq trying to liberate them from themselves. 

Alternatively, I think connoting one’s self as the "Chosen People" might very well be the core of the problem for Israel. I will not condone the partitioning off of one group of people in unlivable conditions. I will not condone Zionism, nor my own country's unilateral support of it. Most of all, I refuse to ignore the fact that we as a nation have engaged in economic terrorism with specific regard to oil for nearly fifty years, embroiling the entire region in two costly wars. Lastly, I think any kind of religious state—be it Jewish, Muslim, Christian or even Buddhist—is a very bad idea. I reserve a special disdain for right-wing extremists who would make the United States into its own brand of warped "Christian nation." It’s the same problem. 

There are easy answers and convenient slogans for those among us who rely on fixed attitudes and beliefs. This is the same inflexibility that condemns one group to the sidelines of history and to the other the spoils of war. I cannot abide that rigidity. 

Many of us who are attuned to what is going on find it hard to get a moral foothold, or any traction whatsoever. Like many of you, I have found in myself a tendency towards righteous anger about the situation, and I struggle for clarity. As an empathic person, I find myself naturally horrified at the picture the media presents and inclined to defend innocents. And yet, at the same time, I have friends, and family in Israel. I’m an American guy from a Marine family with many friends and colleagues serving in the military. Should I apologize for being a human being capable of seeing the universality of suffering or am I afraid to break ranks with the majority of my countrymen and colleagues? 

The reality of oppression, for standing up against what is clearly a long-standing historical abrogation of justice on both sides of the conflict, is the duty of the philosopher, the thinker, and the revolutionary. Indeed, it's the very basis of democracy. We must never lose sight of this. Even people like myself who have studied political economy and the nature of armed conflict find it difficult to find a place of rational belief when on shaky emotional ground. If I support the Israelis, I feel complicit with the war machine and the hegemonic powers that I feel are wreaking havoc on this planet. If I support the Palestinians, I must be willing to accept that people may associate me with terrorism, no matter how misguided that judgment may be. Both groups deserve our compassion and prayers. 

Sometimes, for us to exercise individual agency it is necessary that we break from easy, familiar, tribal, and societal alliances to find out what we really think. We can change our minds as we begin to consider the bigger picture. Whichever view we choose, it must be supportive of the kind of human existence that offers the most freedom for the most people. We must choose what has the possibility of engendering peace. As we take a moral stance, albeit cautiously, it is painfully obvious that peace in Israel seems unlikely, and that the alliance with the truth on both sides is vague, at best.

 

Wisdom and Irrationality

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