Israel’s Defense Minister calls settler attacks on Palestinians “terrorism” – some context.

On Wednesday Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe (Boogie) Yaalon, termed attacks by Jewish settlers on Palestinians “terrorism.”

The unacceptable trend known as ‘price tag’ is in my opinion terror in every sense of the word, and we are acting and will act against the perpetrators, firmly and with zero tolerance, in order to eradicate it.

price tagThis is a perfectly accurate description (acts of terrorism being violent acts intended to achieve political ends), and it is particularly interesting given that in the summer, the cabinet in which Yaalon serves took a vote and decided that price tag attacks are not terrorism. The fact that Yaalon is a staunch member of the Likud’s right flank (bearing in mind that the Likud is the core of Israel’s right to begin with) makes his comment more interesting still.

It’s important to remember a few pieces of context, however, starting with the rift within Israel’s far right, which runs largely along generational lines.

The settler movement’s failed efforts to halt Israel’s  2005 withdrawal from Gaza led to marked upheaval in the ranks, with many in the younger generation feeling they had been failed by leaders who’d tried to woo the rest of Israel to their cause, rather than go head-to-head with the government. While Jewish terrorism is not new, the “price tag” phenomenon was a direct response to the failure in Gaza — it’s meant to extract a “price” for government actions with which especially extremist settlers disagree (to learn more about that, click here).

I don’t know this for a fact but I suspect there’s an element of this internal, generational tension at play when Yaalon scolds his movement’s young hotheads. Note also that all of this comes in response to a group of settler vigilantes being caught, detained and beaten on Tuesday by the Palestinians in whose village they were trespassing — and a member of Yaalon’s own party, the even-farther-right Moshe Feiglin, is blaming Yaalon for the treatment afforded the vigilantes.

Furthermore, it’s very important to note Yaalon’s next sentence: “[Price tag terrorism] is a stain on Israel and it undermines the settlement enterprise.” [emphasis mine] Yaalon’s primary concern is and remains the settlement enterprise.

(I’ll digress for a moment to say that while I understand the Palestinians’ actions on Tuesday, that’s still no excuse for the violence. They might have reasonably restrained the settlers, given that heretofore the Israeli military has never taken real action against the price tag phenomenon [never], but the vigilantes should not have been beaten. I will also note that if Israel starts to actually treat settler violence as terrorism because the Defense Minister himself is mad, I’ll be only too happy. But I’ll also be surprised).

And finally: It’s also important to remember that, like many on Israel’s right, Yaalon is, himself, an inciter to hatred and violence. I’m sure he would disagree with that assessment, but bear in mind that he once called Israel’s left “a virus” (a comment that he tried to walk back with a classic non-apology apology) and while still serving in the military he was given to saying that “the politicians brought the dove of peace and the army had to clean up after it.” He once said that Israel should cut off Gaza’s “electricity, water… fruit, vegetables, [and] cash,” adding “we’ve become accustomed to Arabs being allowed to live everywhere… [but] there are areas forbidden to Jews. We’ve ended that.” He maintains that there’s no difference between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (a man who has publicly supported a two-state solution since 1977, well before Israel did) and Hamas, and just last month told a group of Israeli and Palestinian business leaders working together to promote a two-state peace: “Don’t delude yourselves. We don’t have a partner on the Palestinian side for a two-state solution,” adding that John Kerry’s current proposal

is bad and will destroy the economy, apropos talk of boycotts. If we lose freedom of military action, the West Bank will turn into Hamastan, missiles will be fired at Tel Aviv and the economy will be destroyed.

So what I’m hearing is not “My God, I never noticed before, but this is terrorism!” but rather: “Violence is and will always remain necessary, but only the people in power should decide how and where it’s used.” This is not entirely unlike members of the GOP’s right wing being shocked — shocked — to discover that anyone in the Tea Party would take their words as an encouragement to violence.

And so: Yes. It is good that one of the highest ranking members of Israel’s government has used the T word to describe the violence of Jewish settlers. It’s important that linguistic taboos be broken, and this may yet prove an important moment in Israeli political culture.

But remember the source, and don’t misunderstand or overstate his aims.

 

 

What If Israeli would-be-lynchers were Palestinians?

Graffiti reading "death to Arabs," spray-painted on a Jerusalem restaurant on Saturday night. source

Graffiti reading “death to Arabs,” spray-painted on a Jerusalem restaurant on Saturday night. source

Time for another round of a dispiriting little game I call “Swap The Nouns.”

Last August, dozens of Israeli Jews attacked Palestinians in Jerusalem while “hundreds of people watched… without helping the victims,” according to a police representative. Sergeant First Class Shmuel Shenhav called the incident as “a lynch,” and described the condition of one of the victims in stark terms: “[Jamal Julani] lost his consciousness and was thought to be dead,” he told Haaretz. “He was anesthetized and on a respirator in the hospital for days. This was an extremely severe crime. Only a miracle saved him from death.”

Ultimately, seven people were arrested and charged in the wake of those events, three of them minors. On Monday, the minors learned their fate:

The Jerusalem District Court on Monday sentenced three Jewish minors to between one to eight months in prison after finding them guilty in a series of racially motivated attacks against Arabs last summer in the center of the city.

Jamal Julani, then 17, a resident of East Jerusalem, was beaten the most severely. Defendant No. 1, who was 16 years old at the time, kicked Julani in the abdomen after he had fallen to the ground, said Zaban.

… During the trial, it emerged that Julani has not fully recovered and is still under neurological and psychological care.

Now, in light of the above, consider the following story about Palestinian protesters arrested by the military:

The IDF… will hold its first hearing [on Tuesday] in the trial of Nariman Tamimi and Rana Hamadah, two Palestinian women who were arrested on Friday, June 28 at the weekly demonstration against the occupation in Nabi Saleh.

The two women were held in Sharon Prison, in Israel, for more than three days before being brought before a military judge and indicted for entering a “closed military zone.”

…Hamadah told +972 that during her arrest she asked the IDF soldier why she was being handcuffed, to which he replied: “Because I feel like it.” Hamadah said the pair were left handcuffed and blindfolded for nine hours, and were driven around in a vehicle with two male soldiers for seven more hours before being booked in Sharon Prison.

… Two military judges who watched video footage of the women’s arrest stated that they found no evidence of violent or menacing behavior on their part.

It’s true that these reports discuss very different events, at very different stages of very different legal processes. The first describes the outcome of criminal proceedings in the wake of racist violence; the second, the early stages of the prosecution of nonviolent protestors under military law.

But let’s play Swap The Nouns! What if the attackers in the first story had been Palestinian-Israelis, their victims Jews? What if the protesters in the second had been Jews, and the security forces Palestinian?

What kind of sentences would Palestinian-Israelis receive in Jerusalem’s District Court, and how would the world respond to the Palestinian Authority picking up a couple of (female) Israeli protesters, abusing them, and putting them on trial for exercising their universal rights to assemble and protest?  “It was the first time they didn’t beat us while we were arrested,” Nariman Tamimi later reported.

As luck would have it, another incident has come to light in which we’ll be able to watch these disparities play out in real-time: Over the weekend, Jewish assailants targeted a Jerusalem restaurant for its practice of hiring Palestinian employees.

On Friday, attackers threw stones at customers, and on Saturday, the words “Death to Arabs” appeared on the restaurant’s door. According to manager Maor Ventura, it wasn’t the first time his restaurant was so targeted:

Approximately two months ago, on a Friday evening, a group of about eight to 10 religious guys came to the area, as our cooks, mostly Arabs, were sitting outside. One of the teens realized the cook was an Arab and started to curse at him. The cook asked them to leave and then they started to beat him as they were crying out ‘Death to Arabs.’

When we tried to break the fight, but they attacked us too, and vowed to take revenge on us for hiring Arabs.

… The restaurant’s employees said that police were called in at every incident but that each time officers arrived after the assailants had left the scene.

According to the Israeli government, such acts of violence shouldn’t be designated “terrorism,” because doing so “would blur the lines between these extremists, on the one hand, and serious organized terror groups, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, on the other.”

Huh. I wonder what they’d call it if that same restaurant had been attacked by a handful of Palestinian guys.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Call Jewish “Price Tag” attacks what they are.

Graffiti reads "Price Tag," a reference to the fact that these attacks are meant to show Israel's government that any concessions to the Palestinians will be costly on the domestic front.

Graffiti reads “Price Tag,” a reference to the fact that these attacks are meant to show Israel’s government that any concessions to the Palestinians will be costly on the domestic front.

The other day a representative of the Israeli police shared some deeply troubling news:

“It doesn’t seem there will be significant improvement in the war on ‘price-tag’ attacks over the next few months,” a senior police official told Haaretz on Tuesday, a day after 29 cars in the Israeli Arab city of Abu Ghosh had their tires slashed [by Jewish attackers], and racist slogans were spray-painted on nearby walls [including the phrase “Arabs out”]. 

Police officials believe that the main problem is the complete lack of deterrence among young right-wing activists. The officer added that a series of solved crimes would restore the feeling that the rule of law prevailed. He said that in addition to the radical settler youth that grew up in the West Bank, there is also a generation of copycats, mainly teenage dropouts that engage in less sophisticated activity but who draw encouragement and a feeling of immunity because police have failed to track them down.

Given that nearly all cases brought by West Bank Palestinians against Israeli Jews are dismissed (whereas nearly 100 percent of cases against Palestinians end in conviction), it’s fairly easy to understand why there would be “a complete lack of deterrence” for Jewish “price tag” attacks against Palestinians. Reactions in theJewish community and political class to the attack in Abu Ghosh suggest that such acts are taken more seriously when the Palestinians in question are Israeli citizens, but it remains to be seen what this will mean in terms of prosecutions, indictments, or convictions.

What makes the police statement and Abu Ghosh attack even more disturbing, however, is the fact that the government happened to weigh the question of how to categorize price tag attacks just one day before the most recent one occurred. Are price tag attacks terrorism, or aren’t they?

Netanyahu and his cabinet decided that they’re not, though they’re willing to deem the perpetrators members of an ”illegal association,” a legal term which will expand the capacity of law enforcement and security apparatus to respond to perpetrators.

The Prime Minister’s Office released a statement that this decision “will significantly strengthen the ability to fight ‘price-tag’ phenomena,” but, theJerusalem Post reports,

According to an Israeli official, the cabinet feared that classifying price-tag attacks as acts of terror would blur the lines between these extremists, on the one hand, and serious organized terror groups, such as Hamas or Hezbollah, on the other.

It goes without saying that when an individual Palestinian acts on his or her own to damage Israeli property or to injure or kill a Jewish citizen, no one bothers to ask if he or she is part of a “serious organized terror group.” No one has any problem using the ‘T” word in those circumstances.

But it’s also worth noting that when Jews are attacked by Arabs, calling it terrorism (or, in legal terminology, “a hostile act”) allows the victims to claim government compensation, compensation not offered to the victims of other criminal acts. To date, if an Arab happens to fall victim to a Jew, he or she has no such right.

I tend to be a purist when it comes to the word “terror.” Not every terrible act of violence, no matter how bloody or frightening, is an act of terrorism. Mirriam-Webster offers an extended definition of term which fits neatly into my academic training as a political scientist: Terrorism is “[the] systematic use of violence to create a general climate of fear in a population and thereby to bring about a particular political objective.” Terrorism isn’t a hate crime, and it isn’t going postal. First and foremost, terrorism is an effort to effect political change.

Which is precisely why the recent rash of price tag attacks on both sides of the Green Line is, in fact, terrorism. If you set fire to mosques in a bid to convince your government that making any concessions to Palestinians will be too costly on the domestic front, or if you slash tires and scrawl “Arabs out” on the walls—you’re a terrorist. You’re employing systematic violence to create an atmosphere of fear in order to bring about a particular political objective—and no matter what kind of linguistic somersaults the Israeli government undertakes to convince itself and its citizens otherwise, that’s terrorism. 

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Writers need to learn to write differently about terrorists who happen to be Muslim.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/63/Salat_Salah_%22Muslim_Prayer%22.jpg

How to pray as a Muslim.

The first thing I read on the morning after the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a well-written, well-constructed, and very informative piece about Chechnya, Chechens, and the Tsarnaev brothers written by David Remnick (a hell of a writer) in The New Yorker (a hell of a publication).

Yet in the midst of all this quality, Remnick fell into a particularly pedestrian, non-quality trap: He used simplistic conventional wisdom as shorthand, and in so doing, conflated (whether intentionally or not) two very different things that simply are not conflatable.

Throughout the piece, wherever there is reference to the Tsarnaevs’ religion, there is an unspoken assumption that the more religious a Muslim is, the more likely that Muslim is to engage in extremist behavior. For instance:

The Caucasus region is multicultural in the extreme, but the predominant religion in the north is Islam…. In 1991, nationalist rebels fought two horrific wars with the Russian Army for Chechen independence. In the end, the rebel groups were either decimated or came over to the Russian side. But rebellion persists, in Chechnya and in the surrounding regions—Dagestan and Ingushetia—and it is now fundamentalist in character. The slogan is “global jihad.” The tactics are kidnappings, assassinations, bombings.

…Members of the [Tsarnaev] family occasionally attended a mosque on Prospect Street in Cambridge, but there seemed nothing fundamentalist about their outlook.

…[Tamerlan, the older brother,] described himself as “very religious”; he didn’t smoke or drink…. Three years ago, he was arrested for domestic assault and battery. 

“He was a cool guy,” Ashraful Rahman said [of the younger brother, Dzhokhar]. “I never got any bad vibes from him…. Dzhokhar went to the mosque more than I did, but he wasn’t completely devoted.”

The problem here is how much is left unsaid, and it’s very hard to quantify or sketch an absence. Nowhere does Remnick (who is, as I say, a hell of a writer, and I believe an unusually honest and careful one) say anything even remotely like “the more religious a Muslim is, the more likely that Muslim is to engage in extremist behavior.”

But when you’re writing in a society which everywhere makes just that assumption; a society in which the faith, Scripture, habits, and even clothing choices of Muslims are frequently treated as signs of a violent pathology, you must be particularly careful not to further a conventional wisdom that is not only wildly inaccurate, but physically dangerous to Muslims. Remnick doesn’t need to write “the more religious a Muslim is, the more likely that Muslim is to engage in extremist behavior” — far too many of his readers will make the leap on their own.

There is one sentence in the piece in which Islam is mentioned in a context that does not, somehow, end up in violence. Dzhokhar’s friend Essah Chisholm says this:

“Tamerlan maybe felt like he didn’t belong, and he might have brainwashed Dzhokhar into some radical view that twisted things in the Koran.”

“Some radical view that twisted things in the Koran” – nine short words that open a door to the possibility that in order to descend into pathological violence, a Muslim must, in fact, twist the Qur’an, twist his or her faith, leave actual Islam behind and create something awful and new onto which he or she slaps the word “Islam” — just as the KKK, and Westboro, and Scott Roeder call themselves Christians; just as Yigal Amir, and Baruch Goldstein, and the West Bank’s Od Yosef Hai Yeshiva call themselves Jews.

But that door is small, so small as to be missed entirely. In the very next paragraph we read:

Tamerlan’s YouTube channel features a series of videos in support of fundamentalism and violent jihad… [one] provides a dramatization of the Armageddon prophecy of the Black Banners of Khurasan, an all-powerful Islamic military force that will rise up from Central Asia and defeat the infidels; it is a martial-religious prophecy favored by Al Qaeda.

Writers use shorthand all the time, often in order to create space to tell a complicated and complex story. In 21st century America, “he started to pray more frequently” is often shorthand for “this was a Muslim about to descend into pathological violence” — but when we use that shorthand, we are, in fact, denying the complexity of the very story we’re telling.

We can no longer write this way. If our goal is to tell the truth, we can’t let dangerous inaccuracies fill the spaces between our words. We have to seek out sources who can help us clarify to readers that what terrorists call “Islam” is not accepted as such by the vast majority of the faithful; that increased devotion is almost never a sign of hatred but rather a sign of love of God; that 99.999% of Muslims who pray five times a day would no sooner launch a terrorist attack than would 99.999% of faithful Christians or Jews. That terrorists who happen to be Muslim represent not Muslims, but pathology.

Remnick serves as my example here, but as anyone who has spent any time reading about the events at the Boston Marathon can attest, he is far, far from the only writer who has fallen into this trap.

The story of terrorism, and fear, and those who would harm innocent people, and the innocent people they harm is far too important a story for us to get wrong by means of shortcuts. We need to write better.

Boston Marathon placeholder: On Islam and terrorism.

UPDATE – You might also be interested in this post: Muslim American Heroes

(This this is a re-up – given the explosions in Boston, I felt it was important to share the information again, but I’m posting from my phone, so please excuse any wonky formatting). UPDATE: I’ve corrected the formatting and inserted the links that didn’t copy-paste when I posted this from my phone earlier.
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Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the world’s Muslims have been called upon to address the issue of violence perpetrated by other Muslims. On the one hand, this strikes me as unfair — why on earth should person A have to explain person B’s behavior? — but on the other, it also strikes me as pretty human. That day of horror seared us all, and for non-Muslims, the question seems to boil down to: “Hey Muslim person, why I shouldn’t fear you?” Unfair, perhaps, but human.

So, I often write, here and elsewhere, in defense of Islam and Muslims — or, as I see it, in defense of the American values of equality, liberty, freedom of religion, and so on. I have a Masters Degree in Middle Eastern Studies, and have read and reviewed several shelves-worth of books about the faith and the lands in which Islam is the majority religion, and all this provides me with some useful background. But bottom line: I’m not Muslim, and can’t represent the faith.

Actually, even if I were a Muslim, I doubt that I could “represent the faith” — I don’t imagine, for instance, that I can represent Judaism, Jew though I may be. But of one thing I am certain: As I don’t represent Islam, neither do al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, or Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The voices of extremists may be the loudest emerging from the Muslim people, the ummah, right now — or: these voices may be the best amplified by our fears and the people who have reason to feed them — but they don’t represent the ummah.

And here we arrive at my point: Don’t trust me — trust the Muslims who say so in their own words.

Consider first this passage from Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed:

Only 46% of Americans think that “bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians” are “never justified”…. Contrast this with data taken the same year [2007] from some of the largest majority Muslim nations, in which 74% of respondents in Indonesia agree that terrorist attacks are “never justified”; in Pakistan, that figure is 86%; in Bangladesh, 81%; and in Iran, 80%.

And then consider the following, a small (very small) compendium of Muslim responses to extremism that I have found. You’ll note that some are recent, and some date back — because even though we don’t hear much about it, the world’s Muslims have been continuously condemning extremist violence for some time:

  • In March 2010, a leading Pakistani theologian, known and revered around the world, issued a positively scathing fatwa against terrorism: “Terrorism is terrorism,” Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri wrote, “violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it, or any kind of excuses or ifs and buts.” I posted about this fatwa at the time; you can read about it here.
  • Three days after the 9/11 attacks, Shaykh Muhammed Sayyid al-Tantawi, the Grand Imam of the al-Azhar Seminary in Cairo (one of the Muslim world’s oldest and most influential institutions) said: “Attacking innocent people is not courageous, it is stupid and will be punished on the day of judgment. … It’s not courageous to attack innocent children, women and civilians. It is courageous to protect freedom, it is courageous to defend oneself and not to attack.”
  • Twenty North American imams issued a fatwa against terrorists in January 2010, equating attacks on North American targets with attacks on Muslims themselves: “These attacks are evil and Islam requires from Muslims to stand up against this evil…. Muslims in Canada and the United States have complete freedom to practice Islam…. In many cases, Muslims have more freedom to practice Islam here in Canada and the United States than many Muslim countries…. There is no conflict between the Islamic values of freedom and justice and the Canadian/US values of freedom and justice. Therefore, any attack on Canada and the United States is an attack on the freedom of Canadian and American Muslims. Any attack on Canada and the United States is an attack on thousands of mosques across North America. It is a duty of every Canadian and American Muslim to safeguard Canada and the USA.”
  • In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, British-Muslim author Shaikh Abdal-Hakim Murad published an essay called “Recapturing Islam from the terrorists,” in which he wrote “Terrorists are not Muslims. Targeting civilians is a negation of every possible school of Sunni Islam. Suicide bombing is so foreign to the Quranic ethos that the Prophet Samson is entirely absent from our scriptures.”
  • Professor of Islamic Law Khaled Abou El Fadl wrote in late 2001: “It would be disingenuous to deny that the Qur’an and other Islamic sources offer possibilities of intolerant interpretation. Clearly these possibilities are exploited by the contemporary puritans and supremacists. But the text does not command such intolerant readings. Historically, Islamic civilization has displayed a remarkable ability to recognize possibilities of tolerance, and to act upon these possibilities…. [T]he burden and blessing of sustaining that moral trajectory—of accentuating the Qur’anic message of tolerance and openness to the other—falls squarely on the shoulders of contemporary Muslim interpreters of the tradition.”
  • In response to an al-Qaeda bombing of a centuries’ old synagogue in Tunis in 2002, Islamic scholar Dr.Youssef Al Qaradawi told the press: “Anyone who commits these crimes is punishable by Islamic Sharia and have committed the sin of killing a soul which God has prohibited to kill and of spreading corruption on earth.”
  • In 2005, Muslim scholar Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti issued a fatwa against the targeting of civilians, pointing out, among other things that “there are more than 100 Verses in the Qur’an commanding us at all times to be patient in the face of humiliation and to turn away from violence, while there is only one famous Verse in which war (which does not last forever) becomes an option.”
  • And this, my personal favorite: American Muslims speaking directly to American Muslims, rejecting extremism of all kinds: “Injustice cannot defeat injustice.”

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For many, many more sources on Muslims speaking out against violence and extremism, I highly recommend this site, The American Muslim, starting in particular with this post, “Selective Hearing of Muslim Voices Against Extremism and Terrorism.”

We have collected 105 fatwas from Islamic scholars, 75 statements by Islamic Organizations (many of these signed by anywhere from 50 to 500 scholars from around the world), and 142 statements by individual Muslims.  These are from 30 countries including:  Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Britain, Chechnya, Egypt, France, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, New Zealand,  Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, U.S., Yemen.

They speak clearly against terrorism, suicide bombing, kidnapping, harming civilians, harming places of worship, weapons of mass destruction.  They clarify the Islamic position on minority rights and apostasy.  Some directly condemn al-Qaeda and bin Laden, and specific acts like 9/11 or the Madrid bombing.

Finally, it seems I should spare some space for the Qur’an itself, and for the Prophet Muhammad:

By God, he is not a true believer, from whose mischief his neighbors do not feel secure. (from the Hadith [sayings] of the Prophet Muhammad, transmitted by Bukhari and Muslim)

Goodness and evil are not equal.  Repel evil with what is better.  Then that person with whom there was hatred, may become your intimate friend!  And no one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, none but people of the greatest good fortune. (Qur’an 41:34-35)

Whosoever kills an innocent human being, it shall be as if he has killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. (Qur’an 5:32)

Muslim responses to terrorism.

Update: Yes, this is a re-up, but given the recent discovery that the NYPD has been spying on Muslim students as far away as Yale, it seems rather timely.

Ever since the 9/11 attacks, the world’s Muslims have been called upon to address the issue of violence perpetrated by other Muslims. On the one hand, this strikes me as unfair — why on earth should person A have to explain person B’s behavior? — but on the other, it also strikes me as pretty human. That day of horror seared us all, and for non-Muslims, the question seems to boil down to: “Hey Muslim person, why I shouldn’t fear you?” Unfair, perhaps, but human.

So, I often write, here and elsewhere, in defense of Islam and Muslims — or, as I see it, in defense of the American values of equality, liberty, freedom of religion, and so on. I have a Masters Degree in Middle Eastern Studies, and have read and reviewed several shelves-worth of books about the faith and the lands in which Islam is the majority religion, and all this provides me with some useful background. But bottom line: I’m not Muslim, and can’t represent the faith.

Actually, even if I were a Muslim, I doubt that I could “represent the faith” — I don’t imagine, for instance, that I can represent Judaism, Jew though I may be. But of one thing I am certain: As I don’t represent Islam, neither do al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, or Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The voices of extremists may be the loudest emerging from the Muslim people, the ummah, right now — or: these voices may be the best amplified by our fears and the people who have reason to feed them — but they don’t represent the ummah.

And here we arrive at my point: Don’t trust me — trust the Muslims who say so in their own words.

Consider first this passage from Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, by John L. Esposito and Dalia Mogahed:

Only 46% of Americans think that “bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians” are “never justified”…. Contrast this with data taken the same year [2007] from some of the largest majority Muslim nations, in which 74% of respondents in Indonesia agree that terrorist attacks are “never justified”; in Pakistan, that figure is 86%; in Bangladesh, 81%; and in Iran, 80%.

And then consider the following, a small (very small) compendium of Muslim responses to extremism that I have found. You’ll note that some are recent, and some date back — because even though we don’t hear much about it, the world’s Muslims have been continuously condemning extremist violence for some time:

(more…)

Reading the tea leaves of chaos.

8/21/11 update: Please click here and here to read up on Saturday night’s J14 rallies (including some great pictures), here to learn about on-going rocket fire into Israel (one man killed), and here to learn about the on-going Israeli attacks on Gaza (14 dead, and extensive damage to basic infrastructure).

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Busy days for me — all good things: a big boy’s birthday party, a little girl’s end of summer lunch out, some work, some tutoring, all good — but for me it’s been and will be wrapped in the shadow of the events in southern Israel and Gaza. Death and blood, blood and death, hate and fear and the everlasting whining grind of mindless destruction.

I keep feeling that I need to keep my word and write about the events, the blood and death, the implications and possible outcomes, and I just can’t get over the sense that it’s not over yet. Not by a long shot.

And I frankly don’t know where to start or where to begin.

There are civilians dead in Israel; there are soldiers dead, too. There are civilians dead in Gaza (including a two year old), as well as militants. There are people desperately wounded one on side of the border, and on the other as well. There are soldiers dead in Egypt, no less, dead because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the implications of a breakdown of Israeli-Egyptian relations are mildly terrifying. It’s Friday there now, and Israelis in parts of the south are spending the day running from rockets; people all over Gaza are doing the same (only they have no where to run). One side’s weapons are more deadly than the other’s, but it’s that side that getting the world’s attention and sympathy. Some of the leaders of Israel’s J14 social protests decided to cancel the rallies planned for Saturday — only to have rank-and-file protesters raise a hue and cry, and now the demonstrations are back on.

Aside from the speed with which all the violence unfolded (siren on top of siren, death on top of death), that last item is the only thing that’s even remotely new (well, I guess the Egyptian soldiers being killed is kind of new, but they died caught up in the same-old-same-old). The notion of Israelis refusing to back away from their legitimate demands in the face of an instantaneous escalation of violence is almost unprecedented. It may just be flat-out unprecedented.

I feel overwhelmed and dizzy. When you look at the Palestinian attacks in southern Israel, it’s apparent they were well-planned. When you look at the speed with which Israel reacted, it’s apparent it was well-planned. There is readiness for war on all sides, and when one side delivers, the other obliges. Of course, this is just as it has always been, and about twice a year, Israel announces that it will be wiping those terrorists off the map for real this time. Until the next attack, when no one seems to notice that the last massive bombing of Gaza did no good.

The only people served by any of it, of course, are those who want nothing more than to see the two peoples hate each other unto eternity. Your Netanyahus, your Liebermans, your Hamas leadership, possibly the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committee which Israel says was responsible for the attacks but which, for the record, denies involvement.

Those who would see no more blood on their front pages or front doorsteps are not served. Those who want to educate their babies not to hate but to build. Those who would like to feel safe walking down the street, or free to visit loved ones, or to build a house or get good medical care or tell the world who they really are — erase the stereotypes and the caricatures and just live and die as free people — none of them are served by this.

My gut response is to bury my head in my arms and feel the despair wash over me. What has happened in the last 24 hours is every bad story ever told out of Israel/Palestine, on steroids. It is very hard to not feel like what we are seeing now is just the beginning of something much, much worse, something that will spin and spin and spin out of control until all and everyone are ruined in its ferocity.

But when I lift my head, I see one ray of hope: Those Israelis who are refusing to back down — are refusing to do the very thing that Netanyahu surely wants them to do — and will be back on the streets, in silent memorial and also in powerful presence, on Saturday night. They will go out, they say, to silently honor the dead. But by doing so on the streets they have claimed, these Israelis — my Israelis — are saying loud and clear: We will no longer let you tell us what the truth is.

The balance of power lies with Israel, and has since somewhere in 1948. There was a war between two desperately needy nationalist movements, and my side won. Today, if we want to see an end to this kind of madness, we have to be the side to stop it. We are the side with the power. We are the side with the power.

I have some small, slim, narrow hope that those folks who have been pouring into Israel’s streets for more than a month may finally be the ones to make the leap for us (and I’m encouraged that I’m not the only one). These Israelis may finally be the ones to say: Enough. We must stop that — because we must do this.

Prayers and hope and endless, endless, bottomless love tonight to my Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters. Please, please: Save us from ourselves, save us from each other. Please — do not let this butchery and chaos sweep us all away.

Crossposted at Angry Black Lady Chronicles.

Israel and Gaza today.

For good or ill, daily life is particularly jam-packed today, and I’m not sure when I’ll have time to write about the events. I’ll come back and do so as soon as I can.

For what it’s worth, I wrote about Israel attacking Gaza in the wake of terrorism back in April, and my opinions remain the same: The constant slaughter and collective punishment of Gazans has — clearly — not achieved security for Israelis. The policy of hitting Gaza and Hamas as hard as humanly possible again and again has failed, and failed utterly. Endlessly repeating a policy that has proved an abject failure while expecting different results is nothing more or less than insanity.

In the meantime, HaAretz is always a good place to catch up, as is +972 and Maan News Agency. On Twitter, @AbirKopty, @myaguarnieri, @georgehale and @ibnezra are good people to follow.

Norway and terrorism as a daily event.

In the West, we seem to have at least a double standard when it comes to violence and mayhem.

When violence and mayhem involves People Who Look Like Us (“us” in this case generally translating to: ethnically European/white, not-poor, citizens of a Western-style democracy) — we experience society-wide woe. When it involves People Who Don’t Look Like Us? Often, not so much.

We see this in the semi-annual “OMG heroin has reached the suburbs” stories, we see it in the stories of missing mothers or schoolyard shootings that take place somewhere outside our inner cities or meth-riddled mountains — and I think we saw it again in the wake of the terrorist attack in Norway.

I am not, in any way, suggesting a sliding scale of pain. Pain is pain, loss is loss — if your child, partner, friend, parent, loved one was killed, in Oslo, on her way home from work, or in some random Columbine-like horror, your grief is no less because your skin is pale or your bank account full.

But as someone who follows the news out of the Middle East and Southwest Asia, as someone who once-upon-a-time covered terrorism’s aftermath as a reporter, as someone who has seen up close and personal the damage that bombs can do, I couldn’t help but feel the vast difference between America’s response to the terrorism in Norway, and our response that with which the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan live on a nearly daily basis.

Part of this is, of course, because in Norway, the line between good and evil was clear, shining and bright. One terrorist, 77 innocents. We know, in a heartbeat, how to direct our horror and revulsion, and to whom to offer our prayers and support.

This is not the case in the Af-Pak region. First of all, the West isn’t even sure of its own role anymore, if it ever was. Are we good guys or bad guys? When children are killed as our soldiers aim for the Taliban — who are we? Should we even be there? Are we imperialists, or did we fail to go after the Taliban hard enough in the first place?

But beyond the complexities of the war and a porous border — Western soldiers are not the ones purposely blowing people up in the middle of busy cities. Surely the people doing that are the bad guys, right? But what if their fight is just? And wait — who gets to decide what “just” means? Throw in the endlessly complex cultural and political realities of the two societies, the fact that Westerners tend to expect Muslims to be violent (though Muslims might disagree) — we throw up our hands. Another 27 dead. Another 22. An 8 year old boy. Those people.

One need only scroll through the Twitter feed of Foreign Policy’s Af-Pak Channel to see that a good deal more than 77 Afghans and Pakistanis were killed in the month of July alone, not on a battlefield, but while trying to live their lives. Hell, nearly 100 were killed in the Pakistani city of Karachi in the first week of July.

Some of these were combatants. Some were violent misogynists. Some were trying to go to the market. Some were children. Some of the “innocents” probably deserved to die, and some of the fighters had probably been involved in trying to bring peace. The lines are neither clear, nor shining, nor bright.

But I do know this: Dead is dead. The tears of a Pakistani mother are no less excruciating than those of a Norwegian father. The pain in these faces is as human and as raw as the pain in these.

I don’t have any grand conclusion to draw or act of advocacy to recommend. I know that no human being can carry all the world’s pain without buckling under the weight, and if a geek like me can’t always keep all the warring parties straight in Af-Pak, I surely don’t expect anyone else to manage it.

I just think that as we mourn the losses in Oslo, as we send our prayers and our white light and our best wishes to our Norwegian sisters and brothers, it matters that we also remember those for whom the Norway attacks look horrifyingly familiar. We need to find a way to manage to bear witness to the humanity of those living and dying in Afghanistan and Pakistan, too. As the holy month of Ramadan begins, perhaps we owe the living and the dead at least that much.

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If you want to learn more about Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the violence that has marked the history of both, here are two great books to get you started: Invisible History by Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, and Pakistan: A Hard Country by Anatol Lieven (both of which I reviewed for the Dallas Morning News).

Crossposted at Feministe.

Reading the Conflict: Jewish Terrorism in Israel

Among the topics that Israeli Jews and supporters of the Jewish State are often uncomfortable discussing is terrorism.

Not Palestinian and/or Muslim terrorism – that gets discussed at the drop of a hat.

No, what is usually swept under the rug is the fact that the Jewish people itself has produced a fair number of terrorists, from ancient times up through the modern day. And so today, I recommend Jewish Terrorism in Israel, by Ami Pedahzur and Arie Perliger.

In recent years, as the global community has faced increasing waves of terrorism, academics and policymakers have searched for working explanations — analysis that might make sense of the senseless. Often, blame is laid on religious fundamentalism, specifically in Islam. But as Israeli academics Pedahzur and Perliger point out, Muslim extremists don’t hold that monopoly: Jewish terrorists have launched hundreds of attacks, most against Palestinian targets, but many against Israel itself.

Every Friday, I post a book recommendation on the Americans for Peace Now blog. To read the rest of this recommendation, please go to Americans for Peace Now; to see a list of all previous recommendations, please go here.