Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Global Slaughter of Christians, But America’s Churches Stay Silent. By Kirsten Powers.

A Global Slaughter of Christians, but America’s Churches Stay Silent. By Kirsten Powers. The Daily Beast, September 27, 2013.

“Thank God, There Are Almost No Jews in Syria Now.” By Lela Gilbert. National Review Online, September 14, 2013.

Silence is deafening as attacks on Christians continue to grow. By Lela Gilbert., September 24, 2013.

Lela Gilbert website.

The Barbarism of Modern Islamist Terrorism. By Brendan O’Neill.

I’m sorry, but we have to talk about the barbarism of modern Islamist terrorismBy Brendan O’Neill. The Telegraph, September 28, 2013.

The Unbelievable Savagery of the Kenya Mall Terrorists. By Alec Torres. National Review Online, September 27, 2013.


In Western news-making and opinion-forming circles, there’s a palpable reluctance to talk about the most noteworthy thing about modern Islamist violence: its barbarism, its graphic lack of moral restraint. This goes beyond the BBC's yellow reluctance to deploy the T-word – terrorism – in relation to the bloody assault on the Westgate shopping mall in Kenya at the weekend. Across the commentating board, people are sheepish about pointing out the historically unique lunacy of Islamist violence and its utter detachment from any recognisable moral universe or human values. We have to talk about this barbarism; we have to appreciate how new and unusual it is, how different it is even from the terrorism of the 1970s or of the early twentieth century. We owe it to the victims of these assaults, and to the principle of honest and frank political debate, to face up to the unhinged, morally unanchored nature of Islamist violence in the 21st century.
Maybe it’s because we have become so inured to Islamist terrorism in the 12 years since 9/11 that even something like the blowing-up of 85 Christians outside a church in Pakistan no longer shocks us or even makes it on to many newspaper front pages. But consider what happened: two men strapped with explosives walked into a group of men, women and children who were queuing for food and blew up themselves and the innocents gathered around them. Who does that? How far must a person have drifted from any basic system of moral values to behave in such an unrestrained and wicked fashion? Yet the Guardian tells us it is “moral masturbation” to express outrage over this attack, and it would be better to give into a “sober recognition that there are many bad things we can’t as a matter of fact do much about”. This is a demand that we further acclimatise to the peculiar and perverse bloody Islamist attacks around the world, shrug our shoulders, put away our moral compasses, and say: “Ah well, this kind of thing happens.”
Or consider the attack on Westgate in Kenya, where both the old and the young, black and white, male and female were targeted. With no clear stated aims from the people who carried the attack out, and no logic to their strange and brutal behaviour, Westgate had more in common with those mass mall and school shootings that are occasionally carried out by disturbed people in the West than it did with the political violence of yesteryear. And yet still observers avoid using the T-word or the M-word (murder) to describe what happened there, and instead attach all sorts of made-up, see-through political theories to this rampage, giving what was effectively a terror tantrum executed by morally unrestrained Islamists the respectability of being a political protest of some breed.
Time and again, one reads about Islamist attacks that seem to defy not only the most basic of humanity’s moral strictures but also political and even guerrilla logic. Consider the hundreds of suicide attacks that have taken place in Iraq in recent years, a great number of them against ordinary Iraqis, often children. Western apologists for this wave of weird violence, which they call “resistance”, claim it is about fighting against the Western forces which were occupying Iraq in the wake of the 2003 invasion. If so, it’s the first “resistance” in history whose prime targets have been civilians rather than security forces, and which has failed to put forward any kind of political programme that its violence is allegedly designed to achieve. Even experts in counterinsurgency have found themselves perplexed by the numerous nameless suicide assaults on massive numbers of civilians in post-war Iraq, and the fact that these violent actors, unlike the vast majority of violent political actors in history, have “developed no alternative government or political wing and displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern”. One Iraqi attack has stuck in my mind for seven years. In 2006 a female suicide bomber blew herself up among families – including many mothers and their offspring – who were queuing up for kerosene. Can you imagine what happened? A terrible glimpse was offered by this line in a Washington Post report on 24 September 2006: “Twopre-teen girls embraced each other as they burned to death.”
What motivates this perversity? What are its origins? Unwilling, or perhaps unable, to face up to the newness of this unrestrained, aim-free, civilian-targeting violence, Western observers do all sorts of moral contortions in an effort to present such violence as run-of-the-mill or even possibly a justifiable response to Western militarism. Some say, “Well, America kills women and children too, in its drone attacks”, wilfully overlooking the fact such people are not the targets of America’s military interventions – and I say that as someone who has opposed every American venture overseas of the past 20 years. If you cannot see the difference between a drone strike that goes wrong and kills an entire family and a man who crashes his car into the middle of a group of children accepting sweets from a US soldier and them blows himself and them up – as happened in Iraq in 2005 – then there is something wrong with you. Other observers say that Islamists, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the individuals who attacked London and New York, are fighting against Western imperialism in Muslim lands. But that doesn’t add up. How does blowing up Iraqi children represent a strike against American militarism? How is detonating a bomb on the London Underground a stab at the Foreign Office? It is ridiculous, and more than a little immoral, to try to dress up nihilistic assaults designed merely to kill as many ordinary people as possible as some kind of principled political violence.
We have a tendency to overlook the newness of modern Islamic terrorism, how recent is this emergence of a totally suicidal violence that revels in causing as many causalities as possible. Yes, terrorism has existed throughout the modern era, but not like this. Consider the newness of suicide attacks, of terrorists who destroy themselves as well as their surroundings and fellow citizens. In the 1980s and 1990s, there were an average of one or two suicide attacks a year. Across the whole world. Since the early and mid-2000s there have been around 300 or 400 suicide attacks a year. In 2006 there were more suicide attacks around the world than had taken place in the entire 20 years previous. Terrorists’ focus on killing civilians – the more the better – is also new. If you look at the 20 bloodiest terrorist attacks in human history, measured by the number of causalities they caused, you’ll see something remarkable: 14 of them – 14 – took place in the 1990s and 2000s. So in terms of mass death and injury, those terrorist eras of the 1970s and 80s, and also earlier outbursts of anarchist terrorism, pale into insignificance when compared with the new, Islamist-leaning terrorism that has emerged in recent years.
What we have today, uniquely in human history, is a terrorism that seems myopically focused on killing as many people as possible and which has no clear political goals and no stated territorial aims. The question is, why? It is not moral masturbation to ask this question or to point out the peculiarity and perversity of modern Islamist violence. My penny’s worth is that this terrorism speaks to a profound crisis of politics and of morality. Where earlier terrorist groups were restrained both by their desire to appear as rational political actors with a clear goal in mind and by basic moral rules of human behaviour – meaning their violence was often bloody, yes, but rarely focused narrowly on committing mass murder – today’s Islamist terrorists appear to float free of normal political rules and moral compunctions. This is what is so infuriating about the BBC’s refusal to call these groups terrorists – because if anything, and historically speaking, even the term terrorist might be too good for them.

Imagining a Remapped Middle East. By Robin Wright.

Imagining a Remapped Middle East. By Robin Wright. New York Times, September 28, 2013.

How 5 Countries Could Become 14. By Robin Wright. New York Times, September 28, 2013.

Robin Wright’s Audacious Remapping of the Middle East. By Martin W. Lewis. GeoCurrents, October 1, 2013.

Egyptian Xenophobia and the Misreading of Robin Wright’s Map. By Michael Collins Dunn. Middle East Institute, October 2, 2013.

The Border Between Israel and Palestine: The Elephant in the Map Room. By Frank Jacobs. NJBR, September 21, 2013.

Small Homogeneous States Only Solution for Middle East. By Mordechai Kedar. IMRA, April 1, 2011.

Arabs, Beware the “Small States” Option. By Sharmine Narwani. Mideast Shuffle, July 31, 2013. Also at Al Akhbar English.

The Arab Collapse. By Ralph Peters. NJBR, May 20, 2013. With related articles on the possible fragmentation of the Middle East on ethnic and sectarian lines.

Yossi Klein Halevi on “Like Dreamers,” New Book on Legacy of Israeli Paratroopers. By Michael M. Rosen.

Yossi Klein Halevi on “Like Dreamers,” new book on legacy of Israeli paratroopers. By Michael M. Rosen., September 22, 2013.

Yossi Klein Halevi interviewed by Rabbi Joseph Postasnik and Deacon Kevin McCormack. Audio. Religion on the Line. WABC, September 29, 2013. Halevi interview starts at 69:53 in the audio file.

Seeing the Strengths and Pitfalls of a Whole Country in the Lives of Seven Paratroopers. Yossi Klein Halevi interviewed by Sara Ivry. Audio podcast. Tablet, October 1, 2013.

Rosen (Q) and Halevi (A):

Q. You end the book on a beautiful, upbeat note, with Yoel Bin-Nun leading an ecumenical group of secular and religious Israelis, right-wingers and lefties, on a re-enactment of the 1967 battle. Are you optimistic about Israel’s cultural, political, military, and religious future?
A. The answer is yes, with a sigh. The reason for that is it is going to be extremely difficult, but I deeply believe that we’re going to continue to pull through. Sometimes we’ll muddle through, sometimes we’ll surprise ourselves and be transcendent, and always with difficulty and often with suffering and struggle.
But yes, I try to keep myself out of the book as much as possible, but a writer obviously determines the narrative simply by the choices you make of what to emphasize. The fact that the last chapter of the book is about the emergence of the Israeli center is reflection of my own politics and certainly the sensibility in the book is what I believe to be true about Israeli society today. But after 45 years of vehement and often brutal disagreement between Left and Right, a majority of Israelis today are a little bit Left and a little bit Right at the same time. To be an Israeli centrist is very different from being a centrist in other political cultures. There’s nothing wishy-washy about being an Israeli centrist. Being a centrist in the Israeli context means you strongly embrace opposite principles. A centrist knows that the Left was right all these years in its warnings about the moral consequences of occupation and about the dangers of democracy. A centrist knows with equal passion that the Right was correct all these years concerning the illusion of trying to make peace with a national movement that doesn’t recognize our legitimacy. Those are key insights that are shouted past each other for decades because ideologues don’t listen to each other. But the good news about the basic health of Israeli society is that a majority of Israelis actually were paying attention all these years to the ideologues on the Left and the Right and were partly convinced by both sides. They’ve fashioned a new Israeli center which ironically enough the moderate wing of the Likud most represents. Sharon was the first one to understand the emergence of the Israeli center, and Netanyahu got it too.  So what most Israelis want today in a prime minister is a pragmatic hawk: they want someone who deeply distrusts the other side but is ready, if [he] discerns a genuine opening there, to make the deal. That to me is what at least the leadership of the Likud has become. There are elements in Labor that understand this, but most of Labor still doesn’t quite get it. Yesh Atid gets it. Kadima almost got it, and then went too far Left.
If you look at the Israeli political map through this lens, then you’ll see who’s successful and who isn’t. Labor, which is still in some way enchanted with the Oslo process—and I use “enchanted” in its various meanings—will not be trusted with the leadership of the country until it frees itself from that illusion. In the same way that the Likud will only be trusted if it proves that it really is free from the illusion of the complete land of Israel.
To bring this back to your question, the emergence of a new political sobriety in Israel that encompasses a majority of the population points to the possibly of a new cultural majority as well, a cultural majority that wants more Judaism in Israeli public life, but not in government. We want more Judaism in our schools, and less Judaism in the courts. And my sense is that is a majority position.
Q. I want to ask you about the role of Israel’s two main cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Obviously the climactic scene of the book takes place in Jerusalem, the beating heart of the Jewish people. But in many ways, the book revolves more around Tel Aviv, including in one passage where you describe it as “infinitely malleable…the center of Israel’s emerging film industry, of music and theater. For Arik Achmon, it was the launching place for Israel’s market economy; for Udi Adiv, headquarters of the coming revolution. Here Avital Geva was exhibiting with his friends, disrupting the propriety of the Israeli art world. And here Meir Ariel might somehow become Meir Ariel.” So from a geographic perspective, in what ways is this a book about Jerusalem, and in what ways about Tel Aviv?
A. That’s so interesting because I haven’t thought about it, at least not consciously, but it’s a great insight. For me, what this book really is about is the fate of Israel’s utopian dreams. It’s not Left and Right so much as religious Zionism and the kibbutz movement, or the settlements and the kibbutz movement, the two utopian, messianic streams within Zionism that wanted more than just a safe refuge for the Jewish people. That’s what these two ideological rivals have in common. For me, they’re part of the same ideological camp within Zionism, which is the camp of the anti-normalizers.
For the sake of the argument, let’s use Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to represent visionary Israel versus normalized Israel. I think the book in some ways is fairly clear-eyed about the dangers of utopian politics. When you combine politics with utopianism, the result is usually not happy, for a very simple reason: politics is the art of the possible, it’s dealing with the world as it is, and utopianism is the aspiration for world the way it should be. The place for utopianism or messianism is in one’s spiritual life, one religious life, not in one’s political life. Where Israel repeatedly got into trouble, for both the Left and the Right, was by linking utopianism to politics.
The problem though, and this for me is an open dilemma, is that so much of the vitality that I’m describing about the Israeli story owes itself to these various competing utopian dreams that have erupted within Zionism. And my question is can we conceive of a future Israel without a utopian dream? Given the precariousness of our situation, given the extraordinary dedication that’s required in order to continue to protect this project, I don’t know if we can do it through normalization alone. On the other hand, I have a great love for normal Israel, I would even say a veneration for normal Israel, for the ability of ordinary Israelis to lead their ordinary lives in the middle of an impossible situation. And Zionism spoke out of two sides of its mouth. It promised to create a society that would be a light to the nations, and it promised to normalize the Jewish people. It turns out that two aspirations, which are deeply imbedded in the Jewish psyche going back to biblical times, don’t necessarily work together in harmony.
So Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. I live in Jerusalem, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else in Israel but when I need to get away I go to Tel Aviv. I’m passionate about Tel Aviv.

Why Ted Cruz Drives Them Crazy. By Matthew Continetti.

Rebel Without a Caste. By Matthew Continetti. Washington Free Beacon, September 27, 2013.