Monthly Archives: February 2015

One Doesn’t Make Peace with Objects

“Muslim extremist.” “Infidel.” “Towelhead.” “Crusader.”

Putting labels on people is gratifying: it’s an attack on their honor, reduces the respect due them as humans and, if possible, make them seem less than human, even less than animals.

Labels are chosen carefully. “Dogs” is a great cuss word by Muslims, given its internal Islamic religious denotation — one that is not shared in the same way by the targets of such insults. The label of “pigs” is a word choice guaranteed to anger even a moderate, pious Muslim. Dogs and pigs are killed as a matter of course in religious countries: their connection to filth and disease is something. That list in the first line of this post goes past animal, straight to animus.

Once we reduce a person to an object it’s harder to identify with them. You don’t automatically hate Farah when you pass her in in Wal-Mart or Marks & Spencer if she’s wearing a hijab or a chador. But if I identify that person as a “sand rat” I’d look down at her as a dirty animal, out of place in a brightly-lit store with orderly shelves.

Nazis used this technique with great success to dehumanize Jews, to make it easier for neighbors and business associates to part with Jews who had, up to that point, integrated successfully in Western Europe.

Westerners use it to isolate, vilify and attack those who look different. Fanatics of all faiths brand everyone not fitting their exacting (and sometimes ever-changing) standards. In Judaism, religious extremists slap the label apikoros (apostate) or goy (gentile) on anyone they want to exclude from their self-declared higher plane.

It’s difficult to bargain with lesser beings. One makes peace with enemies, not friends, despite all the protests against talks with Iran, North Korea, and the Afghani Taliban among others. One does not engage in anything but eradicating dirty animals.

A coda: women reduced to body part names are put into the same place. While there are no peace talks expected between men and women, reducing a woman to how she looks or what sex acts she might perform lets men afraid of their dominance feel better about their misogyny.

Wallowing in the Corner

firstimpressionfearThere’s no more dangerous an animal than one trapped, cornered in the English idiom. In the wild no animal looks to be cornered — by definition it’s the worst place to be in the scheme of continuity of the species. Animals that feel trapped over time exhibit a wide range of behaviors, from antisocial aggression to cannibalism of the young. Lashing out wildly, instead of with purpose.

We humans have “evolved,” if that’s the correct term, to a point where we corner ourselves. We soak in the information available to us and whip ourselves into an emotional frenzy, gleefully aided and abetted by alleged news and (anti)social media. Where this typically happened in places with poor communication and where rumor trumps fact, it has spread from the nomadic clan through the conspiracy-minded to, in America, the mainstream. Extremism equals Islam to many. Terrorists are the other. No matter than some of our worst terrorist acts, excepting 9/11, were committed by extremists like Timothy McVeigh. (And there are plenty who would argue that the American government, for some reason, killed its own thousands — not Al Quida.)

When people are cornered they feel entitled to lash out: they’re defending themselves as if their lives are threatened. And that translates to many things: from police who shoot when other options are open to politicians who feel quite comfortable in their homophobia, xenophobia, trypanophobia. Not ethnocentrism (favoring one’s own ethnicity or culture), but outright anger, engendered by fear.

Citizens in free countries look to representatives and leaders to chart the best course for the whole population. Acting out of personal, usually imagined, fear garners nothing for the country be a spread of the plague of cowardly anger.

No Honor in Killing

There are thousands of “honor killings” throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world each year. A man in Hayat Abad (in South Waziristan, Pakistan), for example, who moves in with a woman against the wishes of the woman’s family is perceived to have stained the honor of her family (even if said family has never stepped foot in Amman or anywhere near it). Murders are plotted and occur, and then the woman’s clan settles up blood money for her killing. Or they don’t, in which case a blood feud starts, usually lasting for generations. (For American readers, the Hatfield-McCoy feud lasted just over thirty five years with the killing of about fifteen people, including a few due to a ‘blood honor’ excuse.)

The perpetrators believe that, in killing the ones involved in the loss of honor (something perceived just by them), that the stain is erased. There have been cases of honor killings across the planet, almost always by people strongly connected to tribal influences. I say tribal because honor killings are not part of Islam, nor are they part of any form of Sharia law practiced or promulgated in normative cultures.

Honor killings are more than just anti-Sharia and tribal. They are the ultimate form of abuse of women for their gender. Killing the woman and not the man? After all, in most societies where this practice occurs, women are little more than chattel in the marriage and mating process. Wouldn’t the man be the logical target? But no, preying on the helpless woman, punishing her for having her own say in her life, is the real reason for this behavior. If they can’t be cowed into being proper property, then they have no place, living, in the clan.

Killing for honor is something that has been part of almost every culture. Yes, even American Christians have committed murder in the name of family honor. But again, these acts are about violence against women, not something practiced by any religion. The closer a family is to living in a clan, in time or distance, the more likely this is to occur. It’s the job of societies where law and justice are found at the hands of civil government to flense this primitive form of extreme abuse of women. Or they stand on the side of those whose sense of honor betrays the peace and sanctity of the lives of innocents. Unfortunately for the women of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, their government’s laws exempt honor killings from civil justice.

Notes

  • Here’s a tiny list of the victims.
  • There were a large number of web sites regarding honor killings: unfortunately many of them “blame” Islam for the phenomenon (something that would have greatly surprised the Hatfields and McCoys).

The Peace of Cessation of Control

It’s comforting, when driving a vehicle, to control it, keeping it from barreling into pedestrians or buildings. Chefs depend on the control over their knives, creating food from ingredients instead of playing solitaire mumbletypeg at too close a range. Control is what turns a random bunch of folks with instruments into a marching band. And it consists of self-control, willingness to take direction, and presuming that the environment will cede to the needs of the group.
North Korea’s leadership believes it can only survive through armed bellicosity and total population control.

Iceland has a coast guard and a few planes, and participates, as a member of NATO, in military duties with the few resources it has. Of course, being a small, Arctic nation helps keep things quiet.

Costa Rica has no army, yet it sits on the drug route, and has neighbors with a long history of a penchant for conflict and control rather than cooperation. There’s a cost for not having an army: control of the borders depends on another country not taking control. The catchphrase used by Ticans, as the natives call themselves, is “pura vida.”

Parents have choices in their control. At the extreme ends are those who strive either to utterly control their children’s environments, or those who renounce all controls around what their children are exposed to, or choose.

A parent myself, I’ve been two out of three of those. What I’ve learned (the hard way, of course) is that attempts at utter control fail, unless participants accept it, and the environment allows it. And I’m proud to say that, despite some of my parenting ideas, decisions and methods, my children have flourished and are positive influences on their friends and society in general.
It’s important for parents to present and promulgate the cultural mores in which they believe. Letting children make all their own decisions based on their exposure to the environment is rather like opening Petri dishes and expecting every growth to be an antibiotic: there’s plenty of negative memes and practices in even the more “successful” culture (the definition of such is left to the reader).

It’s equally important for parents to let their children make their own choices. They may not like them, and their offspring might well rue them, but the outcome is a person who sees their cultural background as something positive, perhaps even something to be passed along to the next generation.

Whatever we may think, the result of oppressive parenting – or oppressive governance in religious or national settings – is a population with elements of oppositional behavior just because of the sheer energy involved in having to live to someone else’s ideas of right, correct and just.

Peace, personally and on the geopolitical scale, comes from ceasing to try and control the uncontrollable, and focusing on guiding, healing and mentoring children – or subjects – to allow them the emotional and mental space to come to a point where they can, if they wish, voluntarily accept whatever mores and laws presented to them.

Repression and compliance in fear do not promulgate a culture, they merely enforce it. And in doing so, plant the seeds of that culture. The outside world is too visible, too invasive, for xenophobic or cruel behavior to flourish. Even in the hinterlands of Waziristan, even in the hill country of Georgia, even in the town of New Square in New York, people can pick up on ideas from “the outside.” And parents – or leaders – attempting to expunge them result in pushing those ideas deeper, more solidly, into the cultures that would utterly reject them.

Peace is the Absence of Fear as Much as Anger

UntitledAs someone who’s served in combat in the military in the Middle East I’m very familiar with fear and anger. A grandmother, in the street at 3AM along with her family – almost everyone in their apartment – waiting to have their IDs checked. Her fear of loss. Her anger at lack of control. Of the sullen, old men, deemed not “dangerous” enough to be hidden away, ashamed of losing honor in front of their families and neighbors. Of the fear in the soldiers and officers in having to be so close to so many unknown, unsearched people. Afraid of the buildings looming even one story above, and the snipers they might hide.

I was raised in a religious home, and had extensive contact with more religiously conservative – the so-called “ultra-Orthodox” community. I’ve talked with former girlfriends happy and secure in their place, shaved head covered by an expensive wig, focusing on children and household and not the secular world beyond that. And other friends, happily married or not, who love their religion but chafe at some gender-based restrictions. And men, “haredim,” (which means ‘those who fear’) wallowing in that state: afraid to give the idea of an offense to god, afraid of outside influences wending their way into their communities. Afraid that their carefully constructed social labyrinths might be deconstructed. That women and children might be exposed to more than just their point of view.

Living in Texas I see the same from some ultra-conservative Christian families, who live in fear of hell, of sin, of their children’s ruin by exposure to secular society, where ideas roam free for adoption, rejection, or modification.

The theme of fear of losing control, anger at not having control, and further anger at those they believe have caused said loss of control, keep people from even the semblance of peace. Religious leaders willing to send adherents to a martyr’s death rather than lose power and influence, the government afraid to let women drive lest they somehow be corrupted by the act of being far from male dominance. Governments afraid to loosen their death grips on their populace lest they be less seen as Dear Leaders.

Peace, I am only beginning to see, lies in understanding that there is the very small set of things one controls or influences. Everything else works its own machinations, impinging on one’s sphere of influence at its, and not our, whim.

Peace. Sala’am. Shalom.

If you are suffering from physical conflict, first be safe. Distance in space from conflict brings the healing of distance in time.

If you are looking to make a difference in the world, I urge you to listen to the voices of reason, the voices of resolution, and not the impossibilities of absolute rule or law. Armed conflict is the result of people refusing to allow others to live in peace, of an unwilling to make the hard compromises that give people a life of peace and prosperity.

Rabbis on the West Bank spouting religious nationalism at all cost, imams using their pulpit to spread hatred of others and Christian congregation heads who cherry-pick their biblical verses to espouse intolerance and greed are worth ignoring. Consider instead the path of understanding and being understood. Your opponent becomes an ally when all parties come to understand each other and respect another’s right to have and choose their own path.

Airstrikes: Why?

Syria-IraqISIS is in an interesting position: they hold territory, and therefore have an infrastructure, logistics and operations network they need to maintain. It’s all well and good to get 500 Toyota trucks with .50 caliber machine guns on them to overrun a town. It’s quite another to fight the Syrian Army.

Between Raqqa (Al Raqqah on the map, in the top leftish area) and Mosul (top towards the right side), ISIS snagged huge stockpiles of weapons and ammunition. While it’s relatively easy for ISIS bring money into their boundaries to pay their foreign fighters $1,000 a month to $150 a day, it’s harder to get spare parts and maintenance gear into their area. And sure, they’ve got jets captured from Syria. Question is, how ready, after three years of war and sanctions against Syria, are these planes to get into the air? And do they have pilots with the skills to fight real air-to-ground engagements? Eliminating these stockpiles, including fuel depots, is the first of the one-two punch.

The second is command and control. If it’s got an antenna, kill it. Tanks, jeeps, buildings, cell towers. ISIS doesn’t have access to secure satellite communications. Kill the tranmitters, break communications. As you can see from the map, there’s lots of nothing between Raqqa and Mosul. That distance needs to be traversed for ISIS to act. If the Mosul commander wants to keep hitting targets up by the Turkish border (top of map) then they need to coordinate resupply of parts, ammo, fuel and people. The charge of the light (truck) brigade can’t happen if they’re out of bullets. Or gas (their refining abilities are limited to bad craft brewery operations: limited output and much poorer quality diesel and gas than larger commercial refineries. Assuming, of course, that the little refineries aren’t blown up as well.

So that’s the reason for the air war. However, not to flog a dead equine, the air strikes are essentially meaningless to breaking ISIS as a force. For that boots on the ground need to go house-to-house, weeding the ISIS chaff from the civilian wheat, throughout this double-damned part of the world.