On Lies and Liars — and Truth

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu helped up his voting by doing what rulers across the world have always done before elections: scare the electorate right before the election, then walk their fearmongering back once they’ve got the mandate. The day before elections Netanyahu spoke of the Right being in danger, that “the Left” was busing Arab voters to vote. That so long as he was in power, there would be no Palestinian state.[1][2]

The day after the elections Netanyahu blithely and without any shame walked back that latter statement. While he might see this as something completely normal, it’s raised worries even among staunch Israeli supporters. As well it should: lies and fearmongering are a hallmark of a “sick” politican movement, one that believes it can’t rely on truth and facts to make its case.

Of course, in Israel, things are more complicated. While this author very much wants two states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side, with _all_ of Jerusalem as their joint capital, currently this is not possible. Throughout the ’90s and 2000s any “moderates” in the Palestinian camp have been eradicated[3][4][5], leaving populists like Abu Mazen and non-negotiators like Hamas holding the reins of power in with West Bank and Gaza Strip. I don’t trust Netanyahu to act in good faith, but I certainly don’t trust terrorist groups who’ve vowed to destroy Israel to honestly participate in the creation of a two-state solution.

But the current situation should not be the basis for blanket statements, and Netanyahu, in making a blunt (and, for once for him, honest) statement about a two-state solution, showed his true colors. Even if an Abba Eban, a Mohatma Ghandi, a Mother Theresa were all to arise from within the Palestinian leadership, he would not reach out to create peace. An that is more dangerous to Israel and the entire Middle East than someone who is willing to honestly deal and honestly speak. Dancing the sidestep might look pretty in a movie, but a person’s word is their bond. Break that bond enough times and there’s not even an empty, angry suit left.

Tunisia & The Homicidal ex-Boyfriend

domestic violenceIf I can’t have you, I’ll beat/kill you so no one can have you. This is the insane rationale of men who beat or kill their ex-girlfriends (real or imagined). (If you are in a situation like this, please click here to get help.)

DAESH thrives on fear and chaos, believing their “order” would be preferred to the horrors of random violence.

Tunisia, and all normatively functioning countries, have an invested interest in creating a diverse market of products and services to generate foreign currency: tourism, agriculture, manufacturing. Even if the country is totalitarian, the need for money and trade is critical. The Filipino government depends on foreign remittances from their citizens serving in household and other endeavors in countries around the world. The Mexican economy depends in many parts of the country on those selfsame remittances from illegal immigrants to the United States, sending home money to support their families.

Broken and failed states are only interested in their self-preservation, inhabitants be damned. North Korea exports cohorts of slaves from its prisons (where “crimes” are frequently manufactured, and entire families are sentenced for the purported sins of a single family member) to work in Middle Eastern countries as construction workers. DAESH steals and loots from people that have run from their terror, extorts money for passage into, on, and out of its controlled territory and sells oil to the open market. There’s no real commerce, no industry: there’s only money into DAESH’s bloody pockets.

Depriving a country of legitimate revenue, like killings tourists, gives DAESH and other “angry boyfriend” terrorists a venue to increase their power. For where there is no economy, no markets, high unemployment, fear and anger, DAESH, like a lethal fungus, can take root.

Sunshine (transparency) and cleanliness (rule of law, fairness) are the cure for these situations. But it’s up to governments and rulers to invest in their people, in their businesses and industries, and schools to keep the population involved and interested in keeping the empty hatred of DAESH and its ilk at bay.

 

 

But What of Tikrit?

DAESH is slowly, painfully, being pried out of Tikrit. Instead of America’s fanciful and impossible-to-execute idea of strengthened Iraqi battalions of mixed-sect soldiers with “Coalition” support, it’s a Badr/Sadr/Iranian action with a boisterous Iraqi tagging along. This is how it seems to me, an outsider in faith and geography. But it’s clear to me, with my military background, that Americans can’t be much in play, not if they’re busy not talking with Iranian forces led by a general who’s made life miserable for the West, thwarting plans of Israelis and Americans alike in the Syrian debacle.

skull_maskNow comes the test of Iran as a nation-state: how will they treat the Iraqi citizens of Tikrit. Yes, it’s Saddam al Tikriti’s home town. And yes, it’s a pure Sunni city. Will this turn into a revenge trip, continuing the cycle of violence? Or will the Iranian military take the moral high ground and truly free the city, and not merely conquer and subjugate its inhabitants. The telling of that story will determine whether this is Iran’s honest attempt to behave more like a nation of laws, or whether it’s yet another defilade in its pure power war with the Sunni and moderate Islamic Middle East — and the West. And General Qasem Soleimani holds the key to Iranian’s future in its dealing with the West.

On Being the Will of the People

15 March update: Elections in Israel are less than a day away, and it looks like the Joint List with Meretz is an attractive alternative in the Israeli-Arab “street” to not voting, or joining a large party. Check out one of the charismatic candidates from Haifa in this CNN story.

Israelis go to elections this week. All Israelis have the right to vote (if they are in-country on voting day). I’ve always been proud of the fact that ballot boxes are sent to military bases, prisons and hospitals to sweep up every last vote. Israel’s parliamentarian system is amazingly imperfect, yet it is better, at this point, than even the American system. It’s easy to buy a politician: it’s a bit harder to buy a party, each with its own internally-ranked list of possible Knesset members. That said, the baldly stated positions of these parties need little camouflage to attract the money, in contrast to the amorphous “Republican” or “Democrat” label in America, which by virtue of the breadth of the label, makes indiscernible the true views of the politician beyond their carefully crafted, handled, managed, spun sound bites.

It’s an ugly election where the true views and opinions of its citizens are brought bare for a popularity contest. And given that there are voting percentage thresholds preventing tiny (and usually fringe) parties from getting in, the simpler and more populist the message, the better the chances of that party getting sufficient votes to represent its ideological constituents.

Gerrymander_fullThis means that Israeli Arabs, if they want any say in obtaining a legitimate portion of the economic pie, must lump themselves together either into an oleo of communist, religious Muslim and ethnically Arab proponents — and achieve much thrashing with little concrete, usable policy or power, or vote with one of the left-leaning parties, and hope that said parties won’t forget their Arab voters once they get a say in government. This is akin to the American concept of gerrymandering, without all the trouble of reapportioning voters to geographies. And Israeli Arabs will lose here, as they have in almost all previous elections. But the y have the vote, and access to the laws of the land, and their courts. And slowly, incredibly slowly, their representatives are able to bring the resources their constituents need home to them.

At least in Israel Christians and Muslims have the right to vote, and, on paper if nowhere else, are full citizens of the country. And that’s the point: the minority in Israel has rights courts have reaffirmed countless time.

A democracy isn’t required to be run with the will of the people: the Hussein dynasty ruling Jordan has done an incredible job of providing a place at the table for Arabs of all faiths and sects. And while there is a Parliament which ostensibly runs the country, the real power is behind the throne and the Hussein dynasty. King Hussein rules because he considers the will of his people, and at the very least acknowledges it.

But a country run by those ignoring the will of its weak people (demographically or politically speaking) is not a true country: it’s a swath of land where those with power rule, and those without bend, hide, or die. A place like DAESH’s ephemeral domain. Or Iraq. Or Burma. Or any number of Emir/Calif/Prince/King -ruled places.

Living Life in Color, Not the Black and White of Absolutism

حياة

DAESH lives in a crisp, black and white world: Semahat or Haram — allowed or forbidden. So do Neo-Nazis, apparently. Extremists see the world with few hues or shades outside their world view. Many things influence someone to reach that point, and intervening with that person, their family and their community is a proven way to disrupt this path. The BBC profiled Hayat this week: It’s an organization that works to intercede on behalf of friends or families of someone on the path to radicalization. (If you want to read a detailed of how their program works, here you here.)

Hayat is based directly on another very successful program in Germany called Exit, which has helped hundreds of people leave the neo-Nazi movement. According to Daniel Koehler, who runs the program, relief from family and neighborhood violence, exposure to moderate voices of religion (his group makes no attempt to change a person’s choice of belief) all combine to leach the fear and anger from a person, emotions that would otherwise send them down extremist — and violent — paths.

American interest in funding mental healthThis solution would never work in America today. Eliminating violence from the home and community requires investment is education, mental health and community-based solutions to violence. In the current extremist congresses in many states, money to do good is trumped by the need to build prisons and turn even minor criminals into sources of revenue at the local, county and state levels. And the levels of extremism for which Hayat was founded to defray is the same level in many right-wing political and religious groups firmly embedded in many American politicians at the state and federal levels.

Until Americans decide that “home improvement” is a worthwhile action, we’ll continue to empower the radicalization of our most disenfranchised citizenry.

The Caliphate of “V”

DAESH might be trying to carve a totalitarian, landlocked (in fact and intellectualism) space to call home. American extremists are no less rabid in using fearmongering to gather strength and constituents. The (obvious) difference is that here we have folks who own the media, and buy the politicians needed to advance our cause: no need for actual weapons (except to arm said constituents to assuage their fears). At the present time it looks as though they’re trying to carve out chunks of the American Southeast as their homeland, safe from concepts and realities clashing with their religion-warped world view.

I’d just bought a few boxes of Girl Scout cookies outside a bustling restaurant on a Friday night but stopped on my way home to chat with a mother trying to calm a baby clearly past the end of its tether. She glared at my box and asked if I knew that the Girl Scouts of America funded abortions. I decided she’d been radicalized by extremists and didn’t contest her insane claims. Which probably made her feel more correct, but I wouldn’t have changed her “mind” no matter how persuasive my rebuttal.

While V for Vendetta is a fictional story, it has all the subtlety of Orwell’s 1984 in its threat: religion plus fear equals control. And whatever lies need spreading to further the goal, it’s all in the name of god. The reality is that in America, just like in “V,” the powers that be might use religion as a tool, but the real goal is pure, controlling power.

One of the weapons used vigorously by both DAESH and their American extremist counterparts is the mentally ill. Sane, balanced people can become suicide bombers, suffused in their zealotry and firmly directed and aimed. But these are like cruise missiles: the bulk of suicide bombers are Katyusha rockets: unintelligent, unguided, but shoved in the approximate direction of the enemy. In America we have the social and medical capability to analyze a perpetrator, to determine whether her or his motives were sound. I argue that extremism (religious or not) is a kind of insanity, but that doesn’t mean a person is of diminished capacity. For every “Islamist” terrorist there are literally tens of millions of Muslims who define the norms of a healthy society. And for every American believing, for example, that killing doctors who perform abortions is part of a holy war, there are tens of millions of Christians that cringe at the thought that a person like that would be a member of their congregation. So yeah, they’re nuts: but the kind of nuts that’s inexcusable in societies with (even somewhat) functional governments.

They’re not that different, DAESH and the Koch brothers and their puppets in the media and behind pulpits: both want to create “perfect” societies in which the rulers make… (drum roll)… the rules. One uses a circus mirror of Islam, the other a similar mirror of Christianity, with the oxymoronic melding of Ayn Rand’s love of only oneself through Objectivism.

The take-away is that religious extremism locks a person’s world view into a monochromatic focus: it’s right or wrong. They’re in, they’re out. Eliminate — or be eliminated. At least in America the fighting[1] is sporadic[2] at the moment[3][4][5] (and mostly[6] non-violent). But it has a great potential for violence against those in any shade not white.

Netanyahu and his High Horse

I’m taking a (short) break from Peace as a concept to focus on the real here and now. I’ll be back to discussing issues surrounding Daesh next week.

Colonel Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu א”ש. Died rescuing kidnapped civilans a continent away from Israel.

Bibi the Blowhard (Benyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister) blew into office on the strength of his commando brother Yonatan’s brand identity, as said brother died rescuing kidnapped Jews held in Entebbe, Uganda. His command of English, his ability to bend and twist with the political wind, all combine to make the perfect empty suit. He’s the rich white guy that makes Christians in America feel oh so comfy, and his dismissal of everything to his left and fear-mongering keep the Israeli equivalent of the American Focks Gnus sycophants cheering.

pistachio+vector+LARGEYou don’t negotiate for peace with friends: you do it with enemies. The time is _never_ right, and the leadership and circumstances are always sub-par. Unlike the West Bank and Gaza Strip, in Iran we have a political and governmental entity with whom treaties (and embargoes) work. And the fruits of such a peace are sweet, and filled with fistukim (pistachio nuts, an Iranian export). The price Israel (and Egypt) paid for peace was high, and continues to have a cost. But it beats having a state of war and a frighteningly long border, something even total French Jewish immigration wouldn’t help.


Even if Netanyahu is right and it’s a 10-year hiatus for Iran to “get ready to start again,” that’s ten years to change minds and hearts of entire countries. Give peace a chance. Or, to use Nasreddin‘s parable, over that time perhaps the horse might sing!

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).