Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt, Israel, and the United States

So I've been engaged in a running debate with a couple of people about what the revolution in Egypt means for Israel. These two both believe that the USA betrayed Mubarak and that this is will end in an Iran-like regime that will dissolve the peace treaty with Israel and support more terrorism. They think Obama is stupid for not having tried to stop this dangerous revolution. Both are Democrats, but make the mistake that some Americans make of viewing everything through the lens of "is it good for Israel?" I've had to read their rants about how Muslims are "animals" who are incapable of democracy. In their view, Israel is completely blameless vis-a-vis the Palestinian - that Israelis are victims, plain and simple. Nevermind that Palestinians live under Israeli rule, and not the other way around. Nevermind that the relative civilian casualty count is more than 100 to 1 against the Palestinians. Nevermind that there hasn't been a car bomb or suicide bomber in Israel proper for years. Nevermind that every day Israel expands its settlements into the West Bank. I'm fed up to here (indicate neck) with this attitude. And I'm an American who is quite sympathetic to the Jewish people and their cause in Israel otherwise. This is exactly the attitude of the Netanyahu government that prevents any meaningful peace agreement.

So let's get a few things straight. The decision of the British in 1916 to conquer rather than liberate the Ottoman Arab territories, then encourage large scale European Jewish immigration into Palestine without the consent or even dialog with the existing mostly Arab colonial population was bound to, and did, cause resentment. It really didn't matter how peaceful and friendly the Jews intended to be or actually were. The British decision to divide the Arab world into various subject countries and install kings in TransJordan, Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, was not calculated to win friends either. The third British decision - to ban Jewish immigration halfway through the project and abandon the situation to the same division of territory that has been so successful in Ireland and Kashmir - was equally disastrous. So the table was set really badly by the British. The Cold War made it worse, with the USSR supporting Arab nationalists against "American/Zionist aggressors" and the USA supporting in turn "moderate" dictatorships to keep oil flowing while trying to buttress Israel. All this is before the Israelis and Palestinians themselves made their own messes. Palestinian "leaders" like Arafat committed to a horrific strategy of terrorism and the Israelis began to create permanent settlements in the occupied territories, making it clear they were not leaving. It's now been more than 40 years of Israeli rule over millions of Palestinian Arabs who are not given any political rights in the Israeli state, but not allowed to have a state of their own. It's almost irrelevant that the Israelis have been pretty good rulers all told, permitting more liberty to Palestinian Arabs than they could have had elsewhere. It's almost irrelevant that the vast majority of Palestinians have had no connection to terrorism. Even if you decide that the Arab decision to engage in terrorism and start the 1967 and and 1973 wars make them by far the guiltier party, it does not mean that Israel is blameless, and it certainly does not mean that we should unquestioningly support the continued Israeli policy of occupation and gradual squeeze-out of the Palestinian Arab population denied political rights in their own country.

It is also a big mistake to think that Arabs are incapable of democracy or peaceful coexistence for cultural or religious reasons. First, it is historically idiotic. For most of the time since Mohammed's birth, Jews have been much, much happier in the religiously tolerant Muslim countries than in Christian ones. The holocaust wasn't their doing - it was the product of European/Christian civilization. Second, it is racist. Arabs are people too. Their problems are political, geopolitical, and economic at root, and the cultural stuff is largely epiphenomenal. Third, it's just an attitude designed to be self-fulfilling. Deny people liberty on the theory that they can't handle it and they will not learn how. Fourth, it pisses off everyone in the region to no end.

Israel is our best friend in the region. It ranks with Canada and the UK as our best friends in the world. But just as we tried to make peace in Northern Ireland rather than just supporting the UK (or just opposing it), we need to have get fucking perspective on the situation in Israel.


Raised By Republicans said...

I agree, LTG. Friends tell friends when they are making mistakes - just as the French and German governments did in 2003 with us.

Your counterparts in this argument would also do well to consider that an Islamist take over in Egypt far from assured and may even be rather unlikely.

As for whether this or that people is "ready" for democracy... a society is ready as soon as it asks for it. Whether it will get it and keep it or not depends on a lot of factors - including external interference by people in positions of power who think like the people arguing with LTG.

The Law Talking Guy said...

One reason why Islamist takeover is unlikely in Egypt is the difference between Sunni and Shi'a islam. Some have compared Shi'ism to Roman Catholicism and Sunnism to Protestantism in terms of organization. Shi'ites have a hierarchy of ayatollahs and clerics; Sunnism is organized more like Judaism or Protesant sects with congregational and ad hoc authority. That's why in Iran the clerics took over the government but in Afghanistan it was the Taliban, a "student" political/military party of non-clerics. In other words, in Egypt an Islamist triumph would require an Islamist political party, perhaps led by the Muslim Brotherhood, to take control and impose its version of Sharia law. It could not be a clerical takeover.

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