Sunday, March 2, 2008

Hypocrisy, ignorance, or a little of both?

Yesterday, tensions exploded in the Gaza Strip as Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian militants, leaving some 65 people dead in what is being called the worst violence in years. Israel has been condemned by many in the international community, although the Jewish state shows no sign of backing down as Palestinian rockets continue to pound the Israeli border towns of Sderot and Ashkelon.

My View on this:

The truth is, I think Israel is making a mistake by launching such a massive operation during critical peace talks with the moderate Palestinian government in the West Bank. In fact, they are doing exactly what Hamas wants, which is for the peace process to be destroyed. In the end, I will always defend Israel's right to exist, but if they had responded to this crisis by calling for more peace talks with the moderates even as rockets are being lobbed over the border, it would show the terrorist groups that their efforts have failed and could very well inflict more harm on Hamas' propaganda outlets than any missile or artillery strike.

However, this is where I am confused. As the international community condemns Israel over this so-called "bloodbath", Taliban militants have unleashed all-out chaos across northwestern Pakistan, killing scores of people in a series of suicide bombings and other attacks. On Sunday alone, some 40 people were killed when a bomber blew himself up at a reconciliation meeting among tribal leaders. Just 48 hours earlier, scores of others met a similar fate when another blast ripped through a funeral procession in the scenic Swat Valley. Sadly, the funeral was being held for a police commander who had been killed hours earlier in a roadside attack. Among the dead at the funeral attack was the policeman's 16-year old son.

Where is the outrage over this? Where are the cries for peace and restraint when these evil people unleash their waves of terror upon innocent Muslims? Arab leaders are not referring to this as a "holocaust", even though the casualties caused by these terrorists far outweigh what has been happening in Gaza in recent days. Images of babies killed in Gaza air raids are plastered all over anti-Israel media outlets, but they seem less willing to talk about the young kids who are strapped up with explosives and used as human bombs in Pakistan.

The one good thing the Israelis and the Palestinians have is that there are many international mediators doing everything they can to stop the fighting...and they would be wise to work with them. After all, that is what makes international diplomacy such a useful tool, as opposed to dealing with the matter like Pakistani insurgents and blowing up reconciliation meetings.


Anonymous said...

Off the top of my head I can make a few reasons why things don't get equal attention.

1) People are incapable of making rational comparisons. Think, for example of the danger of children choking on a popular toy vs. those who die in car crashes. Even when the danger varies by 1000:1, guess what gets the attention. Or (while we're on kids) the danger of abuse by a stranger who abducts a kid, vs. by a parent. Which is more likely, yet what gets the hype?

2) It's impossible. Can we line up all of the tragedies of the day all around the world, rank and compare them all? Good luck.

3) Denial and Ignorance. On the Angry Arab, see "vza's" comments on the Assyrians where she was basically told to shut up. See my never ending discussion with "Midwest" on the Armenian Genocide. Actually one should say the Armenian/Assyrian genocide--this only proves her point that Assyrians are ignored (as many as 750,000 died).

C.H. said...

That's an interesting way to put it. Indeed, there are many, many conflicts around the world that do not get the right attention (Sri Lanka, Congo, and Somalia) to name a few.

However, the unprecedented violence we are seeing in Pakistan's Waziristan region is an issue that should be convincing moderate Muslims that the forces of terrorism are inflicting suffering on their fellow Muslims at an alarming rate, and that the Gaza crisis pales in comparison to what so-called "Islamic" terrorists are doing to Arabs and Muslims in Pakistan, Iraq, and North Africa. Yet for some reason, Israel takes the brunt of the blame for violence against Muslims.

Early last year, when the siege of terror began in the region, the White House, as well as other world leaders, would condemn the terrorist attacks. Now, it seems to have become so common and expected that people just accept it for what it is, as aweful as that sounds.

All the while, we hear propaganda about how the Israelis are out to kill Muslims, and Muslims are out to kill Israelis. The fact is, terrorism is an issue that should unite the two sides, because it attacks both Jews and Muslims equally.

Anonymous said...

Just to state the obvious that I think everyone agrees on:

Israel/Palestine gets a lot of attention because of its importance for all the Abrahamic religions. Westerners care about Israel because it is also seen as a Western country and because of Jew's history of persecution. We agree of course that many countries are ignored; if the Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpor were destroyed instead of those in New York it wouldn't have been nearly such a big deal.

Does Israel get blamed more for violence? I think in the U.S. no. Actually, I think worldwide the U.S. gets blamed the most (including actually for Israel's actions).

Obviously terrorism is bad for everyone. The solution--I buy the "if you want peace, fight for justice". Much easier said than done, but if an 18 year old has a job and a future he's less likely to become a suicide bomber. I think the U.S.'s recent actions in the M.E. have created more terrorists.

Switching gears completely. What do you think of extrajudicial killings? Israel has done this in the past, I don't know if they still do. Target a terrorist and blow up the house he's in. They've calculated how many innocent bystanders are killed and freely admit this--they try to minimize deaths. The thinking of course is that fewer people will be killed than by terrorists. Likewise, the CIA has targeted people for assassination (they say they no longer do this). Any thoughts?

C.H. said...

The attention focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one thing, but I think its wrong when Arab leaders condemn the recent actions in the Gaza strip as a "holocaust" and Isreal critics refer to it as "genocide"...that would imply that the Israelis are systematically killing off Muslims, and thats not true. On the other hand, we have people masquerading as Muslims wrecking havoc across the Middle East, killing anyone who refuses to submit to their ideology, that to me is truly an attempt tp destroy an ethnic, religious, or political group, which is the basic definition of genocide.

This "war on terrorism" is often portrayed as a conflict between Islam and the West, and the reality is quite different, seeing as far more Muslims have been killed in terrorist-related violence than Americans, westerners, or Jews. The truth is, its more like Islam, the USA, Europe, and Israel versus terrorism, seeing as such violence is condemned all good Muslims and people of all faiths.

The USA does take a lot of blame for the situation in the Middle East, but to simply blame the Bush Admin is incorrect, since terrorism has been running rampant in the region for decades. Back during Lebanon's civil war, car bombs were leveling neighborhoods and rogue states, incuding Iran, were arming, training, and supporting terrorists just like they are today. Barack Obama often says that Iran's latest actions are in response to the Bush Admin's policies, but that doesn't really make sense. Iran has pretty much been an exporter of death and terrorism since the ayatollahs came to power. Remember, the Iranians were active in Lebanon in the early 80's, and ended up creating Hezbollah, which subsequently murdered 241 marines and countless others in many more attacks.

To answer your question, I strongly believe that Israel has a right to defend itself, but I do think they make mistakes. There's no simple answer to this question, but if they have the ability to assassinate a terrible human being like Imad Mughniyeh (some think Israel is responsible, I'm not sure) then I am all for it. However, Israel's use of "shoot first ask questions later" techniques often result in heavy civilian casualities...which is regrettable. Like I said though, there is no easy answer. I'm confident Isreal wants peace, but its very hard when there are movements that exist solely for the purpose of destroying the Jewish State (Hamas, Islamic Jihad).

C.H. said...

One other thing, you mentioned that if an 18-year old has a job in a Muslim country, he is less likely to become a suicide bomber. That is true, but unfortunately these evil people we are fighting are perfectly willing to strap up unwilling disabled people and detonate them by happened in Iraq a number of times last month, as disgusting as that sounds.

West Coast said...

By no means am I one of those die-hard Israel supporters, but I do think that eliminating terrorists will help save more lives in the long run.

Also, many of the Hamas terrorists Israel is targeting have brought tremendous suffering on the Palestinians through infighting with the ousted Fatah movement.

Anonymous said...


The whole genocide issue is a difficult one, and it depends largely on how one defines genocide. To give you a sense for the diversity of definitions, go the the Wikipedia article: "Genocide Definitions".

I believe I counted 21 definitions. I tend to prefer the more conservative ones (for example the U.N. one). Perhaps you prefer the Katz one? Personally, I think that labeling everything a genocide can cheapen the most horrible ones. And there are plenty of them out there. The original definition by Lemkin, for example, was based on the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, which killed about 1/3 and 1/2 of each group worldwide respectively.

But then we don't want to compare tragedies and say that one was worse than another solely because more people died. As for Israel/Palestine, in my opinion you can make a compelling argument that it's a genocide given more liberal interpretations of the word, but not with more conservative ones. You may or may not agree with that.

What really bothers me, though, is when people argue yes it's a genocide, no it's not, when they have never even defined the word. A certain incredibly grandiose person who's also a bully on the A.A. comes to mind. I believe you know who I mean.

p.s. If you have a strong stomach, go to Google images and type Armenian Genocide. They say it was the template for all the 20th century genocides that followed.

C.H. said...


You are right, what I should have said was its more LIKE an "act" of genocide, seeing as the intention is to kill off or eradicate a certain political, religious, or ethnic group. But the specific word "genocide" should only be used when referencing just that (Holocaust, Rwanda, Cambdia, etc.)

I too believe it is to be used when referencing large-scale human tragedies.

You are also right about the Armenian genocide. I can bet if you were to visit a local college campus and I ask people if they've ever heard of it, many would say no (I've done this myself). Had we paid more attention to the horrific atrocities happening during the early 1900's, it could have given us an understanding and helped us forsee the Holocaust and the many other events that have followed after it. But even today, there are tragedies many do not hear much about. Look at eastern congo, where over 5 million people have died in an ethnic power struggle that has rippled out from the Rwandan killings of 1994.

Had our attention been turned to the Armenian tragedy, it more likely would have given us another chance to say "Never Again" again.

Anonymous said...

The reason I ask about extrajudicial killings is that I think that they are immoral, illegal, yet they may help save lives. I don't have a perfect answer for this. They also fit many definitions of terrorism, which puts things in a different perspective.

You could kill a criminal and distribute his organs--this would also be illegal, immoral and would save lives. Yet we all agree that this is wrong.

Anonymous said...


I understand that on a wall just inside the Holocaust museum is the "Hitler quote": "Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?"

Much more so than the Armenian Genocide, the Assyrian Genocide also gets forgotten as I mentioned above. As far as I know, the Turks have never tried to claim that the Assyrians were involved in some sort of military struggle, allied with Russia, etc., so that would destroy a lot of their excuses for the massacres.

I used to live in Pasadena, right next to Glendale, and Adam Schiff was my Congressman. As you might imagine people really care about this issue down there. Much like Jewish people in the Holocaust, many lost a huge number of family members, yet so many people deny it ever happened. I'm sure you can imagine how angry and hurt people are.

C.H. said...

On the issue of the extrajudicial killings, you and I seem to agree that there is no easy answer.

No one wants to hear about innocent people having to die in the process, and I think this is why public opinion has been against Israel for such a long time.

However, I'm sure you would agree with me that the world is a better place without a man like Imad Mughniyeh, who is the most recent example. I'm not saying Israel took him out (It could have been an Arab government or rival terrorist factions like Al-Qaeda), but he was killed in a similar matter.

That's why this is an issue where people might shake their heads in disgust, all the while secretly breathing a sigh of relief that a threat has been eliminated.

I don't know if you've ever seen the movie "Munich", but it shows how this works pretty well.

Anonymous said...


Sorry to drag this out.

No, I haven't seen Munich. I've been to Munich, but mostly just the airport--for many hours, waiting for a bus.

Here's yet another hypothetical question.

What if one thinks Bush is a "war criminal" or "terrorist"?

Now, obviously you don't, but there are quite a few people around the world who do. In this case, are they justified in assassinating him (in their minds)? What if it's a country--Iran, Venezuela? These people/countries could make the argument that they are saving a lot of lives. Some believe that he is a much bigger terrorist than any of the "ordinary" guys.

I guess my point here is that ignoring international law and plain old morality can be dangerous. Where to draw the line? I certainly don't know for sure. My tendency is to stick to international law--it's there for a reason.

C.H. said...

International law should be observed, but I cut the Israelis some slack (some might label me a hypcrite, but thats okay), only because I think they are doing it for their own survival. If they adopted laws like the US, and simply arrested Hamas leaders by picking around through Gaza city, the result would be heavy Israeli casualties and a perceived weakness by their enemies. If American cities were under siege from rockets and suicide bombers on a daily basis, the warplanes and the missiles would be soaring towards whoever was launching them. It's easy for us to criticize them in the safety of our own homes, in a country like America where many people take freedom and security for granted.

Pakistan is doing the same thing. Over the last few months, Pakistan has been rocked by unprecedented terrorist violence, as I pointed out earlier. The result has been a state of emergency imposed by President Musharraf, which many have condemned him for. However, I personally beleive he is one of the only people who truly understands how the war on terror works.

Lebanon is another example...remember the nahr-el-bared clashes last year? There were many instances where innocent Lebanese lost their lives in the heavy shelling , and many more lost their homes. All of these countries though, are experiencing far different scenarios than any western country is, at this time anyway.

The stakes are very high over there, and while I don't necessarily agree with some of these tactics our allies are using, I understand that they must make some very controversial decisons to save lives...something I don't expect most Americans who to understand.

C.H. said...

By the way, I enjoy your commentary on my threads. You seem pretty well-informed and open-minded. I hope you continue to stop by.

I hope you've managed to separate my views from the numerous people you have pointed out on the Angry Arab.

Anonymous said...

Of course, there are more targeted ways of killing someone than bombing a building where it is known there will be civilian casualities. Certainly the Mossad has a reputation of being quite capable. And one doesn't even need to leave much of a clue to kill someone. Search ricin Bulgaria for an amazing example. IMO one of those stories you should be familiar with if you're not already.

Of course, the question of extrajudicial killings is not totally unlike that of national security vs. privacy/civil rights. At what stage do we draw the line? If we start sacrificing freedoms, will we ever get them back?

Anonymous said...


Definitely. I enjoy your blog. It's always good to be able to both disagree with someone and have a civil discussion.

The Angry Arab, on the other hand, is so polarized and so many people are full of hate--as opposed to anger. (As'ad, to his credit, is indeed Angry, but I don't sense bigotry or anti-Semitism).

The problem is that for the most part the two camps just "scream" at each other and there are even few rational discussions within them. You obviously generate an immediate reaction whenever you post.

The two sides fail to police their own bigots. It's rare that I've seen anything. Actually, on the anti-Israel side, I can think of only two people who have fought the anti-Semites: thankgodimatheist (TGIA) and Moroccan (at least he's consistent with his condemnation of bigotry). TGIA is by far my best friend on the blog--great guy and very smart, although I know he would reject you outright because he feels so passionately about Israel. As'ad also makes comments denouncing anti-Semitism from time to time.

Then there are people like Sweden. When I first joined the blog, my very first post was responding to his celebration that an estimated 200,000 people had died in Iraq. I called him a monster. I didn't see anyone from his side call him on this, and I don't think I've noticed anyone condemn him for his anti-Arab/Muslim hate.

He is also (supposedly) on he pro-Israel side, although I think in his case it is entirely about being anti-Muslim/Arab. He has made some unambiguous anti-Semitic remarks: he once said that he would kill himself is he were an "Oriental Jew". He repeatedly says that Islam is "far worse" than Hitler. I read a couple days ago that that is referred to as "soft anti-Semitism" I honestly don't see it as much different than Holocaust denial or minimization. Set up a (false) comparison and say that one is not nearly as bad as another. Are people clueless when it comes to his comments?

Anyway, you can probably tell that I get pretty annoyed by this. I suppose it does reflect some of the tensions that go on in the ME. The whole problem of polarization and bigotry on the blog is one of several reasons I'm going as anonymous at the blog at the moment. I like to be able to attack the bigots without alienating others who support their political goals. I also switched over at the same time Barabie arrived and started making life hell for people she didn't agree with her 100%.

If I'm called a "Jewish Maggot" by Barbarie and an Arab by Sweden (an insult to him) then I know I must be doing something right.

Anyway, it's a strange place, but often intelligent discussion will surface. You just have to fight for it. I try to make it clear that the bigots aren't welcome, and that a minimum their rants won't go unchallenged.

Anonymous said...

One more:

I always encourage people to be aware of these:

This relates to genocide (and I assume terrorism), but it asks WHY are people willing to kill/torture, etc. Are people truly "just following orders"?

These two experiments are must reads if you haven't seen them before, say in an undergraduate psychology course.

The first is the Milgram experiment:

"The Milgram experiment was a series of seminal social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram, which measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts that conflicted with their personal conscience. Milgram first described his research in 1963 in an article published in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology,[1] and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.[2]

The experiments began in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem. Milgram devised the experiments to answer this question: "Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?""

The next is the Stanford prison experiment (in many ways a follow up of the first). The gist of it: torture and abuse in prison settings may be human nature when one group has control over another.

"The Stanford prison experiment was a psychological study of human responses to captivity and its behavioral effects on both authorities and inmates in prison. The experiment was conducted in 1971 by a team of researchers led by psychologist Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University. Undergraduate volunteers played the roles of both guards and prisoners living in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building.

Prisoners and guards rapidly adapted to their roles, stepping beyond the boundaries of what had been predicted and leading to dangerous and psychologically damaging situations. One-third of the guards were judged to have exhibited "genuine" sadistic tendencies, while many prisoners were emotionally traumatized and two had to be removed from the experiment early. Finally, Zimbardo, alarmed at the increasingly abusive anti-social behavior from his subjects, terminated the entire experiment early."

I think figuring out why otherwise "normal' people are willing to inflict pain and suffering on others is as important as anything to figuring out how to prevent genocide, terrorism, etc.

Anonymous said...

More from the Stanford Prison Experiment article:

Milgram and Zimbardo were friends from High School:

"Ethical concerns surrounding the famous experiment often draw comparisons to the Milgram experiment, which was conducted in 1961 at Yale University by Stanley Milgram, Zimbardo's former high school friend.

Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr wrote in 1981 that the Milgram Experiment in the 1960s and the later Zimbardo Experiment were frightening in their implications about the danger which lurks in the darker side of human nature."

C.H. said...

Having a civil discussion is very important. I find As'ad on A.A. to be a very interesting and unique character, although I don't really agree with what he says. The comments page is another story, although I think its good that As'ad is willing to allow people to say pretty much whatever they want...that is the point of free speech after all. Although, when calls for violence emerge from the haters in darkest bowels of the comments section, he has stepped in to say its wrong and I commend him for that (recently, on one of his posts I recall, he did that).

I try to do the same thing. I want all opinions to be welcome here, and I don't want anyone to be afraid to share their views. If they disagree with me, I'm more than willing to hear about why, and if they want to offer praise or condemnations, well, thats great too.

C.H. said...

By the way, do you believe that some people are just "evil". I'm not speaking from a religious point of view or anything like that (I'm an agnostic omnitheist), but I believe that there are bad people out there. I recently watched a documentary "Ghosts of Rwanda", and there's a scene where the commander of the UN peacekeeping force talked about his experience meeting with the Interahamwe militia leaders...the men who were commanding a bunch of machete-wielding murderers who were running across the countryside killing people by the hundreds of thousands. And when he met them, he said he was not meeting with human beings, but pure evil. The fact that these people came in with blood soaked on their shirts after a day of "work" should send chills down anyone's spine.

On the other hand, this world has seen some very good people, like Gandhi, MLK, Mother Teresa etc. It's almost like there's some kind of science between good and evil.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's a tough one. And of course I've thought about it before, but without an answer I'm happy with. I think it's impossible to know the answer, but I'd like to believe that we are all good, and that we all have the capacity for "evil". Take for example someone who is schizophrenic and kills her kids because she thinks God's telling her to. Lets say that the major factors leading to her schizophrenia are genetics and the fact that her mom had influenza while pregnant (a well-established risk factor). So is she evil by bad luck? That attitude bothers me. A medication comes around to fully treat her. No longer evil? Also problematic.

What if Hitler was suffering from some sort of condition that could be treated? If he's fixed, is he still "evil"?

(By the way, I should add that the notion that schizophrenics tend to be dangerous is nonsense; I think the media plays on people's fears)

And I think you can come up with similar scenarios for anyone who exhibits "evil behavior". These people did not "choose" to become who they are.

Moreover, as I mentioned above, the Milgram and Stanford studies suggest that many or most have the capability for disturbing behavior. So one possible conclusion is that we ALL are evil. I prefer to reject that, but I have no evidence either way.

A completely different way of looking at it. For questions like this it is sometimes useful to look at animal behavior. Our closest relatives are "regular" chimpanzees and bonobos (pygmy chimps). Chimpanzees can be quite violent and are capable of murder. Bonobos are peaceful. Do we want to call Bonobos good and Chimps evil? We all came from a common ancestor relatively recently. To suggest that one of the differences between humans and bonobos is our capacity to be "evil" strikes me as very odd.

Here's Dr. Seuss' suggestion how one "evil" character became evil. And of course he wasn't evil in the end after all:

The Grinch hated Christmas! The whole Christmas season!
Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.
It could be that his head wasn't screwed on quite right.
It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were too tight.
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.

C.H. said...

This is yet another one of those questions that have no easy (or known) answer we have stumbled upon. Scientists, religious leaders, and people like you and I can throw out possibilities, but no one knows for sure how it works or exactly what is behind it.

Am I right?

Anonymous said...

I agree with you completely.

Perhaps the important question is not whether some people are evil but what to do to prevent crimes. Interestingly, after Abu Ghraib, people noted the similarities to the Stanford Prison Experiment and pointed out that we should have already known better. I may have heard that the military was already aware of these studies--I'm not sure if I recall correctly.

From the Stanford site:

"There are stunning parallels between the Stanford Prison Experiment and what happened at Abu Ghraib, where some of the visual scenes that we have seen include guards stripping prisoners naked, putting bags over heads, putting them in chains, and having them engage in sexually degrading acts. And in both prisons the worst abuses came on the night shift."

"These are exact parallels between what happened in this basement at Stanford 30 years ago and at Abu Ghraib, where you see images of prisoners stripped naked, wearing hoods or masks as guards get them to simulate sodomy. The question is whether what we learned about the psychological mechanisms that transformed our good volunteers into these creatively evil guards can be used to understand the transformation of good American Army reservists into the people we see in these trophy photos in Abu Ghraib. And my answer is yes, there are very direct parallels."

Also, in terms of stopping "evil" behavior in its tracks, you're probably familiar with the 8 stages of genocide, which gives suggestions at each step: