A number of respondents to my post yesterday about Israel's wars raised points serious enough for me to follow up.
RK started by assuming the author at the Economist knows many Israelis won't agree with him, but he's writing for the readers who will. Perhaps. As I've documented from time to time in the past, however, the intelligent folks at the Economist are constitutionally incapable of seriously grappling with the possibility that the Islamist war against mankind, and its cousins, the Arab rejection of Israel and the Palestinian determination to remove Israel, are profound expressions of culture religion and history. As the Economist sees it, there are unfortunate responses in the Muslim world to conditions that make the Muslims unhappy, but if the conditions are addressed fairly the grievances will disappear. In practice, this means seeking a calm rational middle ground on which everyone can agree, except perhaps some diehard fanatics who will be marginalized by their own societies.
This has been the Economist's way of seeing the world for as long as I've been reading them, since the late 1960s. Rational engagement will be answered with rational engagement - sooner or later, at any rate - and the task of rational people is to seek that engagement at all times. It's a nice idea, sometimes it's even true, and other-times it can be disastrously wrong.
RK then went on, if I understood him corectly, to poke fun at what he called "memes". I can see his point, in that memes are sometimes unthinking slogans that replace rational thought. At other times, however, they can simply be shorthand for complex sets of ideas, and all of us use them when we don't have the time or need to work through the entire book. Thus, saying the majority of the Palestinians prefers No Israel over a small sovereign Palestinian state, and will prefer waiting for the first if having the second gets in the way, can be summed in the meme "The Palestinians aren't interested in peace". Obviously, one could write an entire book documenting this, or a daily blog linking to demonstrations of it, just as one ought to be on the lookout for signs that the situation is changing, should we ever get to that point. But if one's careful to remember that it's merely useful shorthand, there's nothing inherently wrong in using it.
Anyway, memes are often vastly more potent in forming history and motivating its actors than nuanced treatises. Here are some examples:
The Jews killed Christ
No taxation without representation
Equality Fraternity Liberty
Die Juden sind unser Unglueck
Freedom is not Free
Don't tread on me
Heim ins Reich
Not in my name
Yes we can
Illegal Israeli settlements
Y. Ben David asked why I don't take the correct position that the Palestinians are seeking signs of Israeli weakness to bolster their determination to wait for our disappearance, to its logical conclusion that any future Israeli withdrawals will merely strengthen them. A reasonable question, with two possible responses. One, the Palestinians aren't monolithic nor eternally frozen. What may be true today may not remain so tomorrow, for example, and it might even be possible to change reality by taking action. So if there's a Palestinian minority willing to live alongside Jewish Israel and it can be strengthened by carefully removing the irritant of Israeli occupation, this might be worth trying. My second, more clear-eyed response, is that the whole project of Zionism is that the Jews do what's good for the Jews, while taking cognizance of the implications of their actions, of course, but not limiting themselves to the dictates of others. So if ruling over large numbers of Palestinians is bad for Israel, we need to figure out if the damage may not be even greater than strengthening their opinions about our being weak. Put more directly: We need to stop ruling over as many Palestinians as we can; we must do so in a manner that strengthen us; once we've done so, we'll still have to deal with massive Palestinian rejectionism and some eagerness to be violent, but our own position will be stronger. It will be easier to withstand Palestinian enmity and violence - which will of course continue - from a position of broad internal consensus and some international acceptance.
Rukn attributed to me the idea that some people are inscrutable and some foreigners cannot be understood. I never meant to say this. On the contrary. I spent a number of years of my life in a concentrated effort to understand the Nazis, and I think I partially succeeded. If I had the time to learn Arabic and follow the relevant sources, I don't see why I wouldn't be able to understand the Islamists. (On a much easier level, I have no problem in understanding Dan Yakir and his friends on our radical Left). The human intellect always has the ability to understand the human intellect, and human emotion can mostly comprehend human emotion.
My point was that too often, we don't give our enemies the dignity of trying to understand them; rather, we tell ourselves how we would see things were we in their position, and then we assure ourselves that's how they indeed think. The result is that there's no meeting of minds, but there is rampant arrogant misinterpretation. Had Dan Yakir tried to place himself in the shoes of that judge, he'd not have castigated him the way he did; instead, he applied his own interpretation to the words of the judge, and ended up with a travesty. Were the diplomats of the world to listen seriously to the Palestinians, they'd recognize that the Israel-Palestine conflict cannot be resolved right now by creating a tiny Palestinian state on the West Bank, and the eventual horror of dividing Jerusalem would not be discussed. Were the leaders of the world's powers to listen to the fabled "angry Arab street" so as to understand how it explains reality and what motivates it, rather than smugly assuring themselves they know how to soothe the poor barbarians, they might be developing dramatically different policies than the ones they're pursuing.