The Overflow, Backwash, Backlog, Logorrhea, Ad Hoc, Anyone-Can-Use, No-Word-Limit SPEAKEASY

November 13, 2006

Anyone can post in this thread

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nick @ 5:49 am

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  1. I found this piece over the weekend. It, like its topic, is still valid, despite its having been written in 2002. It originated from:
    Please visit that site for talkback options, and, see the request at the end of this post.

    Oslo Logic Still Valid
    By Gideon Grinstein

    In the midst of unprecedented violence, the underlying logic of the Oslo process remains valid: the national interest of Israel to disengage from the Palestinian people is as critical today as it was when the breakthrough with the Palestinians occurred on Sept. 13, 1993.

    In Oslo, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) concluded a Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements (Oslo A Agreement or the DOP) based on the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian Camp David accords. The agreement was preceded by mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO and a commitment by the PLO to abandon the use of force as means to achieve its political aims. It provided for a framework for the establishment of Palestinian self-rule in parts of the West Bank and Gaza, and for the resolution of the major outstanding issues, such as borders, security, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.

    Since 1993, 10 additional agreements and protocols have been concluded. At the same time, the Israeli side experienced waves of terrorism, and the Palestinians claim to have experienced a much higher burden of occupation.

    The Oslo process, designed to enhance mutual confidence, produced the opposite. The Oslo process was derailed in October 2000, when the Palestinian uprising erupted, throwing the entire region into chaos. Ironically, this was at the very moment when the Palestinians were closer than ever to achieving their dream of an independent, viable and contiguous state.

    Today, peace seems very distant. Many Israelis and Jews are disillusioned with the Palestinians as partners for peace and with the prospects and feasibility of peace. However, these frustrations are not the most productive mindset. The appropriate lens is different. The Oslo process and its logic should be evaluated from the perspective of over 100 years of Zionism and 50 years of Israeli independence and sovereignty. Viewed from this perspective, the Oslo process was a historic attempt to address the fundamental Zionist predicament, with the purpose of securing a viable Jewish state that is both humanistic and democratic.

    The Zionist predicament stems from the incoherence among the three basic competing narratives espoused by the Zionist movement since its inception. One story is about the land — Erez Yisrael — and the right and obligation to establish and maintain Jewish sovereignty therein. It extended initially to the full extent of the British Mandate, including Trans-Jordan (today’s Jordan). Gradually, this story focuses on the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, including the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

    The second is about the Jewish and universal values of humanism, liberalism and democracy. The third narrative is about the Jewish uniqueness of the State of Israel: its Jewish majority and Jewish identity to manifest itself in issues such as Hebrew language, Shabbat as the official day of rest and Jewish holy days as national holy days.

    The Zionist predicament, exacerbated since 1967, is that these narratives cannot co-exist. The 1967 War brought the West Bank and the Gaza Strip under the control of Israel. These territories are the present place of residence of nearly 4 million Palestinians.

    Consequently, within a few years, Jews will become a minority within the areas under the control of Israel. As the demographic balance shifts, painfully hard choices need to be made. However, these decisions have been avoided for over three decades.

    Israel faces a portfolio of alternative strategic choices. It can ultimately hold on to only two of Zionism’s basic three stories: democracy, territory or Jewish exceptionalism. It needs to decide which stories to embrace for the future or forgo.

    One option is that Israel chooses to maintain its control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In this scenario, as Jews become a minority, Israel would either be able to preserve its Jewish identity by compromising its humanistic and democratic values, or hold on to its democratic values while compromising the polity’s Jewish identity.

    A second alternative is that Israel holds on to its Jewish identity. In this scenario, Israel would have to compromise territory in order to maintain its Jewish exceptionalism or compromise its democratic values, while preserving immunities and privileges of a Jewish minority over a Palestinian majority through the use of force.

    A third scenario is that Israel chooses to uphold its democratic values. In this situation, Israel can either compromise its territorial scope and maintain its Jewish identity, or, alternatively, preserve its territorial scope and compromise its Jewish character.

    Israel does not have the luxury of postponing these tough choices. If it does not engage in far-reaching efforts to shape its future and geopolitical reality, time will instead determine its fate. As the demographic clock ticks, real facts are established that are nearly impossible to reverse.

    The Zionist predicament has translated into a political paralysis in Israel and in the Jewish world. There are those who behave like ostriches, placing their trust in divine intervention. They embrace the status quo.

    On the extreme right, there are those that advocate holding on to the land and to the Jewish identity of the State of Israel at the price of compromising Israel’s humanistic or democratic values. They call for transfer of the Arab population, or, in the milder version, for their permanent occupation as second-class citizens.

    On the extreme left, voices call for a democratic state in Mandatory Palestine, in which Jews are a minority. At the center there are those who advocate the territorial compromise as an avenue to secure the Jewish and democratic character of Israel.

    The logic of the Oslo process was to secure the Jewish, humanistic and democratic character of the State of Israel through a territorial compromise. This was the underlying motivation that led the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to endorse and advance the Oslo process at great political and ultimately personal costs. Rabin realized that disengaging from the Palestinians is the only avenue for Israel to break through the conundrum of the Zionist stories, toward a democratic, Jewish and vibrant Israel. If this vision is to be realized, the question is not whether Israel should disengage from the Palestinian people, but rather the context of this disengagement.

    Now, in the face of the raging violence, many are prone to focus on the conduct of the Palestinian side and avoid the fundamental dilemmas. Israel cannot surrender its national interests to its reservations, grave as they may be, regarding certain Palestinian leaders, the conduct of Palestinian body-politic or governance.

    For Israel, it should not be about justice, but about wisdom; not about a backward-looking policy that strives to settle old scores, but about a forward-looking approach that seeks to embrace the unique opportunities of the future. The challenge for Israel is to assume a massive shaping move to realize its vision and secure its future as a Jewish democracy. The Zionist predicament has not ended with but rather has been exacerbated by the Palestinian uprising.

    The success of the Zionist movement has stemmed from its ability to distinguish between the essentials and attainables of the Zionist vision from the expandables and unrealistic. This is the legacy that brought about Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, to establish the State of Israel in 1948 on a very narrow territorial scope. This is the spirit that led Ben-Gurion, in spite of atrocities of the Holocaust, to conclude the reparations agreement with Germany in 1953 that allowed for Israel’s long-standing alliance with Germany and rapid economic growth.

    It is this legacy that brought the late Prime Minster Menachem Begin to sign a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979, to withdraw from the last inch of the Sinai Peninsula and to lay in the 1979 Camp David accords the political foundation for Palestinian self-rule. The decision of Prime Minister Rabin to embrace the Oslo process is a direct evolution of this pragmatic school.

    This was also the logic that led Prime Minister Ehud Barak to devise and implement a far-reaching strategy for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This logic remains valid today as this legacy calls for precisely the same kind of pragmatic Zionist leadership.

    The question is not whether to disengage from the Palestinian areas. The real question is the context of this disengagement.

    There are three schools of thought in this regard. One school, led by Dr. Yossi Beilin, supports a return to the negotiations on the permanent status agreement, from the point in which the negotiations were brought to a halt.

    A second school advocates interim territorial, security and economic arrangements in which the outstanding issues, such as refugees and Jerusalem, are deferred.

    The third school, having lost faith in the capacity or will of the Palestinian side to conclude or implement agreements, calls for Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Palestinian areas.

    Prime Minister Barak calls for a return to the negotiations from Camp David, while promoting unilateral disengagement. Others call for the introduction of an international role in controlling the Palestinian territories. The common denominator of all these approaches is the fundamental logic of Oslo: It is in Israel’s highest national interest to bring an end to its control over the Palestinians.

    As compelling as this logic is, it faces pernicious opposition. The Oslo process will have entailed moral, ideological and physical loss and sacrifice for many. Individuals would have had to forgo dreams and ideals, and communities may have to be dismantled in favor of a new paradigm that highlights statehood, as well as humanistic and Jewish values. It will have required a leap of faith. Many did not find this faith in them.

    For the pragmatist Zionist school, the collapse of the Oslo process is a trial of truth and learning. There have been numerous criticisms of its management or structure. Some were valid; some unfounded in reality or intellectual integrity.

    Nonetheless, politics is art, not science; there are no guarantees.

    The fundamentals of the logic of Oslo remain valid, because the fundamentals of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the fundamentals of Israel’s national security have not been changed by this conflict. Only through a territorial compromise can Israel secure its future as a Jewish and democratic state. The rest is a derivative.

    If you came here from, please comment on this piece there—unless your comment is a tangent or other digression that you deem inappropriate for that venue.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Nick — November 13, 2006 @ 5:50 pm

  2. Exceptionalism, Israel, and Irshad Manji, Part 2:
    For those unfamiliar with the meanings of ‘exceptionalism’, here are pertinent elements of Wikipedia’s entry on American Exceptionalism:
    American exceptionalism has been historically referred to as the perception that the United States differs qualitatively from other developed nations, because of its unique origins, national credo, historical evolution, and distinctive political and religious institutions. The term was first used by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831…

    …Among non-US and U.S. constitutional law scholars alike, the term has also come to describe the belief that the United States should not be bound by international law except where it serves American interests. This position is driven by a (usually implicit) premise that the United States cannot violate international law, especially international human rights norms, because it has long defined those norms and led international efforts to advance human rights…

    …Those who use the term in its loose, colloquial sense may claim “American exceptionalism” is common ethnocentrism and little more than crude propaganda, that in essence is a justification for an America-centered view of the world that is inherently chauvinistic and jingoistic in nature, noting that many nations have claimed at the height of their power to have basis for an exceptional nature or a destiny different to all other countries, at different times in history.

    Compare that to this, on ‘Jewish exceptionalism’: “…However, more common is the idea of Jewish exceptionalism. One perspective is that their long history of suffering should free Jews from whatever constraints are applied to others. Another is that their persecutions make Jews more sympathetic to others’ suffering…” – (emphasis mine)

    Muslims might argue that Zionism is Jewish exceptionalism in a nationalistic manifestation of statehood. (Me? I’ll defer to Manji’s myth-busting quoted extensively in this book report.) Muslims might additionally argue that the above description’s second sentence implying empathy doesn’t apply to Zionist polices.
    But Irshad Manji exhaustively deconstructs this sort of argument – and must now live behind bulletproof windows in Toronto (Toronto! Of all places!) as a consequence of her choice to be a vocal ‘Muslim refusenik’. (Manji’s book, in a phrase, is a call for the unrelenting critical self-reflection—ijtihad—necessary to ameliorate Muslim exceptionalism.)
    As I left the building (Tel Aviv Museum of Art), a visual contrast struck me. The low sprawling stone edifice of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art sits directly across the street from the towering, spacelike headquarters of the Israeli Defense Forces. This juxtaposition of creativity and hierarchy might be coincidental, but it can be found everywhere in Israel—home to Hasidic political parties and the only annual gay pride parade in the Middle East. That point was made to me in one of my first conversations with an Israeli, the same journalists who told me about the Palestinian National Theatre and its Jewish following. He went on to pose the most existential and touchy questions: Should Israel remain a “Jewish state” or should it evolve into a purely secular one where faith is incidental? And what role should the Holocaust play, not just in the official history of Israel but in its present-day identity as a place of refuge? Righteous, I thought, that an Israeli would be openly asking these things of himself, let alone a stranger like me.

    Throughout my stay, the Israeli media passionately debated such questions. I didn’t think you could assail religion in a Jewish state. I was wrong. I read about a member of the Knesset, Israel’s legislature, who remarked that the country doesn’t need more religious immigrants from North America. One newspaper fanned his comments into a minor firestorm. He later claimed he’d meant “ultrareligious” immigrants. Whatever. Israel’s laws guarantee freedom of expression, and that says something.

    I especially enjoyed reading newspaper editorials, whose choice of subjects indicated a ferociously free press. Take Ha’aretz, the New York Times of Israel. It skewered a government proposal to allocate state lands to exclusively Jewish towns. You know how Ha’aretz described this bill? “Racist.” Right there in the headline, “A racist bill.” No sugarcoating, no equivocating, no apologizing. The bill died under intense Israeli criticism.
    (unquote, Irshad Manji, The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, pps.74-75)

    Three paragraphs later in this book-length open letter to Muslims:
    Entering Jerusalem for the second half of my trip, I took in a scene from a window. Fully uniformed, a young woman marched in front of a dozen male soldiers. Where was she leading her troops? I turned to my guide. He said they were heading into the old City—the religious quarters of Jerusalem—“where they’ll spend three days or so being educated about the various faiths represented here.”

    “You mean, religious literacy is part of military duty?”

    “Sure. The army makes time, every few months, for soldiers stationed in Jerusalem to learn about traditions outside their daily experience.” I learned the value of this program in a personal way the next afternoon.
    (unquote, Manji, p.76)

    The next 16+ pages detail Manji’s trips to The Dome of the Rock (& Al-Aksa Mosque), the Western Wall, and the West Bank. This run of description and analysis is, by itself, worth the price of the book. She compares the sexism and harassment she endures amidst the Muslim men of Al-Aksa (the Wakf) with the absence of such degradations amidst the Jews before the Western Wall.
    I borrow a pencil and scrawl a request to God, then weave through the crowd to approach the wall. As I spend time in search of an unused crack that will clasp my prayer, I realize I’m holding up the Jews behind me. Still, I don’t feel like an interloper. I feel at home. More viscerally than ever, I know who my true family is.
    (unquote, Manji, pps.84-85)

    On the same page (85), a secular Israeli friend shares a story paraphrased here by Manji:
    Having grown up in Britain, detached from her Jewish heritage, Isabel opened herself to just about every adventure upon arriving in Israel as a teenager. That’s how she got “picked up” at the Western Wall by an Orthodox Jew who offered free study at a yeshiva. Sounds creepy to cautious personalities, but Isabel’s a pistol. She went. “The atmosphere was great,” she told me at an Italian restaurant in Jerusalem. “People were generous and genuine and they encouraged me to ask questions. ‘Keep asking,’ they would nudge. Eventually, they couldn’t answer my questions, so they sent me to the rabbi. After a couple of weeks, I decided I’d gotten the point of the yeshiva and left for something else to do. It was a wonderful experience. Nothing sinister at all.” Today, as a senior correspondent for The Jerusalem Report magazine Isabel commands the public recognition of a rising journalistic star.

    I appreciate that not every yeshiva lives up to hers. Jim Lederman, Israel’s longest-serving foreign correspondent, adds vital perspective. He writes that “the ultra-Orthodox rabbis have forbidden their followers to use the Internet because of what they might learn from it. And they very recently agreed to the establishment of what they called a university. But…they have specifically forbidden the study of history, literature, sciences dealing with evolutionary theory such as biology and astrophysics, and philosophy.” I’ll go further on the perspective front. The pressure to conform will always assert itself, everywhere. It’s part of the human condition, I suspect. What Israel does differently as a country is what I respect. Israel endows its citizens with the permission to inquire, to accumulate experiences, as I did at the Western Wall. Here, a teenage girl can conceive or leaving her yeshiva without stigma. Here, too, a Hasidic boy can zip around on an emblem of consumer cool (a scooter mentioned one page previously). Here, then, a people will witness their potential to be many things at once, reflecting the multitudes of God Himself.

    During her trip to the West Bank, Manji doesn’t detail signs of Israeli oppression so much as she details unambiguous evidence of Muslim exceptionalism. She describes a meeting with three Palestinian spokesmen: how they delivered their predictable lines, accusing Israel of apartheid and worse.
    “…Shehadeh (the third speaker of the three) uses the next several minutes to deliver a passage about the technology—and agenda—possessed by Israel to dispossess Palestinians. Having read his book twice and practically memorized key paragraphs, I notice that, in this situation, Shehadeh stops just before he reaches a significant section. It’s a section in which his father says that a tenable solution for Palestine would have to be bargained, not bombed, into being… A political initiative, and soon: exactly what Arafat had the opportunity to pursue and didn’t.

    I’m stunned by where Shehadeh wraps up. Still, I know enough about how this particular passage ends to understand why an otherwise robust intellectual would censor himself in front of two compatriots. In Palestine, he writes elsewhere in the book, “society conspires to destroy, discourage, and bring down by rampant corrosive jealousy those who triumph. It’s a society that encourages you to cringe. Most of the energy is spent extending feelers to detect public perception of your actions, because your survival is contingent on remaining on good terms with your society.” I’m reminded what the Tel Aviv curator mentioned to me: It’s probably out of self-preservation that her Palestinian counterpart won’t return her calls. Any refusal to play along with collective victimhood comes at a steep cost, which Shedaheh’s father paid in spades. “He was an energetic, public-spirited man who was never allowed to succeed. He had become a marked man…” I want to ask his son if that how he perceives himself, too. But the question feels cruel. It’s significant enough that on a morning when the people of Ramallah can roam, Raja Shehadeh doesn’t dare venture beyond the hallways of half-truth.

    …That night, before the flight home to Toronto, I enter Ben Gurion Airport with Ramallah on my mind—and an intention to find books on sale about the Palestinian—Israeli mess. I see only two: one that’s relatively neutral, the other famously sympathetic toward the Arabs. Israel allows its legitimacy to be questioned by histories that are marketed at its national airport. Go figure. And yet, I can’t shake the allegation of apartheid hurled so vigorously by Palestinian activists. Day in and day out, they witness what I’ve only glimpsed: young women and men with guns strapped to their chests, ID cards, razor wire, papers at checkpoints, armored tanks. I’m puzzled, but about to be enlightened.

    On the flight, I open…an issue of the Journal of Palestinian Studies. It’s dated 1997, a year when the peace process still held promise. The first article points out that those who founded Israel did so by suppressing democracy. The author quotes Chaim Weizmann, Zionist leader, admitting that “we could not rest our case on the consent of the Arabs; as long as their consent was asked, they would naturally refuse it.” The more I read the article, the more I understood the author’s bitterness.

    In the same publication, I read the “confessions” of a man who returned to Gaza after years away. In 1997, it looked as if an independent Palestine would be achieved, and he had come home to plan life after liberation. What he found, however, was a society blanched of honesty, grasping at every opportunity to vent old grievances. “There were the newly whitewashed walls…walls which, only a few days later, after a Palestinian was killed by a stray Israeli bullet, were plastered with obituaries composed by all the known and obscure organizations claiming him as a hero and martyr and threatening terrible vengeance on his killers. Truth and the gleaming white walls were sacrificed, for it is certain that the victim belonged to none of those organizations. The thirst for martyrs is consuming, a dominant passion.”

    So, even at a time of relative optimism, the death wish had seized Palestinian Muslims. Why? Our confessor observes that it “wasn’t just the harshness of the occupation,” but a total absence of introspection as well. This triggered a “collapse of the values on which the social contract rests. Elevating oneself above criticism (exceptionalism – Nick’s intrusion) is not so much self-confidence as a sign of encapsulating oneself, closing oneself off from the rest of the world. The price has been exorbitant.” (Nick again: The same can be said of the Jewish exceptionalism evident in Israel’s hawks, and of the shamelessly jingoistic American exceptionalism at work in Bush’s worldly-ignorant early 21st century USA.)

    I resolve to learn more about how Muslims have broken faith with the Koran’s warning that “God changes not what is in a people until they change what is in themselves.” The Israeli press reassured me that there’s no shame in airing communal frailties. The Wakf showed me there’s plenty of disgrace in remaining gagged… What else aren’t we Muslims telling ourselves so we can keep surfing in sympathy and subsisting on victimhood?
    (unquote, Manji, pps. 91-93)

    Her next chapter, number 5, is titled “Who’s Betraying Whom?” After its opening—an extended telling of a joke that can only be dubbed ‘black humor’ (or funny irony – buy the book so you can read it)—Manji writes,
    The movement to establish the state of Israel, a movement known as Zionism, sprouted in Europe during the late 1800’s. Zionists realized that anti-Semitism wasn’t going away and might just be getting worse. Jews, they warned, needed a national homeland. And Jews needed it not in the Antarctic, nor in Uganda, but in the Near Eastern strip of sand and soil to which they traced their earliest, deepest, and most persistent roots—the lands that Arabs belatedly minted Palestine.

    There’s a lot of controversy over whether Jews have a historical attachment to Palestine, and therefore whether they can call any of it a homeland. I think they can. First, according to a DNA study conducted by an international team of researchers and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Jews and Arabs share at least one common ancestor—a “common Middle Eastern origin,” as the study puts it.

    Islamic tradition concurs. It says that Ishmael, who established the Arab nation, and Isaac, who founded the Jewish nation, were half-brothers sired by Abraham. Prophet Muhammad reportedly descended from Ishmael, while Moses and Jesus came from Isaac’s side of the family. All had a blood tie to Abraham. And if that’s not enough for you, then listen to the Koran: “We said to the Israelites: ‘Dwell in the land. When the promise of the hereafter comes to be fulfilled, We shall assemble you all together’.” I hate to be selective, but not mentioning this verse would be selective too.

    Finally, let’s go back to the Zionist movement. When European Jews arrived in Palestine, they discovered a smattering of their coreligionists already living in what today would be the West Bank. When did the Jews get there? Might Jews have always been there? Recent settlers in the West Bank tend to attract the most consternation, and often deserve to because of their illegal outposts. But somewhere here is a homeland. To squawk that Jews are alien usurpers of Palestine is as ignorant as to rant that Arabs have no place in Israel.

    How, then, did Palestinians become refugee outcasts, even within the Arab world? Through the disruptions of war—a conflict initiated by Arab countries that couldn’t accept Israel’s existence in their midst. Only one day after the birth of the Jewish state in 1948, five Arab armies invaded Israel, and the Palestinian refugee problem got serious. In some towns Israeli commanders expelled Arabs, egged on by a controversial strategy called the Dalet plan. The grief it imposed can no longer be denied. In other towns, though, Arabs were urged to stay—and many stuck around to accept Israeli citizenship. Many more Palestinians chose to go, fully expecting to be back once the Jews had been driven into the sea.

    And these refugees took their marching orders not from Israelis, but from Arabs. So said Khaled al-Azm, the prime minister of Syria during this war. In his 1973 memoirs, al-Azm wrote about “the call by the Arab Governments to the inhabitants of Palestine to evacuate it and to leave the bordering Arab countries, after having sown terror among them…since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the one who encouraged them to leave.” To al-Azm’s chagrin, “(t)his collective flight helped the Jews, whose position improved without any effort on their part.” So much for Israel being completely on the hook for the Palestinian crisis.
    (unquote, Manji, pps. 95-97)

    Manji, in detail, continues illuminating the cynical use of the Palestinians not by Israelis but by the neighboring Arab governments. On page 99, she punctuates the account,
    We can rip into Israeli “imperialists” for the Palestinian plight. The truth is, though, that Muslims have our own imperialists to indict. Not in equal measure, you might say. Maybe in greater measure, I say. Parsing how the Mideast drama even started is a lesson in the ways that Muslims have been sticking it to each other for decades…

    In the early 20th century, we conveniently believe, Zionists stomped in and turfed out Palestinians by force of arms. As I’ve said, plenty of Arabs did get the heave-ho. But the instructions to vacate didn’t always originate with Jews. The Ottomans—Turkish Muslims—oversaw the empire that controlled Palestine at the time. Against the interests of Arab tenant farmers, the Ottomans voluntarily sold lands to the early Zionists. Yes, Muslims did this. And they did it consciously. In 1911, 150 high-profile Arabs telegraphed the Turkish parliament to protest the continued land sales. Their cable was ignored. During the First World War, the Arabs helped Britain fight the Ottomans on condition that all of Palestine would be turned over to the Arabs afterwards… Yet, in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Britain broke its presumed pact with the Arabs. London publicly committed some of Palestine to the Jews, who were facing increasingly spiteful attacks in Europe. Thus, the Promised Land became the twice-promised land. Muslims have cursed Western colonizers for treachery ever since.

    Once again, though, we’ve failed to atone for our own travesties of 1915. That year marks the height of the Ottoman Muslim genocide perpetrated against Armenian Christians. Allah’s ambassadors expunged more than a million Christians through deportation, starvation, and bloodbaths. Why don’t I hear too many of us calling on the Turks to make amends? We should be indignant, particularly since Armenians seek back none of their property—only an apology. Are Muslims too busy cleaving to the sanctimony of the betrayed to care about how we’re betraying others?

    We Muslims aren’t the only ones who had to settle for less from the colonial powers; Jews also experienced betrayal. The year was 1921. Of the land that Britain designated for the Jewish national home, almost four-fifths went to Arabs for what would become Jordan. Only two years later, Britain ceded more Jewish-slated territory, this time to Syria. But then, as now, the concessions foisted on Jews meant nothing to delusional Muslims.
    (unquote, Manji, pps.99-100)

    Manji is not incapable of criticizing Jewish exceptionalism either. Better yet, she can laud that exceptionalism’s implicit empathy (“One perspective is that their long history of suffering should free Jews from whatever constraints are applied to others. Another is that their persecutions make Jews more sympathetic to others’ suffering…”), and then, without breaking her rhetorical stride, criticize its conceits.
    On page 173, in her pivotal chapter entitled “Operation Ijtihad”, she writes,
    And that’s when it hit me—religion is one reason that Israel perseveres as a multifaith democracy in the midst of its own demagogues and a welter of Arab dynasties. Judaism, unlike Islam and Christianity, doesn’t set out to convert. It harbors no claim to universalism. By its own laws, it can’t evangelize. “That’s because Jews are ‘the chosen ones’,” Muslims are apt to sniff. “Chosen people don’t need to prove themselves. Come hell or high water, their salvation is in the bag.” I consider this a tragic misapprehension. Jews believe they’re chosen for burdens on earth, and on behalf of all humanity. Whether Jews prove themselves capable of handling those burdens responsibly will determine if they deserve deliverance. Far from being “in the bag,” salvation rests on being responsible. But what does that mean? I can only convey the mainstream Jewish consensus: Being responsible means resisting tribal arrogance.

    As humans, Jews sometimes turn arrogance into a high art—or at least a gauche one. I recoil at the West Bank crazies who illuminate their hilltop settlements with neon Stars of David. I don’t pretend to defend those who kindle fires with branches severed from olive trees Arabs have nurtured for decades, and who sequester themselves in yeshivas where they’re forbidden to study the disciplines, from astronomy to philosophy, that made Maimonides tick. Bear in mind, though, that these folks are lightweights in contemporary Judaism. Infuriating, but relatively marginal.

    Jews who aren’t marginal often exceed the call of responsibility—without acknowledgment from us Muslims. In April 2002, Paul Wolfowitz, the U.S. deputy defense secretary, handed a metaphorical olive branch to Palestinians. A noted hawk, Wolfowitz conceded that “innocent Palestinians are suffering and dying in great numbers as well.” The gathering jeered. But what did Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, do? He wrote to the New York Times with avowed humility. “Those who booed should be ashamed of themselves and should be made aware of the passage of the Haggadah (Passover story)…God chastises the angels for cheering as the Egyptians were drowning while chasing the Israelites who had crossed the Red Sea. God told them, These are my people, too. Palestinians are dying in this war in the Middle East. My sympathies are certainly for Israel and its people, but we must all be aware that the Palestinians are people, too.”

    The same covenant to recognize the “other” allows Britain’s chief Orthodox rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, to write about the “dignity of difference.” Did I say write about it? More like write the book on it. In Sacks’s prose, “God creates the difference; therefore it is in one-who-is-different that we meet God.” To Rabbi Sacks, “(t)he supreme religious challenge is to see God’s image in one who is not in our image.” I’ll admit that Sacks has taken heat from ultra-Orthodox rabbis, particularly for his point that Judaism doesn’t have the last word on Truth. Under pressure, Sacks has revised some sentiments. Not all, however. Not the ones about the sanctity of difference. For years, in fact, Sacks has been promoting Jewish responsibility to the “other,” all the while holding onto his seat as head of Britain’s Orthodox Jews.

    Why am I banging away at the humanity that Judaism enables? Because while I expect that Operation Ijtihad will spur conversations among the three Peoples of the Book, these “trialogues” will amount to something only if they’re driven by talmudic open-endedness. I don’t mean the Talmud itself; I mean the attitude, so elegantly voiced by Rabbi Hartman, that Abraham’s God is equally the “God of surprise and novelty.” A God, that is, whose will you can’t predict.

    Too preposterous a thought for most Arab Muslims? Malaysia’s prime minister suggests that it is. At a 2002 international assembly of Muslims in Kuala Lumpur, Mahathir Mohamed let it slip that Islam’s leadership can no longer come from Arabs because, on balance, they don’t know how to speak with non-Muslims. But, he implied, Asian Muslims do. Ironically, Mahathir has betrayed his own susceptibility to Arab influences by holding Jews responsible for Malaysia’s currency crisis and by standing on the sidelines as Sharia law spreads in his country. The good news is: Malaysia isn’t Matathir. Neither is neighboring Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, where millions have condemned the Islamist bombing of a Bali nightclub. In fact, Southeast Asians have always had to practice Islam in an entrepot that’s multiethnic (Chinese, Indian, Malay) and multifaith (Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim).
    (unquote, Manji, pps.173-175)

    To read more extended excerpts from Irshad Manji’s book, click here.

    Comment by Nick — November 13, 2006 @ 10:35 pm

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