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From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Everyone who enters the Kingdom should have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity and the appropriate visa.

Unless you are a visitor from a GCC country or in transit, all other nationalities require a visa to enter the Kingdom. Visas can be for business, tourist, transit, residency, family, Hajj, or conference attendance.

Visas can be obtained from the visa department in the Saudi Embassy of the visitor's home country or from Saudi Consulates available in all main cities around the world.

The cost of a visa is generally 200 Saudi Riyals however visitors should ensure that they check with the Saudi Embassy or Consulate.

Visas will not be issued for the following groups of people:
*An Israeli passport holder or a passport that has an Israeli arrival/departure stamp.
*Those who don't abide by the Saudi traditions concerning appearance and behaviors. Those under the influence of alcohol will not be permitted into the Kingdom.
*There are certain regulations for pilgrims and you should contact the consulate for more information.
* Jewish People

The above excerpt is from the webpage for Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Commission for Tourism. Oh, it’s supreme, all right. They’ve since cleaned up their nasty little display of bigotry, but unfortunately for them the page is still cached on Google. I guess I won’t be going to Saudi Arabia anytime soon, not that I'd really want to anyway. And to think that I've been told that Israel is the most intolerant country in the Middle East.

And ladies, don’t forget: A woman is not allowed to drive a car and can therefore only travel by car if she is accompanied by her husband, a male relative, or a driver. (What century are we living in again?)

Update: Nail al-Jubier, chief information officer for the embassy, told WorldNetDaily he was "stunned" when he saw the Saudi tourism Web page listing "Jewish People" among those not permitted to enter the country.

Sure, sure. In other news, Nail al-Jubier exclaimed "I'm shocked—shocked!—to find gambling is going on in here!" How disgustingly pathetic.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

I was somewhat surprised to see an article “Bad Fences” by John R. Bradley, the former managing editor of the Arab News, in the latest issue of The New Republic. At Arab News Bradley struck me as a hack apologist for the Saudi state, but perhaps he’s changed his tune somewhat. His forthcoming book Saudi Arabia Exposed: Princes, Paupers and Puritans in the Wahhabi Kingdom doesn’t sound like something that’s going to win him friends with his old employers in the Saudi Kingdom. But the fact that he worked for a Saudi propaganda outlet, along with my recollection of some of his more pithy anti-Israel remonstrations—especially garbage like this—leaves me leery of his writing (not to mention that he was billed as the author for The Lonely Planet Guide to Saudi Arabia, a book that didn’t even exist). Note how in that piece Bradley smears TNR as “an ultra-right campaigning American political journal that has long been defined by its crude Zionist agenda.” His characterizations of TNR’s pro-Israel proclivities are tasteless and predictable, but labeling a magazine that endorsed Al Gore for the presidency not once but twice as being “ultra-right campaigning” is just downright dumb. But who’d have thought that less than two years later Bradley would be penning a piece about Saudi Arabia for the very same magazine for which he purported to have such disdain? Anyway, it’s an interesting enough article, and the hypocrisy of the Saudis building an anti-terrorist barrier (to keep out terrorism and weapons smuggling from Yemen) while at the same time bewailing Israel’s efforts to build an anti-terrorist barrier speaks for itself. But I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before somebody marches into the Hague to take issue with the Saudi structure, not to mention all these other walls and fences. I’m not holding my breath, though.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

I am not making this up, nor is it an article from The Onion:

JEDDAH, 18 February 2004 — The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice has arrested more than 200 Bangladeshi and Burmese workers as they celebrated Valentine’s Day in Mina.

Al-Madinah Arabic newspaper said yesterday the workers contravened a fatwa issued recently by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh by drinking and dancing in a tent camp they were charged with cleaning.

The commission members found that 16 of them were drunk. The men, aged 16 to 28, were employed by a cleaning company to clear the camp after the end of Haj.

The organizers of the party, who sold alcohol and food and brought in musicians for Sunday night, a day after the real Valentine’s, managed to escape the clutches of the commission, the daily said.

They charged SR5 a ticket without dinner and put a large banner outside a tent where the all-night fiesta was held, next to the Jamrat, where Muslims gather to stone the devil during the pilgrimage.

Officers also seized red flowers and napkins bearing the legend “Happy Valentine’s.”

…Wow… I’m trying to think of a joke here, but it’s just not very funny. Good lord, arresting people for celebrating Valentine’s Day: How much more bigoted and intolerant can you get?

Saturday, February 14, 2004

You with the candy hearts! Put the “Be Mine” candies down, put your hands in the air, and STEP AWAY from the pink teddy bear! SLOWLY!

BURAIDAH, 14 February 2004 — Saudi religious authorities have warned the public against celebrating Valentine’s Day or selling gifts related to the feast, Al-Riyadh reported yesterday.

“It is a pagan Christian holiday and Muslims who believe in God and Judgment Day should not celebrate or acknowledge it or congratulate people on it,” an edict issued by the Fatwa Committee said.
….
Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Ghaith, president of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, has also issued a warning against celebrating Valentine’s Day or the ‘feast of love.’

Al-Ghaith has instructed his officials all over the Kingdom to keep a watch on shops selling roses and other gift items to celebrate the occasion.

“You should also enlighten Saudi citizens on the danger of this custom, which is alien to our society, and make them aware of its negative effect,” Al-Madinah daily quoted the religious police chief as saying.

And I’ve been told that Israel is the most intolerant country in the Middle East. So it goes…

Oh, by the way, Happy Valentine’s Day!

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

In a related note to Sunday’s post about Palestinian suicide bombers, in the last two days there have been at least three suicide bombings in Iraq. About seventy people were killed, not to mention all the people maimed and wounded. Will these Iraqi suicide bombings be attributed to a “cycle of violence” or desperation on the part of the bombers and their people, or is such rhetoric reserved only for Palestinian suicide bombers or when the intended victims are Israelis? So far, this appears to be the case. The “It’s the Occupation” excuse doesn’t hold up especially well, either, as the Iraqis who were targeted were hardly unjustly occupying the territory in question. Also, considering that most of them appear to have been killed while waiting in line for civil service jobs, as heinous as such actions may be, it’s hard to see how they could have been contributing to the desperation and other humiliations that everybody knows breeds suicide bombers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Kaiser Soze Redux. Palestinian policemen round up the the usual suspects . Nobody is impressed.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Please note the new email address: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm.
Perhaps this is too long for a single entry, but it’s a risk we’ll have to take. To begin today’s Blue Octavo Notebooks entry, here’s something I recently came across that I wrote in late September, 2001. I’d written it on a piece of scrap paper that had ended up in a folder of other such fragments ("These fragments I have shored against my ruin,” y’know?) but in the course of organizing various musings and journal jottings I happened to re-read it. It’s a few years old, but it has a certain relevance to the rest of the post, if not to the current state of the world. In re-reading it I thought it was interesting, although I’m not sure if I’d want to have a beer with the younger me who wrote it.

What sort of existential space or moral presence inhabits a person who not only murders a group of random strangers but who uses himself—his own body, his own murder—as the means to do so? Do non-human animals experience this sort of cognitive perspective? Is there another species in which an organism will deliberately kill itself as a means of killing others? What other species exhibits behavior in which self-termination is employed as a deliberate facilitation for the immediate killing of others? Are there other species that exhibit this trait of murder-via-self-murder, or is it unique to humans?

This murder by means of murder, in which one’s own death serves as the vehicle by which one deliberately kills other people, opens a space of human experience that is somehow a negation of cognitive awareness. Such a deliberate act of killing is not “human” in the same ways that such terms have been conceived, but yet neither is it non-human behavior, for humans have indeed executed such actions and continue to do so. These actions are something else, though, something within a new cognitive register, something that inhabits a negative space within both the structures of language and the structures of recognition, and that destabilizes those structures.

The suicide bombers—that is, those who use their own (self-) elimination as a means to assault and eliminate other people—force upon us a new space, a new moment, of language. In a psychological and philosophical sense, it forces upon the individual a radically new encounter or acknowledgment with the existential “other” and thus necessitates a new recognition of one’s own self. For the word “suicide” is no longer accurate in such circumstances. This exercise of agency by which “suicide” is used as a tool of deliberate warfare upon random people has (in English, at least) left a hole in the signifying structure of language. A new word is needed for this act of self-murder, for this particular agency (of physical, deliberate violence against both oneself and others) engendered by one’s own self-elimination, since the sphere of such an act is deliberately larger than the (killing) self that carries it out. Unlike suicide, this form of self-murder is not merely an elimination of the self in question, pertaining and immediate only to that specific self. It is both a mode of self-elimination/termination and a means by which to murder other people. Rather than being a concluding moment of forced finality, as is suicide, this self-murder is intended to engender supplemental moments of physicality and termination. That is, suicide denotes a self-contained sphere: Only one person is immediately affected (or is intended to be immediately) by the deliberate act of self-termination. Yet suicide-terrorism extends this sphere, for its essential objective is not the immediate elimination of one’s own self but the simultaneous and subsequent eliminations of other people. Unlike suicide, this form of self-murder is a means—a way of extending one’s agency (to murder, for example) beyond one’s immediate existence—rather than merely an end or a means solely to individual self-elimination. Unlike a person who sets out to kill only himself—that is, a person whose actions in doing so conclude at the moment of his self-inflicted death—a suicide terrorist’s action of termination concludes not at the instant of his death but, on the contrary, multiplies itself at that moment. The suicide bomber thus makes existent an externalized register of experience—his actions of murder—only in the moment of his self-termination, a moment for which he is present but almost simultaneous not present. Action becomes actions; conclusion becomes beginning; a person’s death helps to facilitate actions subsequent and beyond itself. The temporality and morality of self-agency become inverted—turned inside-out, in sense—for it is in ending himself that the suicide terrorist most starkly defines (becomes?) himself and his presence in the world.

“Self-consciousness,” wrote Hegel, “achieves its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness.” Yet how can we understand, and what are we to make of, a self-consciousness that achieves its satisfaction not in another self-consciousness but in the deliberate (and violent) erasure of both itself and as many other self-consciousnesses as possible? Also, in terms of aesthetics, as illusive as such terminology invariably is, just as the crises of representation wrought by World War I (trench warfare, poison gas, etc.) were instrumental in shaping Modernism, and as the crises of representation wrought by World War II (Auschwitz, Hiroshima, etc.) bore post-Modernism, have we, in today’s arena of suicide terrorism, encountered (entered) yet another structure of experience for which modes of language and representation prove insufficient?

And how, per Hegel, can we incorporate such a phenomenology of the suicide bomber into the examination and interrogation of self-presence, of becoming one’s self in the world, that has been so fundamental to several hundred years of philosophy? How do we define such actions in terms of human experience? Can we? To draw upon the terminology of Martin Buber, such a relationship with the world and with other people, especially the random strangers whom the suicide bomber will murder and maim, radically transfigures the moral and existential structures of I-Thou and I-It relationships. For the “I,” in making itself into an object—a human bomb—whose primary and fulfilling function is as a mechanism to end life and terminate presence, both of itself and others, has become an “It,” if even that.

How, a student asked, can I apply a moral philosophy of the “Other” to somebody who is so intent on murdering me, on eliminating my presence from the world, that he is perfectly willing to murder himself in the process?

He did it because he was desperate. Desperate… so desperate. Desperate, indeed, to murder and maim and bludgeon and traumatize as many innocent people as possible.

So: Yet another self-detonating Palestinian terrorist has blown himself (itself?) up in the midst of a crowded civilian area, this time the #19 bus in downtown Jerusalem last Thursday morning during rush hour. As I’ve noted before, we are witnessing something unprecedented in the history of humanity, for never before has this particular tactic—targeting civilians with breathing, thinking, living bombs—been so widely and regularly deployed. Human bombs have been used before, of course, but never in a concerted and sustained campaign almost exclusively against civilians and civilian targets. These are not Kamikaze attacks against military installations or LTTE Black Tiger assassination attempts against political leaders. This is the targeting of civilian areas with the objective of murdering and maiming as many random people as possible, a targeting that has been attempted, if not carried out, regularly and consistently for years. It’s not much of a contribution to civilization, to say the least, yet it has become an almost defining feature of Palestinian nationalism, not least because it has been repeated so many times (and attempted so many more times) and has been supported, for years now, by a majority of Palestinians in the territories. To cite but one example, the bombing of the Maxim Restaurant in Haifa last October was supported by 75% of the Palestinian population in the territories. Earlier opinion polls have repeatedly shown majority numbers favoring the use of suicide bombers against Israeli civilians.

This onslaught of human bombings against civilian targets is a negative contribution to humanity, a subtraction from or a near devolution of human progress. It is disgusting and it must stop. But it is a legacy that Palestinians themselves will have to reconcile, both today, tomorrow, and generations from now, and not simply because this tactic has been so widely supported by Palestinians. This particular movement of national liberation, or whatever one might wish to call it, will always be known, on the basis of irrefutable and undeniable facts, as the very first time in an already craven history of humanity that people—thinking, feeling, breathing human beings—constructed themselves into explosives and then (with widespread support among their populace, no less) regularly and deliberately bombed innocent people in civilian areas like buses and restaurants. (And please do not misunderstand or misrepresent what I am writing: For although, as I’ve already noted, this is not the first time that suicide bombers have been used, it is the first time, and hopefully the last, that suicide bombers—human bombs, even—have been so repeatedly and deliberately employed as tools of mass murder against civilians.) There have been over a hundred Palestinian suicide bombings in recent years, almost every single one of which was directed against civilian targets—buses, restaurants, shopping malls, cafes, pubs, etc.—not to mention all the many self-detonating attacks that failed or went awry or were prevented by Israeli security. To compare Palestinian human-bombs, who have almost exclusively targeted civilian targets like buses and restaurants, to Japanese Kamikaze pilots who targeted gargantuan military battleships—floating fortresses, no less, not public buses—is at best a convoluted analogy and an insult to the Kamikazes, regardless of how one judges their tactics. Attacking massive battleships is hardly comparable to attacking civilian cafes. A list of targets attacked by self-detonating Chechen and LTTE Black Tigers also include a plethora of military and government targets, whereas targets for Palestinian suicide bombings have been nearly exclusively civilian. And the rate and regularity of suicide bombings against civilians targets on the part of the former parties dims in comparison to the pace set by Palestinians, who in the last three years has averaged two to three civilian-targeted attacks per month, to say nothing of all the attacks that failed or were prevented.

This is a history and a reality from which nobody is going to awake as if from a nightmare. It is real, and it leaves humanity with some potentially ugly and difficult questions. Indeed, how will Palestinian history and Palestinian nationalism reconcile themselves to having contributed to human experience the first ever instance of a widespread and popularly supported campaign of suicide bombings directed almost exclusively against random civilians? As I said above, this sorry, repugnant tactic of self-detonating bombers repeatedly and consistently targeting civilians and civilian areas is a tactic so far implemented only by Palestinians. To this day, no one else has ever adopted it. It is, and always will be, a legacy of their nation, their nationalism, and the nascent state of Palestine that not only did they adopt such a strategy but that they were the first people (and, until and unless another group adopts this strategy, the only people) to do so. It is an unprecedented stain upon history, a stain whose malignancy is hardly going to disappear or diminish or become any less repugnant in the years and decades to come. It is a shame and a disgrace that will not, and cannot, be diminished by the years, no matter how peaceful the state of Palestine might one day become. Palestinian nationalism, in adopting this strategy (of the “self-sacrifice” assaults against civilians and civilian targets), has staked for itself a permanent and singular claim: this is, and will always be, the first movement to employ the technique on such a consistent basis and a wide scale. This is an ignominy that Palestinians will have to live with, both today and tomorrow, and neither they nor anybody else are ever going to forget about it. Even if (god forbid) other people adopt this sort of suicide campaign in the future, it will always remain a tactic first implemented by Palestinians. Such a contribution to civilization our world could have done without.

Palestinians of future generations, even if not directly implicated in or witness to the current campaign of Palestinian terror, will have a responsibility to remember and to know that their nation’s heritage was the first, and so far only, to include this sort of sustained campaign of suicide terror against innocent people. What will be the moral impetus and response of tomorrow’s Palestinians in regards to this legacy gifted to them by the Palestinians of today? How will Palestinian history evaluate these elements of its narrative?

If Palestinian terror was somehow an exception or a minority sentiment in this particular movement of nationalism or resistance or whatever one might call it, or even a tactic that was met with any sort of widespread umbrage, or even disavowal, from general segments of Palestinian society, it would be less anomalous in the history of national liberation movements, terrorism, and so on. But this is not the case, and it never has been. In particular, this campaign of suicide bombings against civilians has garnered widespread support among Palestinians, and opinion polls in recent years have shown that large majorities of Palestinians—often exceeding 60%—have supported these self-detonating attacks on Israeli civilians. And criticisms from Palestinians against these repeated and deliberate targetings of civilians by suicide bombers have been tepid, if even that. Indeed, quite often Palestinian criticisms of suicide bombings, as limpid and self-serving as such criticisms usually are, have been raised not in response to the barbarity of these Palestinian crimes against humanity but because suicide bombings damage the Palestinian cause. It is the bad publicity generated by suicide bombings against civilians, rather than the moral implications (savagery?) of these terrorist attacks, that has generated much of whatever Palestinian criticism there has been. Indeed, a recent development in this internecine Palestinian quasi-debate concerns the propriety of dispatching mothers to detonate themselves (thus leaving their children motherless). Yet what is at issue in this new vein of rhetoric is not the craven brutality of suicide bombings but the various modes by which such attacks should be executed. This morbid Aristotelianism, despite all the enlightening distinctions and refinements it brings to one’s appreciation of the phenomena of Palestinian suicide bombings, withers in the face of bombed out Israeli buses. (And why the rat poison, nails, ball bearings, and other grotesque embellishments so frequently appended to suicide bombers, as if the carnage wrought by blowing oneself up isn’t enough but must be supplemented with elements like anti-coagulants that help ensure that victims who survive the initial self-detonation are more likely to bleed to death?) Indeed, there may be thirteen ways and more of looking at a Palestinian suicide bomber—especially if the human bomb in question falls into the category of (young) (female) (parent) as opposed to any of the other categories of Palestinian suicide bombersbut the images and history of such phenomena remain.

One result of all this, of course, is that the red, black, white, and green of the Palestinian flag, regardless of the colors’ original significations, have absorbed the red, black, white, and green of the Sbarro Pizzeria in Jerusalem that was attacked by a Palestinian human-bomb in August, 2001. And that was but one such attack. It is a brilliant but fitting coincidence of history that these four colors should mark not just the bombed out remains (and memories) of a Jerusalem pizzeria but the Palestinian flag itself. Even this symbol of Palestinian nationalism has become yet another element in the symbolism and history of Palestinian terror and terrorism. Interestingly (would anybody say “surprisingly”?), Izz Al Din Al Mussri, the mass murderer who carried out this savage terrorist attack on August 9, 2001, is listed as a martyr on the webpage of the Palestinian Authority’s Palestinian National Information Centre. How anybody could consider as a “martyr” this mass murderer who blew up a crowded pizzeria and whose fifteen victims (not including all the people maimed and otherwise injured) include a two-year-old, a four-year-old, an eight-year-old, a ten-year-old, and several teenagers is debatable, I guess, but it’s telling that this person is considered a martyr in certain circles, including, as evidenced by their own webpage, the Palestinian Authority. And he’s hardly the only self-detonating Palestinian mass murderer listed as a martyr over at the Palestinian Authority’s state information service website. If they’re so opposed to self-detonating suicide bombers, you’d think they’d at least refrain from posthumously bestowing upon the self-detonated one terms like “martyr”….

But a question remains.

Why, of all the people in the world who suffer, including those who confront far worse travails than the Palestinians do, is it only Palestinians who have adopted to such a degree this gruesome strategy of detonating themselves in civilian areas?

Why, of all the oppressions and conflicts and occupations and wars throughout history, especially in the last century, during which so many myriad groups of people have lived under occupations and far worse circumstances, is it only Palestinians who have adopted to such a degree this gruesome strategy of suicide terror? One could cite myriad cases: For example, during the German occupation of France, French men and women did not begin regularly detonating themselves in the midst of German civilians. At the height of World War II, when so many nations and groups—Poles, Slavs, Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and so on—were targeted by the Nazis, none chose as a tactic as resistance a campaign of blowing themselves up in the midst of German civilians. During the Stalinist collectivizations, none of the groups targeted adopted as a tactic blowing themselves up in crowded Moscow cafes or other civilian areas.

The lists of such peoples and nations and groups goes on and on, but it is only when we arrive at one group, the Palestinians, that we find this gruesome phenomenon of a repeated and consistent campaign of self-detonating human bombs employed against innocent people. It’s not much of a contribution to the annals of human history. In fact, it’s an almost sort of reverse evolution in human progress. To say the least, it’s disgusting. And, yes, it must be stopped.

This question, and I have asked it before, both on this blog and elsewhere, and have never received anything even remotely approaching an intelligent answer, is: Why the Palestinians?

Can it be desperation, as the Jenny Tonges and Cherie Blairs and other countless people might have us believe? Hardly. Other people have lived through far worse than the Palestinians have faced, and there are people today who face worse circumstances. Once again, there is any number of examples, not least that thousands of children, on average, die EVERYDAY from starvation alone. Nobody is starving to death in Gaza or the West Bank, yet nonetheless it is ONLY Palestinians who have adopted this gruesome tactic of regularly targeting civilians and civilian areas with human-bombs. The "desperation" excuse doesn't cut it, not least because other people live in worse circumstances than do the Palestinians and haven't started blowing themselves up amongst innocent people. (Indeed, the enthusiasm and verve with which so many Palestinian suicide bombers set off on their missions of murder and mayhem, as evidenced by the pre-detonation videos of their glowing testimonials, also go far in negating the “desperation” excuse.) And, further, why is the destination of choice for such “desperate” self-terminations almost always a civilian area, often a very crowded one? Why must people introduce tendentious pseudo-rationalizations like “hopelessness” and “desperation” into what is, by any standard, a widespread and severe truncation of common human decency? After all, it’s not like there aren’t plenty of military targets around that Palestinian bombers could target instead of restaurants and buses. And what is it about this desperation, or whatever it is that catalyzes Palestinian suicide bombings, that makes its resultant self-detonating impulse so purposeful in seeking out civilian areas, even at the cost of bypassing military targets that are closer and more accessible? And why, of all the people in the world, so many of whom live in worse circumstances, and of all the oppressed peoples of the last century who have lived through so many far worse circumstances, why—WHY—it is ONLY the Palestinians who have adopted this gruesome tactic of routinely targeting civilians and civilian areas with human-bombs?

Why?

Indeed, this strategy has not even been reproduced by other peoples. It remains ONLY Palestinians who are regularly and consistently detonating themselves in civilian areas. Not only are Palestinians the progenitors of this strategy but they remain the ONLY people to have employed it.

Again, why?

And before people start setting up their suicidal straw man arguments, let me reiterate (again) that I am not claiming that Palestinians are the first and/or only people to utilize suicide bombers. Other people, and I’ve mentioned some of them, have done likewise, but not almost exclusively against civilian targets, much less in the same sorts of numbers or rates, as have Palestinians. Indeed, compared to the Palestinian campaign of suicide self-detonations against civilians, such attacks on the part of Tamil Tigers and Chechnyan terrorists are notably fewer and farther between.

Also, please spare us any racist or otherwise dehumanizing characterizations of Palestinians. They’re human beings, so explanations and examinations of actions undertaken or supported by Palestinians, in order to be intellectually productive or necessary, should reflect that.

I would be interested in people’s responses. And I’m not interested in tired clichés about how Palestinians blow themselves up because they are desperate, so desperate. I sometimes doubt if anybody really believes this tired line of reasoning, but if you do, or think you do, please explain why this desperation on the part of Palestinians is so radically different from the desperation of all other peoples that to this day Palestinians remain the first and only group to regularly and consistently employ suicide bombers against civilian targets. Please explain how the desperation that engenders this Palestinian suicide terrorism differs from the desperation of groups like Kurds, Black South Africans, Gypsies, North Koreans, Tibetans, and so on, all of whom either live or lived under desperate, oppressive circumstances yet unlike Palestinians never reached a threshold of desperation at which they began routinely blowing themselves up amidst crowded civilian areas. If that’s too broad, then please explain how Palestinian desperation is so radically different from, say, the desperations of all the various peoples brutalized by Germany during World War II, none of whom (unlike Palestinians vis-à-vis Israel) ever took to regularly blowing themselves up in areas crowded with German civilians. If desperation is an answer, even if just a putative one, then how come it is only the desperation of Palestinians, and no one else, that has led to an incessant campaign of suicide bombings against civilians? That is, just what is it that makes today’s Palestinian desperation so different (so appealing?) and so frequently conducive to self-detonations in civilian areas?

Can you imagine the response if some (desperate?) terrorist blew up a bus during morning rush hour in D.C., just a few blocks from the President's residence? Especially if this bombing was hardly the first time such an attack had been carried out in the area? But this is exactly what happened again in Israel a week ago Thursday morning, yet somehow this deliberate act of mass murder against innocent civilians was quickly labeled as part of some "cycle" of violence. But let’s get one things straight: This man—a policeman, no less, who is supposed to uphold the law, not engage in mass murder of civilians—chose to strap shrapnel and explosives to himself; he chose to board a crowded bus at the height of morning rush hour; he chose to sit down in the back of the bus; he chose to trigger his detonation; he chose when to do it; and he chose to murder as many of the people around him as possible. Nothing and nobody forced this Palestinian to execute this act of random, barbaric mass murder. It was not a cycle of violence that created this terrorist attack: It was a Palestinian policeman, and he did it deliberately, knowing full well how his actions would brutally affect the people around him. And he was hardly the first Palestinian to embrace such a plan of action. (On a related note, how many more members of Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority and other groups linked to him—Fatah, for example—have to carry out or otherwise be directly implicated in acts of terrorism before people recognize such organizations as the instigators and practitioners of terrorism that they are?)

How one answers the above questions will, I think, say a lot about how one regards the Palestinians as human beings. Are they people, with free will and control over their actions, especially when it comes to supporting terrorism, not least suicide terrorism? Or are their actions less their own fault than of the situation they find themselves in? Knowing that other groups have lived through far worse than the Palestinians have without resorting to repeatedly suicide-bombing civilians, do we nonetheless apply an ethical substandard to them in order to see this campaign of suicide bombings against civilians as some sort of natural result of such situations, even though such behavior is in fact not only anomalous but unprecedented? Do we pervert, even if unintentionally, the experience and humanity of Palestinians by suggesting that they, unlike every other oppressed group in memory, somehow had no other choice or somehow couldn’t help but to begin detonating themselves in restaurants and similar settings, as if such behavior somehow fits a normal pattern?

To not hold Palestinians responsible for their actions, especially actions like suicide bombings against civilians that so many Palestinians have supported, and continue to support, is itself a form of racism and dehumanization. Yet this is exactly what Palestinian apologists do: Palestinian terrorism is the result of the occupation, they moan. It’s the cycle of violence, they wail. What else can we expect of people who live under brutal occupation, they cry. To which, I think, one must say: No, this is not so: It is the fault of the Palestinians who carry out these barbaric acts, along with those who support them, aid them, celebrate them, mythologize them, and otherwise endeavor to place the blame and responsibility on anyone and anything other than Palestinians. It is these people who are racists and ideological oppressors, because they are the ones who insist on portraying Palestinians as having little or no control over their actions, or attributing Palestinian actions to a “cycle,” thus denying Palestinians any sort of existential depth or maturity or self-agency, much less any responsibility for this campaign of terror and mayhem against Israeli society, a campaign that they themselves launched, on their own prerogative. To blame Palestinian actions such as suicide bombings of buses on the occupation or the “cycle” rather than on Palestinian choices and Palestinian behavior, not only diminishes the barbarity of such actions but diminishes the morality and experience of Palestinians. Its effect is to dehumanize Palestinians. And to suggest that Palestinians have so little control over themselves that Israel can provoke or manipulate them into blowing themselves up is to not only place the blame for Palestinian suicide bombers on the victimized party but to negate Palestinians of any sort of rational humanity or self-control. To suggest that somebody can be manipulated into detonating himself in a civilian area strips the person of any intelligence and self-agency, and makes him little more than a trained seal. Yet this excuse—that Israel provokes Palestinians into exploding themselves, as inherently racist and dehumanizing as such a characterization of Palestinian intelligence and morality is—is but one of many such locutions offered, almost by rote, for Palestinian suicide attacks.

For is Palestinian psychology and behavior so haplessly malleable that Palestinians can be routinely influenced—by an enemy, no less—into terminating their own lives? I find it chilling that people who bewail Israel as a racist state so often have no problem stooping to such blinkered, even racist, characterizations and rationales for Palestinian terrorism. Has there ever been another group of people of whom it has been suggested so often that their enemy could provoke them into killing themselves? Rather than employ a dehumanizing caricature of Palestinians that portrays them as desperate pawns with little choice but to detonate themselves in crowded civilian areas, should we not hold them responsible for employing and supporting such actions, just as the world would (maybe) if it weren't Jews they were always murdering? Palestinians are human beings and their actions, especially suicide terrorism, must be addressed and examined as such, not as the result of external factors or in a way that somehow normalizes such actions or bleaches them of any true sense of human agency. For, as we know, such actions, be they in response to oppression and desperation or anything else, are a stunning exception in the history of humanity, and thus cannot be explained or accepted as some sort of predictable or normal outcome to living an oppressed existence. Other peoples have lived through far worse without resorting to regularly blowing themselves up in civilian areas, yet we are expected to believe that these widespread and widely supported actions among Palestinians—a sustained campaign to murder civilians via suicide-bombings—somehow fit into a predictable historical or human norm, despite the fact that no previous example of this particular implementation of terrorism has ever existed.

So: Why?

Why have Palestinians been the first to employ such a strategy, and why have so many accepted the false double standards and hollow pseudo-rationalizations used to “explain” or normalize such actions? Are Palestinians somehow exempt from any interrogation of morality and decency that says boarding a bus or entering a restaurant with the intention of murdering as many random, innocent civilians there as possible is an action—and an action of choice—that is abhorrent and for which there can be no excuse or justification? Would so much of the world have been willing to accept, often in such maudlin terms, the plethora of counterintuitive justifications, false equivalences, and ahistorical rationalizations for the barbarity of suicide bombers had it been Swedes or Canadians or Englishmen being mass murdered for years now by self-detonating human bombs while sitting in cafes, pubs, buses, etc.?

David Grossman has stated the following:

I think something horrible happens to the Palestinian society that idealizes now the suicide murderers. I think they are going to pay a heavy price, because after they will have their state, and when there will be in a conflict inside the Palestinian society about what kind of society we want to have there, what kind of democracy they will have in the Palestinian society, then they will meet those suicide murderers again, inside Palestine. As I said, once this option of action is formulated, it’s there to stay.

A heavy price, indeed. It will be interesting to see how Palestinian suicide bombings will be explained or otherwise intellectually engaged when they are launched not against Israeli civilians but against Palestinians. And there seems little reason to hope that suicide bombings and those who utilize them will simply and conveniently disappear after a Palestinian state emerges. Through their years of widespread acceptance and support of suicide bombings, the practice has become, to whatever degree, a part of Palestinian society. Just as Israelis must live with the daily knowledge that the Palestinian campaign of terror and suicide bombings, of which they and their families and friends are the deliberate, intended targets, still exists, so too must the Palestinians. (And what happens, on the inside, to people who dress children up as suicide bombers?)

How will the Palestinians end the suicide bombings? Will they? Can they? Or, having accepted and widely supported it as a strategy for addressing conflict, is it here to stay? How will Palestinians, whose criticisms of suicide bombings have been practically nonexistent, be able to begin (effectively) criticizing, much less eliminating, the practice if (or when) it appears in the domestic arena of Palestinian politics? Having accepted and supported such measures for so long, it will be interesting to see how (or if) they then find their voices of indignation and abhorrence at suicide bombers should they be employed to influence domestic Palestinian matters. Should Palestinians, somewhat like the peoples of Germany and Japan after World War II, be expected or even required to undergo a process of self-examination, of de-Arafatization and de-Yassinification in the wake of decades of Palestinian terrorism?

Further, the Palestinians, in becoming the first group to adopt such a campaign of suicide terrorism against civilians, will also have to be the first group to deal with the subsequent internal ramifications of such actions and choices, not to mention reconciling themselves to their own history of having employed (and accepted) such tactics. Will this practice be applied to domestic, internal conflicts within the Palestinian state, just as they have been directed against Israelis? The same parties will still be present, and what is to stop them from employing the same strategies against political opponents at home, especially when the tactic has already been met with years of widespread approval as an instrument of pre-state Palestinian foreign policy? I have suspected for a while now that it’s only a matter of time before Arafat or another major Palestinian figure is assassinated by a Palestinian suicide bomber. One logical culmination of Palestinian suicide-terrorism, after all, is for it to be utilized by Palestinians against Palestinians.

Perhaps when a bus full of Palestinians is bombed by a Palestinian suicide bomber, or when a restaurant full of Palestinians is bombed by a Palestinian suicide bomber, the barbarity of such actions will become more stark for certain people, not least because there will be hardly any way to blame such actions on “desperation” and other such factors. But those who cannot accurately place responsibility for Palestinian suicide bombings against innocent Israelis will be hard pressed to offer intelligent commentary when the intended victims of such bombings are no longer Israelis. If desperation and “the cycle of violence” and so on, rather than Palestinian responsibility, can be held accountable for suicide bombings against Israelis, then it will be difficult to hold Palestinians themselves accountable should they begin inflicting such terrorism upon each other (and, as evidenced by the treatment of accused collaborators and their kin, Palestinian domestic terrorism is already well developed). If the suicide bomber becomes a phenomenon within the domestic politics of a Palestinian state, then who, or what, will Palestinian terrorism be blamed on or attributed to then? What will the “cycle” be composed of then? I suspect attempts will be made to blame the country next door (and I’m not talking about Jordan). But hopefully last week’s suicide bombing of the #19 bus in Jerusalem will be the last instance (and attempt) of Palestinian suicide-terror that we ever see.

Perhaps I am a pessimist. Perhaps I am jaded from seeing too many pictures of bombed out Israeli buses. Perhaps I’ve read and listened to too many people “explain” the causes of Palestinian suicide bombers. Perhaps I’ve read too many quotes from Palestinians in support of suicide bombings and not enough in criticism of them. Perhaps I’ve seen too many pictures of Palestinian children dressed up as bombers or being paraded around while toting weapons. Perhaps I’ve read too many stories of people who lost lives or limbs or loved ones in suicide attacks. Perhaps it’s any number of things.

Because I doubt that this most recent self-detonating Palestinian suicide bomber attack on an Israeli civilian target was the last such attack we’ll ever see executed or attempted. I hope it was the concluding explosion in this Palestinian campaign of suicide bombings against civilians. But I doubt it.

After all, unlike every other group in history, Palestinians have adopted and widely supported a tactic of prolific and widespread suicide-bombings against civilian targets, and they have done so because…

Why?

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Ed who?! Speaking of the International Solidarity Movement, I received another of their breathless, grammatically garbled alerts this evening. This time it was about the evil, nefarious Apartheid wall that Israel is building to keep out self-detonating Palestinians and other terrorists. This latest message includes no mention of all the Palestinians recently killed or shot in the legs by other Palestinians, as mentioned here last night, but it does include this plea: “Join your voices to ours here in Palestine, that the whole world may here (sic) our cries.....” Oh, we here, er, hear ya!

And then, of course, there’s this exclamation: “Sen.Clinton (sic) together with former NYC mayor Ed Kock (sic) and several Jewish community leaders opposes the International Criminal Court's review of the Wall on Feb. 23!” Gosh, talk about a Kock-and-bull story! But so it goes!
Last December 24, I noted that the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) had recently posted some “Frequently Asked Questions” about the group at its website (www.palsolidarity.org), and I predicted that their official answers to these questions would probably be composed in prose even more purple than the questions’ current font. At that point, the ISM still hadn’t gotten around to posting their own answers, so I made a quick stab at ISM-speak to predict what their responses might be. I had planned, per the website’s suggestion, to “check back in a few days” when they had posted links to their responses, so as to compare and contrast our answers. But it’s looking like a lost cause, as it’s been well over a month and they still haven’t posted responses to their own questions. Oh, well.

In Nablus, numerous Palestinians have been deliberately shot in the legs, including a former police chief who was shot in the back of the knees. Amneh Abu Hijleh, 37, was shot dead as she entered a pharmacy to buy cough syrup for her infant daughter. Firas Aghbar, 13, was killed as he walked on his way to the barber for a birthday trim. The genocidal IDF is getting out of hand! Oh, wait. These deaths, and many others like them, are the result of Palestinian violence against other Palestinians (and one wonders how many of these deaths are included in the Palestinian death toll of the second Intifada). Indeed, “Distinctions between nationalist militant and criminal gang activities have blurred as Fatah has splintered into armed groups, many spun off from Palestinian security services disabled by Israeli offensives in the West Bank.” According to one regional Fatah official, 90 percent (!) of gang lawlessness could be traced to people still on a Palestinian Authority payroll (and this doesn’t include the Palestinian Authority policeman who detonated himself on a crowded Jerusalem bus last week, killing eleven innocent people and wounding scores more).

Funny how the ISM never misses a chance to castigate Israel whenever a Palestinian death can be blamed on Israelis but they never seem to have much (if anything) to say about deaths of Palestinians killed by other parties, especially other Palestinians, or about the violence, especially gang violence, (on the part of President Arafat’s Fatah group, no less, and other such parties) that has injured and killed so many Palestinians. Why isn’t the ISM parading around in solidarity with these Palestinians as well? Why aren’t ISM activists openly and deliberately interfering in Palestinian affairs so as to protect innocent Palestinians, just as they interfere in Israeli affairs, especially military operations, for supposedly the same reason? Why aren’t they publicizing and agitating against this widespread violence and killing of Palestinians in the same way they publicize and agitate against Israeli military measures? I get inundated with emails from various pro-Palestinian groups whenever a Palestinian is killed by the IDF, yet when it’s Palestinians killing and terrorizing Palestinians… well, an odd sort of muteness emerges. Where’s the highly publicized solidarity with these Palestinians?

As I’ve noted before, it appears that when standing in solidarity with Palestinians can’t be used to manufacture anti-Israel publicity or gushing letters back home about how mean and nasty the IDF is, well, these noble advocates of justice and solidarity just don’t seem especially interested or concerned. Their lack of protests and demonstrations against Palestinian elements that terrorize other Palestinians speaks volumes about their “solidarity.” Of course, I look forward to the first Solidarity protest against the Palestinian Authority and other such groups. Perhaps a spirited march (nonviolent, of course!), complete with bullhorns and banners, outside the local Fatah headquarters….

Of course, these folks know that challenging the genocidal IDF won’t result in their being summarily shot (in the back of the knees, say) as collaborators, so they’ll likely stick to annoying Israelis rather than Palestinians, not to mention publicly badmouthing Ariel Sharon and his political supporters rather than Arafat and his political supporters, no matter how corrupt and entangled in violence against Palestinians the latter parties may be. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before we see ISM activists openly challenging armed Palestinian Authority figures in the same way they antagonize Israeli troops, yes? (But, but, but… It’s all about, like, totally rising up against The Occupation, man! Palestinian terrorism, even against other Palestinians, is, like, so totally Israel’s fault, even when such gangsterism and violence comes from, like, the Palestinian Authority itself, y’know? Rise up, rise up! Zionism is racism but Palestinian nationalism is so totally radical!) Once again, we see that “solidarity” activists implicitly concede the moral superiority of the IDF over groups like Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.

But seeing as how many ISM activists are self-proclaimed anarchists, perhaps this “Anarchy in the P.A.” (the title of my next album, perhaps) is a perfectly satisfactory state of affairs to them, regardless of how many Palestinians are injured or killed as a result. It does make you wonder. (Argh, can’t we just please talk about the evil wall of Apartheid, already!?)

In other news, Iranian President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami, who’s supposedly some sort of moderate or something, “lashed out at the powerful Zionist lobby in the United States,” claiming that America’s capital is not in Washington, D.C. but, you know, in Tel Aviv. He also reiterated that Israel is not a legitimate state. Oy vey, and this guy is considered a moderate?

Speaking of moderates, I suspect that Saudi Princess Fahda bint Saud ibn Abd Al-Aziz, who acccording to the Saudi press is "the daughter of King Saud and the historian of her father's reign," either isn’t playing with a full Uno deck or has added quite a few extra Royal Draw Four cards to it. Remember, Princess: Just because you’re paranoid (or a royal paranoid, as the case may be) doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

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