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.
Thursday, March 04, 2004
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.
Please recall, also, that back on December 24th I noted that the International Solidarity Movement had posted some “frequently asked questions” (FAQs) about the ISM on their website, FAQs for which I then took a stab at preemptively answering for them. Well, after weeks and weeks of keeping us in suspense, the ISM finally got around to posting their own twisted, grammatically garbled answers a few days ago, and the intellectual dishonesty and mendacity is staggering. Just about every sentence contains a misrepresentation, a red herring, a straw man, or some other method of rhetorical subterfuge. And, as I predicted, the thrust of their FAQ answers focuses on the Israeli Occupation and how it, not Palestinians, is the real root cause of terrorism, the conflict itself, and so on, and how criticizing Palestinian terrorism is but merely to address its symptoms rather than its root causes (i.e. the Occupation). Oh, did you know that “The Palestinian community is almost completely united its (sic—?) call for an end to violence on all sides, starting with an end to occupation”? No, I didn’t think you did, for (among other things) if this were true 75% of the Palestinian community in the territories wouldn’t have approved of the Maxim Restaurant suicide bombing. Perhaps the ISM meant to write “united in”? Or “united against”? (And notice both the whitewashing of the Hamas’s ten-year “truce” with Israel and the ISM’s benevolent appellation of “political party” to one of the world’s premier genocidal terrorist groups). Either way, it’s hard to take people seriously who characterizes suicide bombers who strap on explosives and then detonate themselves in crowded civilian areas as somehow being “a tragic weapon.” Yes, in the world of the ISM, people who equip themselves with explosives laced with ball bearings, nails, and/or rat poison are considered “a tragic weapon.” Oh, so tragic! Oh, so gag-reflex inducing. Oh, so predictable.
Yes, predictable: For example, back in December, writing in ISM-speak, I wrote: “Although the effects of suicide bombings are indeed terrible… the effects of the Occupation are full worse, and it is the Occupation that breeds the despair and humiliation that engenders suicide bombings. Indeed… we must look at the real root cause of suicide bombings and other Palestinian terrorism—that is, the decades old illegal and brutal Occupation of Palestine—and place blame accordingly. Never mind, of course, that other people have lived through far worse than the Palestinians have without resorting to a campaign of suicide terrorism against civilian targets, a campaign that is unprecedented in the history of humanity. We acknowledge that never before have self-detonating human bombs been launched against civilian targets (Japanese Kamikazim and the suicide bombers of the Tamil Tiger at least had the decency to restrict themselves primarily or entirely to political or military figures). To be sure, this isn’t much of a contribution to humanity, yet so terrible is the plight of the oppressed Palestinians, who have had to endure an Occupation of unprecedented scope and scale (did we mention that it’s brutal and illegal, too?) that they have had little choice but to resort to such measures of self-sacrifice. And it’s hardly the fault of the Palestinians that in this monumentally unequal struggle that their weapons so often include only their own bodies, albeit with some explosives, some nails, and some rat poison attached. Such barbarity and its widespread support is symptomatic not of Palestinian society but of the despair and desperation bred by the illegal and brutal Occupation of Palestine. Indeed, as a banner that used to be displayed on our website proclaimed, ‘It’s the Occupation, Stupid!””
Good stuff, eh? Now, compare what I wrote with what ISM states: “In order to stop attacks on Israeli civilians this kind of violence, we must look at the source of violence and address that, instead of arguing about whether one act of violence is worse than another. We need to treat the disease of all the violence and not just one of its symptoms.
“Occupation forces and policies are degrading and dehumanizing; they injure, kill the soul and make life near impossible for Palestinians, and this is all this (sic—huh?) even when the Israeli army is not actively attacking (e.g.,a.k.a. (sic) carrying out operations in Palestinian villages, towns and cities). We oppose the tactic of suicide bombings, especially those that have been carried out against civilian targets. We don't however think that it is a more brutal tactic than dropping a bomb from a fighter plane on a civilian-occupied apartment building, firing a tank shell down a crowded city street, or placing dynamite in a family home. They are all brutal and repulsive acts.
“That some Palestinians have turned themselves into weapons is not something inherent to Palestinians or Muslims. Rather, it is a tragic weapon of those who have nothing else to fight with. This does not justify the action, but we are certain that if the Palestinians had F-16s or Apache helicopters, they would not use their bodies and explode themselves. This does not mean the ISM calls for an escalation of weapons armament, rather the ISM maintains that all military tactics should be stopped by all sides in favor of nonviolent alternatives. Most importantly, we’ve concluded from experience that as long as occupation remains, and the Palestinian people are denied freedom, human rights and self-determination, there will be those who will use violence against the underlying, systematic basic and foundational violence of the occupation.”
And this is all this e.g., a.k.a. and w.t.f?
Non sequiturs, misrepresentations, begging the question, irrelevance, equivocation, and so on: the ISM’s answers to their FAQs employ all of them. But this is par for the course, in that every rhetorical effort is made to displace responsibility for Palestinian actions such as suicide terrorism onto Israel or larger external considerations, all the while portraying Palestinians as simply reacting to Israeli violence and injustice and other such circumstances. Indeed, “That some Palestinians have turned themselves into weapons is not something inherent to Palestinians or Muslims. Rather, it is a tragic weapon of those who have nothing else to fight with. This does not justify the action, but we are certain that if the Palestinians had F-16s or Apache helicopters, they would not use their bodies and explode themselves.” Oh, such moral certainty! Why, if only things weren’t sooooooo unfair and the Palestinians had F-16s, too! Indeed, if only the Intifada had access to F-16s. As if the same people who plan and execute suicide bombings would somehow be any less barbaric if they were armed with F-16s. (Of course, that the Palestinians haven’t been supplied with military jets—from Arab countries, say— obviously suggests that Israel and the United States are hardly alone in preferring that Palestinians not have access to such weaponry. Just ask King Hussein or the Saudi Royal Family how they’d feel about seeing Palestinian F-16s and other armaments just over their borders. Black September, anyone?)
And this sort of pusillanimous and purple (as per prediction) prose by which suicide bombings become transformed into—oh, swoon!—“a tragic weapon” is but the tip of the iceberg for the ISM. As I noted in a recent post on my blog, I think this shiftiness—both moral and rhetorical—in the face of imparting responsibility to Palestinians for their suicide-terrorist actions is itself a form of racist dehumanization. It portrays Palestinians as somehow unable to live up to the same standards of humanity as did (and do) all the other peoples who have lived through occupations and worse, yet who (unlike Palestinians) did not resort to blowing themselves up in crowded civilian areas. And this intellectually grotesque notion that Palestinian suicide bombers are a “weapon of those who have nothing else to fight with” is, at best, maudlin, decrepit mendacity, not least in light of all the innumerable pictures of gun toting Palestinians. These pictures, along with all the other evidence of Palestinian weaponry, easily put the lie to such pithy claims. Indeed, how many “last testament” videos have we seen that showed the Palestinian suicide bomber clutching, say, an assault weapon? Did the bomber forget that he or she had “nothing else to fight with” besides his or her body, as the ISM would have us believe? Is the ISM really so stupid that they don’t know that groups like the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, Hamas, and the other various mavens of suicide terrorism are perfectly well armed, even in addition to the explosives they use in their bombs, or is the ISM just being misleading and duplicitous with such obviously counterfactual claims? From these FAQs and other writings of the ISM, it appears that for them, it’s the Occupation, the Occupation, the Occupation, with an occasional dash of putrid silliness about how the Palestinians have no other weapons (even though they do) or some other such maudlin circumlocution, with nothing about choices or moral self-agency or political indoctrination. Yet, as I noted in the earlier post, blowing oneself up in a crowded civilian area cannot be logically argued to be a result of desperation or the like, especially when military targets are so numerous and accessible.
And Palestinian suicide bombers are “a tragic weapon”? Good lord, give us a break. Has the ISM no sense of decency? One would think that Palestinians themselves would reject such asinine characterizations as this, that not only strip them of moral agency but apply to them a unique (and degrading) structure of morality vis-à-vis desperation and self-detonation. Suicide bombers aren’t a tragic weapon: They’re an extremely vicious, deliberate, and premeditated weapon, whose intention is to murder and maim as many people as possible. That there exist people who can bring themselves to apply the term “tragic” to this despicable weapon probably has Aristotle spinning in his grave.
Anyway, either I’m a fairly good prophet of how these people think and write or else their rhetoric is just laughably predictable. As you can see, the ISM’s basic rhetorical mode is to construct arguments, usually of the grammatically challenged variety, by which an airplane gracefully lifting off the runway and an airplane about to slam nose first into the ground are both pretty much in the same situation, since they’re both ten feet off the ground. Hence, the Occupation is as bad, if not worse, than Palestinian terrorism, and Israeli military operations against terrorism, since such operations employ violence, too, are very bad, just like acts of Palestinian terrorism that employ violence. Violence is violence; ten feet off the ground is ten feet off the ground; we must look at root causes (Israeli actions) that create Palestinian symptoms (rat poison and nail-laden suicide bombers, and so on). Of course, Palestinian terrorism preceded the Occupation, thus negating the main plank of such tendentious arguments, but who needs facts when you’re the ISM….
Not surprisingly, this base rhetorical pseudo-equivocation comes to a screeching halt and reversal in the ISM’s characterizations of the Occupation and of Palestinian suicide bombers. The occupation, of course, is oh-so degrading and dehumanizing, yet suicide bombers are, predictably, a tragic weapon, sniff. Oh, so tragic. While the ISM and their ilk bend over backwards to insist that we address and understand and appreciate the various alleged and supposed root causes of suicide bombings and other such terrorism, they waste no such time in immediately condemning the Occupation. Thus, on the one hand, The Occupation is totally super-bad and awful and so on, and requires no further examination, much less any sort of serious or honest consideration of the historical context and realities by which the Occupation came about. The Occupation, unlike Palestinian terrorism, does not necessitate an appreciation or sensitivity or understanding for its underlying causes. It’s an encapsulated term, and one that the ISM uses to sidetrack or resituate just about any argument regarding Palestinian violence and terror, not least by redirecting such arguments back to the malfeasance of the Israeli Occupation.
But Palestinian suicide terrorism, on the other hand! Well, rather than being abhorred and condemned as such, this “tragic weapon” must also be seen via a larger context that addresses its causes and roots and sources and so on and so forth. In the ISM’s rhetorical world, the Occupation is, a priori and de facto, simply evil and bad, as such, and that’s that, but when it comes to Palestinian terrorism, why, “we must look at the source of violence and address that.” No simplistic encapsulations there, to say the least. On the contrary, we must understand the factors that have brought Palestinians to adopt such measures, especially the oh-so tragic weapon of the suicide bomber. If the ISM were even one iota as vehement against Palestinian terrorism as they are in bewailing the Occupation there might be reason to take them seriously.
In short, one key aspect of the ISM’s rhetoric is to (tendentiously) complicate—to problematize, one might say, if it were done in an honest or intelligent fashion—Palestinian terrorism while at the same time grossly simplifying or decontextualizing Israeli actions Thus, according to the ISM, a Palestinian suicide bomber who detonates himself in a crowded civilian area, murdering those around him and sending ball bearing and rat poison into the bodies and skulls of innocent people, is somehow not “a more brutal tactic” than “placing dynamite in a family home,” even when that family home is, say, empty or being used as a base for terror operations. “It’s the Occupation!” is thus a sufficient and viable intellectual proposition, but “It’s the suicide bombings” is, quite the contrary, intellectually lacking because it, y’know, only addresses symptoms and stuff and not, like, the root causes that bring Palestinians to blow themselves up. (This relates to another point I made in another post: If, after the Palestinians have their state, the suicide bombings continue, what will they be attributed to then? The people who support, plan, and execute suicide bombing aren’t simply going to disappear upon the arrival of a Palestinian state. And will the ISM still consider such attacks “a tragic weapon”?)
Another quick point to make about these FAQs is that the ISM claims that “We also do not assist or engage in any form of armed resistance, no matter what form it may take. We do not associate, support, or have anything to do with armed or violent resistance to the occupation, legal or illegal. We believe that nonviolent action can be a powerful weapon in fighting oppression and we are committed to the principles of nonviolent resistance.”
Well, if you say so. Yet it’s because of statements like this that folks who follow the ISM have had to add an extra setting—an eleventh gradation, no less—onto their b.s. detectors. Indeed, it’s difficult to see how this quotation is anything other than a blatant lie or, at best, an exceptionally creative redefinition of terms like “violent” and “nonviolence” and “have anything to do with.” For example, ISM protests against the nefarious Apartheid Wall have been anything but nonviolent, and I’ve documented elsewhere on this blog efforts of ISM activists to stall Israeli soldiers until people can show up to heave rocks (or worse) at them. This is but one way the ISM deliberately involves itself in violence against Israelis. Yet somehow we’re supposed to believe that the ISM does not associate or have anything to do with “violent resistance.” (And if the ISM does not have anything to do with violent resistance, then why have ISM members, according to their own emails, attended rallies that featured terror groups like Hamas?) They doth protest (nonviolently, of course!) too much.
Also, that “The ISM does not support or condone any acts of terrorism” becomes fairly irrelevant and meaningless in light of their characterization of suicide bombings as “a tragic weapon” and other such unctuous rhetoric.
But it’s nice to know that the ISM does “not have links with suicide bombers or groups that equip suicide bombers” and therefore “have no way of knowing what the next target may be.” Hmmm, perhaps the next time ISM members attend a rally that features just such terrorist groups the noble human rights activists might think to ask. Can’t hurt to ask, after all. Dude, we don’t have links with the Klu Klux Klan, we just attend rallies that feature them, dig? Ah, but for some reason, we’re not supposed to regard ISM members, who attend rallies that feature murderous terrorist groups like Hamas and PFLP in the same light that we do folks who attend rallies that feature, say, the KKK. Just because the attendees in question have no idea where the next cross burning, lynching, or suicide bombing is going to be hardly makes their attendance at such events any less odious. After all, happily (and by choice) attending a rally that features Hamas et al is little different than happily attending a rally that features white power groups or other such garbage. No links with terrorist groups, indeed. Well, other than occasionally attending the same rallies (as documented in ISM members’ emails and journal entries), that is. Keep trying, guys.
The ISM also introduced a few new questions, phrased in a conveniently obnoxious and accusatory fashion (“You're just anti-Semitic, aren't you?”—how cute), all the better to highlight their own putatively mature and rational responses. These new questions are in addition to the original ones I answered, and include a response to the suggestion that the ISM is, gasp, anti-Semitic. Their limpid answer to this notion, of course, is as absolutely predictable as it is pathetic (not to mention that it doesn’t even answer the query—accusation, really—in question): Oho, the ISM declares, but we have Jewish members! Including two of our founders, thank you very much! Yet by this (pseudo-) logic, since there were Jewish Nazis it would be similarly unfair to call them anti-Semitic, too. Myriad other examples abound as well. Playing the “But we’ve got Jewish members” card doesn’t answer or even address the question. It’s the rhetorical equivalent of dropping an “Old Maid” card into an UNO game.
Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less whether the ISM is anti-Semitic or not, but their exceptionally lame response to the suggestion makes me wonder if they simply cannot or simply will not address this topic honestly, much less directly. The ISM’s insistence on this sort of illogical and, let’s face it, rather stupid “But we’ve got Jews—see, see!” argument in regards to anti-Semitism is quite telling. Indeed, is the absence on their part of any sort of logical response to this question, not to mention their willingness to trot out their Jewish members at the drop of a hat, merely an implicit admission in such matters, or is it symptomatic of a deeper malady that no degree of Jewish membership can cure? It appears that the best “proof” the ISM can muster to counter claims of anti-Semitism is that, y’know, they have some Jewish members, too, and that certain (conveniently unnamed) Jewish groups support them. But such ethnic information is beside the point. (And doesn’t it seem that such people enjoy the prospect of being accused of anti-Semitism? Ho hum.) And how convenient that Adam “Free Ticket” Shapiro, despite telling the Guardian last May that “I don't regard myself as Jewish” is nonetheless publicly touted by the ISM as being, you guessed it, Jewish. How delightfully post-modern, or something. I’m not a human rights activist, either, but I play one on television. Oh, and my brother Max has a good memory, only he forgets.
Also, the ISM’s claim that approximately 15-20% of their “active volunteers” are “Jewish” strikes me as dubious, although perhaps they’re defining terms like “15-20%” and “Jewish” in the same creative manner by which they define “nonviolence.”
So there you have it: Suicide bombings are “a tragic weapon of those who have nothing else to fight with,” having Jewish members is verification that an organization is not anti-Semitic, and so on. But this is about the level of intellectual sophistication we’ve come to expect from the ISM. Indeed, one wonders if these FAQs are addressed less to non-ISM people than to ISM members themselves. After all, even the most progressive anti-Zionist conscience might need assuaging from time to time.
All this leaves me with the impression that the ISM “and many more of the same bevy that I know the dressy age dotes on,” to quote Hamlet, has “only got the tune of the time and outward habit of encounter; a kind of yesty collection, which carries them through and through the most fond and winnowed opinions; and do but blow them to their trial, the bubbles are out.”
The bubbles are out, indeed. Of course, anyone who seriously believes that Palestinian suicide bombers are “a tragic weapon” (and does anyone really believe this?) probably doesn’t even have the tune of the time. But so it goes.
I’m a bit swamped at the moment, but I may do a further compare-and-contrast between the ISM’s answers and what I predicted they would write. Needless to say, their craven “symptoms/symptomatic/Occupation/desperation” rhetoric is as predictable as the sunrise, albeit far less enjoyable to watch. If you can stomach it, check out their answers at palsolidarity.org.
Incidentally, I also predicted that my answers to the ISM FAQs would be quite a bit better and more informative than the ISM’s own responses. If I do say so myself, I think I was right on that number, too.