Sunday, January 18, 2009

Zionism and militant Islam

I think if would be useful to compare Israeli military-political strategy in the current war, with AlQaeda military-political strategy as reflected in its failure in Iraq and the internal debates surrounding those developments.

By that I mean that the desire for breadth of support from co-religionists--and even more broadly public-opinion in general-- has been in both cases confronted with another trend, namely what you could call military absolutism.

To put it another way: In recent years, Israel had been making slow but noticeable progress in relationships with Arab and Islamic regimes in the neighborhood, with a public handshake here and establishment of a trade office and/or diplomatic recognition there, and then in the last three weeks it has blown that all away in the interests of "teaching a lesson" to the Hamas regime and the people of Gaza, via a military campaign whose rules of engagement seem to have been quite lax in the question of shelling of schools and refugee centers, hospitals, residential areas, and so on. Any real distinction between military defense against military provocations was blown away in a campaign against civilians in which the underlying--perhaps unspoken--justification was the really the biblical-fundamentalist claim to all of Palestine. And all or most of the recent progress in neighborhood relationships went out the window.

To me, what happened in Israeli policy seems to mirror what happened in AlQaeda policy in Iraq, where the carefully laid-out rationale of Bin Laden--striking at those who strike at us--was blown away by a campaign that appears to have reverted to a fundamentalist attack on Shiites as Shiites, delving back into history (in this case stories of Shiite collaboration with the Mongol invasions in the 12th century) just as much as the current Israeli campaign in Gaza delves back into the biblical theme of special entitlement as against non-Jews.

There are perhaps differences of degree, but it seems to me the overall patterns are quite similar. On the one side there is an ideology that has religious conviction as a basic foundation, but that builds on that a rationale and a strategy for broad-based support, both within the ranks of co-religionists and outside it, aiming at political support for its "rightful place" in the world as a whole. (In Judaism you could call this kind of politicized religion "liberal Zionism", while in Islam you have to reverse the terms (for historical reasons) and call this "militant Islam"). On the other side there is an ideology that focuses with such a burning zeal on the religious-findamentalist side that the external-relations and broadly political side of the movement goes by the wayside. It is what happened to AlQaeda in Iraq, and I believe it is what is now happening to Israeli Zionism. The movement becomes entirely inward-looking, and it quickly loses support.

There is of course a third strain of potential monotheistic fanaticism, and it is what you could call evangelical liberalism. Scholars tell us the Christian God had a big part to play in the founding of the American republic, and if you look around you carefully you will see that He still has a lot to say about American policy behind the scenes, and I am not just talking about the obvious whackos. In this case too, there has traditionally been some tension between the militarist fundamentalists of the type that pushed for the recent military invasions of various Muslim countries, while on the other side there are those who purport to lay more stress on the "liberal" side of the ideology than on the "evangelical" side.

If the evolution of what you could call "evangelical liberalism" in America turns out to be anything like the evolution of militant Islam in Iraq, or of Zionism in Israel, then the world is in for a very tough time indeed. A lot of people perhaps think this is needless worry, but they forget that in America, almost half of the people voted to put Sarah Palin in the White House.


Blogger Mike said...

Just to echo your last point on evangelical liberalism. It was on precisely this point that the neoconservatives found themselves able to garner support for the "just war" of Iraq. They would say, "OK, sure, we made some tactical mistakes, for instance disbanding the Iraqi army. But who in their right mind can be against deposing a tyrant and giving freedom and democracy to a victimized people?"

The messianic stream of evangelical liberalism is still very much alive and well, even with Obama's inauguration. "And who could possibly be against Israel, the only liberal democratic regime in a sea of Arab despots, defending themselves against the rockets of violent Islamists who have no other thought but the extermination of Israel?"

7:06 PM  

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