Randy's Corner Deli Library

30 June 2006

Interview With Editor in Chief of the Reformist Website Metransparent.com

Special Dispatch Series - No. 1193 June 28, 2006 No.1193
Interview With Editor in Chief of the Reformist Website Metransparent.com
Pierre Akel, founder and editor of the influential reformist website
metransparent.com, discussed the role of liberal Arab voices in shaping the
Arab public opinion [1] as well as the ideological and moral "death" of
dictatorships in the Middle East, in a recent interview.
The following are excerpts as they appeared in English on metransparent.com:

"An Independent Web Site was Necessary… to Allow People to Write What They
Really had in Mind, Not Merely What They Were Allowed to Write"
"Lebanese Pierre Akel hosts the popular Web site Middle East Transparent,
which receives 50,000-60,000 hits a day. While the Paris-based site is
trilingual (Arabic, English, French), its particular value is that it has
become a forum for Arab liberals who would otherwise have no outlet for
their writings.
"Akel himself has written for Arabic newspapers in London and Paris. He
moved to France in 1976, after studying economics at the American University
of Beirut and philosophy at the Lebanese University. He also took history at
the… Sorbonne. He finances the site himself, and for the moment, only the
enthusiasm of his readers and writers keeps him going."
Pierre Akel: "In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, it seemed
to me that Arab liberals had to take a stand against the barbarian wave
threatening to engulf the region. The danger was imminent…I myself was much
more familiar with the Islamic fundamentalist movement than with liberal
currents. I had talked to the 'Londonstan' leaders, read their writings, and
explored the many fundamentalist Web sites in Saudi Arabia.
"Metransparent was an attempt to explore such liberal currents as exist
inside the Middle East. I discovered the different strains of Arab
liberalism along with my readers. An independent Web site was necessary in
order to allow people to write what they really had in mind, not merely what
they were allowed to write. It was also necessary as a forum for the diverse
currents in the region."
"To Understand Arab Liberalism, One has to Understand…Where it Emerged From"

Akel: "To understand Arab liberalism, one has to understand not only what it
now represents but where it emerged from: In Syria, it mostly comes from the
remnants of the communist or Marxist left - just like the Eastern European
dissidents of 30 years ago. In Saudi Arabia, it comes from the very heart of
Islamic fundamentalist culture, but also from the orthodox Sunnis
originating in the Hijaz, where the cities of Jeddah, Medina and Mecca are
located. Hussein Shobokshi is a good example. It also comes from the Shi'ite
minority in the oil producing Eastern Province. In Tunisia, it comes from
the reformed Islamic university Al-Zaitouna. In Egypt, liberals are inspired
by the great liberal tradition that was crushed by the late President Gamal
Abdel Nasser."
Question: "What's your average day like when it comes to finding articles?
Whose articles do you tend to run?"
Akel: "We get our articles by email from practically every Arab country.
Right now we have too many opinion pieces and are late in publishing what we
receive. Most of the authors - we have more than 200 - write exclusively for
us; some send their articles to Arabic newspapers and to us, and we publish
complete, uncensored versions. I believe we have something like 25 opinion
articles from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates per
week, a bit more from Egypt, and many more from Syria, which has a
formidable civil society movement. Tunisians also contribute quite a bit, as
well as Moroccans, especially Berber intellectuals, and Yemenis, Algerians,
"I Believe We are the Most Daring Site in Advocating an Islamic Reformation"

Akel: "I am especially proud to say that soon, half of our writers shall be
women. Usually, I receive letters from potential authors asking what 'our
conditions' are for accepting contributions. We answer back that we are a
democratic and liberal Web site, with no censorship or red lines.
"The Web site also has a reputation as a forum for liberal Shi'ites, both
Saudi and Lebanese. But, most importantly, I believe we are the most daring
site in advocating an Islamic Reformation, as represented by such writers as
Gamal Banna [the brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan
al-Banna], Judge Said al-Ashmawy, and Sayyid al-Qimny, all from Egypt; and
by many writers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Islamic reformers are part and
parcel of the Arab liberal movement. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the two
countries where calls for an Islamic Reformation are the most advanced."
"Dictatorships are Dead"
Question: "Is there room for Middle Eastern liberalism today, between
dictatorships and Islamists?"
Akel: "Remember the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Autumn of the
Patriarch, where people open the palace doors to discover that the dictator
has been dead for a long time? This applied to the Soviet Union and now to
Arab dictatorships as well. Dictatorships are dead; they lost the
ideological and moral high ground years ago. The battle is between
fundamentalists and liberals. Liberalism is the wave of the future. The
Middle East is not like Afghanistan, if only because of oil, and [it] cannot
be allowed to turn into a Taliban-led region. Since 9/11, both Afghanistan
and Iraq have been liberated. This is the trend."
Question: "Who do you feel are the liberal heroes in the region? Who do you
find most interesting among political commentators?"
Akel: "You can find liberals in unexpected places. Ahmad bin Baz, the son of
the late mufti of Saudi Arabia, is certainly a liberal. He wrote stunning
articles in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper, but then was shelved. He was
probably 'advised' by the religious scholars to stop writing. Mansour
al-Nogaidan and the great Wajeeha al-Khuweider, the best Arab feminist
nowadays, are brilliant Saudi liberal examples. Ali Doumaini is another. In
Egypt, I already mentioned a few names, and can add to them Sa'd Al-Din
Ibrahim, Abdel Moneim Said, Ali Salem, and others.
"Of course, in Syria, Riad Turk is a brilliant example of Arab liberalism.
Though he spent some two decades in prison for his communist convictions, I
talked to him for four hours and he never once mentioned Marx or Lenin. He
even criticized the Lebanese Democratic [leftist] Party,... because for him
being of the left is not necessary at this historical moment; a democratic
movement, he told me, was enough and more adequate.
"The Tunisian Lafif Lakhdar is another radiant example. The Lebanese Shi'ite
Sheikh Hani Fahs is a liberal writer. And of course the late Samir Kassir,
whose assassination last June was a terrible blow to us all, both in Lebanon
and in Syria. Kassir was the intellectual most aware of the organic
relationship between the modern democratic movement in the contemporary
Levant and the 19th-century Arab liberal renaissance known as Al-Nahda."
"The [Arab] Book Market is Practically Dead"
Question: "How has the Internet been able to affect political attitudes in
the Middle East? …"
Akel: "In the Arab world, much more than in the West, we can genuinely talk
of a blog revolution. Arab culture has been decimated during the last 50
years. Arab newspapers are mainly under Saudi control. The book market is
practically dead. Some of the best authors pay to have their books published
in the order of 3,000 copies for a market of 150 million. This is
ridiculous. Even when people write, they face censorship at every level…
Meanwhile, professional journalism is rare.
"In the future, I would like Metransparent to promote tens (or even
hundreds) of blogs representing human rights and activists groups in many
Arab cities. This has already started…"
The Regimes' Monopoly on Information has Been Broken; There are No Red Lines
on the Internet
Question: "In recent years, the Middle Eastern satellite media has gained
much prominence. How does the Internet compare to it, in your experience?"
Akel: "When it comes to satellite television in the region, Al-Jazeera is
controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, while many of the rest are under Saudi
control. Al-Arabiya, for example, is owned by… the brothers-in-law of the
late King Fahd. Even the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation cannot cross
certain Saudi red lines. Yes, you can hear a liberal point of view here and
there. But, to take one example, both Abdul Halim Khaddam, the former Syrian
vice president who turned against the regime of President Bashar Assad, and
Riad Turk, the Syrian dissident, have been under a Saudi ban from Al-Arabiya
for the last month, because the Saudi leadership does not now want to annoy
the Assad regime. For once, Al-Jazeera has also banned them, but for Qatari
political reasons...[Al-Jazeera is owned by the Qatari government].
"On the Internet, people can publish whatever they want: no red lines. They
can use pen names if they want. People read, send comments, and they
[forward] information to their friends by email and fax, etc. The regimes'
monopoly on information has been broken. Remember: Three months ago a Libyan
writer was assassinated and his fingers cut for writing articles on an
opposition Web site. The Internet is a historical opportunity for Arab
"Of Course, Liberals Cannot Compete With Al-Jazeera"
Akel: "Of course, liberals cannot compete with Al-Jazeera. We do not have
the financial means to start a liberal satellite channel. Hundreds of Arab
millionaires are liberals, [but] they cannot stand up to their regimes. Arab
capitalism is mostly state capitalism. If you are in opposition, you are not
awarded contracts by states. So, for the near future, we do not expect much
help from these quarters."
Question: "How is Metransparent funded?"
Akel: "We are not funded and are surviving by personal means. I have been
paying all the expenses, because promises from a number of Arab businessmen
never materialized… The burden is getting heavier every day. We are trying
to get financial support free of political conditions, but that is not easy.
The advertisement market is smaller when you are mostly an Arabic-language
Web site. What keeps the site alive is the amazing reaction from the
readers. Metransparent has 50,000-60,000 hits per day, with no publicity and
no mailing campaigns on our part. This means there is demand. Plus, I find
it hard to disappoint all those generous writers who have been with us for
two years. Some of the Syrian writers do not even own a computer. They have
to beg friends to type and email their articles. We shall keep on as long as
possible. There is, probably, a light at the end of the tunnel. Or, we will
close down."
Question: "Liberals have been among the most severe critics of the war in
Iraq. However, one might say that for the first time the U.S. has rejected
alliances with regional despots; that Iraq was a start; and that liberals
have missed an opportunity by so vocally opposing the U.S.? How would you
Akel: "Most liberals, at least among our writers, favored the U.S. military
intervention in Iraq. I myself have written articles in support of it,
before and after the invasion. I didn't support it because of Iraqi WMD…,
but for democracy. We would have liked President George W. Bush and Prime
Minister Tony Blair to say openly that they were invading to liberate the
Iraqi people. Remember, even Riad Turk was not against the U.S.
intervention. A Syrian, Abdul Razzaq Eid, who spent most of his life in the
doctrinaire Syrian Communist Party of Khaled Bekdash, even wrote articles
welcoming it…"
"It's Either Democracy - or Many Future Osama bin Ladens Striking… U.S.
Akel: "It's either democracy or many future Osama bin Ladens striking
against U.S. interests.
"I admit some liberals took longer to overcome the Arab-Islamic taboo
against approving foreign intervention. This is increasingly behind us. Yet,
what Iraq proved was that the U.S. could not do the job alone. Internal
democratic forces had to be mobilized. We are part of this 'internal'
process. I should add that outside intervention should not only be military.
Ideally, we would like something like the Helsinki Accords, where the
international community's relations with the Arab world involve spreading
democracy, defending Arab dissidents, human rights, women's rights and
minority rights. Syrian dissidents have been calling for this for years.
Last year, Metransparent circulated a petition asking the United Nations to
create an International Court to judge the authors of fatwas condemning
people to death."
The Major Challenge for Arab Liberals: "Managing Relations With the
Question: "If you had to cite in one sentence the major challenge for Arab
liberals in the coming year, what would it be?"
Akel: "Managing relations with the Islamists. They are the liberals'
adversaries but also, in certain cases, their necessary partners. To take an
example from a completely different context: In the 1980s, French President
François Mitterrand co-opted the French Communist Party and accelerated its
implosion. Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim in Egypt and Riad Turk in Syria are wagering
on a similar development in the Middle East. You bring Islamists into the
open, encourage them to take part in the political life of a country, and
they are bound to disintegrate into their various component elements.
"For example, the leader of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ali
Sadruddin al-Bayanouni, recently opted for peaceful negotiations with Israel
and even for a possible recognition of Israel. This would not go down well
with other Syrian Islamists. Dissension shall occur over issues like this
one and others. It is either this or the Assad and Mubarak regimes will last
for a long time. The same applies to Hamas.
"Co-opting Islamists is a risky proposal, of course. Where liberals should
never make concessions is where Islamists tend to be harshest: the status of
women. In that domain no concessions should be made."
[1] Metransparent.com, February 9, 2006.

28 June 2006

From Jewish to Israeli Self-Hatred: The Psychology of Populations under Chronic Siege

I have always wanted to know the connection between the behavior of some
elements of Europe's Jews in their cooperation with the Germans in forming
the Judenraten all over Nazi-occupied Europe and the seemingly connected
behavior of the Israeli leadership in giving back land such as Gaza when all
would otherwise have indicated that the Palestinians were not going to
change their jihadist anti-Jewish mindset until there were and are no more
Jews in Israel.


Post-Holocaust and Anti-Semitism

No. 46 2 July 2006 / 6 Tammuz 5766

From Jewish to Israeli Self-Hatred:
The Psychology of Populations under Chronic Siege

Kenneth Levin

The phenomenon of Diaspora Jews embracing as truth the
indictments of Jew-haters has been so commonplace that
a literature on the subject emerged under the rubric
"Jewish self-hatred." A similar predilection evolved
in Israel, particularly among the nation's cultural
elites, in the context of the Arab siege.

Segments of populations under chronic siege commonly
embrace the indictments of the besiegers, however
bigoted and outrageous. They hope that by doing so and
reforming accordingly they can assuage the hostility
of their tormenters and win relief. This has been an
element of the Jewish response to anti-Semitism
throughout the history of the Diaspora.

The paradigm on the level of individual psychology is
the psychodynamics of abused children, who almost
invariably blame themselves for their predicament,
ascribe it to their being "bad," and nurture fantasies
that by becoming "good" they can mollify their abusers
and end their torment.

The rhetoric of the Israeli Peace Movement, its
distortions of Arab aims and actions, and its
indictments of Israel likewise reflected the
psychological impact of chronic besiegement. The Oslo
process that the Peace Movement spawned entailed
policies grounded in wishful thinking and
self-delusion analogous to that of abused children.
Israel's national institutions - political,
educational, academic, cultural, and media-related -
need to help arm the nation against the allures of
Oslo-era delusions if the Oslo debacle is not to be

In recent centuries, the phenomenon of Diaspora Jews
embracing as truth the indictments of Jew-haters has
been so commonplace that, starting about a hundred
years ago, a literature on the subject emerged in
Central Europe. Some of it was written by
psychologists and psychoanalysts, and its theme
acquired the rubric "Jewish self-hatred." A similar
predilection evolved in Israel, particularly among the
nation's cultural elites, in the context of the Arab
siege. Israeli novelist and essayist Aharon Megged
observed in 1994, "We have witnessed...an emotional
and moral identification by the majority of Israel's
intelligentsia, and its print and electronic media,
with people committed to our annihilation."1

Oslo: Embracing the Perspectives of the Nation's

Israel's engagement in the Oslo "peace process"
likewise reflected an embrace of the perspectives of
the nation's enemies. It entailed pursuing a course
that had been advocated for some years by Israel's
Peace Movement and that echoed indictments by Israel's
besiegers regarding alleged Israeli responsibility for
Arab aggression.

The Peace Movement had argued that Israel's refusal to
acknowledge previous wrongdoing and make sufficient
amends and concessions was what perpetuated the Arab-
Israeli conflict. Hence, the rationale of Oslo was
that Israel would now win peace by providing such
concessions to the PLO. Israel pursued this path even
as the Palestinian leadership continued to tell its
constituency that its goal remained Israel's
destruction and continued to collude in a terror
campaign against Israel.

For example, on the night of the famous "peace"
ceremony on the White House lawn in September 1993,
Yasser Arafat appeared on Jordanian television and
informed Palestinians and the Arab world that they
should understand Oslo as the first phase of the Plan
of Phases.2 This was the strategy elaborated by the
PLO in 1974 that called for gaining whatever territory
could be won by negotiations and using that land as a
base from which to pursue Israel's destruction.

Also, from the time of Arafat's arrival in the
territories in July 1994 until May 1996 and the fall
of the Labor-Meretz government that had choreographed
Oslo, over 150 people were murdered in terror attacks
targeting Israel. This rate of losses to terror
exceeded that of any previous twenty-two month period
in the nation's history. The Israeli government knew
of Arafat's support for the terror campaign, his
praise of the terrorists, and his exhorting of his
people to follow their example, yet it responded with
more concessions, as in the Oslo II agreement in the
fall of 1995.

A Thesis Proved as Nonsense

Various explanations for this self-destructive course
have been offered by people who initially embraced
Oslo and were even active in promoting it. Nissim
Zvilli, a Labor MK and member of the Knesset's Foreign
Affairs and Defense Committee at the time, recalled in
2002, "I remember myself lecturing in Paris and saying
that Arafat's double-talk had to be understood. That
was our thesis, proved [later] as nonsense. Arafat
meant every word, and we were naive."3

But "naïveté" hardly captures the self-delusions that
underlay Oslo. In 1997, Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit
wrote of the course forged by Israel's political elite
and passionately embraced by its intellectual and
cultural elites, including himself: "In the early
'90's...we, the enlightened Israelis, were infected
with a messianic craze.... All of a sudden, we
believed that...the end of the old Middle East was
near. The end of history, the end of wars, the end of
conflict.... We fooled ourselves with illusions. We
were bedazzled into committing a collective act of
messianic drunkenness."4

But while Shavit's "messianism" gives a label to
Oslo-era thinking, it does not explain it. The
explanation lies in the psychology of chronically
besieged populations. Whether minorities enduring
persistent marginalization, defamation, and attack
from the surrounding society, or small states under
continual siege, segments of such communities almost
invariably embrace the indictments of their enemies.
They hope that by reforming themselves in a manner
consistent with those indictments they will win

The Psychology of Chronically Abused Children

On the level of individual psychology, the paradigm is
the psychology of chronically abused children. This
most typically means children subjected to parental
abuse. Almost invariably, such children blame
themselves for their predicament. They tell
themselves, "I am treated this way because I am bad,
and if I become good I will be treated better."

This phenomenon is widely recognized by psychiatrists,
psychologists, and social workers and is most often
ascribed to children's naïveté. According to this
interpretation, the abusers tell their young victims
that the abuse is punishment for their being "bad,"
and the children, in their naïveté, accept this at
face value.

But children are not that naive. The victimized child
of an alcoholic father or a chronically depressed,
withdrawn, and irritable mother knows that he or she
is being treated badly. Nevertheless, such children
almost invariably choose to repress that knowledge and
to believe that changes in their own behavior -
behaving in a more exemplary fashion, being more
attentive to the parents' needs and wishes - can
change their parents' ways and win them a better life.

To comprehend the motivation for this self-delusion,
consider the existential predicament of such children.
They can, on the one hand, acknowledge their essential
helplessness and the hopelessness of their situation.
On the other, they can delude themselves, blame
themselves for their victimization, and endure the
guilt of that self-indictment, of perceiving
themselves as "bad," but also preserve the hope that
by their own action, by becoming "good," they can win
relief. Children almost invariably choose to avoid
hopelessness at all costs, and adults do the same.

Self-Hatred: A Specifically Jewish Pathology?

On a communal level, the same dynamic is seen again
and again in populations under siege. The phenomenon
of segments of the community embracing the indictments
of the besiegers and seeking relief through
self-criticism and self-reform recurs constantly in
the history of the Jewish Diaspora.

It has been so commonplace among Jews that some have
seen it as a specifically Jewish pathology, a unique
Jewish self-hatred. But, again, it can be found in
many other populations under chronic attack. Its
particular persistence and ubiquity among Jews is
essentially a reflection of the unprecedented history
of the Jews as a people living under incessant siege.

The broader occurrence of people adopting the
perspectives of their tormenters has been popularly
recognized over the past several decades as the
"Stockholm Syndrome." The sobriquet had its origin in
an incident in the Swedish capital in 1973 in which a
bank robbery went awry and several people were held
captive by the robbers for six days in the bank's
vault. The captives emerged displaying notable empathy
for and emotional bonding with their captors.

Communities are, however, not entirely defenseless
against the psychological corrosiveness of living
under sustained attack. The major defense is communal
institutions that are strong enough to have moral sway
in their communities and that convey a countervailing
message. This is a message of the community's being
unfairly targeted, of its essential decency and
integrity, of the bigotry and injustice of its
attackers, of the community's ability to resist and
survive the onslaught and forge a better future for

In terms of the paradigm of the abused child, the
equivalent of such institutions would be another adult
in the child's life, a grandparent perhaps, who
provides the child with a different perspective. This
person gives the message that the child is not "bad."
Rather, he is being unfairly victimized and the fault
lies with his abusers, not with him; he deserves
better and will ultimately escape his predicament and
have a better future. Although such support may not
serve to defend the child against further abuse, it
can help protect him against the worst psychological
reverberations of such abuse. Those reverberations
entail continuing to pursue the tack of blaming
himself and seeking to appease his abusers through
self-reform, a tack that all too often persists into
adulthood and dooms such children to lives of ongoing
self-abasement, frustration, and misery.

The Weakening of Jewish Communal Institutions

But within the Jewish Diaspora, there was a notable
weakening of communal institutions as a result of
political changes that marked the emergence of the
modern world and modern nation-states. This weakening
left Jews even more vulnerable than they had
previously been to the psychological corrosiveness of
chronic attack. Indeed, so widespread was the impact
of that corrosiveness that Max Nordau, the Austrian
Jewish writer and early Zionist, observed in 1896, "It
is the greatest triumph of anti-Semitism that it has
brought the Jews to view themselves with anti- Semitic

There is a profound truth to this on the level of
Jews' sense of themselves as individuals. For example,
the Jewish child subjected to constant taunts, even
physical attacks, and social exclusion in the
schoolyard will very often respond by questioning what
is wrong with him and how he can change to win
acceptance. This response is comparable to that of the
child abused at home. If the Jewish child's parents
and community fail to convey a strong-enough
countermessage, such a response becomes virtually
inevitable and will likely be carried by the child
into adulthood, with the child as adult feeling
himself tainted and flawed by virtue of his Jewish

But Nordau could have added that if Jews saw
themselves as the haters saw them, they often viewed
other Jews as fitting those stereotypes even more.
Thus, German Jews not infrequently viewed Polish Jews
as the true and deserving butt of Jew-hatred;
secularized Jews regarded religious Jews similarly;
and unionized working-class Jews held comparable
opinions of the Jewish bourgeoisie. Moreover, those
who looked at others across the various social divides
in this way, and who sought to reform those others or
to separate themselves from those others in order to
win themselves acceptance by the wider society, did
not acknowledge that their biases reflected a pleading
for gentile approval. Instead, they cast their
prejudices as representing a more progressive and
enlightened path.

Not a New Jewish Phenomenon

Again, this was not a new Jewish phenomenon. The
twelfth-century Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela
wrote of his visit to the Jews of Constantinople:

Among [them] there are craftsmen in silk and many
merchants and many wealthy men.... They dwell in a
burdensome exile. And most of the enmity comes about
because of the [Jewish] tanners who make leather and
fling their filthy water into the streets at the
entrance to their homes, polluting the street of the
Jews. And therefore the Greeks [Constantinople was at
the time, of course, still in Byzantine hands] hate
the Jews, whether good or bad, and make their yoke
heavy upon them and beat them in the streets.6

The historian H. H. Ben Sasson observes of the

This information certainly did not reach [Benjamin of
Tudela] from the tanners; it was how wealthy Jews
explained to themselves and to others the animosity of
the Greeks towards the Jews. It resulted from the
filthy habits of those who followed such a despicable
craft, and because of them, all Jews, good and bad,
suffered. In this context "good" meant the silk-maker
or physician, and "bad" meant the miserable tanner,
blamed as the source of this animosity.7

The besieged Jews chose to ignore the actual roots of
the hostility directed against them, about which they
could do little. Instead they focused their resentment
on elements within the Jewish community on the other
side of the social-occupational divide. They did so in
the service of fantasies that "reform" of those others
would radically ameliorate the community's

But this phenomenon became particularly virulent in
the modern era, and it had an impact as well on the
Zionist movement. Herzl conceived of the future Jewish
state as a refuge for all Jews. But among the Russian
socialist Zionists who came to dominate the Zionist
movement, many chose to construe religious and
bourgeois Jews as the true targets of anti-Semitism.
They spoke and wrote of such Jews in a manner that
parroted the rhetoric of the anti-Semites, and sought
to construct a nation that would be socialist and
secular and therefore, in their wishful thinking,
immune to anti-Jewish attack.

The Practical Consequences of Bias

This bias had practical consequences. In the early
1930s, for example, David Ben-Gurion recognized the
growing dangers facing European Jews and argued for a
public relations campaign to pressure Britain to
permit large-scale immigration to the Yishuv (the
prestate Jewish community in Palestine). Many of his
socialist Zionist colleagues, however, opposed him for
fear that the arrival of religious and entrepreneurial
Jews would undermine the creation of a New Jew -
socialist and secular - and instead lead to a polity
that invited anti-Semitism.

Another practical consequence can be seen in the
response by some elements of the socialist Zionist
camp to the Arab attacks of 1920-1921, 1929, and
1936-1939. Some chose to construe the attacks as an
understandable reaction to the ways of traditional and
bourgeois elements in the Yishuv. They insisted that
if the Yishuv were built on purely socialist
principles, the Arab working class would see the Jews
as brothers and there would be no enmity.

Various voices within the socialist camp also reacted
to Arab attacks by blaming Arab hostility on the
supposedly misguided Zionist effort to establish a
Jewish state, and they advocated Jewish abandonment of
that goal. Again, those who would blame the Jews did
not acknowledge that they were seeking to placate the
Jews' attackers but rather cast their stance as
enlightened and progressive. For example, they wrapped
themselves in socialist internationalism and insisted
that Jews should be more forward-looking and forswear
nationalist aspirations.

A related response to the Arab assault came from
another part of the Yishuv. Jews in Western Europe
had, since the beginning of the modern era, confronted
intense opposition to their being granted civic rights
in their respective countries. A key point made by
those opposing such rights was that the Jews were a
separate, alien nation. In response, many Jews sought
to demonstrate that they were solely a community of
faith, not a nation. German Jewish reformist movements
in the early nineteenth century even sought to change
the liturgy to delete references to longing for Eretz
Israel and Jerusalem so as to erase any suggestions of
national, and not purely religious, Jewish identity
and aspirations.

Buber: Justifying the Arab Aggressors

Elements of the German Jewish community in the Yishuv
embraced these same predilections. They defined the
proper Zionist project as the building of a Jewish
cultural center, not a state, in Eretz Israel, and
responded to Arab attacks in the same manner so many
of them had responded to anti- Jewish indictments in
Europe. They even more emphatically argued against
nation-building, justified Arab aggression as a
reasonable reaction to the misguided state-building of
the Yishuv leadership, and viciously attacked
Ben-Gurion and his pro-state associates.

Of course, they once again did not acknowledge that
they were seeking to placate the Jews' attackers but
rather wrapped their stance in moral
self-righteousness. They insisted that Judaism had
evolved beyond narrow, nationalist concerns. It was
now exclusively focused on its universal message and
mission as a moral force in the world, and
nation-building represented a regressive, atavistic,
and shameful course for the Jews.

The most prominent figure in this camp was the famous
German Jewish philosopher Martin Buber. In 1929, the
Grand Mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, orchestrated
large-scale attacks against the Jews of the Yishuv
that led to, among other atrocities, the murder of
more than sixty Jews in Hebron. Buber, then still in
Germany, blamed the massacres on the Jews for not
having been accommodating enough of Arab sensibilities
and urged an amnesty for those Arabs convicted of
murdering Jews.8

Buber's response to the Arab attacks of 1936-1939 (he
immigrated to the Yishuv in 1938) was similar. He and
many of his associates on the faculty of the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem also opposed efforts to push
Britain to liberalize Jewish immigration. Even in the
face of the notorious Chamberlain White Paper of 1939
severely limiting immigration at such a desperate time
for European Jews, the circle around Buber campaigned
in support of such limits and insisted that there
should be no additional Jewish immigration without
Arab consent.

In an article in Haaretz in November 1939, two months
after the start of World War II, Buber not only argued
that the Zionist objective of a state was immoral; he
also asserted that, as all nationalisms were, in his
view, intrinsically and equally morally bankrupt and
that Zionism was "performing the acts of Hitler in the
land of Israel, for they [i.e., the Zionists] want to
serve Hitler's god [i.e., nationalism] after he has
been given a Hebrew name."9

The Impact of the Shoah

Such perspectives were largely marginalized by the war
in Europe, the Shoah, and the establishment of Israel.
The nation came together in absorbing the survivors
from Europe and the Sephardi Jews fleeing the Arab
states of North Africa and the Middle East, and
Israelis overwhelmingly dedicated themselves to the
state's survival and well-being.

But the marginalization of those perspectives
sympathetic to Arab aggression and critical of the
Zionist enterprise was not simply a consequence of the
flow of events. It also derived from an optimism that
the Arab siege would soon end and Israel would indeed
become a "normal" state. In addition, the segment of
the population most receptive to anti-state rhetoric
was the socialist Zionist camp. However, the nation's
leadership was drawn from that camp, and many more on
the Israeli Left identified with Ben- Gurion and his
successors than with the anti-state circles.

But the siege did not end. Even the peace with Egypt
was followed by Egyptian reneging on the approximately
two dozen provisions of the Camp David agreement
involving normalization of commercial and cultural
relations, and the government-controlled Egyptian
media persisted in their anti-Israeli rhetoric and
even escalated their anti- Semitic content.

Viewing the Likud as Alien Others

No less significantly, in 1977 the socialist Zionists
lost their monopoly on national power and over the
next fifteen years Likud either led the nation or was
equal or senior partner in governments of national
unity. Likud's roots lay in a merger of the party of
Zeev Jabotinsky's Revisionist successors and Israel's
Liberal Party (opposed to the country's socialist
economy). Likud's constituency was drawn largely from
the Sephardim, generally religious and
entrepreneurial, and the more religious and
entrepreneurial among the Ashkenazim.

Much of the socialist Zionist camp viewed the new
leadership and its constituency as alien others. Many
Labor Zionists now became more receptive to arguments
that Arab hostility was a response to Israeli
policies, that it was the control of the government by
the Old Jew - the religious and the entrepreneurial -
that perpetuated the Arab siege, and that if the Left
would only regain power and make sufficient amends and
concessions the other side would be placated and peace
would be won.

The Peace Movement's interpretation of the conflict
was no less divorced from reality than had been German
Jews blaming eastern Jews for anti-Semitism, or
secular Jews blaming the religious, or socialist Jews
blaming the European Jewish bourgeoisie.

But under the conditions of the continuing Arab siege
and the Likud ascendancy, it won more and more
adherents on the Israeli Left. Those adherents, cowed
by the persistence of the siege and wishing for its
end, grasped at any seemingly positive statement from
an Arab political figure to bolster their wishful
thinking ignoring all countervailing evidence.

For example, the PLO's proxy representative in
Jerusalem, Faisal Husseini, declared to an Arab
audience in 1992, "We have not conceded and will not
surrender any of the...commitments that have existed
for more than 70 years....We have within our
Palestinian and united Arab society the ability to
deal with divided Israeli society.... We must force
Israeli society to cooperate...with our Arab society
and eventually to gradually dissolve the 'Zionist
entity.'"10 He made other statements in the same vein.

The Peace Camp like the Abused Child

Yet Husseini was a Peace Movement favorite. Mordechai
Bar-On was a founder of Peace Now and author of the
most definitive history of the Peace Movement. He
wrote of the period before Oslo, the time of the
Husseini quote, "A new generation of Palestinian
leaders was emerging.... Younger people like...Faisal
Husseini.... Most of the peace groups on the Israeli
side maintained contacts with these new leaders and
tried to persuade Israelis that these Palestinians
could be partners in negotiations."11

Bar-On also explained the failure of some Israelis to
be persuaded as due to their benighted nature, their
not sharing the Peace Movement's open-minded and
forward-looking sophistication. He noted that the
Sephardic Jewish community in Israel tended to be more
distrustful of Arab intentions and added that this
seemed, in surveys, to be related to educational level
and level of religious traditionalism. He further
observed that the less educated and more traditional
segments of the Ashkenazi community were likewise more
distrustful of the possibilities for genuine peace
than were Israel's elites.

Bar-On concluded: "Higher learning, it is believed,
exposes individuals to a wider variety of opinions,
trains them in new analytical and flexible modes of
thought, and enables them to relate to issues in a
less emotional and more self-critical way, which leads
to greater tolerance and understanding of the 'other'
and of the complexity of the issues."12 This is
Bar-On's rationalization for the peace camp's
grasping, like the abused child, at wishful delusions
that sufficient self-reform, sufficient efforts to
become "good," would win relief.

New History:
Rewriting the Past of Israel and Zionism

Also resonant of the paradigm of the abused child is
that adjunct to the Peace Movement, the so-called New
History. The practitioners of the New History have
sought to rewrite the past of Israel and the Zionist
movement in a way that revealed the supposedly unfair
treatment meted out to Palestinian Arabs and to other
Arabs as well.

The implicit, and often explicitly acknowledged,
intent of its authors has been to get Israelis to
perceive Arab hostility as an understandable response
to Israeli misdeeds. They encourage Israelis to see
their neighbors less as irreconcilable foes bent on
Israel's destruction than as people like themselves
who simply want - have always simply wanted - a fair
resolution of the conflict, and so to be more
forthcoming, to make painful concessions, to achieve
that fair resolution.

The New History is largely bogus history. As one
critic has noted, what is true in it is not new and
what is new in it - typically the claims most damning
of Israel - is not true. One recurrent criticism
directed at it by other historians is that its
proponents offer a very simplistic, two-dimensional
view of the Arabs.13 There is little conveyance of the
complexity of decision-making by Arab leaders; rather,
Arab decisions and actions are depicted as
straightforward and predictable reactions to Israeli

This recurrent weakness in the New History has at
times been ascribed to authors' limited grasp of
Arabic and, hence, limited access to the literature
that would give them a fuller, more nuanced and
realistic understanding of the shaping of Arab
policies. But the truer explanation for the
two-dimensionality of Arab decision-making in the New
History is its authors' wish to see Arab behavior as
simply reactions to Israeli behavior. They want, in
effect, to see Israeli behavior controlling Arab
behavior, just as the abused child wants to see his
own behavior as controlling that of his abusive
parent. Such a distortion of reality is essential to
the child's fantasy that the abuse has been a response
to his misbehavior and that his becoming good will
inevitably elicit better parental treatment.

Not Prepared to Live in a World without Solutions

Perhaps the single example of Oslo rationalizations
most resonant of the psychodynamics of the abused
child is a statement by Oslo's chief architect, Yossi
Beilin, in 1997. Defending his Oslo endeavors, Beilin
declared, "I want to live in a world where the
solution to an existential problem is possible.... I
am simply not prepared to live in a world where
[problems] are unsolvable."14

Confronted with the reality that Israel faces problems
it cannot resolve by its own actions, Beilin wished
not to believe that reality and simply closed his eyes
to it. He embraced the delusion that, despite all the
evidence to the contrary, the other side desires what
he desires and the world can be rendered what he wants
it to be if only Israel is sufficiently forthcoming.
In the same way the abused child, faced with a painful
and insoluble existential problem, chooses to believe
that he truly can solve it, that his behaving better
will make his world right.

Haaretz's Ari Shavit wrote in 2001 of the consequences
of Beilin's "solution to an existential problem."
Shavit pointed out that the nation was enduring "a
profound existential crisis" brought about by a
decision "produced and directed by...Yossi
Beilin...who had Israel sign an illusory document [the
Oslo accords] which undermines the foundations of its

Addressing Institutional Failures

Throughout the history of the Diaspora, Jewish
communities likewise suffered difficult situations
becoming even worse, losses being piled on losses,
because of the psychological corrosiveness of their
predicament and the allure of delusional
comprehensions that misread dangers, set Jew against
Jew, and grievously compromised communal defenses.

As noted, in some cases the abused child is spared all
the devastating consequences of his self-blame by an
adult who conveys to him a different message. Strong
communal institutions can at times do the same for
populations under siege.

Oslo was ultimately a failure of Israel's
institutions, political, educational, academic,
cultural, and media-related. The Arab siege is going
to continue, and if those institutional failures are
not addressed the nation will inexorably once again
risk its existence by chasing mirages of peace.

* * *


1. Aharon Megged, "One-Way Trip on the Highway of
Self- Destruction," Jerusalem Post, 17 June 1994.

2. Foreign Broadcast Service, "Near East and South
Asia, Daily Report Supplement, Israel-PLO Agreement,"
14 September 1993, 4-5.

3. Haaretz, 27 July 2002.

4. Haaretz, 26 December 1997.

5. Cited in Meir Ben-Horin, Max Nordau: Philosopher of
Human Solidarity (New York: Conference of Jewish
Social Studies, 1956), 180.

6. Cited in H. H. Ben-Sasson, "The Middle Ages," in H.
H. Ben-Sasson, ed., A History of the Jewish People
(Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976), 385-723,

7. Ibid., 469.

8. Martin Buber, "The National Home and National
Policy in Palestine" and "The Wailing Wall," in A Land
for Two Peoples: Martin Buber on Jews and Arabs, ed.
Paul R. Mendes-Flohr (New York: Oxford University
Press, 1983), 82-91, 93-95.

9. Haaretz, 16 November 1939; cited in Yoram Hazony,
The Jewish State (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 244.

10. Al-Ra'y (Jordan), 12 November 1992; cited in Ze'ev
Benyamin Begin, "Years of Hope," Haaretz Magazine, 6
September 2002.

11. Mordechai Bar-On, In Pursuit of Peace (Washington,
DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 1996),

12. Ibid., 165.

13. See, e.g., Robert B. Satloff, review of Benny
Morris's Israel's Borders Wars, 1949-1956, in Middle
Eastern Studies, October 1995, 953-57.

14. Cited in Haaretz Magazine, 7 March 1997.

* * *

Dr. Kenneth Levin is a clinical instructor of
psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a
Princeton-trained historian. He is the author of The
Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People under Siege
(Hanover, NH: Smith & Kraus, 2005).

Tahitian Moon

THis was taken in December, 2004 in Mo'orea. I loved it there...so peaceful and relaxing. And only 7.5 hours from LAX.

Lower East Side Graffitti Study

This was taken in April of this year while Mitch and I were in NYC and were roaming around the lower east side. The chaotic symmetry of this photo is amazing, methinks.

On March 18, 2006, Mitch went with some friends to the Root Cellar, a restaurant and jazz club in his new city of Milwaukee. His band teacher, Jamie Breiwick's band, Sanctuary, was playing that night. About midway through the first set, the band's regular drummer got a call from his wife that his son had to be taken to the emergency room; he had to leave at the set break. During the set break, Jamie asked Mitch if he would sub-in for Mike, the band's regular drummer. Mitch had the presence of mind to call his mom, since this was his first gig with professional musicians. His mom had the presence of mind to call Ari Rosenthal, a terrific guy and great photographer, who appeared in time to get this shot of Mitch while he was playing his drums. I never want him to lose the sheer joy on his face that is evident in this picture. Ever.

Bush's Supporters Will Libel Any Foe

Bush’s Supporters
Will Libel Any Foe
By: Joe Conason
Date: 7/3/2006
Page: 5
In the acrid debate over Iraq, the President’s supporters will say anything.
They will question the patriotism of those who disagree with “staying the
course.” They will insinuate cowardice on the part of those who would “cut
and run.” Even though they avoided military service, they will denigrate the
records of decorated veterans like John Kerry and Jack Murtha. They will
even accuse the war’s critics of providing “aid and comfort” to the enemy,
which is the legal definition of treason.
Then the White House will turn around—after days of encouraging such
vilification of their opponents—and leak the commanding general’s optimistic
plan to start withdrawing troops, which would proceed according to the same
timetable proposed by those weak and pusillanimous Democrats. That is meant
to reassure the majority of Americans who realize invading Iraq was a
strategic error and a tragedy that must be concluded as soon as possible.
All the slanders and all the maneuvers are performed for political
expedience, not national security. In pursuit of Karl Rove’s electoral
strategy, the Republicans will spend a trillion dollars and squander
thousands of American lives, tens of thousands of Iraqi lives, and the
prestige of the United States. There is only one thing they won’t do. They
will not speak honestly about the war, because the truth cannot accommodate
their crude partisan rhetoric. The unfortunate reality is that President
Bush has no “plan for victory.” On some days, he cannot foresee removing
American troops during his Presidency and says that withdrawal will be a
decision for “future Presidents” to make. On other days, he contemplates
removing two-thirds of our combat brigades there by the end of next year. On
some days, his ambassador to Baghdad discusses amnesty for the insurgents
with the Iraqi government and other negotiable items. On other days, those
difficult subjects are utterly taboo. He has no plan because the invasion of
Iraq didn’t proceed according to the expectations of the White House and the
Pentagon. The Bush war cabinet had formulated a sketchy plan at the outset,
with vague, implausible notions of how postwar Iraq would be pacified,
rebuilt and governed.
Among the ill-conceived schemes originally contemplated by our ill-advised
leaders was the installation of Ahmad Chalabi, an exile of dubious
character, as Baghdad’s strongman. That daydream had to be abandoned, along
with the flower-strewn parades and the reimbursement of our invasion
expenses with Iraqi oil revenue. What we got instead were a plague of
suicide bombings, an intractable insurgency, an ethnic civil war and a
government allied with the Iranian mullahs.
While the Bush administration has no plan, the newly formed Iraqi government
seems to be considering a negotiated peace. For months, Iraqi officials have
been talking with representatives of the Sunni rebels, in the hope of
convincing them to lay down their weapons and engage in democratic politics.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki recently offered a limited “reconciliation”
initiative meant to bring together the country’s warring factions and reduce
support for the insurgency. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has assisted
this effort, although his help is limited by Mr. Bush’s political agenda.
Unfortunately, that agenda blocks the Iraqis from dealing with the real
problems motivating the insurgency.
Most Sunni insurgents, unlike the followers of the late and unlamented
terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, might be drawn to the bargaining table under
certain conditions. Credible press reports indicate that those conditions
must include a broad amnesty for fighters who have attacked American troops,
and a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops and the end of the
The Iraqi government might well be inclined to discuss those issues. But the
Bush administration insists that there can be no broad amnesty—and that any
exit timetable will only encourage the terrorists.
When Mr. Bush visited Baghdad for a few hours on June 13, Iraqi Vice
President Tariq al-Hashimi, a Sunni leader, urged him to set a date for
ending the occupation. Then the Iraqi President, Kurdish leader Jalal
Talabani, who has been talking directly with insurgent representatives, said
he “supported” Mr. Hashimi’s request.
Polls in both countries show substantial agreement between the peoples of
Iraq and the United States on ending the occupation. Seventy percent of
Iraqis wish that foreign troops would leave their country by the end of next
year, and nearly 60 percent of Americans want our troops home by then or
sooner. But no matter what the Iraqis may want and no matter what the
American generals may recommend, don’t expect Mr. Bush to “cut and run”—or
at least not until after November.



26 June 2006

Bruce Springsteen: Ann Coulter an Idiot 'Rambling on Cable Television'

Thank God for Bruce Springsteen and others like him who have enough kishkes
left to speak out against the absurdities of the goings-on in this country.
The idiot fringe of which Springsteen speaks must be denied the headlines
and the momentum. And the war in Iraq? Please.

Bruce Springsteen: Ann Coulter an Idiot 'Rambling on Cable Television'
June 23, 2006

SOURCE: Editor & Publisher

Appearing on CNN today to promote his current tour and album of Pete Seeger
songs, rocker Bruce Springsteen took note of the current controversy
surrounding Ann Coulter in responding to a question about whether musicians
should speak out on politics.

Springsteen was asked if getting flack about his political views, such as
backing John Kerry in 2004, made him wonder if musicians should try so hard
to be taken seriously on topical issues.

"They should let Ann Coulter do it instead?" he mused, with a chuckle. Then
he said, "You can turn on the idiots rambling on cable television every
night, and they say musicians shouldn't speak up? It's insane, it's funny,"
he said, laughing.

He called politics "an organic part of what I'm doing. ... It's called
common sense. I don't even see it as politics at this point.''

As for the Iraq war, he commented, "You don't take your country into a major
war on circumstantial evidence -- you lose your job for that. That's my
opinion and I don't have a problem voicing that. Some people have a problem
with that, others don't."

He revealed that some former fans have mailed records back to him.


21 June 2006

Going beyond God - Karen Armstrong's "The Spiral Staircase"

Going beyond God

Historian and former nun Karen Armstrong says the afterlife is a "red
herring," hating religion is a pathology and that many Westerners cling to
infantile ideas of God.
By Steve Paulson

May. 30, 2006 | Karen Armstrong is a one-woman publishing industry, the
author of nearly 20 books on religion. When her breakthrough book "A History
of God" appeared in 1993, this British writer quickly became known as one of
the world's leading historians of spiritual matters. Her work displays a
wide-ranging knowledge of religious traditions -- from the monotheistic
religions to Buddhism. What's most remarkable is how she carved out this
career for herself after rejecting a life in the church.

At 17, Armstrong became a Catholic nun. She left the convent after seven
years of torment. "I had failed to make a gift of myself to God," she wrote
in her recent memoir, "The Spiral Staircase." While she despaired over never
managing to feel the presence of God, Armstrong also bristled at the
restrictive life imposed by the convent, which she described in her first
book, "Through the Narrow Gate." When she left in 1969, she had never heard
of the Beatles or the Vietnam War, and she'd lost her faith in God.

Armstrong went on to work in British television, where she became a
well-known secular commentator on religion. Then something strange happened.
After a TV project fell apart, she rediscovered religion while working on
two books, "A History of God" and a biography of Mohammed. Her study of
sacred texts finally gave her the appreciation of religion she had longed
for -- not religion as a system of belief, but as a gateway into a world of
mystery and the ineffable. "Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet" also made
her one of Europe's most prominent defenders of Islam.

Armstrong now calls herself a "freelance monotheist." It's easy to
understand her appeal in today's world of spiritual seekers. As an ex-nun,
she resonates with people who've fallen out with organized religion.
Armstrong has little patience for literal readings of the Bible, but argues
that sacred texts yield profound insights if we read them as myth and
poetry. She's especially drawn to the mystical tradition, which -- in her
view -- has often been distorted by institutionalized religion. While her
books have made her enormously popular, it isn't surprising that she's also
managed to raise the ire of both Christian fundamentalists and atheists.

In her recent book, "The Great Transformation," Armstrong writes about the
religions that emerged during the "Axial Age," a phrase coined by the German
philosopher Karl Jaspers. This is the era when many great sages appeared,
including the Buddha, Socrates, Confucius, Jeremiah and the mystics of the
Upanishads. I interviewed Armstrong in the middle of her grueling American
book tour. She dislikes flying in small airplanes, so her publisher hired a
car service to drive her from Minnesota to Wisconsin, where I spoke with her
before she met with a church group. When she got out of her car, I was
greeted by a rather short and intense woman, somewhat frazzled by
last-minute interview requests. But once settled, her passion for religion
came pouring out. She was full of surprises. Armstrong dismissed the
afterlife as insignificant, and drew some intriguing analogies: Just as
there's good and bad sex and art, there's good and bad religion. Religion,
she says, is hard work.

Why are you so interested in the Axial Age?

Because it was the pivot, or the axis, around which the future spiritual
development of humanity has revolved. We've never gone beyond these original
insights. And they have so much to tell us today because very often in our
religious institutions we are producing exactly the kind of religiosity that
people such as the Buddha wanted to get rid of. While I was researching this
book, they seemed to be talking directly to us in our own troubled time.

What religions emerged during the Axial Age?

From about 900 to 200 BCE, the traditions that have continued to nourish
humanity either came into being or had their roots in four distinct regions
of the world. So you had Confucianism and Taoism in China; Hinduism,
Buddhism, Jainism in India; monotheism in Israel; and philosophical
rationalism in Greece.

You're saying all these different religions developed independently of each
other. But there was a common message that emerged roughly around the same

Yes. Without any collusion, they all came up with a remarkably similar
solution to the spiritual ills of humanity. Before the Axial Age, religions
had been very different. They had been based largely on external rituals
which gave people intimations of greatness. But there was no disciplined
introspection before the Axial Age. The Axial sages discovered the inner
world. And religions became much more spiritualized because humanity had
taken a leap forward. People were creating much larger empires and kingdoms
than ever before. A market economy was in its very early stages. That meant
the old, rather parochial visions were no longer adequate. And these regions
were torn apart by an unprecedented crescendo of violence. In every single
case, the catalyst for religious change had been a revulsion against

So what was the spiritual message that rejected violence?

First of all, they all insisted that you must give up and abandon your ego.
The sages said the root cause of suffering lay in our desperate concern with
self, which often needs to destroy others in order to preserve itself. And
so they insisted that if we stepped outside the ego, then we would encounter
what we call Brahman or God, nirvana or the Tao.

You say one of the common messages in all these religions was what we now
call the Golden Rule. And Confucius was probably the first person who came
up with this idea.

All these sages, with the exception of the Greeks, posited a
counter-ideology to the violence of their time. The safest way to get rid of
egotism was by means of compassion. The first person to promulgate the
Golden Rule, which was the bedrock of this empathic spirituality, was
Confucius 500 years before Christ. His disciples asked him, "What is the
single thread that runs through all your teaching and pulls it all
together?" And Confucius said, "Look into your own heart. Discover what it
is that gives you pain. And then refuse to inflict that pain on anybody
else." His disciples also asked, "Master, which one of your teachings can we
put into practice every day?" And Confucius said, "Do not do to others as
you would not have them do to you." The Buddha had his version of the Golden
Rule. Jesus taught it much later. And Rabbi Hillel, the older contemporary
of Jesus, said the Golden Rule was the essence of Judaism.

Now, there is the question of whether all of these were actually religions.
I mean, the philosophies of the ancient Greeks -- Socrates and Plato -- were
not religious at all. Buddhism is essentially a philosophy of mind. And I
suppose you could see Confucianism as essentially a system of ethics.

That's a very chauvinistic Western view, if I may say so. You're saying this
is what we regard as religion, and anything that doesn't measure up to that
isn't. I think a Buddhist or a Confucian would be very offended to hear that
he or she was not practicing a religion.

Well, explain that. What is religion?

Religion is a search for transcendence. But transcendence isn't necessarily
sited in an external god, which can be a very unspiritual, unreligious
concept. The sages were all extremely concerned with transcendence, with
going beyond the self and discovering a realm, a reality, that could not be
defined in words. Buddhists talk about nirvana in very much the same terms
as monotheists describe God.

That's fascinating. So in Buddhism, which is nontheistic, the message or the
experience of nirvana is the same as the Christian God?

The experience is the same. The trouble is that we define our God too
closely. In my book "A History of God," I pointed out that the most eminent
Jewish, Christian and Muslim theologians all said you couldn't think about
God as a simple personality, an external being. It was better to say that
God did not exist because our notion of existence was far too limited to
apply to God.

Didn't a lot of people say God is beyond language? We could only experience
the glimmer of God.

That's what the Buddha said. You can't define nirvana, you can't say what it
is. The Buddha also said you could craft a new kind of human being in touch
with transcendence. He was once asked by a Brahman priest who passed him in
contemplation and was absolutely mesmerized by this man sitting in utter
serenity. He said, "Are you a god, sir? Are you an angel or a spirit?" And
the Buddha said, "No, I'm awake." His disciplined lifestyle had activated
parts of his humanity that ordinarily lie dormant. But anybody could do it
if they trained hard enough. The Buddhists and the Confucians and the
greatest monotheistic mystics did with their minds and hearts what gymnasts
and dancers do with their bodies.

You're saying these ancient sages really didn't care about big metaphysical
systems. They didn't care about theology.

No, none of them did. And neither did Jesus. Jesus did not spend a great
deal of time discoursing about the trinity or original sin or the
incarnation, which have preoccupied later Christians. He went around doing
good and being compassionate. In the Quran, metaphysical speculation is
regarded as self-indulgent guesswork. And it makes people, the Quran says,
quarrelsome and stupidly sectarian. You can't prove these things one way or
the other, so why quarrel about it? The Taoists said this kind of
speculation where people pompously hold forth about their opinions was
egotism. And when you're faced with the ineffable and the indescribable,
they would say it's belittling to cut it down to size. Sometimes, I think
the way monotheists talk about God is unreligious.

Unreligious? Like talk about a personal God?

Yes, people very often talk about him as a kind of acquaintance, whom they
can second-guess. People will say God loves that, God wills that, and God
despises the other. And very often, the opinions of the deity are made to
coincide exactly with those of the speaker.

Yet we certainly see a personal God in various sacred texts. People aren't
just making that up.

No, but the great theologians in Judaism, Christianity and Islam say you
begin with the idea of a god who is personal. But God transcends personality
as God transcends every other human characteristic, such as gender. If we
get stuck there, this is very immature. Very often people hear about God at
about the same time as they're learning about Santa Claus. And their ideas
about Santa Claus mature and change in time, but their idea of God remains

What about the supernatural, though? Do you need any sense of the miraculous
or of things that cannot be explained by science?

I think religions hold us in an attitude of awe and wonder. People such as
the Buddha thought miracles were rather vulgar -- you know, displays of
power and ego. If you look at the healing miracles attributed to Jesus, they
generally had some kind of symbolic aspect about healing the soul rather
than showing off a supernatural power. Western people think the supernatural
is the essence of religion, but that's rather like the idea of an external
god. That's a minority view worldwide. I really get so distressed on behalf
of Buddhists and Confucians and Hindus to have a few Western philosophers
loftily dismissing their religion as not religious because it doesn't
conform to Western norms. It seems the height of parochialism.

I think these questions are tremendously important now because more and more
people, especially those with a scientific bent, say we don't need religion
anymore. Science has replaced religion. You know, religion used to explain
all kinds of things about the world. But science for the most part does that
now. And people who are not religious say they can be just as morally

They can. I fully endorse that. I don't think you need to believe in an
external god to obey the Golden Rule. In the Axial Age, when people started
to concentrate too much on what they're transcending to -- that is, God --
and neglected what they're transcending from -- their greed, pompous
egotism, cruelty -- then they lost the plot, religiously. That's why God is
a difficult religious concept. I think God is often used by religious people
to give egotism a sacred seal of divine approval, rather than to take you
beyond the ego.

As for scientists, they can explain a tremendous amount. But they can't talk
about meaning so much. If your child dies, or you witness a terrible natural
catastrophe such as Hurricane Katrina, you want to have a scientific
explanation of it. But that's not all human beings need. We are beings who
fall very easily into despair because we're meaning-seeking creatures. And
if things don't add up in some way, we can become crippled by our

So would you say religion addresses those questions through the stories and

Yes. In the pre-modern world, there were two ways of arriving at truth.
Plato, for example, called them mythos and logos. Myth and reason or
science. We've always needed both of them. It was very important in the
pre-modern world to realize these two things, myth and science, were
complementary. One didn't cancel the other out.

Well, what do you say to the scientists, especially the Darwinists --
Richard Dawkins would be the obvious case -- who are quite angry about
religion? They say religion is the root of much evil in the world. Wars are
fought and fueled by religion. And now that we're in the 21st century, they
say it's time that science replace religion.

I don't think it will. In the scientific age, we've seen a massive religious
revival everywhere but Europe. And some of these people -- not all, by any
means -- seem to be secular fundamentalists. They have as bigoted a view of
religion as some religious fundamentalists have of secularism. We have too
much dogmatism at the moment. Take Richard Dawkins, for example. He did a
couple of religious programs that I was fortunate enough to miss. It was a
very, very one-sided view.

Well, he hates religion.

Yeah, this is not what the Buddha would call skillful. If you're consumed by
hatred -- Freud was rather the same -- then this is souring your personality
and clouding your vision. What you need to do is to look appraisingly and
calmly on other traditions. Because when you hate religion, it's also very
easy to hate the people who practice it.

This does raise the question, though, of how to read the sacred scriptures.


Because there are all kinds of inflammatory things that are said. For
instance, many passages in both the Bible and the Quran exhort the faithful
to kill the infidels. Sam Harris, in his book "The End of Faith," has seven
very densely packed pages of nothing but quotations from the Quran with just
this message. "God's curse be upon the infidels"; "slay them wherever you
find them"; "fighting is obligatory for you, much as you dislike it." And
Sam Harris' point is that the Muslim suicide bombings are not the aberration
of Islam. They are the message of Islam.
Well, that's simply not true. He's taken parts of those texts and omitted
their conclusions, which say fighting is hateful for you. You have to do it
if you're attacked, as Mohammed was being attacked at the time when that
verse was revealed. But forgiveness is better for you. Peace is better. But
when we're living in a violent society, our religion becomes violent, too.
Religion gets sucked in and becomes part of the problem. But to isolate
these texts as though they expressed the whole of the tradition is very
mischievous and dangerous at this time when we are in danger of polarizing
people on both sides. And this kind of inflammatory talk, say about Islam,
is convincing Muslims all over the world who are not extremists that the
West is incurably Islamophobic and will never respect their traditions. I
think it's irresponsible at this time.

But many people would say you can't just pick out the peaceful and loving
passages of the sacred scriptures. There are plenty of other passages that
are frightening.
I would say there are more passages in the Bible than the Quran that are
dedicated to violence. I think what all religious people ought to do is to
look at their own sacred traditions. Not just point a finger at somebody
else's, but our own. Christians should look long and hard at the Book of
Revelation. And they should look at those passages in the Pentateuch that
speak of the destruction of the enemy. They should make a serious study of
these. And let's not forget that in its short history, secularism has had
some catastrophes.

Certainly, the major tragedies of the 20th century were committed by
secularists -- Stalin, Hitler, Mao.

And Saddam Hussein, a secularist supported by us in the West for 10 years,
even when he gassed the Kurds. We supported him because he was a secularist.
If people are resistant to secularism in Iraq now, it's because their most
recent experience of it was Saddam. So this kind of chauvinism that says
secularism is right, religion is all bunk -- this is one-sided and I think
basically egotistic. People are saying my opinion is right and everybody
else's is wrong. It gets you riled up. It gives you a sense of holy
righteousness, where you feel frightfully pleased with yourself when you're
sounding off, and you get a glorious buzz about it. But I don't see this as
helpful to humanity. And when you suppress religion and try and get rid of
it, then it's likely to take unhealthy forms.

That's when fundamentalism starts to appear.

Yes, because fundamentalism has developed in every single one of the major
traditions as a response to secularism that has been dismissive or even
cruel, and has attempted to wipe out religion. And if you try to repress it
-- as happened in the Soviet Union -- there's now a huge religious revival
in the Soviet Union, and some of it's not very healthy. It's like the
suppression of the sexual instinct. If you repress the sexual instinct and
try to tamp it down, it's likely to develop all kinds of perverse and
twisted forms. And religion's the same.

Well, it seems to me you're also saying that to be religious -- truly
religious -- is tremendously hard work. It's far harder than just ...

... singing a few hymns.

... or just reading the scriptures literally. You can't live that way.

Religion is hard work. It's an art form. It's a way of finding meaning, like
art, like painting, like poetry, in a world that is violent and cruel and
often seems meaningless. And art is hard work. You don't just dash off a
painting. It takes years of study. I think we expect religious knowledge to
be instant. But religious knowledge comes incrementally and slowly. And
religion is like any other activity. It's like cooking or sex or science.
You have good art, sex and science, and bad art, sex and science. It's not
easy to do it well.

So how should we approach the sacred texts? How should we read them?

Sacred texts have traditionally been a bridge to the divine. They're all
difficult. They're not a simple manual -- a how-to book that will tell you
how to gain enlightenment by next week, like how to lose weight on the
Atkins diet. This is a slow process. I think the best image for reading
scripture occurs in the story of Jacob, who wrestles with a stranger all
night long. And in the morning, the stranger seems to have been his God.
That's when Jacob is given the name Israel -- "one who fights with God." And
he goes away limping as he walks into the sunrise. Scriptures are a

Is faith a struggle?

Well, faith is not a matter of believing things. That's again a modern
Western notion. It's only been current since the 18th century. Believing
things is neither here nor there, despite what some religious people say and
what some secularists say. That is a very eccentric religious position,
current really only in the Western Christian world. You don't have it much
in Judaism, for example.
But it's not surprising that religion has become equated with belief because
these are the messages we hear as we grow up, regardless of our faiths.
We hear it from some of them. And I think we've become rather stupid in our
scientific age about religion. If you'd presented some of these literalistic
readings of the Bible to people in the pre-modern age, they would have found
it rather obtuse. They'd have found it incomprehensible that people really
believe the first chapter of Genesis is an account of the origins of life.

So how should we read the story of creation in Genesis?

Well, it's not a literal account because it's put right next door to another
account in Chapter 2, which completely contradicts it. Then there are other
creation stories in the Bible that show Yahweh like a Middle Eastern god
killing a sea monster to create the world. Cosmogony in the ancient world
was not an account of the physical origins of life. Cosmogony was usually
used therapeutically. When people were sick or in times of vulnerability,
they would read a cosmogony in order to get an influx of the divine, to tap
into those extraordinary energies that had created something out of nothing.

That seems to be a question that scientists are struggling with now. Did the
big bang come out of nothing?

Exactly. And I think some scientists are writing a new kind of religious
discourse, teaching us to pit ourselves against the dark world of uncreated
reality and pushing us back to the mysterious. They're resorting to
mythological imagery: Big Bang, black hole. They have all kinds of
resonances because this is beyond our ken.

I'm curious about how these issues have played out in your own life because
you went into a convent at a rather young age -- at 17. You lived there for
seven years. You've written about how you tried to find God but couldn't.
And you left in despair. I don't know if you called yourself an atheist, but
you were certainly close to that. And then, as you worked on your book, "A
History of God," you seemed to discover something that you hadn't known

I couldn't get on with religion in the convent because it was a very unkind
institution. I limped away from it. I wanted nothing to do with religion
ever again, but came back to it through the study of other religious
traditions -- initially, Judaism and Islam. Later, Buddhism, Hinduism and

So it was actually studying the history and the texts that allowed you to
enter into the religious experience.

Yes, once I'd stopped prancing and posturing around on TV, where I was
expected to have an inflammatory opinion and to let people have it. All this
was pure egotism. I did some early television programs and expressed my
secularism very cleverly. I'm slightly down on cleverness, which can be fun
and witty at a dinner party and I enjoy that as much as anybody else. But it
can be superficial. Once my television career had folded, I was left on my
own with these texts. There was nobody to exclaim derisively about the
irrationality of a Greek Orthodox text or the stupidity of a certain Jewish
mysticism. I began to read them like poetry, which is what theology is. It's
poetry. It's an attempt to express the inexpressible. It needs quiet. You
can't read a Rilke sonnet at a party. Sometimes a poem can live in your head
for a long time until its meaning is finally revealed. And if you try and
grasp that meaning prematurely, you can distort the poem for yourself. And
because I'd been cast out from the media world, and was living in a world of
silence and solitude, the texts and I started to have a different

Do you consider yourself a religious person?

Yes. It's a constant pursuit for me. It's helped me immeasurably to overcome
despair in my own life. But I have no hard and fast answers.

I take it you don't like the question, do you believe in God?

No, because people who ask this question often have a rather simplistic
notion of what God is.

What about an afterlife?

It's a red herring as far as I'm concerned.

But you must have thought about that question. Does everything end once we

I don't know. I prefer to be agnostic on that matter, as do most of the
world's religions. It's really only Christianity and Islam that are obsessed
with afterlife in this way. It was not a concern in the Axial Age, not for
any of them. I think the old scenarios of heaven and hell can be
unreligious. People can perform their good deeds in the spirit of putting
their installments in their retirement annuities. And there's nothing
religious about that. Religion is supposed to be about the loss of the ego,
not about its eternal survival.
But certainly there are a lot of people -- both scientists and religious
people -- who speculate about whether there's some cosmic order. For the
evolutionary biologists, the question is whether there's some natural
progression to evolution. Who knows?

And is there an endpoint? From the cosmological perspective, was the
universe designed specifically for life? Are those important questions?

Yeah, I think they can be wonderful questions. But they don't occupy me very
much. I believe that what we have is now. The religions say you can
experience eternity in this life, here and now, by getting those moments of
ecstasy where time ceases to be a constraint. And you do it by the exercise
of the Golden Rule and by compassion. And just endless speculation about the
next world is depriving you of a great experience in this one.

-- By Steve Paulson

I. Randolph S. Shiner, Esq.
12820 Via Nieve
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Palestinian Hoaxing - From The New Republic's Blog

The Plank


I know David Frum was once a Bush speech writer. But he was a brilliant
speech writer, and he is a brilliant and fastidiously honest conservative. I
preface this plank with these assurances to ask your indulgence to cite one
of his columns in Canada's National Post of June 17 (which is available
here). It details a pattern in Palestinian propaganda which he says goes
back to 2000 (but actually goes back a hundred years) that Frum calls
hoaxing. James Fallows once did a devastating article in the Atlantic
Monthly on one such hoaxing, of the 12-year-old poster boy--
Mohammad al-Dura--who famously died at the start of the second intifada in
September 2000.

Alas for French Channel 2, which established the narrative of Israeli forces
killing the boy deliberately and in cold blood, its version--following the
script of the Palestinians--has turned out to be more than suspicious. In
fact, it has turned out to be completely specious. Channel 2 has refused to
release or even show its outtakes from the scene. Hoaxing was also the
strategy in the battle of Jenin, where CNN and BBC predictably saw a
"massacre" that, with equal predictability, was blessed by Peter Jansen,
Kofi Annan's surrogate in the West Bank. This also turned out to have been
completely false, with the Israelis exposing themselves to unusual perils in
battle and suffering unnecessary casualties.

This pattern of hoaxing by the Palestinians and the blessings of big media--
employing Palestinian journalists and frightened themselves of hotheaded
Palestinian gunmen, admitted to once by Tom Friedman in From Beirut to
Jerusalem-- on the fabrications is exposed in a relatively new web site,
SecondDraft.org, which richly deserves attention. (SecondDraft was started
by Richard Landes, a distinguished Boston University historian of nutsy
millennial movements which is certainly what the Palestinian irredenta is.)
I believe that the death of the Ghalia family on the Gaza beach ten days ago
is not a consequence of Israeli shelling, and certainly not of deliberate
targeting of the family. The details simply don't comport. Even without
these insistent details, I'd take the word of the Israelis over the
Palestinians, who make a specialty of speaking in forked tongues. And,
moreover, as Frum points out, when Palestinians kill civilians no one ever
calls it a mistake and certainly not the Palestinians. This is the way they
fight their battles, and innocents are their targets.

--Martin Peretz


16 June 2006

Who Is to Blame for Grief on a Beach?

Who Is to Blame for Grief on a Beach?
By Charles Krauthammer
Friday, June 16, 2006; Page A25

It was another one of those pictures that goes instantly around the world. A
young Palestinian, wailing in wretched sorrow, grieving over her dead
father, stepmother and five siblings who had been killed by an explosion on
a Gaza beach. Then came the blame. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas (he's the moderate) immediately called the killings an act of Israeli
"genocide" and, to dramatize the crime, legally adopted the bereaved girl.

The sensational coverage and sensational charges raise the obvious question:
Why would Israel deliberately shell a peaceful family on a beach?

The Israeli government, clumsy as ever, seemed to semi-apologize by
expressing regret about the deaths, implying that perhaps they had been
caused by an errant Israeli shell targeting a Palestinian rocket base. But
then, a few days later, an army investigation concluded that it was not
Israel's doing at all.

First, because the shrapnel taken from the victims (treated at Israeli
hospitals -- some "genocide") were not the ordnance used in Israeli
artillery. Second, because aerial photography revealed no crater that could
have been caused by Israeli artillery. And, third, because Israel could
account for five of the six shells it launched at the rocket base nearby,
and the missing one had been launched at least five minutes before the one
that killed the family.

An expert at a local chapter of a human rights group disputes the Israeli
claims. Okay. Let's concede for the sake of argument that the question of
whether it was an errant Israeli shell remains unresolved. But the obvious
question not being asked is this: Who is to blame if Palestinians are
setting up rocket launchers to attack Israel -- and placing them 400 yards
from a beach crowded with Palestinian families on the Muslim Sabbath?

Answer: This is another example of the Palestinians' classic and cowardly
human-shield tactic -- attacking innocent Israeli civilians while hiding
behind innocent Palestinian civilians. For Palestinian terrorists -- and the
Palestinian governments (both Fatah and Hamas) that allow them to operate
unmolested -- it's a win-win: If their rockets aimed into Israeli towns kill
innocent Jews, no one abroad notices and it's another success in the
terrorist war against Israel. And if Israel's preventive and deterrent
attacks on those rocket bases inadvertently kill Palestinian civilians, the
iconic "Israeli massacre" picture makes the front page of the New York
Times, and the Palestinians win the propaganda war.
But there is an even larger question not asked. Whether the rocket bases are
near civilian beaches or in remote areas, why are the Gazans launching any
rockets at Israel in the first place -- about 1,000 in the past year?

To get Israel to remove its settlers, end the occupation and let the
Palestinians achieve dignity and independence? But Israel did exactly that
in Gaza last year. It completely evacuated Gaza, dismantled all its military
installations, removed its soldiers, destroyed all Israeli settlements and
expelled all 7,000 Israeli settlers. Israel then declared the line that
separates Israel from Gaza to be an international frontier. Gaza became the
first independent Palestinian territory ever.

And what have the Palestinians done with this independence, this judenrein
territory under the Palestinians' control? They have used their freedom to
launch rockets at civilians in nearby Israeli towns.

Why? Because the Palestinians prefer victimhood to statehood. They have
demonstrated that for 60 years, beginning with their rejection of the United
Nations decision to establish a Palestinian state in 1947 because it would
have also created a small Jewish state next door. They declared war instead.

Half a century later, at the Camp David summit with President Bill Clinton,
Israel renewed the offer of a Palestinian state -- with its capital in
Jerusalem, with not a single Jewish settler remaining in Palestine, and on a
contiguous territory encompassing 95 percent of the West Bank (Israel making
up the other 5 percent with pieces of Israel proper).
The Palestinian answer? War again -- Yasser Arafat's terror war, aka the
second intifada, which killed a thousand Jews.

This embrace of victimhood, of martyrdom, of blood and suffering, is the
Palestinian disease. They are offered an independent state. They are given
all of Gaza. And they respond with rocket attacks into peaceful Israeli
towns -- in pre-1967 Israel proper, mind you.

What can Israel do but try to take out those rocket bases and their crews?
What would the United States do if rockets were raining into San Diego from
across the border with Mexico?

Now look again at that terrible photograph and ask yourself: Who is
responsible for the heart-rending grief of that poor Palestinian girl?