The Backseat Philosopher

Sunday, July 09, 2006

To my Friends who consider Israel to be the Aggressor

If you are a person to whom this essay is addressed-- Someone who thinks that Israel is far more to blame than the Palestinians, then I can guess a few things about you. The fact is, most people who I've met who share your views are smart, thoughtful, and caring people, so I'll guess that you are also smart, thoughtful and caring. And I'll guess that you've run into people like me-- people who seem reasonable about many things, but have some weird predisposition to take Israel's side which is only explainable by my ignorance or an inability to get past my biases. Did I mention I was Jewish?

The fact is, most people who view Israel as an aggressor believe that the Jews built their nation by wrongly stealing land from the Palestinians. And of course, that colors the picture quite vividly. In your view, suicide bombing may be wrong, but really, the Israelis stole the land in the first place. And Israel's actions against Gaza, the West Bank, Hamas, Arafat before, etc... are all the actions of a country which is trying to keep the land it stole from its victims-- the Palestinians.

You may be thinking that I'm going to cite a bunch of old documents from the British Mandate period: the Sykes-Picot agreement, some League of Nations resolutions, maybe some land or population surveys. Well of course that's not going to work. There are two sides to every story and you know both sides and you've evaluated and picked the other one.

It comes down to this: I'm simply not credible. After all, I'm trying to defend an Aggressor Nation built on stolen land. How credible could I possibly be if I'm doing that? It's like listening to an organized crime lawyer in court-- you might be impressed by his work, but at the end of the day, the lawyer is getting paid to defend organized crime. And even if I'm not explicitly getting paid, I probably have some skin in the game. Did I mention that I am Jewish?

So we've established that you're smart, thoughtful, you know all the stuff I know, and that I'm biased. Well, what can I do? Why am I wasting my time?

I'm going to try to boost my side's credibility with you. If I can raise my credibility over the other side, then maybe you'll listen to me. Ready?

Would you please consider the following proposition: If someone is willing to kill you, then that person is willing to lie to you. Simple enough, right? Killing's a rather bigger deal than lying to most folk. You don't find many truth-telling murderers. And would you please consider extending this to groups and societies? After all, deception is a key element of war.

When you've done considering that proposition, we can move on.

Here's a question: You're very likely to be living in a country in which an attack occurred or was planned by Arab Muslims. You and everyone you care about were a target. Why would you think that you were so special that those who are willing to kill you are not willing to lie to you?

Let's ignore Israel for a second. On Friday, July 7th, the Guardian wrote that:

In the video Tanweer, 22, speaking in his west Yorkshire accent, can be heard justifying his attack on the Aldgate tube in which seven people died and more than a hundred were injured. He says non-Muslims of Britain "deserve to be attacked" because they voted for a government which "continues to oppress our mothers, children, brothers and sisters in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Chechnya."

Why believe a word of this? Tanweer was so eager to kill Englishmen, he was willing to die to do so. Why believe that his message is truthful? While we're at it, why believe Bin Laden or Zawihiri or Zarqawi?

Now back to Israel: Israel has been around a lot longer than Arab killing of Westerners. That's only been happening the last few decades and you may think it's a result of Israel's aggressions in the first place. Rather cheeky of me-- Israel causes problems and then I use the problems to defend Israel!

Except Israel has not been around a lot longer than Arab killing of Westerners. Remember the Barbary Pirates? How about Vienna? Byzantium? Jihad and the Crusades?

By the way, I'm not denying that there was a lot of Western killing of Arabs. For the purposes of this essay, I don't care who's fault it was or who started it. The fact that your killer is willing to lie to you does not change if you're willing to kill as well.

My point is very simple: It is reasonable to trust the claims of people who are not willing to kill you over the claims of people who are willing to kill you. The Israelis may do things you consider horrible, but they haven't sent any suicide bombers your way. Neither have Americans, nor have the Jews who live amongst you. You really can't say that about the other side. So when both sides have different claims over the legitimacy of the creation of Israel, when both sides are throwing up documents and maps and various translations of UN resolutions and it gets incredibly complicated--- perhaps you might consider that one side is, to put it bluntly, not part of a culture that has been attacking your society for centuries.

Just think about it. Thank You for your time.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

To My Fellow Democrats

We Democrats are supposedly the party of the therapists, the teachers, and the 'relationship experts.' If anybody would be proud of the title, 'active listener', it would be a Democrat. We're the soft ones who understand where the other side is coming from and negotiate.


Many Democrats think that our patience and understanding are our weakness. "We don't know how to fight like the Republicans," we all told ourselves after Florida 2000. "We have to be more like them: tougher, meaner." "We have to energize our base more."


Actually, no. Our error is that we Democrats are far less understanding than we think we are. Our version of understanding the other side is to look at them from a psychological point of view while being completely unwilling to take their arguments seriously. "Well, he can't help himself, he's a right-wing religious zealot, so of course he's going to think like that." "Republicans who never served in war are hypocrites to send young men to die. " "Republicans are homophobes, probably because they can't deal with their secret desires." Anything but actually listening and responding to the arguments being made.


And when I say 'responding,' I don't just mean 'coming up with the best counterargument and pushing it.' Sometimes responding to an argument means finding the merit in it and possibly changing one's position. That is part of growth, right?


Here are some arguments that are being made that the Democratic party has simply not responded to, in the larger sense of the word "response":

  • Whatever the UN was, might have been, or should be, it now isn't. Genocidal tyrannies are on the Human Rights commision. Saddam Hussein funneled over 1.7 billion dollars to various decision makers and world leaders to weaken his sanctions program. One out of every three votes is about Israel. Until the UN is significantly reformed, you shouldn't take its decisions seriously.
  • If we view 1000 or even 10,000 dead soldiers as unacceptable, we will never be able to fight a real war again.
  • Proportional response with no preemption allows the other side to set the pace of the battle.
  • Throughout history, governments have had a strong interest in promoting long-term child-rearing heterosexual relationships. That is why governments create a legal definition of Marriage and provide lots of benefits to heterosexual couples who enter into it. This has been true for States throughout history independent of the religious beliefs of the populace. Worrying about changing that definition, even to the point of deciding against a change, is not automatically sexism or bigotry.
  • If you never are willing to draw a line where human life starts, there will be no line.
  • Just because it says something in the Bible doesn't mean there are no ancillary arguments supporting it. And just because someone uses the Bible as a source of their morality doesn't mean that any particular view of theirs is wrong. Actually, stuff that's lasted for thousands of years is more likely to be useful than stuff that was dreamed up in a French philosophy book.
I am not saying that all these arguments should win. But I do not hear enough Democrats elucidating reasoned counterarguments to these positions. "Bush insulted our allies and the UN," "Bush lied, people died," "We have become the aggressor," "Homophobia," "Religious nut." These are not responses, these are dismissals. When Democrats start actively responding, we will succeed. Until then, we will be increasingly ignored as irrelevent.