Saturday, January 10, 2009

Inexcusable: Terrorism

Tibor R. Machan

In discussing the Arab-Israeli conflict one often comes across disturbing defenses of anti-Israeli policies by such organizations as Hamas and Hezbollah. One such line of defense I have encountered, for which even some of my colleagues in philosophy have shown sympathy, is that given the desperate situation of Arabs, say in the Gaza strip, one must accept their resort of terrorism, including, of course, the indiscriminate murder of people, many of them children and thus indisputably innocent of anything that might plausible justify killing them. And often this line of defense is put in terms of what Israel has done to Arab citizens in Gaza, placed them into desperate situations by cutting off the flow of supplies, starving them, etc.

Without going into the whether the claims against Israel are true or accurate, of who is ultimately responsible for the conditions in Gaza, it is crucial to realize that even if those claims were all true, they would fail to justify terrorism, the murder of innocent people for political purposes and the like. Say I am starving and say I believe that this has been caused by various adults around my neighborhood. Would my situation justify my recklessly lobbing bombs around the homes in this neighborhood, never mind who is being killed by what I am doing? Am I justified in my state of desperation to inflict violence on those who have had nothing to do with what I am experiencing? No, not at all. All one might say is that I have completely lost control over myself and am now simply flaying about madly, caring nothing about the consequences, about whether any remnant of justice attends to my conduct. And in that case I need to be pacified!

It is one thing to show some understanding of the dastardly conduct of certain people in dire straits. It is something else entirely to claim that this conduct is just or justified. And over the last decades it is difficult to deny that on the whole, apart from the early terrorist actions of certain Israelis, the overwhelming majority of indiscriminate, often suicide, killings have been done by anti-Israeli partisans.

For some reason that escapes me, quite a few people who would ordinarily be appalled at deeds of cruelty toward the innocent seem to find what these anti-Israeli parties are doing acceptable. I cannot see that the fact that Israeli policies are imperfect, disputable, sometimes over the top, serve in the slightest to give these anti-Israeli policies unobjectionable or even OK on balance.

Again, I hasten to say that a full grasp of what is happening between Arabs and Israelis escapes me, albeit I seriously doubt that anyone has that grasp, given how it is tied up with a very long history, many religious convictions based on faith, and, most of all, collectivist or tribal thinking. Some of the arguments that are propounded by many who contribute to the debate, especially on the anti-Israeli side seem, also, to be linked to manufactured historical events and religious claims that are wholly unprovable.

At times simply abstaining from forming any conclusions about these matters is acceptable. But that is nearly impossible to do in a democracy where one is called upon to approve or disapprove policies of one’s government vis-à-vis foreign governments. Even if the entire situation in, for example, the Middle East is basically irrational and beyond hope of sorting out fully, one is simply left with a need to have some attitude so as to be able to assess with some measure of competence what one’s government is doing (even in circumstances that are tainted with confusion and a history of mistakes).

I am certainly only in the process of coming to grips with the issues, not by any stretch of the imagination at the point of having formed a fixed, stable position on them all. But just as Socrates, who confessed not to know very much at all, continued to search, along with all of his pupils, for what is true, perhaps some attentive if incomplete reflections on the Arab-Israeli situation can help advance not only one’s understanding but the eventual resolution of the troubles.

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