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SPEAKING FREELY
Creating a 'secure Israel'
By Erik Zielinski

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.

A number of articles have recently appeared in various venues, including Asia Times Online, that trace the reasons for the Iraq invasion by the US-led coalition to the desire on the part of the strong American-Jewish lobby to "secure Israel" and on the part of President George W Bush to please the Jewish constituency.

Retiring South Carolina Senator Fritz Hollings publicly expressed this opinion in a column published in several newspapers in his home state last month. The senator reflected, presumably, an opinion of a substantial silent portion of politicians on Capitol Hill. Assuming that the Iraq invasion was motivated by the need to ensure the security of Israel, a question immediately arises: How does invading Iraq further Israeli interests?

Several mechanisms have been advanced to link Israeli security and the invasion of Iraq. Some say that neo-conservatives do indeed want to "install" democracy in Iraq. Democracy is then viewed as either a "real" thing or a rhetorical tool used by the elites to control the masses. In the former case, the argument is made that democratic countries abstain from warfare with other democracies.

Leo Strauss, the father of US neo-conservatism, tells us, however, that democratic masses are susceptible to political charlatans and innately anti-Semitic: just look at what happened to the Weimar Republic in Germany in the lead-up to World War II. Thus democracy can't be a real thing. In the latter case, does it really matter whether the elite rules by democracy or by tyranny, as long as this elite recognizes a master in the United States? This brings us to the second mechanism for ensuring Israeli interests. But before proceeding further, let us take a diversion to see what neo-conservatives may mean when they talk about "democratizing" the Middle East.

Bringing democracy to the Middle East intuitively implies making "them" in our image. But what is the difference between "us" and "them"? There is no better authority on this subject than Strauss, once again. Here is what the old master sees as the essential difference between Christianity and Islam:

"Revelation as understood by Jews and Muslims has the character of law (Tora, Sharia) rather than of faith. Accordingly, what first came to the sight of the Islamic and Jewish philosophers in their reflections on revelation was not a creed or a set of dogmas, but a social order, if an all-comprehensive order, which regulates not merely actions but thoughts or opinions as well." (Persecution and the Art of Writing, Introduction, page 9)

Furthermore: "For the Christian, the sacred doctrine is revealed theology; for the Jew and the Muslim, the sacred doctrine is, at least primarily, the legal interpretation of the divine law (talmud or fiqh). The sacred doctrine in the latter sense has, to say the least, much less in common with philosophy than the sacred doctrine in the former sense. It is ultimately for this reason that the status of philosophy was, as a matter of principle, much more precarious in Judaism and in Islam than in Christianity: in Christianity philosophy became an integral part and even required training of the student of the sacred doctrine. The difference explains partly the eventual collapse of philosophic inquiry in the Islamic and in the Jewish world, a collapse which has no parallel in the Western Christian world." (Persecution and the Art of Writing, Introduction, page 18)

Finally: "Classical Greek philosophy permitted, nay, demanded an exoteric teaching (as a supplement to its esoteric teaching) which, while not claiming to be strictly speaking true, was considered indispensable for the right ordering of human society." (Plan of a book tentatively titled Philosophy and the Law: Historical Essays in Jewish Philosophy and the Crisis of Modernity, Appendix1)

By esoteric teaching, Strauss means Greek natural philosophy, and by exoteric teaching he means Christianity. Indeed, many Greek thinkers were notorious doubters frequently accused of disbelief in gods. Thus the Western Christian world carried in itself Greek values "of the full dedication of the individual to the contest for excellence, distinction, supremacy" (Jerusalem and Athens, page 4) and in secret, preoccupation with natural philosophy, while the Muslim world developed cohesive societies a la Plato's Republic. And here we are now, with Western countries preoccupied with individual rights and technical advances and Middle Eastern societies deeply in poverty and dominated by totalitarian regimes.

Can Islam be reformed to promote individual excellence and technological development? Vladimir Lenin abolished private property and religion in Russia through ruthless extermination of whole classes of people. Perhaps a similar feast could be accomplished in the Middle East. Lenin, however, was a Russian and had a base of followers in the country. An occupying force is clearly poorly positioned and equipped to ban and much less to reform an alien religion. Is Ahmad Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, an Iraqi Lenin?

Returning to our subject at hand, another mechanism to ensure Israeli interests is to replace regimes hostile to Israel, such as Syria and Iran, with friendly ones. Note that Iraq under Saddam Hussein was in the category of "friendly" regimes: there is no evidence that it planned to interfere with US interests. Perhaps to get to Syria and Iran, Iraq had to fall. This approach has several drawbacks. For one, there is no certainty that regimes that emerge will be friendly to the United States. It seems that an alternative of keeping the current regimes weakened through sanctions was and is more feasible. Second, an immediate external threat will and does surely promote cohesion in the Middle Eastern ethnocentric Muslim societies and lead to destabilization of currently friendly regimes. Finally, "friendly" regimes require continuous maintenance. At some point, US dedication to these regimes, as well as to Israel, might wane. The US is a democracy susceptible to quickly changing political winds and political charlatans. Thus a better, more permanent mechanism is badly needed.

Such a mechanism is a war of "civilizations": in a conflict between the Western Christian world and Middle Eastern Muslim societies, the awesome might of the West comes down on the side of Israel against its enemies for generations to come, regardless of the administration in the White House, until one warring party accepts defeat. To be successful in a continuous conflict of such a magnitude, the West must become more like the East. Individuals must surrender their personal freedoms for security; religion in a religious war must dramatically ascend in importance; Western societies must become cohesive and mobilized for the military efforts.

The idea of conflict of civilizations received some attention with the publication of a book by Samuel Huntington called The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. The rulers in the United States chose to package the Iraq invasion as a "war on terror" and a messianic mission to bring "democracy" to the oppressed. The goal, however, was and remains to launch the logic of revenge and retaliation that would surely escalate into an all-out civilizational struggle for survival. The Iraq invasion was a revenge for September 11, 2001, exerted on the whole of the Islamic world and a preemptive insult. Pictures of Iraqi detainees being tortured by US soldiers in a Baghdad prison dispelled any remaining aura of honor associated with the Iraqi mission. These same images forced the American populace to realize that the US really did do harm to Iraqis and that Iraqis are now entitled to retaliation. This brings about a sober justification for the war: we harmed them, they want revenge, we must fight to defend ourselves. Notably, the Pentagon neither tried to remedy the situation in the prisons nor to cover it up. The logic of mutual hatred may have already passed the point of no return.

Commenting on the conversation between Thrasymachus and Socrates on the nature of justice in Plato's Republic, Strauss wonders: "No association can last if its members do not practice justice among themselves. This, however, amounts to an admission that justice may be a mere means, if an indispensable means, for injustice, for exploitation of outsiders. Above all, it does not dispose of the possibility that the city is a community held together by collective selfishness and nothing else, or that there is no fundamental difference between the city and a gang of robbers." (An Introduction to Political Philosophy, page 177)

The West must never forget that it is not a gang of robbers and that its roots go deeply into Greek tradition. The condition in which we come out of this "conflict of civilizations" depends on whether we always remember who we are and where we are coming from.

(Copyright 2004 Erik Zielinski.)

Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click here if you are interested in contributing.


Jun 2, 2004



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