Monday, July 20, 2015

Israel and the Palestinians: An Existential War of Blood and Faith (incomplete draft 1)

I and my brother against my cousin. Middle Eastern tribalism: A Bedouin camp in the Transjordan in the 1890s. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

By Michael Kaplan

The conflicts of the twenty-first century are shaping up, as strategic analyst Lieutenant-Colonel Ralph Peters predicted, to be “wars of blood and faith.” This is true of the civil war in Syria and similar conflicts across the developing world, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and even America’s post-9/11 war with radical Islam. Jacksonian America is after all a folk community that embodies the blood and faith element of American life (just listen to Toby Keith). These wars are driven by the existential issues of tribal and religious identity: Who am I and who is God? Is God a kind, loving, and merciful father, or is he a harsh, hate-filled, and punitive tyrant? “Will the god of love and mercy triumph over the god of battles?” Colonel Peters asks. Millions will die in the coming years trying to answer these questions.

These conflicts are made even more savage by the pressures of globalization. A recent study by Hebrew University political scientist Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom asserts that while globalization “has increased interpersonal contact between individuals from culturally diverse backgrounds,” it has not promoted greater tolerance or acceptance of difference. Nor has it promoted religious liberty and protection of minority groups. Just look at the Muslim Brotherhood’s bloody jihad against Coptic Christians in Egypt. Instead globalization’s freewheeling cultural diversity and upheaval “induces perceived threat to a hegemonic religion, which leads to more restrictions on religious freedom.” People really don’t like having cultural and religious differences shoved in their faces. This is just as true of subgroups – smaller tribal, family, and cult identities – within an ethno-religious society, as for example the intensifying conflict between ultra-Orthodox Haredim and the Israeli mainstream over issues of female sexuality and military service. Ben-Nun Bloom and her co-authors conclude:
that increasing awareness of diverse cultures, ideas and traditions as a result of globalization increases the perception of threat to religious, cultural and national integrity and results in a backlash that manifests itself in distrust of and even aggressive attitudes towards alien cultures and lifestyles. Globalization thus creates a threat to the sense of group integrity, which in turn leads to fears of loss of identity and the sense of a disintegrating community and generates strong resistance towards other value systems, such as other religions.
In fact globalization is provoking its opposite: a re-tribalization of much of the world. Faced with moral chaos through the overthrow of age-old customs and values by globalization, people are falling back on their primal tribal identities. Or to borrow Tom Friedman’s metaphor, people are rejecting the Lexus for the Olive Tree. Ethnic street gangs, usually linked to the drug trade, are the new tribes of urban America’s economic and spiritual wastelands. God Himself, Ralph Peters writes, is being re-tribalized. “Far from monolithic, both the Muslim and Christian faiths are splintering, with radical strains emerging that reject the globalization of God and insist that His love is narrow, specific, and highly conditional.” This is not a recipe for peaceful coexistence.

Political scientist Pazit Ben-Nun Bloom, Hebrew University

Ethno-religious conflicts are prime examples of a central paradox of human nature: the connection between violence and sociality. Human nature is tribal and people divide the world into “us” and “them”; and while the boundaries of what constitutes “us” and “them” changes over time, “them” are by definition the enemy who must be defeated and annihilated. Sociability, kindness, and empathy are reserved exclusively for those who are within the group. Those outside the group are treated as less than human. These traits have deep roots in our evolutionary past; we share them with our closest relatives, the chimps. Conflict and violence between groups (such as rival bands of chimps, Jacksonian America and the Indians, or Israel and the Palestinians) actually fosters social cooperation, altruism, and even self-sacrifice within the group or tribe. Those groups that are more cohesive and organized are in a better position to defend their existence and triumph over less cohesive enemies. Along these lines, the late Judge Robert Bork observed, “Real human beings do not have any unfulfilled capacity for love, or at least not a large one; they simply do not regard men as infinitely precious, whatever the homilist may say on Sunday; and they lack the boundless energy and selflessness required to will themselves to brotherhood.” This is especially true for those outside one’s tribe. These tribal imperatives continue to drive much of human behavior in the globalizing world of the twenty-first century, making it more difficult for communities divided by blood and faith to coexist in peace.

We should also note the sexual and demographic dimension in ethno-religious violence. It’s no coincidence that Islamist terrorists from Al Qaeda to Hamas are drawn to martyrdom by the promise of 72 virgins awaiting them in Allah’s paradise. The Arab Muslim world has a serious demographic problem: a surplus of young men with little prospect of productive employment or marriage.

Abstract principles of justice and morality, the fruit, as Amos Oz says, of the union between the Judeo-Christian tradition and Western liberal humanism, are the hallmark of a civilized society. They are the building blocks for the rule of law, democracy, and the culture of liberty, and should always be fostered in the life of a nation, which for 65 years Israel has strived to do. In the fullness of time the Palestinians and the Arab Muslim world may come to share these values with Israel. But despite a century of Wilsonian idealism, these principles have little or no place in the Hobbesian world of international relations. For a nation surrounded by immemorial tribal enemies waiting to devour it, the only morality is survival. In the existential war of blood and faith in which Israel is engaged, there is no substitute for victory.

See also: The Middle East’s Tribal DNA. By Philip Carl Salzman. NJBR, November 5, 2013.