Realists and “Isrealists”: Why ask any questions when you can use Ockham’s razor?

I hadn’t thought much about the Dish’s linking to Daniel Larrison, of The American Conservative, on the relationship between jihadism and American support of Israel. Unlike Jeffrey Goldberg, I dismissed Sullivan’s saying this topic of discussion is where “angels fear to tread” as the Dish’s usual Israel-related provocateurism that Sullivan employs for many reasons — it’s “multi-determined,” as his shrink says — such as getting a charge out of touchy people questioning whether he has become anti-Israel/antisemitic.

Sullivan writes:

Jihadism has many causes. It is, as my shrink helpfully says, multi-determined. But the idea that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and pulverization of Gaza can be bracketed entirely out of that dynamic is loopy (see how the CIA’s double agent turned again after Gaza).

I agree, it’s loopy. But just as loopy is the idea that a journalist would reflexively accept that someone would decide to blow-up a cadre of CIA agents in Afghanistan because of a jag of TV broadcasts about the Gaza “pulverization” (that’s what the Dish has been obsessively calling it). Really, we just have to “see how” an agent in Afghanistan was turned by Gaza — that simple, no questions asked?

Such a claim is simply too suspicious for us to be unquestioning and too good for “Isrealists” like Stephen Walt to be true. By “Isrealist,” I mean that Walt claims all his positions are natural extensions of the principles of “foreign policy realism,” when his forte (and financial provider) has become Israel’s conflicts, based on his blog at Foreign Policy. Its “Daily Reads” links are mostly Israel-centered (including the anti-Zionist blog MondoWeiss but not including even one Israeli newspaper).

Likewise, Andrew Sullivan should not be so eager to accept this interpretation of the facts, that intellectual curiosity becomes less important than patting himself on the back for his “realism” — the “realism” which he explains is behind the Dish’s counterattacks in “Netanyahu’s war against the Obama administration.”

It’s too convenient that this suicide bomb was motivated by “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and pulverization of Gaza,” since these are precisely the two things that Andrew Sullivan has been fixated on, not necessarily the thrust of jihadists’ Israel-related fixations. For example, the retaliatory bombing of Southern Lebanon was much, much closer to a “pulverization” — do jihadists not care about that since Gaza? What about the Jews’ cunning violation of the unholy armistice between the West Bank and the Zionist entity, in the targeting of 3 Fatah shahids behind the murder of a settler?

With Iran, the Dish emphasizes, “It’s about them,” but when it comes to Palestine, it’s not about them as much as it is about Andrew Sullivan’s year-and-a-half-old revelations about Likud and Netanyahu, even when their policies overlap with Labour’s or Kadima’s.

Anyway, Sullivan links to Matt Yglesias’ identification of a quote in the NYT interview of the suicide bomb’s brother, saying that the operation in Gaza “changed” him (into a jihadist). Neither Yglesias or Sullivan raise the question of whether this remark might be part of family members’ customary, emotionally-raw apologism for a dead terrorist’s sins.

Moreover, Gaza was already playing a major part in lies the killer told his family. A humanitarian trip there was part of a nobilizing fiction he had been telling his relatives for over a year to account for his whereabouts while working for Jordanian intelligence. The scant news (actually, lies) they heard from him was only about Gaza.

It’s common for a terrorist to delude one’s relatives while he is alive, and for a dead terrorist’s relatives to delude themselves after his death. This is normal when Israel is not involved.  Surely, Yglesias and Sullivan know this, but now that Israel is involved, it’s more persuasive and more perfectly natural that Gaza helped “change” this man … so natural that the Dish doesn’t even take a single glance at the time sequence of his radicalism. That’s pretty bad for a full-time journalist, let alone a self-professed Zionist.

From an article in Ha’aretz:

For seven years he was known by the alias Abu Dujana al-Khorasani, an influential purveyor of jihad on the Internet. His writings, assessments, and sermons were widely disseminated on the web. His entries were often laced with evasive, slippery language rich with Koranic references and citations that he used to burnish his credentials as a supporter of violent resistance to the United States.

It became clear two days ago that behind the Internet persona lurked a 36-year-old doctor from the Jordanian village of Zarqa. Last week, he did with his body what he had been preaching for years: he killed American security personnel.

Really, “years”? Before Operation Cast Lead created 4168.5 non-Palestinian jihadists, even?

Andrew should have taken a pause and argued that this young man had been deeply attached to the plight of Palestinian refugees in Jordan for years. Seems like an angle that’s harder to conclusively refute, even if it ignores anything specific he had been doing for 6 years before Operation Cast Lead. From CBS News:

What landed him in jail was his online activities,” says CBS News’ Khaled Wassef, who monitors jihadist Web forums and chat rooms. “He says that he has always dreamed of being a martyr.”

“If the love of jihad entered a man’s heart, it will not abandon him, even if he wanted so,” al-Balawi said in an interview published by the Ana Al-Muslim, or “I, the Muslim,” Web site.

Jordanian intelligence was aware of these provocative statements when they arrested al-Balawi last March after he signed up for a humanitarian mission to the Gaza Strip with a Jordanian field hospital in the wake of Israel’s offensive there, the counterterrorism officials said.

Al-Balawi was jailed for three days and shortly after that, he secretly left his native Jordan for Afghanistan, they said, suggesting he had agreed to take on the mission against al Qaeda.

So  for the Daily Dish, and maybe for Matthew Yglessias, the Jordanians are some powerful psycho-spiritual reformers, so powerful that they can turn a man who was for 7 years obsessively blogging in favor of suicidal attacks across the globe — even writing plays about the jihadist struggle everywhere (except in Israel it seems) — into a pro-moderation Muslim … a pro-moderation Muslim who had no guilt, but on the contrary, unconflicted enthusiasm in helping Jordanian intelligence and Americans attacking Taliban sites in Afghanistan.

Damn, those Jordanians are good! … The only thing that would seem to screw up that kind of mojo, according to The Dish’s theory, is the powerful counter-mojo (AKA, “bad ju ju,” heh) of Israel.

Jordan, on the other hand, wouldn’t accept any such rave reviews from Andrew. They deny that the young doctor was a long-term double agent, and they don’t say that he was turned by Gaza — perhaps Netanyahu has directly pressured King Abdullah over Blackberry chat. CBS again, with the emphasis mine:

Anonymous Jordanian intelligence sources told TIME that Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was not a double agent working for al Qaeda, as claimed by the U.S. government. They say the bomber had provided useful information exposing al Qaeda leaders and he only turned out of anger at the high number of civilians killed in U.S. airstrikes.

He had provided bona fide information, including the location of al Qaeda leaders killed by CIA drone strikes, but a U.S. intelligence official says “there were still questions” about his “reliability” and the “access” he claimed to have to senior al Qaeda leaders, reported CBS News chief national security correspondent David Martin.

Um, you’d think the most natural reason for the “turning back” (Andrew’s words) would be either (a) that the “turning” wasn’t real in the first place — it never touched his heart — or (b) that it was real, but involved a tremendous amount of guilt at self-betrayal. The Jordanians, shifting the blame to the U.S., imply that he felt guilt about getting civilians killed; and it’s also possible he felt guilt about killing potential Muslim heroes in the struggle for the faith.

With all Andrew knows about where torture regularly occurs, as well as his strong belief that the element of “coercion” is always involved in torture, we might see Andrew jumping to very different conclusions if Israel wasn’t involved. Andrew might conclude that in the 3 days the Jordanian authorities had him, this man was tortured (very possible), and/or threatened with long-term imprisonment, and/or threatened with persecution of his family. By being cornered into helping a fight against Muslims, which is prohibited by the Koran, Andrew might have noted that the Muslim doctor was coerced against his spiritual will according to the language of Gaudium Et Spes he has referenced on torture. (Also, BTW, according to the language of the papal bull Ad Extirpa, which in 1252 institutionalized torture to “coerce the spirit” to give up heresy, and which I hope to blog about soon.)

But the word Israel was somehow mentioned in the story of this jihadist, and for many pundits, when faced with any “multi-determined” situation, the word “Israel” becomes the Ockham’s razor at hand.

Is Israel so preeminent in determining the mindset of jihadists that it ruined the successful Jordanian reform of a 7-year obsessively blogging, true-believing jihadist? It seems to some people that Israel can ruin every attempt at constructiveness in the Middle East … Maybe even CIA agents have to sometimes die for it, according to Andrew.

Andrew is on potentially better footing here:

But it would help shift the paradigm in which they [the “more irredentist” jihadists] can use the daily humiliations of Arabs in the West Bank or the horror of the Gaza attack as ways to move the Muslim middle.

Here, we have the phrase “daily humiliations,” and it’s an instructive one. The phrase does not represent reality, in the sense that on any given day, most Palestinians will not see a Israeli soldier and consequently will not go through a daily “humiliating” colonial experience — unless Andrew wants to say that just living in the West Bank status quo (which Abbas and others admit is now leagues better) or just not being a citizen of any state constitutes such a humiliation.

In trying to identify the relationship between Israel and jihadism Andrew has, in fact, absorbed the the actual language of the Muslim majority and the jihadists. What’s happening is not merely an unacceptable status quo, with a demoralizing colonial dimension, that all parties have to struggle to put behind them, but a daily assault on the dignity of people for being Arabs.

By noting “daily humiliations,” Andrew is illuminating the inflated and selective anxiety for other Arabs or Muslims … and the reality-bending impressions (cf. Andrew’s “pulverization” of Gaza) that are meant to increase the righteous, if not vengeful, agony of one’s emotional soreness.

If Andrew wants to be a good “foreign policy realist” on the Middle East, he’ll understand where would-be jihadists are coming from, without adopting elements of their interpretations of the Palestinians’ situation, converting his frustrations with their hostility or anti-humanism into a corrupted empathy, and turning those frustrations on Israel. Otherwise, he’s being an “Isrealist,” not a realist, and he’ll have to sense

The slow cultural shifts in Israel – toward ever more arrogance, more fundamentalism, more Russian immigrant racism, contempt for the Muslim world, military adventurism, and the daily grinding of the Palestinians […]

— and have to try to feel more righteous about his anger and despair.

How can we change these tendencies, which seek out “daily humiliations” regardless of how prevalent they are, regardless of how they seem humiliating, regardless of why they are occurring and how long they will keep occurring?

Realistically, we can’t. We can hope they evolve away by 2060. A Palestinian state will not be sufficient — just as Malley and Agha have told us it will not be sufficient for the Palestinians, since it was never the core of their nationalism.

Without a literal “right of return,” we should expect many Muslims will feel enraged. What will Stephen Walt say then if the right of return shows up on a video confessional before a suicide attack on a U.S. embassy? That Israel should compromise and slightly modify its immigration policies, in order to maintain its favorable terms with the United States?

Furthermore, Muslims everywhere will reflexively point out any shortcoming — temporary or permanent, real or imaginary — in their statehood and take that as the new “daily humiliation.” The meme will spread that Palestine is a “pseudo-state,” the last, greatest, cruelest trick of Israel and the Americans … or of the Crusaders and the Zionists.

However, we can push for improvements in the situation that diminish jihadists and Islamist parties’ effectiveness in playing on this corrupted empathy complex. First and foremost, a Palestinian state on the West Bank, free of Israeli troop presence while they keep the Israelis free from war.

In the meantime, we can work to separate the populations, by pushing for dismantling settlements that are not on the Israeli border. (We can try to subsidize those settlers’ move into one of the main 3 blocs, where they will still feel they are not retreating in the face of Muslim maximalism.) Or, we can push for a settlement freeze WHILE — I’m looking at you, Andrew Sullivan, you fair-minded Zionist you — pushing for an end to the PA’s funding of anti-Israel, antisemitic incitement, such as in schools and on television, and in monuments to suicide bombs and killing sprees.

Our only hope for things to get better is long-term change. In the meantime, we need to keep our heads and our principles, and keep our minds open, by not looking for quick fixes — either dispensed by Israel for the Arabic news cycle or materializing alongside a Palestinian state — that will supposedly save our CIA agents from bloggers and playwrights in Afghanistan.

Anonymous Jordanian intelligence sources told TIME that Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was not a double agent working for al Qaeda, as claimed by the U.S. government. They say the bomber had provided useful information exposing al Qaeda leaders and he only turned out of anger at the high number of civilians killed in U.S. airstrikes.He had provided bona fide information, including the location of al Qaeda leaders killed by CIA drone strikes, but a U.S. intelligence official says “there were still questions” about his “reliability” and the “access” he claimed to have to senior al Qaeda leaders, reported CBS News chief national security correspondent David Martin.

3 Responses

  1. […] 2010 by justquoting H/t, Goldblog, but I think he picked the wrong quote, one with more “Isrealist” overlap. Here’s the one I like: “Oh Muslims! The Jews are the Jews. The Jews are the […]

  2. […] ever becoming a flat-out anti-Zionist, is sort of getting off on (a) being transgressive, (b) venting his resentment for the huge time that may be needed to ameliorate Muslim rejectionism, and (c) […]

  3. […] torture state which apparently did not contribute to Jordan’s “double agent [who] turned again after Gaza” and […]

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