A piece on Antony Loewenstein’s blog drew my attention to an article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Paul Sheehan. Seen by many as a conservative, pro-Israeli, anti-Muslim commentator, he wrote:
as someone who has given support to Israel, and taken a hard line against Muslim racism, I can no longer draw any other conclusion than that the combustible policies of the Israeli Government have become a danger to Australia and to Australians everywhere.
That doesn’t make me feel overly relaxed I must say. As was said in a very good interview on ABC’s Lateline tonight, “everything in the Middle East is connected”, and I feel more and more like we’re getting connected to it too.
One of the few areas I tend to stay away from commenting on, even when invited, is the Israel-Palestine issue. This is for a combination of reasons – a few of them being that it’s too complex, too hard and too sensitive, and I know too little about it. There seems to be more than enough fault all round, and any middle ground seems to have been blasted away long ago. Given that I have no influence on the issue anyway, that’s enough reasons to just stay away from commenting on it, although I do try to get better informed.
As the situation in and around Israel gets very dire once again, I am also getting the sinking feeling that the whole Middle East issue is one that is now much more likely to bite us very directly, no matter how much we might like to think it has nothing to do with us and is on the other side of the world.
Isolating any one act in such a drawn out, multi-faceted conflict is fraught with problems. Even the reports that Israel had reacted to the capture of one its soldiers by invading Gaza and capturing members of the elected Palestinian government, while seeming excessive, didn’t really grab my attention. But when the report came through that Israel had deliberately bombed a powerplant in Gaza, knocking out electricity for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens, I figured something was badly wrong, even for this tragic and horrifically traumatised part of the world.
I know international law and standards are rather out of fashion in Australia and the USA these days, but I had thought the notion of collectively punishing all citizenry for the actions of their government was still regarded as simply unacceptable.
Even from a completely self-interested point of view, it is hard to see how this sort of action is going to achieve anything other than throwing an extra thousand litres of petrol on the inferno of hatred, bitterness and seething sense of injustice that is already producing more and more recruits for what many western eyes will see as terrorism.
There is an excellent piece in The Guardian this week by religious scholar, Karen Armstrong, which sheds more light than usual – although not much hope – on the real religious background to the current situation.
It reinforces for me why we in the West, wherever in the world we may live, should be getting very worried about the consequences of such disproportionate actions by Israel, and the apparent willingness of Western governments to turn a blind eye to actions they would be harshly critical of were they committed by others. Double standards rankle much more with the oppressed and the powerless than with the powerful.
the chief problem for most Muslims is not “the west” per se, but the suffering of Muslims in Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, Iraq and Palestine.
Karen Armstrong paints a brief but good history of some of the modern fundamentalists and how far they vary from traditional beliefs. Today’s violent religious extremists are radical, often far removed from traditional theology and target the moderates of their own faith as much as they do those from the ‘other side’.
She believes that this hasn’t been so much a battle between Islam and the West, or even a resurgence of traditional religious fundamentalism. We are failing to see the conflicts within religions because we are obsessed about looking for conflict between religions (or cultures).
An apparently impassable gulf yawns between liberal and fundamentalist Christians, reform and orthodox Jews, traditional and extremist Muslims. Because of our preoccupation with the so-called clash of civilisations, this internal tension is often overlooked.
Unfortunately, the one-dimensional, hypocritical and ignorant ‘you’re either with us or against us’ approach which our government has been party to will end up creating the very unpleasant, violence-riven world that their self-defined war purports to be aimed at preventing.