Monday, July 23, 2007

The quicksand of hate

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear
You’ve got to be taught from year to year
It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught
- Rogers and Hammerstein

The above is taken from this Deborah Lipstadt post about Palestinian children being taught – in kindergarten – to become militant jihadists. The segment that Lipstadt links to is quite disturbing, and as I have mentioned before, I consider this kind of hate indoctrination to be a form of crime against humanity.

In a previous post of Lipstadt’s that I linked to about the use of a Mickey Mouse figure (Farfour) to teach Palestinian children to hate Israelis, Lipstadt compared the tactic to Nazi propaganda, noting that some of the children would have eventually been of age during the time that the Third Reich was carrying out the Holocaust, and wondering how a young German might deal with/reconcile such indoctrination after the war.

The following letter from Melita Maschmann to a lost childhood friend documented in Hitler’s Willing Executioner’s answers that question for at least one young German:

Those Jews were and remained something mysteriously menacing and anonymous. They were not the sum of all Jewish individuals … They were an evil power, something with the attributes of a spook. One could not see it, but it was there, an active force for evil.

As children we had been told fairy stories which sought to make us believe in witches and wizards. Now we were to grown up to take this witchcraft seriously, but we still went on believing in the “wicked Jews”. They had never appeared to us in bodily form, but it was our daily experience that adults believed in them. After all, we could not check to see if the earth was round rather than flat – or, to be more precise, it was not a proposition we thought it necessary to check. The grownups “knew” it and one took over this knowledge without mistrust. They also “knew” that the Jews were wicked. This wickedness was directed against the prosperity, unity, and prestige of the German nation, which we had learned to love from an early age. The anti-semitism of my parents was a part of their outlook which was taken for granted…

For as long as we could remember, the adults had believed in this contradictory way with complete unconcern. One was friendly with individual Jews whom one liked, just as one was friendly as a Protestant with individual Catholics. But while it occurred to nobody to be ideologically hostile to the Catholics, one was, utterly, to the Jews. In all this no one seemed to worry about the fact that they had no clear idea of who “the Jews” were. They included the baptized and the orthodox, yiddish [sic] speaking second hand dealers and professors of German literature, Communist agents and First World War officers decorated with high orders, enthusiasts for Zionism and chauvinistic German nationalists … I had learned from my parents’ example that one could have anti-semite opinions without this interfering in one’s personal relations with individual Jews. There may appear to be a vestige of tolerance in this attitude, but it is really just this confusion which I blame for the fact that I later contrived to dedicate body and soul to an inhuman political system, without this giving me doubts about my own individual decency. In preaching that all the misery of the nation was due to the Jews or that the Jewish spirit was seditious and Jewish blood was corrupting, I was not compelled to think of you or old Herr Lewy or Rosel Cohen: I thought only of the bogeyman, “the Jew”. And when I heard that the Jews were being driven from their professions and homes and imprisoned in ghettos, the points switched automatically in my mind to steer me round the thought that such a fate could also overtake you or old Lewy. It was only the Jew who was being persecuted and “made harmless”.
Melita had been a devoted member of the girls' division of Hitler's Youth, and you can see how it took an atrocity the level of the Holocaust to break through the propaganda and hate that she had absorbed as a child. And reading the letter, it's hard not to see in full significance the inhumanity of Hamas using Farfour to teach Palestinian children the same kind of "lessons" about the Jews that Melita was taught growing up in Nazi Germany.

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, the author of the aforementioned Hitler's Willing Executioners, provides the following epigraph

"No man can struggle with advantage against the spirit of his age and country, and however powerful a man may be, it is hard for him to make his contemporaries share feelings and ideas which run counter to the general run of their hopes and desires." - Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Germans call this "spirit of [the] age" zeitgeist. It is part of the culture we live in, and like fish swimming in an ocean who don't "see" water, we do not (or tend not) to take notice of the medium we live our lives in. Unlike fish, however, we are capable of introspection and reflection, and become active intentional causal agents in our own environment. We can be more the passive agents in the current of culture and history.

I wrote before that children taught to hate are likely to become the target of someone else's hate, creating a circle of hatred that is difficult to break. I'm not sure the circle can be broken, maybe it can only expand or shrink.

Currently, many critics of Israel, such as Chris Hedges for example, have charged Israel with being overzealous in its retributional attacks against Palestinian terrorists. Set aside for a moment whatever thoughts you have on the matter, and let's think about this in terms of the circle of hate.

Israel is a nation that was created as a result of the anti-Semitic zeitgeist in Germany culminating in the genocidal Holocaust. The country is only two generations removed from that monstrous event. And so when Hamas does something such as this

The character Farfour, a Mickey Mouse look-alike who preached Islamic domination on "Tomorrow's Pioneers," a Hamas-affiliated children's television show was beaten to death in the final episode Friday, The Associated Press reported. The character was killed by an actor posing as an Israeli official trying to buy Farfour's land. "Farfour was martyred while defending his land," said the show's teenage presenter, adding that the character was murdered "by the killers of children."
We can expect that the people are justifiably worried about such blatant anti-Semitic hate-mongering. Now consider Israel's miliatry reprisals to Hamas in the context of it being a nation that was founded by a people that barely escaped complete annihilation at the hands of another people who engaged in rhetoric very similar to what is now issuing from Hamas.

In response to this news, Deborah Lipstadt herself responded "No comment necessary except for the fact that these are the people whom Jimmy Carter wants the Israelis and the world to trust....." alluding to Jimmy Carter's recent book which is highly critical of the Israeli treatment of Palestinians and in which Carter believes Hamas can be negotiatied with (I'm assuming from her comment, as I haven't read it). And given the nature of the video (which is quite disturbing) it is easy to see why Professor Lipstadt would express doubt about the prospects of partnering for peace with Hamas (I share similar doubts.)

But something about Professor Lipstadt's statement didn't sit right with me ... I think it was the "these are the people" aspect of it. I don't believe it was her intent to do so, nor do I have any reason to believe that she herself feels this way, but it made me think of how certain individuals (this one, for example) have conflated the people of Palestine - as a whole - with Hamas or other militants and thus given up on any kind of peace process. Giving in to that type of thinking feeds into the worldview of Hamas ... Hamas wants people to give up on peace and take up arms. Hamas "wins" when irrationality wins out.

And one of the chief ways to short-circuit rational thought is to tap into fear and/or anger (the whole point of terrorism). Its easy to see how citizens of Israel can see what Hamas is teaching children or listen to the rhetoric of Iran's president and remember the horror which happened during World War II in Germany.

In the Assault on Reason, Al Gore describes what he calls the politics of vicarious traumatization.

Throughout the world, stories about past traumas and victimizations are passed down from one generation to the next. Long before television added new punch and power to the ability of storytellers to elicit emotional responses, vivid verbal descriptions of traumas physically suffered by others evoked extremely powerful reactions – even centuries after the original traumas occurred.

In the early summer of 2001, Tipper and I went to Greece. While we were there, the pope made a historic visit to Greece, and was met with thousands of angry demonstrators holding signs, yelling epithets. I looked into what was going on. They were angry about something that had happened eight hundred years ago: The Fourth Crusade had stopped off in Constantinople, sacked the city, and weakened it for the later overthrow by the Turks. And they’re angry today eight hundred years later.

To take a second example, Slobodon Milosovic, in the early summer of 1989, went to the plains of Kosovo on the six-hundredth anniversary of the battle that defeated the Serbian Empire in its heyday. Governement spekesmen said a million and a half people came. Western estimates said a million people, came, covering the hillsides to listen to him speak. In his speech, Milisovic revivified the battle of six hundred years earlier. And in the immediate aftermath of that collective retraumatization, a brutal campaign of violent expulsion began against the Croats and the Bosnians and the Kosovars at least in part because there was a vicarious experience of a trauma six centuries earlier that activated in the physical bodies of the individuals present, in this generation a response as if they were reliving that fear of so long ago.

If you look at the conflicts on the Indian subcontinent, in Sri-Lanka, in Africa, in Northern Ireland, in the Middle East – indeed, in almost every conflict zone in the world – you will find an element of amygdala politics based on vicarious traumatization, feeding off memories of past tragedies. In each case, there is a political process that attempts to solve these conflicts through reasoned discourse. But such a response is insufficient to dissipate the continuining power of the reawakened and revivified traumatic memories. We need new mechanisms, like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa – or mechanisms not yet invented – to deal with the role of collective vicarious traumatic memory in driving long-running conflicts.
As I said, set aside any issues of blame for the moment, and you can see that vicarious traumatization is playing a role in the relations between Israel and Palestine, making the prospect of a peace partnership difficult.

Last summer I wrote a post highly critical of Israel naming a military engagement in the Gaza strip "Operation Samson's Pillars".

Why in the world would Israel choose to call a mission in which they have stated that they are doing everything possible to protect innocents "Samson's Pillars"? For those unaware, this is an allusion to the Old Testament tale of Samson and Delihah, in which the Israelite hero Samson, after being a prisoner of the Philistines in Gaza, pulls down the pillars of a religious temple during a ritual sacrifice, indiscriminately killing all - men, women, children, and himself - in the temple. Could Israel have possibly chosen a more inappropriate or religiously provacative title for this mission?

One of the commenters seemed to assume that I was defending or excusing the terrorist acts of Hamas because, one would guess, I am biased against Israel. He could not be farther off base. If anything, my criticism of Israel reveals my bias FOR Israel and my prejudice against Hamas. I do not have much confidence that rational criticism will have much effect on Hamas, which is why I direct my criticism where I think it might make a difference.

As you can see in the post, I did not object so much to the mission as I did to the title of the mission. It is difficult to escape the circle of hate which feeds off of collective memories of vicarious traumatization when you persist in defining your actions in terms of a Biblical conflict from thousands of years ago that feeds into and perpetuates the fanatic religous zealotry of Hamas and which also might activate in yourself "amygdala politics" (the fundamenatlist Jewish "frontier" settlers would seem to be a prime example of this).

I've since writing that post learned that Israel calls its nuclear policy the "Samson Option." I'm going to quote at length a passage from The Samson Option by Seymour Hersh in which you can see the politics of vicarious traumatization at work.

Dimona's supporters had convinced most of the leadership that only nuclear weapons could provide the absolute and final deterrent to the Arab threat, and only nuclear weapons could convince the Arabs - who were bolstered by the rapidly growing Soviet economic and military aid - that they must renounce all plans for military conquest of Israel and agree to a peace settlement. With a nuclear arsenal there would be no more Masadas in Israel's history, a reference to the decision of more than nine hundred Jewish defenders - known as the Zealots - to commit suicide in A.D. 73 rather than endure defeat at the hands of the Romans.

In its place, argued the nuclear advocates, would be the Samson Option. Samson, according to the Bible, had been captured by the Philistines after a bloody fight and put on display, with his eyes torn out, for public entertainment in Dagon's Temple in Gaza. He asked God to give him back his strength for the last time and cried out, "Let my soul die with the Philistines." With that, he pushed apart the temple pillars, bringing down the roof and killing himself and his enemies. For Israel's nuclear advocates, the Samson Option became another way of saying "Never again."

The basic argument against the nuclear arsenal went beyond its impact on the readiness of the military: these were years of huge economic growth and business expansion inside Israel, and Dimona still was absorbing far too much skilled manpower, in the view of many industrial managers - whose constant complaints to
government officials on that issue went nowhere. dimona continued to distort the economy and limit development. There was, for example, no private computer industry in Israel by the late 1960s, although American intelligence officials had rated Israel for years as an international leader - with Japan and the United States - in the ability to design and program computer software.

The long-range social and military costs of Dimona were most certainly the concerns of Yitzhak Rabin, the new army chief of staff, and Yigal Allon, a close Eshkol adviser and former commander of the irregular Palmach forces before the 1948 War of Independence. Less compelling to the military men was the moral argument against the bomb raised by some on the left and in academia: that the Jewish people, victims of the Holocaust, had an obligation to prevent the degeneration of the Arab-Israeli dispute into a war of mass destruction. Those who held that view did not underestimate the danger of a conventional arms race, but believed that, as Simha Flapan, their passionate spokesman, wrote, "the qualitative advantages of Israel - social cohesion and organization, education and technical skills, intelligence and moral incentive - can be brought into play only in a conventional war fought by men."

A major complication in the debate, seemingly, was the Arab and Israeli press, which routinely published exaggerated accounts of each side's weapons of mass destruction. In Israel, there were alarmist accounts of Soviet and Chinese support for an Egyptian nuclear bomb. Egypt, in turn, publically suggested that it had received a Soviet commitment to come to its aid in case of an Israeli nuclear attack, and President Gamal Nassar warned in an interview that "preventive war" was the "only answer" to a nuclear-armed Israel. It was a period, Simha Flapan later wrote, when both Israel and Egypt "were trapped in a vicious circle of tension and suspicion and were doing everything possible to make them a self-fulfilling prophesy."

This sort of mentality taps into memories of collective traumatization - on both sides - and becomes a self-feeding loop. It is a trap, a pit of quicksand, that neither side can get out of.

If we're interested in reducing the amount of hate all around, then we need to think with our full cognitive capacity, and not let our amygdala take over.

I'm no expert in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, nor am I even all that informed about the subject, but one of the solutions I would propose would be for Israel to declare its nuclear weapons progam and then to voluntarily disarm.

I know that such a proposal will meet with howls of protest, and I could be completely wrong, but I think its worthy of at least consideration. The removal of Israel's nuclear arms would deligitimize the efforts of other Middle Eastern nations to pursue nuclear weapons and could be a powerful bargaining chip to prevent a nation such as Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Given that many analysts believe that if Iran were to obtain nukes it would lead to the entire Middle East becoming nuclear armed states, it would appear to me that it would be in Israel's interest to give up their nuclear weapons if that would help prevent that from occurring.

Some might object that without nuclear weapons as a detterent, Israel would be a sitting duck for the forces that wish to see the nation obliterated. I find this to be a meek objection. Israel is military superior to most (if not all) of the groups/states who agitate against it. Also, if we can remphasize the role of collective security and international law, we can assure that any nation that attacks Israel will have to deal with the reaction of Israel's allies. And this is where the United States military strength and status as a world power can be put to good use.

I could be wrong. But I throw out this idea to give an example of the type of thinking I think necessary to breaking free of what seems to be an endless cycle of needless violence.

The acts of Palestinian terrorists are reprehensible and inexcusable. There is no debate about that. But we should not allow them to draw us into their destructive circle of hate, as when that happens, the circle expands, and everyone in it is worse off for it.


Deborah Lipstadt said...

When I said "these people" I was speaking directly about Hamas and not about all Palestinians. Of course not.

Jimmy Carter blames Israel and its "friends" for the problems in Gaza because they refused to negotiate with Hamas.

Hume's Ghost said...

I didn't mean to imply you meant all Palestinians ... it was just that phrase was a jumping off point for me to start thinking about how some (like the Atlas Shrugs blogger I linked) only see the terrorists and stop seeing the non-terrorists. Those are the types of blogs I spend time browsing and blogging about, so that's why I made the connection.