Towards A Good Samaritan World

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

GAZA PULLOUT AND IRAQI CONSTITUTION

Both of these are excellent developments.

What I love most about the Gaza pullout is that it was unilateral. It was made in exchange for nothing. Negotiating with the Palestinians strikes me as misguided. There is widespread approval in Palestinian society for suicide-bombers. They are encouraged, admired. The grimmest evidence of this is that Abu Mazen greeted the Gaza pullout by saying that the Gaza pullout was because of the murderers ("martyrs"). Abu Mazen is considered a relatively moderate guy for a Palestinian, and yet he's saying things like that. Whether he believes it or whether he's saying it to please the crowds I'm not sure, but it doesn't really matter: that the elected PA chairmen says things like that bears witness to the state of Palestinian public opinion, which is what really matters. No one unwilling to repudiate murder should be allowed to sit at the table with civilized leaders as a moral equal. I like the Palestinians whom I've met. They seem like warm, friendly people. But they have a grave and terrible national flaw in their failure to understand and boldly affirm that murder is wrong, and they've paying the price for it now for two generations.

None of this justifies the Israelis. There's plenty of blame to go around here. The Israelis need not talk to the Palestinians until they achieve the moral maturity to condemn murder. You don't reason with a madman; you apply superior force. But the Israeli dream of annexing land and creating a greater Jewish state, while ignoring the fact that the land they pretend to is already inhabited by people who have nowhere else to go, is a violation of human dignity and worthy of total condemnation. The Israelis should not treat a people that condones murder with respect, but they should be benevolent paternalists, creating, through superior force, a climate in which the mental and moral disease that afflicts the Palestinians stands the best chance of healing. That means Israel should dismantle the settlements, unilaterally, exactly like in Gaza, only more.

The same applies to the Iraqi constitution. If the Shia and the Kurds pass a federalist constitution, without Sunni agreement, more power to them. The Sunnis' demand that Iraq be a unitary state is unjustified. The Shias and Kurds don't want to be part of such a state. Combined, they're 80% of the population. There might be a reason for 20% to be able to defy the will of the 80% if the 20% want to, say, worship as they see fit, but not when they want to bind the 80% into a unitary state with them against their will. And whatever claims the Sunnis had to the shared national loyalty of Shias and Kurds was long since forfeited by the collaboration of many of them with Saddam and his crimes, and by their participation in a murderous insurgency. The Sunnis should be grateful that Shias and Kurds are settling for autonomy rather than shedding their troublesome fellow citizens by declaring independence. If federalism involves a risk of civil war, so be it. As in Gaza, talking has its limits, and you have to be able to draw a line after which agreement will not be reached.

As for the inclusion of an Islam clause in the Iraqi constitution, I was less dismayed by the clause than by the US media's (well, CNN's) naive reaction to it. There was talk of an "Islamic republic like Iran." There's a difference between separation of church and state, and democracy. Neither is a necessary or sufficient condition for the other. Indeed, they're somewhat at odds: in the US, the courts have to intervene to thwart the will of the people in their effort to exclude religion from public life. Religion cannot, at a philosophical level, be adequately defined so as to form a basis for separation of church and state in a nondiscriminatory fashion. What we have in the US is a combination of religious tolerance with secular humanism as the de facto state religion. This pattern of religion-state relations, unlike liberty or democracy, is a unique product of our own history, which we shouldn't expect to emerge elsewhere. To make Islam and democracy compatible is a challenge, because of some characteristics of Islam (in particular, the widespread notion that the penalty for conversion away from Islam should be death). But to be unable to distinguish between a totalitarian Islamist state and a government that is determined to uphold rights and freedoms and genuine democracy while making a constitutional deference to Islam (when even England has a state church) is a degree of ignorance that it's shameful to see displayed on a leading news network. Journalism is the first draft of history, the saying goes. But I am regularly amazed by the worthlessness of that first draft.

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