Wednesday, February 4, 2009

evil is normal

Yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, Judea Pearl, UCLA professor and mother of Daniel Pearl wrote a piece called "Daniel Pearl and the Normalization of Evil," accusing Jimmy Carter, Europe, elites and academia of caving to terrorism by explaining how Hamas's actions are a byproduct of the Israeli occupation.

The simplest answer I can come up with is that evil has been normalized because evil is normal. Any tribe can and will commit it in the name of nationalism when its leaders can convince the population that they're faced with a credible external threat. That doesn't make it just. That doesn't even make it effective. But it makes it highly predictable. These days, occupied peoples tend to use suicide bombers. Before suicide bombers, they used insurgencies that would lead to exponentially greater death on their own side, all in the name of "liberation." UNDERSTANDING THIS DOES NOT JUSTIFY IT. But it explains why the Israelis can kill 1300 Gazans with very little gain and mostly feel miffed that the war didn't go on long enough, while Hamas can futilely launch rockets at Israel and send suicide bombers into cafes and still remain popular enough to win an election in Palestine. Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians are an evil people, nor are they demons. But they are NATIONALISTS, just like everybody is.

When sovereignty is in dispute, hardliners will prevail. Moving to end the sovereignty threat will undermine the support and the cause the hardliners claim to stand for, and thus undermine the hardliners themselves. If you want to see how to end the threat of a repugnant "resistance" militia, look at how General David Petraeus dealt with the Sunni insurgency. In 2006, the Sunnis fought a civil war against the Shiites and lost. Facing annihalation and political oblivion, the Sunni insurgents turned to the US for support, and Petraeus wisely armed and funded them in exchange for having them police their own territory and wipe out extremists foreign elements like Al Qaeda in Iraq. Ultimately, I think this strategy won't bring long-term peace to Iraq, because the sovereignty battle between the Sunnis and Shiites hasn't been settled and can't be, except by blunt Shiite force, while the country's borders are as they are. But it did temporarily remove the sovereignty threat the Sunnis felt from the Americans and the Shiites, and allowed the Sunnis to take part in elections they'd boycotted just a few years earlier. It gave the Iraqis the best chance to succeed. Many of the people we've been giving money to were actively involved in killing US soldiers. Were they evil? If so, why are we paying them? Because it works.

Likewise, after the latest war Hamas must realize it can't win by military means against Israel, and Israel should realize it can't exterminate Hamas. Now would be an excellent time to try to bring out the moderates in Hamas (and yes, there are some) and bring the organization into the peace talks in the same way that Fatah was brought in. This might take years. It might require painful sacrifices by Israel. And it might require talking to, negotiating with, and - gasp! - legitimizing people who have done hideous things. But we should start now. Not because we think Hamas's acts are justified, but because if we don't deal with legitimate Palestinian nationalist interests, violence will continue and more people will die. I'm not a terrorist apologist for saying so, and I don't appreciate being called one.

Welcome to the human race, Professor Pearl. If we understood ourselves better, fewer people would get killed.

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