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Humanitarian intervention in the Mesozoic: lukewarm

July 21st, 2014

[by Lynn C. Rees]

Article II, Section 3 of our Constitution opens with this strongly worded suggestion:

He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

As a people, we underutilize the President’s Annual Messages to Congress from 1789-1913: here is a compact, blow by blow, year by year glimpse into how we saw ourselves through what the president wanted us and our representatives to hear about the state of our Union. What is reported is, inescapably, political. Yet, before Thomas Woodrow Wilson (may his bones be crushed) and cousin Franklin turned the president’s annual message into the State of the Union Spectacular, its submission to Congress was low key. Real history could seep through without being pooped on by monarchial excesses that turned its submission to Congress into a spot-the-living-applause-line-sitting-near-to-the-First-Lady-snore.

The instinct of His Excellency Thomas Jefferson, that old serpent of creative hypocrisy, was right: a clerk reading the annual message into the Congressional Record is less monarchial, more modest, and more republican than what we do now. Over time, Americans have acquired the usual growing taste for what the Nazis sold as Führerprinzip“leadership principle”. If your answer to every question is, from most complex to least complex, “These problems will be fixed when we elect __________” or “We need presidential leadership” or just “We need leadership”, you’ve already broken Godwin’s Law. Hero worship is a crutch for the weak-minded and beneath the dignity of a free people.

Few Americans worship at the altar of Grover Cleveland. Understandable: he was a walrus-like fat dude from Buffalo, New York. Yet his administration’s reporting on its evolving response to the Cuban War for Independence is a model of how sovereignty clearly communicates its responsibilities under the law of nations before that law was corrupted by international law.

The response began lukewarm:

Whatever may be the traditional sympathy of our countrymen as individuals with a people who seem to be struggling for larger autonomy and greater freedom, deepened, as such sympathy naturally must be, in behalf of our neighbors, yet the plain duty of their Government is to observe in good faith the recognized obligations of international relationship. The performance of this duty should not be made more difficult by a disregard on the part of our citizens of the obligations growing out of their allegiance to their country, which should restrain them from violating as individuals the neutrality which the nation of which they are members is bound to observe in its relations to friendly sovereign states. Though neither the warmth of our people’s sympathy with the Cuban insurgents, nor our loss and material damage consequent upon the futile endeavors thus far made to restore peace and order, nor any shock our humane sensibilities may have received from the cruelties which appear to especially characterize this sanguinary and fiercely conducted war, have in the least shaken the determination of the Government to honestly fulfill every international obligation, yet it is to be earnestly hoped on every ground that the devastation of armed conflict may speedily be stayed and order and quiet restored to the distracted island, bringing in their train the activity and thrift of peaceful pursuits.

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Gaza symmetries and asymmetries

July 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- "hatred of the other" viewed as a cognitive matter, and Richard Landes on the capacity for self-criticism ]
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Credit: Amir Schiby

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Nicholas Kristof has a post today for the NYT Sunday Review, Who’s Right and Wrong in the Middle East? — in which he explores the symmetries and asymmetries playing out in Gaza. He concludes with the following paragraph:

Here we have a conflict between right and right that has been hijacked by hard-liners on each side who feed each other. It’s not that they are the same, and what I see isn’t equivalence. Yet there is, in some ways, a painful symmetry — and one element is that each side vigorously denies that there is any symmetry at all.

Let that stand as the epigraph of this post, while we turn to EO Wilson for a theoretical basis:

Reification is the quick and easy mental algorithm that creates order in a world otherwise overwhelming in flux and detail. One of its manifestations is the dyadic instinct, the proneness to set up two part classifications in treating socially important arrays. Societies everywhere break people into in-group versus out-group, child versus adult, kin versus non kin, married versus single, and activities into sacred and profane, good and evil. They fortify the boundaries of each division with taboo and ritual. To change from one division to the other requires initiation ceremonies, weddings, blessings, ordinations and other rites of passage that mark every culture.

Rush Dozier in Why We Hate picks up the thread:

Us-them stereotyping emerges directly from the primitive neural system’s basic survival response. It is a form of categorical thinking in which the categories are mutually exclusive. To the primitive areas of the brain, one is either “us” or “them.One cannot be both.

Jesus is reported as saying both “he that is not against us is for us” [Mark 9.40] and “He that is not with me is against me” [Luke 11.23], whereas GW Bush offers less ambiguity: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Dozier again:

It appears that this kind of either-or analysis results from the pre-conscious alerting system’s need for extremely rapid processing, which requires that phenomena be simplified as much as possible and placed in unambiguous categories.

The alert with its binaries, and the analytic, with (hopefully) its nuance — which would we be better advised to entrust with such major matters as war and peace?

Jesus again, overriding the binary opposition [Luke 6.27-28]:

I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

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Let’s move to one specific distinction — one that provide us with a binary, while arguably transcending binary thinking.

Richard Landes makes a strong point in his post titled Self-criticism and cultural development, when he asserts:

Self-criticism stands at the heart of any experiment in civil society.

He continues:

Only when we can acknowledge errors and commit to avoiding making them again, can we have a learning curve. Only when scholars can express their criticism of academic colleagues, and those criticized are able to acknowledge error, can scientific and social thinking develop. Only when religious believers can entertain the possibility that they may not have a monopoly on truth (no matter how convinced they might be of their “Truth”), can various religions live in peace and express their beliefs without fear of violence. Only when political elites are willing to accept negative feedback from people who do not have their power, only when the press can oppose those who control public decision-making, can a government reasonably claim to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The distinction, the asymmetry I’m interested in exploring today is that between those who self-criticize and can accept criticism, and those who neither self-criticize nor accept criticism.

In my reading of the two quotes from Netanyahu and Diskin that I paired at the tail end of my post Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts, Netanyahu seems to me averse to Israeli self-criticism, while Diskin clearly welcomes and practices it.

Here’s an individual, unofficial example. In an “eyewitness account of how the synagogue of Rue de la Roquette [in Paris] was attacked by a mob, and fought back” titled ‘Yesterday, a Part of My Love for France Left Me’, Aurélie A. wrote:

I can already see myself jumping at the throat of one of the keffiyeh wearers shouting “Death to the Yids!” He wants to kill Jews???!!! I want to leave him for dead! I do not recognize my own hatred!

There’s the binary at work, generating hatred to meet hatred — and the reflective mind that sees the binary as simplistic, and moves self-critically beyond it.

Landes again:

Nothing contrasts more with Israel’s culture of self-criticism than its belligerent neighbors, especially the Palestinians. Here we find one of the most aggressive zero-sum political cultures on record. They accept no responsibility for the war they wage, and justify all their behavior — including how they treat their own people — as a response to the Zionists. They demonize the Zionists with conspiracy theories and blood libels drawn from the most delirious of European anti-Semitic fears to inspire their victimized people to take arms against this malevolent enemy. Who could self-criticize when being assaulted by such merciless and powerful forces? Self-criticism under such conditions is unthinkable, and dissent is treachery. The exceptional number of Palestinians killed by Palestinians suggests a culture in which intimidating dissenters and eliminating traitors is the norm.

Those who say all who criticize Israeli actions are “Anti-Semitic” are overreaching: there is certainly a strong current of anti-Semitism alive and at large in the world, but the capacities to self-criticize and to accept criticism imply that one may critique what one loves as an expression of that love.

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The image of the four Bakr boys no longer playing soccer on the beach which heads this post is the work of the Israeli artist Amir Schiby. You can read it as a pro-Palestinian work of propaganda — or as an artistic criticism by an Israeli of the current Israeli operation in Gaza. You can also read it as a simple, beautiful expression of grief.

Its beauty argues for one of the latter two interpretations, and Schiby’s own statement on his FaceBook page that he intended it “as a tribute to all children living in war zones” clearly suggests the third.

Not a binary, partisan statement, then, and not even the raising of a “provocative question” — but an arrow to the heart, a wordless pang of grief.

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Of bombs and cemeteries, documents and doubts

July 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- a meander of thoughts, from Gaza and Gothic via documentary style photoraphs to juxtaposition and its possible modes of reading ]
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"Israel bombs the dead in Gaza cemeteries" - Jan 2009

As the photo above documents, this strange “twist of fated” has happened before — image drawn from Bin Laden demands holy war as Israel bombs the dead in Gaza cemeteries, Daily Mail, 14 January 2009.

Gazan Gothic.

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My friend Bryan Alexander hosts the Infocult blog, where he showcases gothic elements in our daily lives. It’s a fascinating blog to follow, and a day or three ago Bryan discussed gothic elements in the shooting down of the MH17 over the Ukraine. One rebel source, for instance, reported:

According to the information received from the people who collected the corpses, a large number of the corpses are “not fresh” – these are people who died a few days ago.

Macabre. Gothic.

Bryan’s post concluded thus:

Infocult offers this hypothesis: all intense politics ultimately tend to the Gothic.

– and that’s what brings me back again to Gaza.

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I ran across Gazan Gothic redux in a Foreign Policy piece titled Ramadan in Gaza — in a paragraph that reads:

My six-year-old nephew Bashar told me that he thinks Israelis are crazy. After an airstrike hit a cemetery, he asked me innocently, “Have they meant to kill the dead again, aunt?” I have no words to explain.

That’s gothic for you, and could serve as a fine data point to support Bryan’s hypothesis. But wait a minute…

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That morning I also read — and this had me off on quite a tangent — Arthur Lubow‘s piece, Documentary Art, in the Threepenny Review. Lubow offers a different trajectory from “intense politics” — one that ends in a form of art, not an expression of gothic.. He asks:

What makes a documentary photograph also a work of art? When does its news remain fresh, even after the daily paper or monthly magazine that printed it has faded?

He quotes photographer Walker Evans [Let us now praise famous men] on the difference between two kinds of “current events” photography:

An example of a literal document would be a police photograph of a murder scene. You see, a document has use, whereas art is really useless. Therefore art is never a document, although it certainly can adopt that style.

and writes of the photographer Bruce Davidson, two of whose books he is reviewing:

A photograph of a shattered car in an empty field is a ghastly, violent image. The driver’s window is blown out, the seat is blood-soaked, the doors hang open like broken arms. But to comprehend the horror of this picture, you need to know things that you can learn only from a caption. This was the car that Viola Liuzzo, a volunteer civil rights worker from Detroit, was driving in Alabama when she was shot and killed by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1965. It is, as Evans would have it, a literal document.

Compare that to another Davidson photograph, taken six years earlier. A pretty girl with a full mane of sun-streaked blonde hair is primping in the mirror of a cigarette machine. A handsome boy alongside her is carefully rolling up a sleeve of his T-shirt. They have placed their drinks on top of the machine: a can of beer for him, a bottle of soda pop for her. In the background, other young people are heading for the lockers. The photograph was shot in Coney Island, one of a series on a Brooklyn gang called the Jokers, whom Davidson followed for almost a year in 1959. But any facts about the Jokers are extraneous to one’s appreciation of this photograph, which is all about the narcissistic eroticism of youth. The graceful crook of the feminine elbow in counterpoint to the taut extension of the boy’s arm, the tarnished reflective surface that reveals the girl’s fleeting beauty, the self-involvement and the sexual heat—these are specific to this scene, and general enough for a viewer to understand. It is documentary style.

Further, he writes:

If a photograph can be reduced to a sentence, its interest is fleeting. When the point is sharp and clear, the afterlife is short. .. It’s a didactic style in which the aphorism needn’t be spelled out in words. On East 100th Street, Davidson photographed a child behind a meshed window, alongside a caged bird, and a boy on a filthy mattress in an alley, almost indistinguishable from piles of strewn garbage. These are valuable as documents. But when he portrays a tiny infant with two figurines, all resting on a couch, or a young man with close-set eyes, holding a pet pigeon, he leaves enough mental space around the image for you to wonder. Like any work of art, a great photograph is suggestive but not dispositive. Its power resides in its ambiguity.

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We’re seemingly a long way from Gaza here, but photographs of Gaza too can be “documents” or “documentary-style” art photos. So alongside Bryan’s hypothesis:

all intense politics ultimately tend to the Gothic

I’ll place my own:

all intense politics ultimately tend to art.

My point here is not to deny Bryan’s, but to point up the many tendencies and end points to which “intense politics” may lead simultaneously – carnage, death and grief prominent among them, and a just peace seldom indeed.

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There’s a quote from the same Lubow piece about photographic juxtapositions that has application to my overall DoubleQuotes project. Describing a photo of “an African-American Freedom Rider .. surrounded by .. jeering white youths” Lubow comments:

The black protestor and several of his tormentors are wearing the same collegiate uniform— — a button-down, light-colored Oxford shirt and dark trousers.

The similarity of clothing worn by the warriors on both sides of the racial divide raises provocative questions. The best photographs do. Whereas (to pick up Evans’s distinction) a documentary photograph can be introduced as evidence, a good documentary-style photograph will raise more doubts than it resolves.

Juxtapositions can point to conclusions, but they are most interesting when they “raise provocative questions” rather than scoring “conclusive” points — my DoubleQuotes included.

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John Quincy Adams on Gaza

July 18th, 2014

[redacted with extreme prejudice by Lynn C. Rees]

Our relations with Spain the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) remain nearly in the state in which they were at the close of the last session. The convention of 1802 Oslo Accords of 1991 and 1995, providing for the adjustment of a certain portion of the claims of our citizens for injuries sustained by spoliation, and so long suspended by the Spanish PA Government has at length been ratified by it, but no arrangement has yet been made for the payment of another portion of like claims, not less extensive or well founded, or for other classes of claims, or for the settlement of boundaries. These subjects have again been brought under consideration in both countries, but no agreement has been entered into respecting them.

In the mean time events have occurred which clearly prove the ill effect of the policy which that Government has so long pursued on the friendly relations of the two countries, which it is presumed is at least of as much importance to Spain the PLA as to the United States Israel to maintain. A state of things has existed in the Floridas Gaza Strip the tendency of which has been obvious to all who have paid the slightest attention to the progress of affairs in that quarter. Throughout the whole of those Provinces to which the Spanish Palestinian title extends the Government of Spain the PLA has scarcely been felt. Its authority has been confined almost exclusively to the walls of Pensacola and St. Augustine the West Bank, within which only small garrisons have been maintained. Adventurers from every country, fugitives from justice, and absconding slaves have found an asylum there. Several tribes of Indians Islamists, strong in the number of their warriors terrorists, remarkable for their ferocity, and whose settlements extend to our limits, inhabit those Provinces.

These different hordes of people, connected together, disregarding on the one side the authority of Spain the PA, and protected on the other by an imaginary line which separates Florida the Gaza Strip from the United States Israel, have violated our laws prohibiting the introduction of slaves, have practiced various frauds on our revenue, and committed every kind of outrage on our peaceable citizens which their proximity to us enabled them to perpetrate.

The invasion of Amelia Island the Gaza Strip last year in 2006 by a small band of adventurers Hamas, not exceeding one hundred and fifty several hundred in number, who wrested it from the inconsiderable Spanish PA force stationed there, and held it several months years, during which a single feeble effort only was made to recover it, which failed, clearly proves how completely extinct the Spanish PA authority had become, as the conduct of those adventurers while in possession of the island as distinctly shows the pernicious purposes for which their combination had been formed.

This country had, in fact, become the theater of every species of lawless adventure. With little population of its own, the Spanish PA authority almost extinct, and the colonial two governments in a state of revolution, having no pretension to it, and sufficiently employed in their own concerns, it was in great measure derelict, and the object of cupidity to every adventurer. A system of buccaneering was rapidly organizing over it which menaced in its consequences the lawful commerce of every nation, and particularly the United States Israel, while it presented a temptation to every people, on whose seduction its success principally depended.

In regard to the United States Israel, the pernicious effect of this unlawful combination was not confined to the ocean; the Indian Islamist tribes have constituted the effective force in Florida the Gaza Strip. With these tribes these adventurers had formed at an early period a connection with a view to avail themselves of that force to promote their own projects of accumulation and aggrandizement. It is to the interference of some of these adventurers, in misrepresenting the claims and titles of the Indians Palestinians to land and in practicing on their savage propensities, that the Seminole war Gaza war is principally to be traced. Men who thus connect themselves with savage communities and stimulate them to war, which is always attended on their part with acts of barbarity the most shocking, deserve to be viewed in a worse light than the savages. They would certainly have no claim to an immunity from the punishment which, according to the rules of warfare practiced by the savages, might justly be inflicted on the savages themselves.

If the embarrassments of Spain the PA prevented her from making an indemnity to our citizens for so long a time from her treasury for their losses by spoliation and otherwise, it was always in her power to have provided it by the cession of this territory. Of this her Government has been repeatedly apprised, and the cession was the more to have been anticipated as Spain the PA must have known that in ceding it she would likewise relieve herself from the important obligation secured by the treaty of 1795 Oslo Accords and all other compromitments respecting it. If the United States Israel, from consideration of these embarrassments, declined pressing their claims in a spirit of hostility, the motive ought at least to have been duly appreciated by the Government of Spain the PA. It is well known to her Government that other powers have made to the United States Israel an indemnity for like losses sustained by their citizens at the same epoch.

There is nevertheless a limit beyond which this spirit of amity and forbearance can in no instance be justified. If it was proper to rely on amicable negotiation for an indemnity for losses, it would not have been so to have permitted the inability of Spain the PA to fulfill her engagements and to sustain her authority in the Floridas Gaza Strip to be perverted by foreign adventurers and savages to purposes so destructive to the lives of our fellow citizens and the highest interests of the United States Israel.

The right of self defense never ceases. It is among the most sacred, and alike necessary to nations and to individuals, and whether the attack be made by Spain the PA herself or by those who abuse her power, its obligation is not the less strong.

The invaders of Amelia Island Hamas had assumed a popular and respected title under which they might approach and wound us. As their object was distinctly seen, and the duty imposed on the Executive by an existing law was profoundly felt, that mask was not permitted to protect them. It was thought incumbent on the United States Israel to suppress the establishment, and it was accordingly done. The combination in Florida the Gaza Strip for the unlawful purposes stated, the acts perpetrated by that combination, and, above all, the incitement of the Indians terrorists to massacre our fellow citizens of every age and of both sexes, merited a like treatment and received it.

In pursuing these savages to an imaginary line in the woods sand it would have been the height of folly to have suffered that line to protect them. Had that been done the war could never cease. Even if the territory had been exclusively that of Spain the PA and her power complete over it, we had a right by the law of nations to follow the enemy on it and to subdue him there. But the territory belonged, in a certain sense at least, to the savage enemy who inhabited it; the power of Spain the PA had ceased to exist over it, and protection was sought under her title by those who had committed on our citizens hostilities which she was bound by treaty to have prevented, but had not the power to prevent. To have stopped at that line would have given new encouragement to these savages and new vigor to the whole combination existing there in the prosecution of all its pernicious purposes.

In suppressing the establishment at Amelia Island Hamas no unfriendliness was manifested toward Spain the PA, because the post was taken from a force which had wrested it from her. The measure, it is true, was not adopted in concert with the Spanish PA Government or those in authority under it, because in transactions connected with the war in which Spain and the colonies Fatah and Hamas are engaged it was thought proper in doing justice to the United States Israel to maintain a strict impartiality toward both the belligerent parties without consulting or acting in concert with either. It gives me pleasure to state that the Governments of Buenos Ayres and Venezuela Fatah, whose names were assumed, have explicitly disclaimed all participation in those measures, and even the knowledge of them until communicated by this Government, and have also expressed their satisfaction that a course of proceedings had been suppressed which if justly imputable to them would dishonor their cause.

In authorizing Major-General Jackson the IDF to enter Florida the Gaza Strip in pursuit of the Seminoles terrorists care was taken not to encroach on the rights of Spain the PA. I regret to have to add that in executing this order facts were disclosed respecting the conduct of the officers of Spain the PA in authority there in encouraging the war, furnishing munitions of war and other supplies to carry it on, and in other acts not less marked which evinced their participation in the hostile purposes of that combination and justified the confidence with which it inspired the savages that by those officers they would be protected.

A conduct so incompatible with the friendly relations existing between the two countries, particularly with the positive obligations of the 5th 8th article of the treaty Declaration of Principles of 1795 1991, by which Spain the PA was bound to restrain, even by force, those savages from acts of hostility against the United States, could not fail to excite surprise. The commanding general was convinced that he should fail in his object, that he should in effect accomplish nothing, if he did not deprive those savages of the resource on which they had calculated and of the protection on which they had relied in making the war. As all the documents relating to this occurrence will be laid before Congress the Knesset, it is not necessary to enter into further detail respecting it.

Although the reasons which induced Major-General Jackson the IDF to take these posts were duly appreciated, there was nevertheless no hesitation in deciding on the course which it became the Government to pursue. As there was reason to believe that the commanders of these posts had violated their instructions, there was no disposition to impute to their Government a conduct so unprovoked and hostile. An order was in consequence issued to the general in command there to deliver the posts–Pensacola unconditionally to any person duly authorized to receive it, and St. Marks the Gaza Strip, which is in the heart of the Indian country, on the arrival of a competent force to defend it against those savages and their associates.

In entering Florida the Gaza Strip to suppress this combination no idea was entertained of hostility to Spain, and however justifiable the commanding general was, in consequence of the misconduct of the Spanish PA officers, in entering St. Marks and Pensacola the Gaza Strip and to terminate it by proving to the savages and their associates that they should not be protected even there, yet the amicable relations existing between the United States and Spain Israel and the PA could not be altered by that act alone. By ordering the restitution of the posts those relations were preserved. To a change of them the power of the Executive is deemed incompetent; it is vested in Congress the Knesset only.

By this measure, so promptly taken, due respect was shown to the Government of Spain the PA. The misconduct of her officers has not been imputed to her. She was enabled to review with candor her relations with the United States Israel and her own situation, particularly in respect to the territory in question, with the dangers inseparable from it, and regarding the losses we have sustained for which indemnity has been so long withheld, and the injuries we have suffered through that territory, and her means of redress, she was likewise enabled to take with honor the course best calculated to do justice to the United States Israel and to promote her own welfare.

Copies of the instructions to the commanding general, of his correspondence with the Secretary of War Defense Minister, explaining his motives and justifying his conduct, with a copy of the proceedings of the courts-martial in the trial targeting of Arbuthnot and Ambristie Hamas’ leadership, and of the correspondence between Israel and the PA the Secretary of State and the minister plenipotentiary of Spain near this Government, and of the minister plenipotentiary of the United States Israel at Madrid with the Government of Spain, will be laid before Congress the Knesset.

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Human reasons for sympathy: a DQ in the Wild

July 17th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- continuing a series reflecting on current events in Gaza ]
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The tweet titled A Jewish woman and a Palestinian woman protesting together in 1973, 1992, and 2001 shows two women standing together three times in thirty years, each time with the same paired messages.

I’ve only reproduced the first image of the three here, partly because I am not sure the whole series shows the same two women — but it seems to be yet another instance of a DoubleQuote in the Wild, this time with two people and their respective placards in juxtaposition:

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I am beginning to see the two sides in a conflict as two sides of a human moebius strip

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