Islamic Wars and Palestinians

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Lies, Damned Lies and Taqiyya

The current eruption of murderous attacks on Jews over the issue of the Temple Mount is causing speculation about a third intifada. It also provokes Jewish despair at the blatant lies of the PA leadership – and the repetition of Palestinian propaganda by much of the international media. The mixture of Islamism and Arab nationalism, neither of which accepts Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, continues to be the driving force of the conflict (see The Israeli Demand that Palestinians Accept Israel as a Jewish State).

As a fundamental factor, Islam divides the world into the Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (the House of War) which is under the rule of Dar al-Kufr (the House of the Unbeliever). Apart from temporary treaties, war is permanent. A significant product of this idea is that anyone leaving Islam is seen exactly as we view someone siding with an enemy in war: as a traitor.

Do all or the great bulk of Muslims think this? I’ve no idea. But in the UK I slightly knew someone who was a noted Catholic theologian. He would sigh in amused dismay at the distance between the beliefs of the Catholic hierarchy and himself and those of many of his fellow churchgoers. So it wouldn’t be a surprise to find something similar in Islam. Not everyone is a theologian.

However, with Catholicism, no-one can be forced to adhere to it any longer and there are lots of alternatives for those who don’t like it. And anyone who prefers something else can denounce the Pope as the anti-Christ (or whatever) as loudly as they wish without fear of being burned at the stake. Alas, we know that in Arab states the public criticism of Islam is impossible and changing religion very dangerous. Therefore, as a generalization, Islamic intolerance has a far greater hold on minds and behaviors than, for example, modern western Christianity.

Habitually, we see religion as the abode of piety – even if such piety often appears impossible from a practical point of view. Therefore, it shocks our relatively gentle and innocent souls to see the normal skullduggery of interstate relations, dishonestly but earnestly deplored and denied by governments, clearly expressed and brazenly proclaimed by Islam as religious doctrines (taqiyya and tawriya). Or, to put it more exactly, these are openly proclaimed within Islam and at the same time denied externally to non-Muslims. This follows logically, of course, from the Islamic conception of the world conflict between Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb. For Islam, religion remains an affair of state and in conflict everywhere with other states and cultures.
But what does this mean for peace prospects between Israel and the Palestinians? As before, without Palestinian/Arab acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, prospects for peace remain non-existent. The Arab Nationalists, such as the PA, want exactly the same as the Islamists: the end of Israel as a Jewish state. What they are less keen on is a theocracy and caliphate. But there are lots of cross influences and movement between the two wings. Osama Bin Laden said that people prefer to follow ‘the strong horse’. It is hard to disagree. This is why Israel needs to be the strong horse. As someone else said, the Nazis weren’t defeated by sensitivity seminars to explore their wounded post-Versailles feelings.

On the other hand, permanent war is virtually impossible. An interesting illustration of this is the live-and-let-live ‘system’ that developed extensively during the First World War. This arose when huge armies faced one another where the effort of launching an offensive was so great in resources and took so long to plan that permanent large-scale hostilities along the major fronts were out of the question. The result was a relatively static war of position with long periods of quiet in many locations. In this situation, live-and-let-live habits easily and informally arose.

These were ‘understandings’ between enemy soldiers at the front to make sure there were no breeches of the quiet. As the two sides were often deeply entrenched no more than a stone’s throw, or hand grenade, away from each other this was not difficult to arrange. Even small-scale hostilities were commonly ‘forbidden’, especially during times such as breakfast and private hours (sending and receiving letters, etc). Any violation of these informal agreements brought instant retaliation – which kept both sides in check.

The live-and-let-live system should not be confused with the far fewer but more well-known and sensational examples of fraternization at the front, such as Christmas football. However, from the point of view of winning a war, the snag was that soldiers quickly became accustomed to these quiet periods and easily lost the will to fight. As a result, the military top-brass made various attempts to prevent or disrupt live-and-let-live. But lacking the means to launch permanent offensives, these were entirely unable to prevent it.

Yet as long as the underlying state of war existed, the status quo of the live-and-let-live system could never be permanent. Therefore, soldiers at the front could never rely on it – and nor can we. Therefore, even in times of quiet, guard duty is permanent – just in case a perfectly fine Islamic friend turns out not to be so friendly or is subject to various pressures to take a scalp – or a new offensive is launched. In other words, like the First World War, we are in a war of attrition. And in a long war of attrition, the side with the greatest assabiya, the inner strength or social cohesion necessary to provide the staying power to continue the conflict, has an advantage.

Currently, with war devastating large areas of the Middle East, the assabiya of the Arab world is not looking so good. But apart from enormous ruin and social dislocation, who knows the end result? Historically, the combination of Arab tribal culture and Islam has been very successful. Unfortunately, it’s a millstone round the neck for the development of a modern capitalist economy.

Yet this is the only mechanism yet invented to pull millions of people out of poverty, superstition and tyranny. So will the wars lead to the breakdown and maybe the demise of Arab tribal culture? Unfortunately, without advance hindsight, we can’t know. But with the prospect of years of death, destruction and regional dislocation ahead, a comparison to the strength and stability of Israel means that many Palestinian and Israeli Arabs will be bound to prefer its quiet.

As with military leaders in the First World War, this makes Palestinian nationalist and Islamist leaders nervous. Abbas has acknowledged many times on Arab TV that they cannot defeat Israel in a military confrontation. Yet without being able or willing to accept Israel as a Jewish state to conclude the conflict, and with Palestinian issues no longer at the forefront of attention for the international public, he may well calculate, like Hamas last year, that pictures of violence and Palestinian suffering on TV screens round the world will be a worthwhile tactic. If so, this explains the ramping-up of the usual tirade of lies and incitement in Palestinian political circles, the media and mosques.

As Napoleon said, first one engages in action, and then see what happens. Although this sounds entirely lacking in calculation, in reality it was merely a statement that the outcome of battle is rarely certain. As an unpopular, unelected and unsuccessful leader (for a strong-horse), Abbas knows that Israel prefers his rule to that of his rivals. In fact, without Israeli protection he would probably not last a week. Therefore, in his current predicament, leading a forgotten struggle nowhere, his delicate calculation may view the encouragement of violence as his best option.

This will allow him simultaneously to retain some credibility as a fighter by the appearance that he is still leading the struggle, attract maximum international attention and yet preserve his rule – courtesy of Israel. If this is right, a third intifada now seems probable. Israel can handle this militarily, but can its hasbara do the same?


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