Monday, February 26, 2007

Balanced stand on Middle East is political suicide, says Carter

Balanced stand on ME is political suicide, says Carter

Hinting Israel is not interested in fair peace, former US president says any member of Congress taking balanced stand on conflict risks 'political suicide'

Yitzhak Benhorin

Published: 02.26.07, 03:57 / Israel News

WASHINGTON - "I don't see any present prospect that any member of the US Congress, the House or Senate, would say, "Let's take a balanced position between Israel and the Palestinians and negotiate a peace agreement," said Former US President Jimmy Carter in an interview to the ABC network on Sunday.

Contraversial Book

Carter calls his Mideast book 'accurate' / Associated Press

Former US president says storm of criticism he has recently faced has not weakened his resolve for fair treatment of Israelis and Palestinians
Full Story

Appearing on "This week with George Stephanopoulos," the former President got the chance to defend himself, and his contraversial book "Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid" which, three months after publication, continues to makes waves in the American media.

Carter however, did not pass up the chance to harm Israel's PR yet again, and said, "It's almost politically suicidal in the United States for a member of the Congress who wants to seek reelection to take any stand that might be interpreted as anti- policy of the conservative Israeli government, which is equated, as I've seen it myself, as anti-Semitism."

Carter reiterated that he felt his book "accurately describes what's going on in the West Bank," and said that he did not regret writing it.

'Book is necessary for peace'

"The book is necessary. I think this book will make…a little step toward, first of all, precipitating a debate or an open discussion about what's going on in Palestine. Secondly, I hope it will be a little factor in renewing the abandoned effort to bring about a peace agreement between Israel and its neighbors."

When asked if he was being too hard on Israel, Carter said, "My honest opinion is that a strong majority of Israelis agree with me. Secondly, I believe a clear majority of American Jewish citizens agree with me that Israel must exchange Palestinian land for peace."

Almost 30 years after leading to the signing of the Camp David Accords between Israel

and Egypt, Carter said he still hopes for peace, "If I have had one burning desire in my heart and mind for the last 30 years, I would put peace for Israel at the top of the list.… And commensurate with that has to be justice and human rights for the Palestinians next door. And I believe this book… will contribute to accomplishing that goal."

When nightmare scenarios are used to justify endless war, it’s time to wake up

February 26, 2007 Issue
Copyright © 2007 The American Conservative

What If We Leave?

by John Mueller

It is continually proclaimed that an American withdrawal from Iraq would carry grim consequences. President Bush calls it a “nightmare scenario,” and Frederick Kagan predicts “catastrophe.” Few Democrats disagree: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer warns that “precipitous withdrawal … could lead to disaster, spawning a civil war, fostering a haven for terrorists and damaging our nation’s security and credibility.”

Indeed, the aftermath of withdrawal would be problematic and messy—like the present war—but it might not be as dire as increasingly desperate war supporters maintain.

The least persuasive scenario—but the one most likely to arrest the attention of Americans—is that Iraq will be taken over by international terrorists who would use it as a “safe haven” to “launch attacks on America,” as the president put it in an interview on “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” in January.

Since al-Qaeda already has something of a safe haven in the unruly areas of Pakistan, it is not clear how adding space in Iraq would be of notable help. Moreover, international terrorism is essentially a conspiratorial enterprise carried out by tiny cells of plotters who can operate anywhere. Insofar as the 9/11 planners needed a safe haven, they found it in Hamburg, Germany, while those in London, Indonesia, Morocco, Madrid, and elsewhere were locals whose cells were based in their home countries and whose physical connection to the international jihadist movement was limited at best. Furthermore, in the wake of a U.S. exit, Iraqis are unlikely to tolerate the continued presence of foreign fighters (who make up only a very small portion of the insurgency) because these adventurers have mostly spent their time killing Iraqis and because, for better or worse, their key mission will have been accomplished.

More plausibly, America’s exit from Iraq will exhilarate international terrorists because victory over the U.S. will seem even greater to them than victory over the Soviets in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden’s theory that Americans can be defeated, or at least productively inconvenienced, by inflicting comparatively small but continuously draining casualties on them will achieve apparent confirmation.

But that one is already lost: almost any exit from Iraq will have this effect. People like bin Laden believe that America in-vaded Iraq as part of its plan to control the Middle East’s oil and dominate the world —a perspective that polls suggest is enormously popular in Muslim countries as well as in such non-Muslim ones as Germany and France. The U.S. does not intend to do that—at least not in the direct sense bin Laden and others allege —nor does it seek to destroy Islam, as many others around the world bitterly assert. Such people will see almost any kind of American withdrawal as a victory for the terrorist insurgents, to whom they will give primary credit for forcing America to leave without accomplishing what they mistakenly take to be its key objectives.

Moreover, jihadists may be inclined to draw a special lesson by comparing the results of 9/11 with those of the Iraq War: it is much more productive to hit the “far enemy” when it comes near than to hit it in its homeland. That is, if their goal is to get the U.S. out of the Middle East, it is better for jihadists to cause it damage in places where its interests are limited rather than in places where its interests are vital. Thus, even if the result of the Iraq War exhilarates some terrorists, it would not necessarily whet their appetites for another 9/11.

After the American venture in Iraq is over, freelancing jihadists who trained there may seek to continue their operations elsewhere, like the jihadists who fought alongside the mujahideen against the Soviets in Afghanistan. If those experiences are any indication, however, the impact of these adventurers may not prove terribly significant. Following the example of their predecessors in Algeria, Chechnya, and Bosnia, they will most likely end up offering marginal reinforcement to rebel forces in places like Kashmir, Somalia, and Afghanistan. They might also try making trouble in their home countries, like Saudi Arabia, if they can manage to get back.

Whatever happens with the freelancers, the civil war in Iraq may become worse after the United States withdraws. But the ranks of the anti-American insurgency will be significantly reduced because those committed to forcing out the occupiers will presumably stop engaging in violence when their main target leaves the scene. As in Afghanistan after the Soviets left, a warlord-dominated and partially criminalized civil conflict could persist, though it will more likely resemble the somewhat less horrible, if exceedingly complicated, factionalized civil war in Lebanon.

In time, the Iraqis, like the Lebanese before them, will have to sort this out—perhaps with the aid of some of their neighbors. The U.S. invasion almost instantly made Iraq a failed state, and only the exhausted locals can patch it back together, as many civil wars in Africa and Asia have demonstrated over the last decade. An eventual agreement among combatants is possible in all this, as is a military coup and the return of strong-man rule—particularly if the elected government is seen as incompetent. The notion, however, that a resentful new government in Iraq will cut off oil production to spite the U.S. makes little sense, as that would further impoverish the country and destabilize the regime.

Those who favor continued U.S participation in Iraq’s civil war need to explain how the American presence there—irritating to most Iraqis, polls suggest—will significantly speed the reconciliation process. They also need to indicate how many American lives they are willing to sacrifice for this end, assuming that it is even possible.

The Iraq Study Group and many Democrats advocate enlisting the support of Iraq’s neighboring states to settle the civil war. This approach holds promise because Iraq’s neighbors have good reason to be concerned. Although they may support different factions in Iraq’s civil conflict, a stable, productive, diverse, and peaceful Iraq would likely serve their best interests. They certainly don’t need floods of Iraqi refugees, and if the civil war can’t be stopped, they would want to do all they could to contain it, perhaps applying the Europeans’ approach to the Bosnian war in the early 1990s. Their hearts—or at least their interests—are in the right place.

There is a dilemma, however: almost all of Iraq’s neighbors are on the hit list of the neoconservatives who influence the Bush administration so heavily. In the run-up to the Iraq War, neoconservative guru Norman Podhoretz strongly advocated expanding Bush’s axis of evil. “At a minimum,” he suggested, the list should extend beyond Iraq, Iran, and North Korea to include “Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as ‘friends’ of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority …” More realistic (and prescient) than other neocons about democracy, he noted that “the alternative to these regimes could easily turn out to be worse, even (or especially) if it comes into power through democratic elections.” Accordingly, he emphasized, it will be necessary for the United States “to impose a new political culture on the defeated parties.”

As Baghdad was falling in 2003, neocon Richard Perle triumphally issued a similar litany of targets in a speech at the U.S. Army War College, adding for good measure—and possibly in jest—France and the State Department. In their book, The War Over Iraq, Lawrence Kaplan and William Kristol stress that the war they so passionately advocated was over a lot more than just Iraq: “The mission begins in Baghdad, but does not end there. … War in Iraq represents but the first installment.” And in a speech in late 2006, Charles Krauthammer continued to champion what he calls “the only plausible answer,” an ambitious undertaking that involves “changing the culture of that area, no matter how slow and how difficult the process. It starts in Iraq and Lebanon, and must be allowed to proceed …” Any other policy, he divined, “would ultimately bring ruin not only on the U.S. but on the very idea of freedom.”

These men do not, of course, directly run the White House. But given how much they and other neoconservatives have influenced the administration’s intellectual development and military decision-making, the designated target countries would be foolish in the extreme not to take such threats very seriously. As long as the United States and its seemingly permanent bases linger, most of Iraq’s neighbors have good reason to feel profoundly uneasy. And for their own purposes, they have a strong incentive to assure that the American experience there is as miserable as possible.

Accordingly, in an important sense the ongoing presence of the United States makes productive co-operation by most of Iraq’s neighbors problematic. But America’s withdrawal would instantly shift the issue, supplying Iraq’s neighbors with a comparatively unqualified interest in ending the civil war and stabilizing the country. The danger is that their efforts could mostly be devoted to supporting one side or the other in the civil war, which happened with the not-so-neighborly nearby interveners in Lebanon and Congo’s civil wars. But pressure from the international community and a more modest, somewhat distant America, as well as the sensible appeal of the imperative to bring the Iraq disaster under control, may well be able to prevent that.

The sorting-out process may be facilitated if, as seems likely, the U.S. reacts to its Middle East misadventure by embracing an Iraq Syndrome reminiscent of the Vietnam Syndrome that restrained America from meddling further in Africa and Southeast Asia, while the Soviet Union foolishly gathered up a set of expensive dependencies there (and in Afghanistan) that hastened the demise of the Cold War.

The American public would probably be quite capable of shrugging off defeat and failure, as it proved in Vietnam as well as in the lesser debacles of Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia in 1993. And since American casualties are what matter in the U.S., little attention would likely be paid if a civil-war bloodbath developed in Iraq. Accordingly, there would likely be few, if any, calls to send troops, contrary to the current cry of war supporters that if things fall apart we would just have to go in again. Since Iraqi citizens do not vote in American elections, the U.S. government would likely reduce financial support for the Iraqi government after American troops leave.

This process might impel a suitably mellowed country to abandon some of its self-infatuated rhetoric. The United States has become a “superpower” unable to make electricity to work in Baghdad and an “indispensable nation” incapable of garnering international co-operation when it really needs it, and it may come to re-examine its role in the world.

Perhaps America will even embrace the wisdom propounded by George W. Bush in the presidential debates of 2000, before the neocons moved in:

If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us. If we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us. . . . I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into a country and say, we do it this way, so should you. I think we can help. . . . I think the United States must be humble and must be proud and confident of our values, but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course.

It would be a new, and considerably improved, Bush Doctrine.

John Mueller is professor of political science at Ohio State University. His most recent book is Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them.

Honest Broker

February 26, 2007 Issue
Copyright © 2007 The American Conservative

Jimmy Carter’s book stirs a critical debate.

by Philip Weiss

Since the publication last November of Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, his critics have pretty much held the floor. In fact, days before the book was available, its argument that Palestinians suffer “abominable oppression and persecution” at the hands of the Israelis was dismissed outright by Democratic Party leaders Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean, as though it might harm their party in the midterm elections. Their disavowals gave way to the kind of vituperative feeling in pro-Israel quarters that is usually saved for Holocaust deniers and Nazis: Carter will go down in history as “a Jew-hater,” according to The New Republic’s Martin Peretz; the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg called him un-Christian; and Commentary published a long attack on Carter as “the very worst ex-President,” a would be “prince of peace” who was in fact a busybody with a martyr-wish, embittered by his 1980 re-election defeat.

In January came news that Carter’s views had cost him among his own former adherents. Saying that Carter had abandoned an honorable role as honest broker between two sides, 15 Jewish members of the Carter Center advisory board resigned en masse—the sort of thrilling moral stand I hoped for, and never got, during much bigger presidential flaps like Clinton’s sexual harassment saga and Bush’s descent into Iraq.

The conventional wisdom seemed to be that Carter had damaged himself, and badly.

But the fury has masked a quieter trend —nodding support for the president’s views across the country. The book still ranks sixth on the New York Times bestseller list three months after publication, and Carter has taken on a moral halo among progressives and realists, the shotgun marriage of the Bush years. Film director Jonathan Demme, who mainstreamed gay rights with “Philadelphia,” is making a documentary on the book tour. “NBC Nightly News” featured the former president breaking down in tears on a panel at the Carter Center when relating a story of praying to God to give him strength before he confronted Anwar Sadat at Camp David in 1978, when Carter forged an historic peace accord between Israel and Egypt.

“I think the attacks in some ways have made the book more effective,” says Michael Brown, a fellow at the Palestine Center. “It’s extraordinary, but when people oppose a book or a movie, and make a big fuss out of it, most Americans will say, ‘I want to know what this is about.’”

Some of the fury hides an old-fashioned power struggle. For the first time since the State of Israel was created in 1948, a prominent American politician has publicly taken up the cause of the Arabs, describing Israel’s practices as oppressive. Such voices are common in Europe and in Israel itself. But they are uncommon here, where staunchly Zionist voices routinely assert that Israeli and American interests are identical, a view uniformly reflected in our politics and policies. The Carter groundswell seems to represent a real political threat to that claim. A recent batch of letters to the Houston Chronicle ran three-to-one in Carter’s favor. “Can’t Israel defend itself without subjecting all Palestinians in the occupied territories to such shameful conditions?” one asked. “Nothing justifies treating an entire group of people as if they were second-class human beings.”

The education Americans are seeking began nearly a year ago with an academic paper widely circulated in intellectual circles. “The Israel Lobby,” by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, realist scholars at the University of Chicago and Harvard, sharply criticized the hegemony exercised by pro-Israel opinion makers in the United States. Famously, that piece was killed by the American magazine that commissioned it (The Atlantic) and eventually published by the London Review of Books. Now Jimmy Carter has brought some of the same arguments home and popularized them.

The ground seems to be shifting under our feet. M.J. Rosenberg, a progressive Zionist activist who works for Israel Policy Forum, wrote that he was surprised by the attitudes expressed at a Washington social gathering where Carter’s book had come up. The book had empowered gentiles to voice criticisms they have long held. One such person said that the Jewish community is “out of line for getting ‘bent out of shape’ by a book,” according to Rosenberg. “[N]on-Jewish Americans feel very inhibited . . . talking about Israel out of fear that any criticism will be labeled ‘anti-Semitism.’”

The Palestine Center’s Michael Brown has been pleased by the new turn in the conversation. “He has gotten the word ‘apartheid’ in the discussion. A lot of progressives used to roll their eyes at the comparison and said it’s too much. But Carter has put it out there. Carter has done an enormous service to the other narrative. Some of these groups are on the defensive for once.”

Carter’s first speech about his book was at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts on Jan. 23. I was eager to go. As a Jew who believes that the Israeli occupation is harming American interests in the Middle East, I am interested in the internal debate over Carter in the Jewish community. Jews have generally led the discussion of Israel in this country—and often closed ranks. Had Carter caused any slippage in the bloc?

I got to Brandeis’s Gosman Center gym at 3 p.m., 90 minutes ahead of the speech, and the first signs I saw surprised me—literally. In the barricaded pen for demonstrators was a wide banner: “Jewish Voice for Peace Supports Jimmy Carter. End the Occupation.” The Boston chapter of the Oakland-based group had brought a dozen people. Each had a poster describing an atrocity, like how many Palestinian children the Israeli military has allegedly killed (153) or how many dunams of Palestinian land Israel has confiscated in the West Bank in 2006 (7,749). In this pen, Jewish diversity meant a sprinkling of Zionists. Three young people represented CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) and handed out a leaflet titled “Carter’s Falsehoods,” which claimed that Carter misrepresented Palestinian leaders as moderates when they were actually extremists. The piece featured photographs of a Brandeis student killed by a suicide bomber in 1995 and of the Palestinian prime minister meeting with Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The gym was jammed with 2,000 folding chairs. All soon filled. Carter was the first president to visit the campus in 50 years (Harry Truman being the last), and there was excitement, along with an air of respect and decorum. Another surprise: I’d been expecting rage. After all, Shulamit Reinharz, the wife of Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz, had called Carter a “plagiarist” in an article for The Jewish Advocate and said, in a vicious spirit, that Carter should have kept his thoughts to himself, just as he should have kept private the famous “lust in my heart” confession he made during his presidential campaign 30 years ago.

But Mrs. Reinharz was not in attendance (“major commitment out of town,” she told me later), and looking around, I saw only a handful of students wearing blue and white in solidarity with Israel, a common response when critics of Israel visit campus. I talked to four of them—all female members of Zionists for Historical Veracity, a Brandeis group dedicated to spreading the word that Israel is the only democracy in the region. This is a new tactic for responding to the criticism of Israel—showing that Israel guarantees free speech, gay rights and women’s rights, when Arab tyrannies do not. It sidesteps the question of human rights and political self-determination for the estimated 3 million Palestinians under Israeli authority. I brought up the occupied territories, and one girl said that I meant Judea and Samaria. “That’s the way it’s referred to in the Bible,” she noted.

I asked the girls why so many Arabs seem to hate Israel. “I wish we knew,” one answered. “I think it has a lot to do with the education system,” another said. “Sadly for the children being affected, they are not getting the correct historical account, and a new generation is brought up to hate Israel.”

My impression of diversity was reinforced by a talk with Getzel Davis, a long-haired kid whose t-shirt said in Hebrew, “You Should Love Your Neighbor as Yourself.” Davis criticized Carter as imbalanced, singling out the Israelis. Yes, it was time to acknowledge that there was a cycle of violence in Palestine, but it must be considered “holistically.” Then Davis told me how haunted he was by a visit to the Orthodox Jewish settlement in Hebron in the West Bank: “The most broken place I’ve ever been in my life.”

Carter arrived, and—what a surprise—no one booed. People rose to their feet and applauded strongly for a minute. Seventy minutes later, when Carter smiled his Cheshire cat grin and disappeared, the applause was even more sustained.

In the interim, he achieved a lot. His performance had a vulnerable, human manner. He flattered Brandeis by saying that it was the most exciting invitation to speak he had received since the Congress called on him to give his inaugural address exactly 30 years before. And this might have been a sincere statement; despite being a statesman whose every utterance has a public quality, Carter actually seemed nervous. He said, with a hint of defensiveness, “I don’t often write my speeches, but I decided to this morning. I read over it before I left home in Plains, Georgia. It took 15 minutes without any pauses for applause. So I can predict for you that I’ll be ready to answer questions in about 15 minutes.”

The second question, about the hurtfulness of the word “apartheid,” occasioned Carter’s broken moment, when in a halting voice he described his pain at the accusations against him:

I am deeply concerned about the tensions that might have arisen. That was not my intention at all. And I’ve been hurt and so has my family by some of the reaction. I’ve been through political campaigns for state senate and for governor and for president, and I’ve been stigmatized and condemned by my political opponents and their stories. But this is the first time that I’ve ever been called a liar and a bigot and an anti-Semite and a coward and a plagiarist. This has hurt me. I can take it. But I think that that group of people who have made those statements — sometimes in full-page ads in the New York Times — I think they are an extreme minority.

Carter was trying to mend bridges. His book has pained many Jews for a reason. The strong feeling throughout the book is one progressives often have on visits to the Holy Land: that the Arabs we meet are kinder and more righteous than the Israelis, that the Israelis are the power. The moral core of Carter’s book can be seen is his treatment of Hafez al-Assad, the late Syrian dictator reviled in this country. Carter seems to see Assad as brilliant, and his text offers, without contradiction, Assad’s analysis of the Israelis as expansionist and racist, imitating the Jews’ European persecutors by performing ethnic cleansing on Arabs. At other times, Carter openly identifies, as a Christian, with the Christian Arabs whom Israel has pushed around. Israeli leaders, “[u]niversally . . . seem rather to evoke his dislike, and Israel as a whole seems to have the same effect on him,” neoconservative Joshua Muravchik wrote in Commentary. I share some of Carter’s anger, but it would have been diplomatic for him to say that some of his best friends are Jews, a statement he made at Brandeis when he reeled off the names of Jewish former aides.

The speech offered an ashen Carter who understood that Jews suffer too. When a youth asked about a line on page 213 of the book, Carter simply apologized for it. The sentence stated that Palestinians must abandon suicide bombing when they are granted a state. Of course, they ought to abandon such tactics right now, Carter said. “That sentence was worded in a completely improper and stupid way. … So again let me repeat, I apologize for the wording of that sentence. It was a mistake on my part, and it is now being corrected in future editions.”

No one lacking outsize political talents ever got to be president, and the ashen moments only bolstered Carter’s refrain: Jewish settlers have confiscated the best land in the West Bank, which is after all only 22 percent of the original Palestine, including choice hilltops and water sources. Israel has built a “spiderweb” of roads serving the settlers alone. This was wrong, indeed abominable, but this reality had not been reflected widely in the United States. That is why he wrote the book. Hard to argue with. And more than that, embarrassing to Jews.

While the audience may not have embraced Carter, it honored him, and having cut through the name-calling, he issued a challenge that hung in the air: Don’t believe me, he said. Find out for yourself. Observe the conditions of Palestinian life and see for yourself whether I am exaggerating. Bring back a report. It will have a huge impact—on Israel, on Brandeis, on Congress, and even on the president. (Brandeis has since taken up his challenge and will send a delegation.)

“Make it three professors and seven students, and go to the West Bank, and just spend three days. I can give you a list of people that you might want to talk to, or you can use your own judgment.”

As I walked out, I sensed a thrill in the crowd. I met two older Jews in the front hall who were as jangled as I was. Jack Porter was handing out copies of a positive review of Carter’s book by leftwing Knesset member Yossi Beilin, saying that the “agonizing” book correctly identifies the path Israelis and Palestinians are moving down. Porter said that he had never felt so empowered: “This is a watershed event. It’s about free speech in the Jewish community. For the first time in two decades, I’m not feeling guilty. I felt that criticizing Israel would be feeding its enemies. But now I see it’s just the opposite. A lot of us held back.”

Nearby was a man of about 80 with a middle-European accent, trembling with fury: “He is a politician, and he knows what to avoid and how to dodge questions. He didn’t tell any lies, he just didn’t tell the truth.” “Were you moved at all?” I asked. “Yes. I was moved to think: we survived Carter. The country was tanking under him because he told Americans to expect less.”

Neither of these men was a student. Not eligible for rationed tickets to the event, they watched on a remote feed in Shapiro Campus Center. They had come into the gym to hear Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor, respond to Carter’s speech. Brandeis had at first demanded that Carter debate Dershowitz. The president had demurred, saying that the professor didn’t know anything about occupied Palestine, and Brandeis then invited him on his own, to be followed by Dershowitz. (The Radical Students Association subsequently demanded that Dershowitz be followed by his nemesis, Norman G. Finkelstein, who was tentatively scheduled to visit the campus this month.)

Carter showed tactical smarts by saying that he had declined to meet “a Harvard professor” who wanted to debate him. “I am that nameless Harvard professor,” Dershowitz announced, grinning, but it was plain that the comment upset him. He pointed out that he had met Carter on a few occasions, and Carter had once sought his opinion. Later, when he was interviewed by local television, Dershowitz said that Carter was a “little bit of a coward for not mentioning my name, and a little too cute.”

Of course, Alan Dershowitz and Jimmy Carter are very different types: one a combative defense lawyer, the other a lofty statesman. Having never seen the Dershowitz show before, I was impressed. He’s smart, informative, and quick on his feet. He makes jokes. He encourages students to challenge and rebut him. He doesn’t always like what they have to say. When a Palestinian girl nervously said that going through a checkpoint the previous summer was “the most humiliating experience that you ever have,” Dershowitz broke in: “You’re talking to the wrong people.” He meant that Palestinians could make the checkpoints disappear by ending violent attacks. (Yes, but what about the 500 checkpoints said to be inside the territories as opposed to the 30 on the Israeli border?)

When a student suggested that Hamas must be respected because it won an election, Dershowitz said that she was probably for the Nazis when they were elected in 1933. When another student said that he had lost count of the number of times Dershowitz cited Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, Dershowitz stomped him by recounting anti-Jewish statements by Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad, then saying, “Everyone thought Hitler was a tinhorn dictator” in the 1930s. If France and England had taken Hitler at his word and crushed him then, they would have gone down “as the bullyboys of history.” That was the great vice of preemption, he said. But it was also the great virtue: they would have “saved tens of millions of lives.” The kid shut up and sat down, punctured. Jonathan Demme’s documentary photographers, who had not been allowed in the hall for the Carter event, rushed over with a release for him to sign.

Dershowitz’s answer was brilliant, but it was incomplete. His references to Hitler and the Nazis were not confined to Iran. For instance, Dershowitz referred to the pre-1967 border in Israel as the “Auschwitz border.” After the speech, I stood with a group of students getting Dershowitz’s autograph and asked him what that meant. He said it was former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Abba Eban’s statement and referred to the fact that Israelis were extremely vulnerable to Palestinian attack inside the borders of the Jewish state from 1949-67.

I introduced myself to history professor Jacob Cohen, who had emceed the Dershowitz event, and asked him about my impression that Brandeis had showered Carter with respect. He said, “The respect and the open-mindedness was not an illusion. I think he speaks very na├»vely and often harmfully. He speaks to a vein of idealism, and that’s what young people are.”

Well, I said, young people want to have a hopeful view of history. They don’t want to hear about the Holocaust all the time. They don’t want to see history as having a tragic destination.

Cohen became angry: “You’re talking about a symbol, the desecration of which deeply hurts the Jewish people …” He went on to say that if I thought that “the elimination of Israel” would end Islamic world’s hatred of the West, I was wrong. “Osama bin Laden is still remembering the Crusades.”

It seemed to me that like the 80-year-old I had met in the hall, Cohen was hurt and frightened by Carter’s acceptance and felt that it might signal a period of renewed persecution of the Jews.

But that was the last I was to hear of the Holocaust that night. I spent the rest of the evening with Brandeis kids, none older than 21 or so, and the Holocaust isn’t nearly as real to them as it is to Cohen’s generation and not as prominent for them as it was for my generation. They have little personal connection to it and are imagining the world in different ways. I would say unencumbered by it, Cohen would say nescient.

In the road in front of the gym was a clump of five or six students, most of them Jews, three of them wearing Palestinian scarves (or kaffiyehs)—a defiant symbol. Jews like these are becoming more common in American cities. The kids were saying that Carter had not gone far enough, that he hadn’t talked about the Israel lobby. “There has been a dam of silence,” one of them said. I asked the kids how many Jews on the Brandeis campus felt the way they did. They looked around at one another. “About five,” one said, and they laughed.

Nearby, an Arab student wearing a kaffiyeh said that Arabs were gathering at 9 p.m. in Shapiro to discuss the Carter visit. I went but couldn’t find the Arabs. A kid working on a punk magazine hopped on his computer and said that Democracy for America, a group inspired by Howard Dean, was meeting in the university’s replica Scottish castle, a campus landmark.

I soon found myself with 18 kids in a circle. Most were Jewish, ranging from liberal to progressive. Fearing anger and dispute, Danielle Sunberg, the group’s chairman, had brought a stuffed teddy bear. The rule was that you could only talk when you were holding the bear. When you were finished, you could throw it to someone else.

For the second or third time that day, I was surprised. A couple of students were sharply critical of Carter, but mostly they were enthused. “The campus is on fire tonight,” one remarked. It was exciting to them that the president had visited. “He was making a mea culpa to the Jewish community. To correct things, to move forward…” said Ari Fertig. They were moved by his largeness of spirit. They felt that they had a positive role to play in this discussion; they wanted to play their part as young people. “We need a few generations to die out,” one said.

Several students said they were offended by Dershowitz’s tone. Even though they tended to agree with him more than Carter on substance, they were angered that he had been so disrespectful to students, jumping in on what they were saying. “He was rude,” one said.

Twenty feet away in the common room, two students watched a television airing George W. Bush’s State of the Union speech. Bush’s words broke in on our group’s conversation, but he was largely ignored. Whatever Jimmy Carter’s failings as president long ago, he has touched a moral chord in our public life, one that countless Americans want to rediscover, especially now that Bush’s militarism has created a bloody cul-de-sac in Iraq.

“Just now I heard George Bush saying, ‘We have to take the fight to our enemies,’” James Ansorge said. “I’m of Jewish blood, but I’m not an Israeli citizen, I’m an American citizen. I’m not much of a historian of Israel and Palestine, but I do see Israel in perpetual conflict with their neighbors ... and that seems to be extending to us now. Many Arab extremists seek the destruction of the Israeli state, and now they want the same for us. Things are becoming very belligerent. It’s at a breaking point. We must start the peace process.”

Again I heard the term “watershed.” Fertig, tall, curly-haired, and in a sweatshirt, said, “You know, before tonight, I was very hesitant to ever debate the Middle East. I think this is a watershed moment, both personally and for this community. . . . I am trained in the pro-Israeli way of thinking. This is the first time I came away from a forum more favorable to the Palestinians—the first time I ever came down more favorably on the guy supporting Palestinians than on Israel.”

The teddy bear was thrown this way and that until at the end it was passed around the circle for closing statements. When it came to me, I said that I hoped my generation’s attitudes died out and made way for theirs.

Philip Weiss is at work on a book about Jewish issues. He writes a blog for the New York Observer, Mondoweiss.

Ask 100 thinkers to consider the future and what do you get? Utter pessimism.

We asked 100 writers and thinkers to answer the following question: Left and right defined the 20th century. What's next? The pessimism of their responses is striking: almost nobody expects the world to get better in the coming decades, and many think it will get worse

Disappointed by our contributors' responses? Write in with your own answer to the question—the best will be published on our website

The answers are spread across four pages. Use the links below to navigate.

This is Page 1 (A-D)

Page 2 (E-I)
Page 3 (J-M)
Page 4 (N-Y)

Bruce Ackerman, political writer

Cosmos vs patriots. Cosmopolitans come in two varieties: for left cosmos, the pressing need is to deal with world problems—global warming, nuclear proliferation, and the unjust distribution of wealth and income. For right cosmos, it is to break down barriers to world trade. Cosmos of all stripes demand a big build-up in the powers of world institutions, and a cutback on state sovereignty. For local patriots, the cosmos represent a new imperialism of Davos-man and his do-good hangers-on. Left pats insist on protecting local workers from foreign competition and local cultures from McDonaldisation. Right pats want to protect the natives from strange ethnics and engage in pre-emptive strikes against threatening foreign powers. Pats of all varieties insist that the nation state remains the best last hope of democracy against the meritocratic pretensions of cosmo-elitists.

Lisa Appignanesi, writer

Global vs the local. Environmental issues seem to belong to the first, but their political reality will be translated by the wind farm or nuclear station next door. Web and new technologies connect us globally, but can be banned locally; ditto with human rights. Meanwhile, we have no institutions, bar an emasculated UN, with which to deal with the global, while local politicians—from oil barons in Russia and the US to Sunni or Shia militants in the middle east—instrumentalise all problems in the name of power. Goodbye, oh heating world.

Arthur Aughey, political writer

Immanuel Wallerstein defined the politics of the 20th century in terms of an irresolvable tension between the modernity of technology—the capacity of human inventiveness to increase our material wellbeing—and the modernity of liberation, the capacity of political action to enhance our secular wellbeing. The ideological faithful on the left and the right, albeit for different reasons, believed in the harmony of technology and liberation; the ideologically sceptical on the left and the right, again for different reasons, agonised about technological enslavement masquerading as emancipation.

However, for both, the distinction between technology and humanity was the commonsense complement to an ethical system that distinguished between the determined (our creations) and the autonomous (our capacity for freedom). That tension will be challenged in the future because technology will develop personality and persons will become “bio-technologised.” In this new era the faultline of politics will be between post-humanism, the radical version of which would abolish all distinctions between the natural and the artificial, and old humanism, the radical version of which would transform the inheritance of the modern into a quasi-sacred and romantic cult of authenticity. The contesting visions are likely to be Blakean in tone, about the nature of being and not about the distribution of wealth.

Michael Axworthy, former civil servant

The end of the cold war removed the edge of the left/right division, and left a question about the direction of political leadership. Political spin moved into that space, but the spin doctors got overconfident, and scandals and cover-ups followed. Truth reasserted itself, and the people became disillusioned. They see a country that has real problems: terrorism, climate change, an overblown civil service that neither governs nor critically analyses the operation of government. Above all, a country lobotomised by the failure of state secondary education, and the failed theories of comprehensive schooling and child-centred teaching.

The division in future will not be between left and right, but between the vested interests of governmental incompetence on the one hand, and the democratic urge for reform on the other. Sooner or later some politician will discover the opportunity to reassert honesty and integrity, tackle the problems, and achieve popularity.

Julian Baggini, philosopher

The new conflict is between liberal universalism and a communitarianism which asserts the need for cultures to maintain their own values and traditions. Is the latter just a temporary brake on the former, or will the universalist dream die? One of the tasks of politics is to work out which values are universal and which are not.

Robin Banerji, journalist

In the 21st century there will be a new emphasis on the rights of the group as opposed to the 20th century’s concern with the individual. Meanwhile, the relationship between the human and the non-human (primarily animals but also plants, plant species and perhaps even landscape) will become important as the consequences of climate change play out. Political Islam, which looks so menacing at the moment, will be contained and defeated, as it is a negative, nostalgic and reactive movement. Great progress will be made in biosciences and in particular neuroscience. The first challenge will be to understand the links between mind and brain, and once those are worked out, medical and bio-scientists will move towards a new understanding of the physiology of the unified mind and body. This will have profound consequences not just for healthcare, but for law and even for philosophy and religion.

Cheryll Barron, writer

What comes next is giving the intellectual heritage of non-western cultures a place above the salt. “If we are to feel at home in the world after the present war,” Bertrand Russell wrote in 1946, “we shall have to admit Asia to equality in our thoughts, not only politically, but culturally.” His prescription is exactly right for today’s eastward shift in economic and political power.

Don Berry, journalist

We need a planet-saving alternative to democracy. Mankind is set on exhausting the planet’s resources. Voters in rich nations will not want to give anything up; voters (or dictators) in developing nations will seek what the rich have. Since democracies must reflect what majorities want, they cannot stop this process. (Dictatorships won’t care.) Science will not rise to the challenge. Old ideas about philosopher-kings and benign dictatorships may be revived. Completely new ideas may emerge. Either way, democracy as we know it will not survive the century.

Philip Bobbitt, political writer

Nation state versus market state. The constitutional order of the nation state saw its role as one of regulating and reversing the results of markets. Market states, by contrast, try to use the market to achieve their governmental goals. Relatedly, nation states used law as a way of enforcing the moral codes of the dominant national group—usually, but not always, a dominant ethnic, cultural, linguistic and racial group. Nation state political parties saw law as the means of achieving their moral goals. Market state parties, whether deregulating industries or deregulating women’s reproduction, try to maximise the choices of citizens without taking for granted anything much in the way of agreement about common goals. Among other consequences, this new constitutional order will generate a new form of terrorism.

Rudi Bogni, banker and director

Left vs right was and is purely a nominal distinction between two strands of the same totalitarian posture. The real problem of the 20th century was that the demographic and economic pressures that fractured the empires gave rise to national states with leaderships ill equipped to face the nihilist challenge. The vacuum was filled by totalitarian regimes, whose ideologies set fire to Europe and the world. Remember that Hitler was a failed architect, Stalin had studied for the priesthood and Mussolini was a schoolteacher. The heirs of the 19th and 20th century nihilists are today's faith-based terrorists. If today's democracies fail to win against the new nihilists on the intellectual and communication level, they will have no chance to win in the security space and will create another dangerous vacuum, ready to be filled. Nation states have proven a disastrous political experiment in the 19th and 20th century; they may well prove catastrophic in the 21st century, due to nuclear proliferation. Nevertheless, I hope that the 21st century will see a substantial reduction of political infrastructures. If a conglomerate is bad or indifferent at most of what it does, shareholders force it back to its core competences. Everything else has got to go. Why should it be different for governments? This is neither left nor right; it is common sense. Large countries' politicians love to deride small countries' direct democracies. Why? Because they fear their example and their nimbleness. The political systems inherited from the 20th century, whether democratic or totalitarian, are neo-feudal, incompatible with a 21st century when electors vote every so many years, but consumers vote and bloggers blog 24/7.

Joe Boyd, music producer

The big divide in the coming decades will be between the “reality-based community” and the “ideologically-based community.” It was often observed in the 20th century that extreme right and left curved round behind the spectrum and met each other—sort of like Hitler and Stalin sharing a beer in Hades. The common ground extreme groups share is a deep-seated resistance to facts, whether Bush's resistance to climate change data or Brezhnev's refusal to accept that reversing the flow of Siberian rivers was not a good idea. There is now a clear divide between those who are prepared to face uncomfortable truths and those who persist in insisting that their views of what ought to be will ultimately trump what is.

David Brooks, journalist

Instead of left/right we’re moving to open/closed. It’s really a debate about how confident people feel. And the next big intellectual development will be unifying what we know about the brain, about genes, about human nature, to maximise human flourishing.

AS Byatt, novelist and critic

We will be governed by a kind of consensus populism—beliefs, ideas and policies that arise on blogs, websites, focus groups and so on. (Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announced their candidacies on the web.) This has its appeal. It is also frightening, as Tocqueville found American democracy, because it leads to tyranny of the majority. It goes with vast quantities of not wholly accurate information—Wikipedia is splendid and maddening.

Menzies Campbell, leader, Liberal Democrats

Liberalism vs authoritarianism is fast becoming the philosophical divide within developed societies. 9/11 and other terrorist atrocities have heightened a sense of anxiety about security in an increasingly globalised world. The response from governments has been to try to gain ever greater knowledge and control of the lives and activities of their citizens. The British government is one of the worst offenders. Identity cards, the excesses of the DNA database, and a relentless drive towards extending the period of detention without trial are all symptoms of its authoritarian tendencies.

There is no “war” against terrorism. The terrorist is a criminal and should be treated accordingly. The creeping power of the state is the order of the day, but terrorism thrives where civil liberties are denied. Liberals must make that point forcefully and oppose and reverse the trend towards authoritarianism.

Douglas Carswell, politician

The political faultlines in the years ahead are likely to see centralisers pitched against localisers, and believers in old-style representative democracy slug it out with the new direct democrats.

Few people today seriously believe that politicians should centrally manage our economy. Yet the default assumption of the political establishment today is that it should centrally manage public services. This assumption will unravel.

At the same time, expect the politics of "anti-politics." Voters are starting to recognise that the current political system is a bit of a con, and they will lose faith in the "quango state" that today really decides how our country is run. People will start to recognise that real power now lies in the hands of remote and unelected officials—not those you elect on polling day: 90 per cent of planning decisions are made by council officials; Nice and other quangos really run the NHS; unelected judges decide what constitutes school uniform; human rights rules govern immigration policy; the QCA decides what children are taught. Expect to see YouTube-style technology empowering small groups of activists outside the conventional political process. This will raise fundamental questions about the nature of our political system. Expect parties to hold proper open primaries to choose their candidates, a loosening of the party whip system, a greater role for independents, and less central direction.

Stephen Chan, academic

In certain respects the accomplishment of the left has been to entrench conservatism. The bureaucratisation of social democracy means that no life is any longer free of reporting and performance criteria, standardisations and imposed safety measures. The meeting of left and right in Europe is about the size of the openings and escape clauses within life’s measured accountabilities rather than about ideology.

When it comes to ideologies and philosophies, the debate around multiculturalism unites the conservatisms of both left and right. The emerging dogma from both Blair and Cameron is to do with One Britain with Colourful Flourishes. It is not to do with a debate and a dynamism about how Britain might be changing into something different. The unity of left and right is over a limit to change. I cannot see how this approach can be called progressive, nor how it can accommodate the tensions of confessional divides—which reflect those in the world at large. As if that world could be shut out of Britain.

Dave Clements, policy analyst

Once upon a time, housing policy was about building houses. The NHS had something to do with treating the sick. Schools were places where we sent our children to be educated. Social care supported society’s most vulnerable members. And social security was about guaranteeing an income for those who had no other means. In the 21st century, they won’t be talking about decent housing anymore, but about decent behaviour and decent neighbourhoods. The sick, in a throwback to the morality of the workhouse, will be divided into the deserving and undeserving of treatment. And the education system will be more interested in the contents of children’s stomachs than their minds. Social services will finally come to the conclusion that we’re all vulnerable now. And the social security system will be deemed unsustainable and prone to “timebombs,” as the working population gets sicker and older by the day. Despite this, the authorities will continue to claim to be improving “outcomes” and promoting our “wellbeing” despite our refusal to be officially “happy.” And we in turn will be rendered mute by an impenetrably empty rhetoric generated by a vacuous managerial political culture devoid of anything that might engage those it reluctantly courts only when it absolutely has to. And yet everybody will be urged to become “active” citizens.

Harvey Cole, businessman

The 70 years to 2077 in Britain fell into two phases. The first was a period of apprehension, dominated by fears that failed to materialise, in which political parties split along authoritarian- libertarian lines. The second period, of retreat, was triggered by the sudden combination of feedback from global warming, a failure of crops and water in Asia and the rapid spread of a series of pandemics. A new party, the Islanders, swept to power in Britain (which was relatively unaffected by disaster at first). It was dedicated to localism, but soon the disruption in the rest of the world led it to split into rival urban and rural segments. Life in large cities was disrupted by unreliable energy supplies, symbolised by the collapse of the City as lifts in office buildings worked only spasmodically. National government was displaced by local groups, increasingly armed. Conflicts over territory, food and resources escalated.

Robert Cooper, EU official

History, said Hegel, is the growing idea of freedom. In the 19th century, freedom came from the rule of law and the state. In this century, freedom will come from international law, but there is no international state. When Hegel wrote, the vital issues of the day—public health, workers’ rights, education, the franchise—were problems brought by industrialisation. These were solved through the national state, which brought an identity for people dislocated from the country, a legal framework for industry, and solutions for the problems it created. In the 21st century, the new forms of communication have brought us a new world and we need a new constitutional form too. The big question is how to organise this world in which politics and identity are national, but we can survive and prosper only if we act internationally. It is fine to talk about “the international community,” but who is it and how can it function?

Mark Cousins, film critic

By the end of the 21st century, politicians and the idea of the executive will have disappeared entirely. As everyone will be connected to some evolved form of the internet, all political decisions will be made by daily and weekly referendums. Right and left will still be underlying polarities, but will disperse into the hundreds of decisions a citizen will make annually. There will be no political class to pillory. Instead, the new dilemma will be how to delineate a constituency. By nation? Supranational region? Continent?

David Cox, writer and broadcaster

In the absence of ideological conflict, interest groups are likely to reclaim the political process as a means of pursuing advantage. The constituencies most likely to find themselves in significant contention are not represented by existing political organisations, so new formations and battlefronts are likely to emerge.

Age may become one important faultline. Young adults are being squeezed ever harder by their elders, who own most of the available wealth but expect their juniors to fund pensions and other privileges which they will not be able to enjoy in their turn. At the same time, the young are being bequeathed problems generated by their parents' self-indulgence, like climate change. These will further impoverish the relevant cohort and feed an appetite for redress.

Diane Coyle, economist

Technocracy against democracy. There are already important areas of public policy being run by experts rather than elected politicians, and run better than they were when electoral pressure affected outcomes: monetary policy is the obvious example. But there is a tension here. On one hand, new technologies give us hyper-democracy, rapid and massive populist pressure online. On the other, cognitive science and empirical social science build up a more reliable evidence base for technocrats about how people take decisions and what their consequences will be in practice.

William Davies, policy analyst

A new politics of autonomy has arrived. On the one hand, imperatives and strategies for reducing autonomy are growing by the day. Public services are increasingly coercive, where people refuse to act in a way that will increase their health or wealth. Rights are becoming housed in our bodies rather than our minds, as biometrics become the means of accessing services. On the other hand, we see an assembled group of autonomists—religious factions, businesses, libertarians, binge drinking hedonists—who assert their right to select a lifestyle. Set in contrast to biological and sociological expertise, the demands of these latter groups come to be appear irrational, quaint or plain wrong. The worry is that without any fundamental reason to respect individual and collective choices, democracy itself will become tarred with the same brush.

Geoff Dench, sociologist

The environmental crises which loom in the 21st century—not just because of climate change but also the timebombs of population growth and resource depletion—will see a revival of “centre vs periphery” issues, in place of right vs left. On one hand we will see the development of technology strengthening cosmopolitan tendencies, in particular through the growing supranational organisation of science and the accreditation of scientific expertise. But on the other, there will be a resurgence of nationalism around politics, asserting the collective ownership of natural resources rather than individual rights in productive property.

Overall we could see a return to an international order not unlike that under European feudalism. Hierarchies of political units devoted to husbanding their own(ed) lands would look to the new church—“universalist science,” probably in alliance with a number of re-oriented faith groups including Christianity and Buddhism—to secure the legitimacy and authority of their regimes, as protectors of the planet. Most political processes, both at global level and within smaller units, would be conducted by experts. And most political conflict would be between expert cosmopolitans, geared to the interests of larger communities, and locals. Democracy would be weak, as the causes supported by the largest numbers of individuals would often not be those in the best interests of the planet.

Meghnad Desai, economist

Left/right, north/south, east/west are dead. Politics will be global and/or personal. What little the state will be asked to do—mainly local issues—it will fail to do. People will devise their own solutions, however imperfectly. They will move across borders and create the preconditions of a global polity, not as a behemoth but as a beehive.

Ronald Dore, economist

The salient political fact will be class rigidity, the attenuation of social mobility under the combined inheritance effects of money, culture and genes. "Right" and "left" opposed the self-interest of the orthodox rich against the sympathies of the upwardly mobile for those they had left behind, plus the conscience of the deviant rich. In the two-nations future, the conscience of the rich will be on its own.

Two centuries ago, in the first two-nation era, Thomas Arnold offered the conscientious rich a classic statement championing "fraternity through greater equality" against liberty. "Knowing full well that [people] are not equal in natural powers, [nor in] artificial advantages; one of the falsest maxims which ever pandered to human selfishness under the name of political wisdom [is that] civil society ought to leave its members alone, each to look after their several interests, provided they do not employ direct fraud or force against their neighbour".

Anthony Dworkin, political writer

It is a fashionable illusion to suppose that the left/right distinction is obsolete. It remains the key ideological dividing line because it is not dependent on a particular set of social and political circumstances but is rooted in the central question of the purpose of collective public policy. Essentially, the left is more inclined to see the state as an enabling force that can improve the conditions and prospects of its citizens, while the right sees it more as a restrictive force that is best employed in preventing harm. Politics may be clustering in the centre, but differences of instinct and outlook remain important. Who can doubt that Gordon Brown and David Cameron, at heart, see the world in different ways?

The divide between these inclinations carries over to foreign policy. The left tends to see international politics as an arena for promoting development and wellbeing, while the right sees it more in terms of eliminating security threats or restrictions on trade. New issues like climate change or terrorism are not the exclusive preserve of left or right, but responses to them are likely to divide on recognisable left/right grounds. So although Iraq and questions of military intervention do not neatly map on to a left/right framework, there are clear differences between leftist interventionists (who emphasise universal values and human rights) and rightist ones (who emphasise security and the balance of power). There may be occasional coalitions that cut across the left/right dichotomy, but these won’t represent any cohesive ideology or broader view of the role of public policy—while the categories of left and right will continue to do so.�

March 2007 | 132 » The big question » The big question

The other Israelis

Young Arab Israelis in Nazareth after the funerals of two Arab men killed by Israeli police in October 2000, when angry demonstrations within Arab communities in northern Israel resulted in the deaths of 12 Arab citizens and one Palestinian from the territories.
Young Arab Israelis in Nazareth after the funerals of two Arab men killed by Israeli police in October 2000, when angry demonstrations within Arab communities in northern Israel resulted in the deaths of 12 Arab citizens and one Palestinian from the territories. (Courtney Kealey/Liaison)

The other Israelis

Emboldened by the Palestinian struggle, an emerging movement in Israel wants full equality for the country's Arab citizens. But that would mean redefining the nature of the Jewish state.

JERUSALEM -- When you think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what's likely to come to mind are the intifada, Hamas and Fatah, the West Bank and Gaza, road maps and roadblocks, and a story that seems to have no end. But there is another Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one just as old and as vexing, and no less a "time bomb" if not addressed: that between Israel and its own Arab citizens.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 left some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs refugees, but another 160,000 stayed put and became Israeli citizens. Today, Israel's Arab community numbers 1.2 million, constituting nearly a fifth of the country's population. By all material measures -- income, education level, unemployment -- they lag far behind the Jewish population, but they are also denied certain privileges guaranteed by law to the Jews. The Law of Return, for example, gives Jews from anywhere in the world, or their descendants or spouses, the right to show up and claim Israeli citizenship.

Israel's Declaration of Independence promises "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex." But the reality, as the Palestinian-Israeli historian Adel Mana'a told me, is that "I'm a 'subtenant' here, even though I was the 'owner' before the Jews came."

Members of the Arab population have clashed violently with authorities in the past, most notably in October 2000, when angry demonstrations within Arab communities in the Galilee resulted in the deaths of 12 Arab citizens and one Palestinian from the territories -- all but one, who was killed by Jewish rioters, were shot by the police.


Young Arab Israelis in Nazareth after the funerals of two Arab men killed by Israeli police in October 2000, when angry demonstrations within Arab communities in northern Israel resulted in the deaths of 12 Arab citizens and one Palestinian from the territories.
Young Arab Israelis in Nazareth after the funerals of two Arab men killed by Israeli police in October 2000, when angry demonstrations within Arab communities in northern Israel resulted in the deaths of 12 Arab citizens and one Palestinian from the territories. (Courtney Kealey/Liaison)

The other Israelis

Emboldened by the Palestinian struggle, an emerging movement in Israel wants full equality for the country's Arab citizens. But that would mean redefining the nature of the Jewish state.

JERUSALEM -- When you think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what's likely to come to mind are the intifada, Hamas and Fatah, the West Bank and Gaza, road maps and roadblocks, and a story that seems to have no end. But there is another Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one just as old and as vexing, and no less a "time bomb" if not addressed: that between Israel and its own Arab citizens.

The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 left some 700,000 Palestinian Arabs refugees, but another 160,000 stayed put and became Israeli citizens. Today, Israel's Arab community numbers 1.2 million, constituting nearly a fifth of the country's population. By all material measures -- income, education level, unemployment -- they lag far behind the Jewish population, but they are also denied certain privileges guaranteed by law to the Jews. The Law of Return, for example, gives Jews from anywhere in the world, or their descendants or spouses, the right to show up and claim Israeli citizenship.

Israel's Declaration of Independence promises "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex." But the reality, as the Palestinian-Israeli historian Adel Mana'a told me, is that "I'm a 'subtenant' here, even though I was the 'owner' before the Jews came."

Members of the Arab population have clashed violently with authorities in the past, most notably in October 2000, when angry demonstrations within Arab communities in the Galilee resulted in the deaths of 12 Arab citizens and one Palestinian from the territories -- all but one, who was killed by Jewish rioters, were shot by the police.


"American Muslims have bought into the American dream"

Paul Barrett: "American Muslims have bought into the American dream"

A new book goes beyond the stereotypes to examine the lives of seven American Muslims. We speak to the author, Paul Barrett, on how this often misunderstood community is evolving.

E pluribus muslim
American Muslims, before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, were largely an ignored group within American society. Yet even though American Muslims had nothing to do with those terrible events, they were later looked upon with intense scrutiny. Slowly, a picture was painted of them that resembled the worst of stereotypes from across the Muslim world - though in reality, most Americans would be hardpressed to identify Muslims from among them. As years went by and tensions became more visible in Europe, fears of terrorism were supplemented with those of domestic unrest and separatism. Even then, very few comprehensive studies of the American Muslim landscape were made available to understand exactly who this community was. Some statistics revealed a prosperous, well educated group that is decidedly more secular than Muslims in Europe. Yet despite this, an influential American Islam has emerged - as has been seen through noted convert scholars like Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and others - that appears to be stripped of traditional cultural influences from the Muslim world. Is the American Muslim experience largely a happy coincidence? Is it fostered by the lack of a single dominant immigrant identity? Or is it a result of the structure of American society itself. Paul Barrett, an editor at BusinessWeek, spent much of 2004 researching the American face of Islam through detailed interviews with seven of its adherents from various walks of life who explain their stories and journeys in great detail. The result is his new book, American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, published this month by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In it, he finds a generation secure in its identity as Americans and Muslims, confronting the problems they find with confidence, and determined to find - despite their diverse demography - an equilibrium that will bring about the best that their religion has to offer. It's a situation often envied by others in Europe, prompting British MP Shahid Malik, of Dewsbury, England, to comment recently, "America doesn't know how good it's got it." alt.muslim's Zahed Amanullah recently spoke to Paul about his book and the conclusions he reached.

What prompted you to research and write this book? Did you have your own preconceptions before you started?

Curiosity and ignorance. After editing many articles about Muslims and Islam abroad after 9/11, I realized I knew very little about Muslims in America. I began reporting and writing articles on the topic, and those articles grew into my new book.

Many in the US are afraid that the tensions that have occurred in Europe on a wide scale will happen in America and are desperate to prevent it. Have you found any evidence that this will happen for any reason, even with anger over Iraq and threats to civil liberties?

The degree of alienation and radicalism seen in the insular Muslim communities of Europe are less likely to occur here because American Muslims are already, as a whole, much better assimilated into American society. American Muslims, as a group, are better educated and more prosperous than Americans generally. American Muslims even register to vote at higher rates than Americans generally. In other words, most American Muslims have bought into the American dream. The same cannot be said about Muslims in Europe. I don't even know whether there is a "European Dream."

Still, Americans -- Muslim and non-Muslim alike -- should address the alienation and tension that do exist among American Muslims. We shouldn't ignore potential problems. All Americans deserve to feel included in the larger society. And, on the dark side, it only takes a few people, energized by dangerous ideology, to cause tremendous harm.

You describe Islam as practiced in America as "decentralised to the extreme." Is it just the standard of living afforded in America that keeps this decentralisation from turning into sectarianism, as we are witnessing in Iraq?

Islam as a religion is decentralized in the sense of there not being a clerical hierarchy that all or even most Muslims look to worldwide. In this country, there aren't Muslim denominations neatly equivalent to Christian denominations. There isn't a Muslim leadership here or abroad to which the majority of American Muslims defer.

But decentralization doesn't inevitably lead to sectarianism and violence. While there is tension at times between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the U.S., that animosity is diluted in the deep pool of pluralism that characterizes American society. Many Muslims here recognize that they have much in common, even across sectarian lines. Many immigrants have taken the ambitious step of crossing continents and oceans because they want to escape old world antagonisms, to pursue education, economic betterment, and a more hopeful life for their children. All these factors tend to diminish the ferocity of sectarian antipathies.

How "American" did you find American Muslims generally? Is American culture so enveloping and attractive that Muslims eventually take it as their own, as other immigrants have done for generations?

Let me start with an anecdote. Altaf Husain, the former national president of the Muslim Students Association, kindly participated in a panel discussion I organized recently in New York. He hoped to draw a group of Muslim college and graduate students to the event. Over dinner beforehand, he apologized, because he had failed to recruit this group. Why? They had told him: "Altaf, are you crazy? The panel is on Sunday night, and that's the Super Bowl!"

These were MSA members for whom religion and heritage presumably are central aspects of their lives. But they are also Americans, and an invitation on Super Bowl Sunday was a non-starter. We had an audience -- a highly mixed audience -- of more than 200, nevertheless!

I have found that Muslims in America are melding their faith, ethnic background, and the folkways of their adopted land in many different ways. There is no one formula, just as there hasn't been a formula for past immigrant groups. I've noticed that 2nd generation Muslims often embrace the faith with more enthusiasm than their parents, who may have played down their religious attachments. I don't have a clear sense how all this will play out over the decades. But I'm confident there won't be one story about how Muslims assimilate. There will be many stories.

Do you feel that the demographic diversity of Muslims themselves in the US - theologically, economically, and culturally - is part of what has prevented the societal disconnect that has occurred in Britain and other European countries? Or is it the other way around, where a dominant historical culture in Europe has excluded Muslims compared to the American model - a nation of immigrants?

You put your finger on an important point here. America is a nation of immigrants, and once immigrants begin to succeed -- materially, educationally -- Americans tend to begin to drop their prejudices and accept the "newcomers" as fellow achievers -- the American Dream of success. The fact that so many Americans are the children of immigrants has helped ease the adjustment of Muslims. In France, a Muslim immigrant will probably never be fully accepted as a Frenchmen. In the U.S., if you do well, the neighbors tend respect that and before long, the immigrant is at minimum a Something-American.

Do you think that the people that you interviewed represented an accurate cross section of Muslim America?

My subjects reflect the variety of American Islam. The seven main chapters offer seven stories of individuals, families, and local communities. Readers meet the devout and secular, immigrant and American-born, assimilated and alienated. The major subgroups of American Muslims are represented, although not necessarily in a precise statistical sense. My book is not intended as an academic study, but as a series of portraits of individuals, from whose lives the reader might gain insight into Muslim life in America. Both the particular and the aggregate have lessons to teach.

Is your intent to capture the spirit of the average Muslim, as opposed to the ones that make the news? If so, why spend so much time with high-profile Muslims such as Siraj Wahhaj and Asra Nomani?

I chose subjects whose lives illuminate important issues in a compelling way - the distinctive history of African-American Islam, for example, or the controversy over women's literal and figurative place in the mosque. I don't suggest that these lives are ordinary. They are suggestive, provocative, and stimulating. They will spur readers to think, and, I hope, they will make for good reading. The tensions and flux that surround my subjects also play a role in the lives of many "average Muslims."

Mustafa Saied's story was very moving - how his extremism was "deprogrammed" by an ideological challenge by "more mature and open-minded Muslims." Did this surprise you?

Very much so! I am still wondering how often this kind of round-trip journey to the ideological fringe and back again occurs. I'd love to hear from your readers whether Mustafa Saied's story is one-of-a-kind or less rare. His tale also suggests to me that extreme ideologies are not necessarily hard-wired. That's an important insight. People can be talked down from the ledge, so to speak, persuaded to rethink alarming ideas.

There seems to be a tendency, by both Muslims and non-Muslims, to characterise people in black and white, where a Muslim is labelled an extremist because of a political statement or a non-Muslim is characterised as an Islamophobe for having understandable fears. What do you feel can be done explicitly to counter this?

Well, the self-serving answer, of course, is read my book! I try to portray people in three dimensions and as evolving characters over time. As you suggest, few people are "black" or "white." To counter the natural human tendency to categorize and pigeonhole, we might all make more of an effort to meet "the other." Non-Muslims who actually know a Muslim are much less likely to hold prejudices against Muslims, according to polling by the Gallup Organization. Muslims who know Jews are much less likely to view all Jews as the enemy - and the same is true for Jews who know a Muslim - according to my personal experience.

Do you see an "American Islam" emerging, with values and practices particular to life in the US? Or do you see a multitude of "American Islams", each suited for their particular sub-community?

I am quite confident that in a country as large and varied as the U.S., there will never be a monolithic American Islam. There will be varying approaches to the religion. Many paths to the same goal, as spiritualists of various faiths sometimes put it.

You spent a lot of time in your book interviewing Muslim leaders and airing commentary about them. How well-served do you think American Muslims are by their religious and community leadership?

Well, first I'll quibble with your premise. I made a point of not basing my book on the press releases and staged demonstrations of national organizations such as CAIR and ISNA. I worked hard to meet people all around the country, regardless of organizational affiliation. In those instances when I focus on prominent people, such as Khaled Abou El Fadl or Siraj Wahhaj, I also took care to introduce people around them, to give a richer sense of their experience as Muslims.

In answer to your question, I would say that in many cases, Muslims haven't been all that well served by their leaders, whether you're talking about the imam at the local mosque or the officers of a national group. These leaders often haven't been very skilled in expressing the complicated views and concerns of their constituencies.

In the case of imams, it's my impression that many clerics have offered the public and the media a much more religiously conservative and insular perspective than that of their own worshipers. That failure may help explain why many Muslims, including those who consider themselves observant, tend to avoid the mosque. One issue Muslims are beginning to address is the training of imams in the U.S., in hopes that native-born clergy will have a better understanding of American society and more skill in relating to non-Muslims. That seems like a worthwhile initiative.

Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of alt.muslim. He is based in London, England.

Vice President Cheney Threatens Iran With War

image for Vice President Cheney Threatens Iran With War
Cheney outrages Australians

SYDNEY (Reuters) -- US Vice President Dick Cheney threatened Iran with war in a speech in Sydney, Australia on Friday, saying that Israel and Big Oil and Big Bankers "had ordered him" to make the threat.

"Iran interferes with Israel's ongoing theft of Palestinian land and with the anti-Palestinian aparthied system identified by Jimmy Carter in his new book," said Cheney. "Iran is also leading the world away from the US dollar and the USA is going broke cause the world pretty well stopped buying our worthless treasury bonds in December, and this will only get worse."

"So my masters in Tel Aviv and in New York and at Big Oil have ordered me to go to war against Iran," continued Cheney, "Just like they ordered me to go to war against Iraq. Just think of all that oil we can grab from Iran, just like we are grabbing from Iraq to boost the profits of Exxon Mobil!"

The VIP bluntly declared, "I would guess that that fool Senator John McCain and I are pretty close to agreement on this, since we are both in the pockets of the same lobby groups: oil, Israel, and the war industry."

"Since I am the chief architect of the illegal US-led invasion of Iraq, I can do anything I want since the world community doesn't have the nuts to try me and George for what we really are: war criminals," boasted Cheney.

"Who cares if Iran sinks both of our US aircraft carrier groups there with those supersonic Russian cruise missiles?" he continued. "Our soldiers have no future anyway and they might as well end up in body bags rather than being homeless and without medical care and jobless in America. Giving their lives and blood for oil and Israel and US t-bills is a really good thing to do."

Cheney provided no evidence at all to back his bald assertion that Iran is seeking to build nuclear weapons.

"Everyone knows that Iran's uranium enrichment program is peaceful and is not trying to build nuclear bombs, which Israel and the USA already have in abundance," said Cheney. "Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), any country has the right to pursue the peaceful uses of nuclear power as Iran is doing. After all, Iran's oil supplies are limited."

"In fact, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found that all of the allegations by the CIA and the US government are an unfounded pack of lies," admitted Cheney. "There is absolutely no positive evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program."

"The US and Israeli accusations are completely two-faced and hypocritical," continued Cheney. "The Bush administration gave the green light to India to speed up the manufacture of nuclear weapons by concluding an agreement with New Delhi last year to lift the restrictions imposed after India's 1998 nuclear tests. Of course, we do not insist that our close ally Israel signs the NPT and give up its load of nuclear weapons."

Cheney pushed the menace of "terrorism" by resorting to further lies and half-truths, repeating the unproven claim that the Iranian regime is supplying weapons to anti-US freedom fighters in Iraq.

"Meanwhile my government has embarked on a war of terrorism against Iran by exploding bombs and killing babies and children there, funding opposition parties, and generally killing and maiming everyone we can," he stated. "The idiots in the Australian government are naturally going along with all these utterly corrupt US policies. If you Aussies had any balls you would thrown the government out on its ear and hang the traitors."

Cheney concluded his speech by saying, "The beleaguered Bush administration requires more than its present litany of lies to wage a new war of aggression against Iran. To drown out and intimidate widespread public opposition and to energize our fascist social base, we desperately need a new terrorist outrage which we can easily fabricate, just like we did when our CIA orchestrated 9/11 with Mossad by staging that false flag operation. Oink!"

Written by Felix

25 February 2007