- May 28, 2008
BOOK EXCERPT: The Catastrophe, Fighting Extremism to Build a Palestinian State
“Not enough just to denounce terrorism and extremism” – The issue of denouncing extremism and the extremists is a far more complex issue than most people think. Americans often ask, “Why don’t Muslims and Arabs denounce the extremists?” Or, “Why don’t Muslims and Arabs denounce extremism and terrorism?” The truth is that the leadership of the Arab American and Muslim American community do denounce the extremists. They have denounced the high profile extremists like Osama Bin Laden. They have denounced the concepts of extremism and terrorism. But, what Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have not done is they have not denounced the extremism in their own midst. They have not denounced the extremist leaders who are below the American public’s radar screen, the real enablers who make it possible for the larger community to unknowingly through frustrations and feelings of being victimized support the extremists, extremist acts and politics and policies that “enable” extremism and terrorism and the high profile extremists and the terrorists.
What Arab Americans and Muslim Americans have not done is to speak out against the apologists who recognize that the American public demands that we speak out against extremism, and they give them only what they think they want. They only go so far in denouncing extremism. They only go so far in denouncing terrorism. They denounce terrorism as a concept, but not as a specific incident of immoral violence. They point to their enemies like the Government of Israel which employs a form of terrorism in its brutal occupation and repression of the Palestinian people, as an example of extremism and terrorism that they charge and believe are accepted by the very American people who demand that they, the Arabs and Muslims, denounce extremism and terrorism. Why don’t the American people ALSO demand that Israelis and Jewish Americans denounce their terrorism, too?
They have a legitimate point. Why don’t Americans denounce the violence and the extremism and even the state-sponsored terrorism of the Government of Israel? A terrorism that involves the targeting of alleged Arab and Islamic terrorists – alleged, accused but never prosecuted for crimes and never convicted of anything – and then in the process of targeting them, kill scores of innocent civilians. They then find the excuse to say why their killing of civilians is somehow different than the killing of civilians by Hamas, an Islamist terrorist organization that has a religious goal to convert Palestine into an Islamic Republic, not a national state.
The point is that what Israel has done is wrong. But what Israel has done is not and cannot be an excuse or a reason to stop short of doing the right thing. Just because Israel kills civilians – claiming it is somehow excusable because, they assert, they do not “target” the civilians and Hamas and Palestinian militant groups, do – Arab and Muslims cannot then stop short of doing the right thing. And the right thing is to denounce not only the high profile terrorists but the enablers of terrorism, those who allow extremists to come into our community and promote the extremists and the terrorists in a very sophisticated and subtle manner.
These extremists know that the Arab and Muslim communities live with great frustration. They watch the hypocrisies and the double standards of American foreign policy that says it is okay for Evangelical Christians to slander and insult Muslims, but when Muslims speak out against political policies of a government, they are ostracized and singled out for attack. They watch as Israel kills far more civilians than Hamas, and yet it is Hamas that is denounced in the U.S. Congress as a terrorist organization while Israel’s government, which directs the military operations that have killed far more civilians than the Palestinians have killed, receives billions of dollars in funding and accolades, praise and pandering support. They watch as American forces commit acts of war crimes and see that oftentimes the punishment of the soldiers who violate the rules of engagement are excused, or only lightly punished, and then cheered as heroes here in the United States. They watched as enablers in the United States twist and turn international terrorist acts into the foundation of policies that undermine broader political agendas of special interest lobbying groups like AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). They saw how Israeli leaders took the unjustified terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001 and turned it into a battle strategy to undermine the legitimacy of the Palestinian cause. They watched as Americans naively allowed themselves to be manipulated by pro-Israel apologists into believing that Hamas is somehow the same as al-Qaeda simply because the two groups do engage in acts of terrorism that target civilians. Yet Hamas is not an anti-American movement, as the Israelis want the American people to believe, hoping to undermine the Palestinian cause and convince Americans that the legitimate grievances that the majority of Palestinians have who do not engage in terrorism are unjust. Hamas is not al-Qaeda, except in the eyes of an Israeli government extremist who uses terrorism and violence to steal the lands of Palestinians, push civilians from their homes, kills innocent civilians under the guise of seeking to kill accused but never convicted or charged “terrorists,” and who embrace abuses of Palestinian civil rights not just in the occupied territories but also in Israel.
The Arab and the Muslim people see these hypocrisies and they become ripe for the picking for the terrorists in our community who know that frustration is the fuel for their agendas. They know that the hypocrisy of American foreign policy fuels the frustrations of the Arab and Muslim people and that these frustrated publics become their unwilling allies. Since Sept. 11, the extremists and those who enable terrorism through the promotion of extremism in the community have recognized that they have had to dance a two-step. They have had to walk a fine line. On the one hand they know they MUST denounce the high profile extremists and terrorists like Bin Laden, but they also know that the American people are naïve. The American people are the most educated people in the world, but the least educated about the world. They know that the American people are not educated about the diversity of the Arab and Muslim people. They see all Arabs as a monolithic people, rather than the diversified and sophisticated culture that the word “Arab” represents. Americans easily confuse Hamas and al-Qaeda even though one is an extremist group bent on a campaign to defeat Israel, driven by a just cause and championing the rights of an oppressed people. Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization is a terrorist group that is bent on the destruction of the United States. It is not a movement that rose from oppression, but rather from privilege and extremist religious zealotry and ideology. Hamas is a terrorist organization that has taken legitimate resistance to Israel’s extremist government policies – not all Israelis are extremists either but they clearly fail to speak out as a people against the immoral acts of their own government – and exploited it to achieve an extremist agenda, to seek an extremist objective. An extremist goal. Hamas is correct in denouncing Israeli policies, but it is incorrect in its rejection of compromise.
It is the rejection of compromise that makes organizations and movements extremist. And these organizations in different circumstances cannot be lumped together as one group simply because the American people are too naïve to recognize the differences. In lumping Hamas with al-Qaeda, American extremists in the government and in our society are in fact commiting an immoral crime. They are taking the majority of the Arab and Muslim people who have legitimate grievances and lumping them together with the extremist and fanatic leaders and groups who do not have legitimate grievances. It is opportune for Israel’s extremist leaders – not all Israeli government officials are extremist but many like Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netayahu are terrorists enablers of a different color – to feed the American naiveté and assert that the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people against the immoral acts of the Government of Israel are in fact the same as the illegitimate claims and absurd logic of the al-Qaeda fanatics who without a moment of remorse can kill 3,000 innocent civilian lives – and it isn’t just 3,000 lives. Bin Laden believed that his terrorist dupes, the 19 brainwashed hijackers may have killed as many as 50,000 Americans. Remember, no one knew the extent of the deaths during those first few days. As far as Bin Laden was concerned, the initial reports that estimated as many as 50,000 innocent civilians had been killed in the two towers were accurate. The fact that it turns out that far less were murdered does not alleviate his criminal belief and hope that more had died.
Yet the destruction of the World Trade Center by al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked the United States simply because they disagree with our foreign policies and because they hope to frighten Western interests into leaving the Islamic World is not the same as even a terrorist suicide bombing against an Israeli civilian target by a person who believes that the Israelis have stoeln his land, stolen his lives, and imposes policies on the ground that result in the killing of scores of innocent Palestinians civilians. They are NOT the same. They are different forms of terrorism, one driven by fanaticism, and one driven by extremism. Yet the distinctions in fanaticism and extremism are not concepts Americans care to understand at all. Yet Americans MUST understand these distinctions. They must recognize the differences between Palestinian resistance, including the immoral acts of terrorism used by SOME segments of the Palestinian resistance movement, and the violence of al-Qaeda and other fundamental fanatic Islamicist groups.
The Middle East is one of the most important regions in the world today. What happens in that region more than 9,000 miles ffrom theshores of the United States, does have a direct impact on our nation not just in terms of the various conflicts, but also in terms of impacting our economy, and changing the world’s opinions. It is therefore importan tthat Americans stop being stupid. Stop swallowing the simplistic propaganda that is spoon fed into their minds by the extremists in the Israeli government. Stop defining issues in Black and White, and start recognizing the complexities of issues and recognize that the bottom line is that the majority of Arabs and Muslims respect and love the American people. Yet they also are legitimately angry at many American foreign policies that contradict the very principles Americans insist they represent. Americans say they support freedom, yet they support Israeli government policies that strip rights from Palestinians simply because those Palestinians are Muslim and Christian. Americans don’t even know that Arabs are also Christian and they view the Christian Arabs as an anomaly that are foresaken and sacrificed to American foreign policy ignorance.
After Sept. 11, 2001, I had a woman come up to me and say, “I can’t believe you abandoned your Christian faith to become an Arab.” That ridiculous and stupid and uneducated notion is symptomatic of the narrow span of American education and understanding of the Middle East.
It must change.
There is a real battle being waged below the radar screen in the Arab and Muslim community here in the United States and in the Arab and Islamic World that Americans are too uneducated to recognize and see. This battle is being waged between extremists and moderates. The moderates have legitimate grievances, for example, against Israel. But they are pragmatists and recognize that they MUST compromise for the sake of a larger cause of ending a conflict that has been spiralling out of control for more than a century in Palestine and in the Middle East region.
Palestinian moderates do not believe that Palestine should have been divided by the United Nations Partition or by the conflict that followed. They believe that Palestine should have remained One-State, where Christians, Muslims and Jews could have lived together in peace and with equal rights. That notion of true Democracy contradicts the American notion of giving the Jewish people a “homeland.” But what began as a simple “homeland” quickly transformed into a Jewish-only State where Jews and non-Jews live together with different rights in Israel, and where basic human rights are strengthened for Jewish settlers but denied to Christian and Muslim Arabs in the occupied West Bank. Yet despite these differences, moderates in the Arab and Muslim World believe that time has changed the reality on the ground. While the principles and the Rule of Law may exist, the reality of today’s world has altered the dynamics of what can and what cannot be.
The extremist Arabs and Muslims want to return to a Palestine of the 1920s before the influx of Jewish immigrants thrown out of their lands by Western nations in Europe and denied entry into the Untied States during the rise of the Nazi repression – yes, Americans today sympathize with the victims of the Holocaust yet were the same people who refused to allow these Jewish refugees to escape Nazi persecution until they were drawn into World War II not by the Nazis but by the Imperial Nation of Japan when they attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. Americans did not enter World War II to save the Jews. They did it out of outrage and anger at Japan.
The moderate Arabs and Muslims recognize that the World is not always a fair place to live. We know that the World is filled with injustice and wrongs, many of which may never be righted nor avenaged through by the civilized concept of justice. They know that while Israel continues to engage in extremism and violence and terrorism of its own, the violence on both sides is fed by the conflict. They know that despite Israel’s injustices, they must compromise. They must accept and support and advocate for a Two-State Solution that was rejected in 1948 but that through historical events that today cannot be changed is now the only real solution to the conflict. The moderate Arabs and Muslims alsoknow that the conflict in the Middle East is like a battery that powers the extremists and the violence and the terrorism. The moderates recognize they must stop the conflict first in order to stop the extremism and the violence and the terrorism.
Yet when Americans fail to see the distinctions between these two groups, and how the injustice of the past plays into the reality of today, the American people unwittingly become complicit in the ongoing conflict. American foreign policy has fed the extremists, too. American foreign policy is not the CAUSE of Sept. 11, 2001, but it is the cause of injustices in the Middle East that have allowed Bin Laden and the terrorists like him to intimidate the masses of Arabs and Muslims into acquiessence and silence. Bin Laden takes the everyday suffering of the Arab, the Muslim and the Palestinian people and turns it into an argument that the West is basically driving the injustices they experience. And when you live surrounded by injustice and the only word on the bombs that fall into your homes and kill your children are the words “Made in the United States,” you can easily fall prey to the fanatics and the extremists. Palestinians watch as their lands are being stolen by Israel, as their children are being killed and worse, as their intelligence is being insulted by people who simply do not understand the fundamentals of the principles of justice that they insist are the foundation of freedom.
There is a war going on not just in the Middle East but in the Arab and Muslim communities and Americans need to educate themselves about it. They also must recognize that not everything Israel does is right. They must start asking the hard questions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because that conflict which has been raging for nearly 100 years is the foundation of all of the extremism and fanaticism that continues to grow in the Middle East. Americans need to see the clear distinctions that exist between criticizing Israel and the hatred against Jews. Americans need to see the difference between legitimate resistance to an illegal military occupationt hat violates fundamental laws of human decency and the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001. Americans need to recognize that a moderate is someone who embraces compromise that is just and fair, and they need to support those moderates and stop taking sides. Americans need to view the resolution of the Middle East conflict in a new context of fairness, justice and true compromise. Israel and the Palestinians must be treated the same, otherwise the moderates in the Arab World will eventually disappear. And the secular Arab World will one day be replaced by the religious Islamic World, a fanatic religious movement that is working to undermine the true essence of Islam, a religion of peace and destroy the voices of Muslim moderation. The conflict is far larger than the narrowly defined parameters of “us” versus “them” as was outlined by a naïve President George W. Bush after Sept. 11, 2001.
A secular Arab can compromise. A religious fanatic can never compromise. A secular Arab, even though they may view what happened in 1948 as an injustice, can accept Two-States as a compromise and reparations and compensation for the victims of the conflict, incuding the Palestinian Refugees. But a religious fanatic can never compromise. A religious fanatic cannot compromise on faith.
Compromise as a concept is in fact a form of “principled corruption.” What that means is that you can violate a fundamental right in the interests of achieving a safer and non-violent future life. Compromise is a secular notion, not a religious notion. Religious fanatics can never compromise on faith because in doing so they undermine the principles of that faith. They believe that they will be rewarded by God in Heaven after they die and therefore they must stand by their principles, right or wrong, until the very end. Sacrificing their own lives, as they are continually doing throughout the Middle East, and doing so willingly.
The battle is not between Israel and the Palestinians. The real war is between the moderates and the extremists and the sad reality is that the American people who embrace principles of justice, fairness, morality, Democracy, freedom of speech and civil rights, have not yet suited up for that fight as the moderates that they are. We need to stand together and recognize that everything is not Black and White. That much of today’s World is Gray. Compromise is Gray.
(This essay is an excerpt from the book “The Catastrophe: The One-State Solution is the No-State Solution. How Palestinians can stand up to the extremists and create a Palestinian State” by award winning journalist Ray Hanania. This chapter essay may be reprinted in full and with proper atribution. For more information on purchasing the book, visit http://www.hanania.com.)