Thursday, September 27, 2007

Zionism, US foreign policy, and Muslim Terrorism

Because of propaganda directed at the West, by Al Qaida and Palestinian terrorist groups, it is easy for some of us (either because of wishful thinking or well-meaning humanistic ideals) to be convinced that terrorism is a desperate, pained response by the Muslims to real or perceived injustices. If somehow we could only redress these greivances, we could get to the root cause of terrorism. This is the standard narrative of the Left here in Israel and liberals in America. Never mind that there isn't any evidence for this being true, given our experience with terrorism (particularly that it INCREASES any time we make gestures, concessions, or attempt to make agreements).
For those of you who have any doubt about the matter, I advise you to read this. Basically, the author shows that propaganda directed to western liberal audiences (particularly the message that terrorism is punishment for Western misbehavior, and promises to stop if certain conditions are met) is psychological warfare, while in propaganda to Arabs no mention is made of Zionist or American crimes. Rather, the issue is the fundamental Muslim attitude towards the kufr, the non-believer.
These Muslims harbor resentment over their status of inferiority in relation to the western world. In any measurable sphere of human progress-- economic, scientific, technological, and political-- they are behind. The fact that the kufr is more powerful than them and not subservient is unacceptable in their theology. In their view the Quran commands them to fight the kufr until defeat or until they convert to Islam.
The Palestinian cause has been effectively hijacked by Islamicism. It is no longer about nationalism, because they could have had their Palestinian state along time ago. The Palestinian terrorists' narrative is that of unending Islamic resistance to the heretics and their control over "Islamic lands".
Our strategy is to utterly defeat them, or bring them to the point where they feel that their cause is hopeless.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Moral Psychology, Columbia U and Ahmadinejad

The recent controversy surrounding Ahmadinejad's visit to New York and the audience granted to him at Columbia highlights the moral dilemmas and conflicting values inherent in liberal Western values. While most of the media and politicians refer mainly to the limitations of the right to freedom of speech, in reality the differences of opinion on this matter reflect a deep- seated argument about morality that goes to the core of our values. By the time this essay appears I assume that much will have been said about the Iranian president's visit; therefore in this essay I will focus on the broader controversy regarding the source of our morality, using the visit as an example for analysis.

In the past few years several books have been published espousing atheism. Books by Richard Dawson, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris are among the most popular recent entries into the fray. The books have generated much controversy and public reaction. Although the specifics of their styles and focus are different, the thrust of these books boils down to three main points: 1. Science, and not religion, has proven itself useful in finding answers to questions about our physican world. 2. Religion accounts for much, of not most of the evil in the world. 3. The multitude of incompatible and conflicting religious beliefs, combined with the internal inconsistencies in each, demonstrate their falsehood. All of the authors come to the same conclusion: The world would be a better place without religion. While I don't want to foray into this endless debate, I want to focus on the specific claim regarding morality: that a godless, liberal, western and rational society represents the best morality available.

Dawkins and his ilk propose that rational, fair-minded thinking is capable of producing ethics on par with those of religious communities. But what kind of ethics? While one could easily agree on the most basic tenets of humanity, such as not killing, stealing, and the provision of justice, it is beyond this point the moral systems of the religious and atheist diverge. Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at the University of Virginian, wrote an excellent essay entitled "Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion". (available online at ) Haidt speaks of 5 components of our moral sensibilities, which are functions of both our intellect and emotional makeup. (1) harm/care; (2) fairness/reciprocity; (3) ingroup/loyalty; (4) authority/respect; and (5) purity/sanctity (the sense that certain things are noble or repulsive). According to Haidt, the first 2 components make up the "contractual" model of morality, which holds the individual as the highest unit of value.

Accordingly, in this liberal world view, the ultimate ethic is to avoid harm and suffering to the individual and increase happiness. In contrast, in the religious, conservative world view, components 3,4 and 5 take no less an important role. Haidt calls this the "beehive" model, in that while the individual has rights, these are no less important than his responsibilities to the cohesivenes of the group. These responsibilities are reinforced by respect towards authority, loyalty towards one's group (whatever it may be), and a common sense of what is worthwhile and what is not. These are psychological mechanisms that help suppress the human tendency towards selfishness, and reinforce generosity, self-sacrifice and loyalty. One can assume that the "liberal" atheist outlook contains these ethical concepts as well, but they are emphasized to a much lesser degree. Furthermore, without the "myth" of religion, or national or ethnic narrative, these components of morality are much harder to maintain.

Let us now return to our case of Mr. Ahmadinejad. The liberal, secular ethic would emphasize the ultimate "fairness" of protecting the free speech of even a hostile non-citizen. Furthermore, this freedom is necessary in order to protect the individual from the potential "harm/suffering" of suppression of expression. In contrast, the "religious" view, while acknowledging the need to not harm people, nonetheless underlines the need to protect the "unit" of society, in terms of security and cohesiveness. Furthermore, it acknowledges and validates the human sense of "revulsion" that we have towards our declared enemy, thus not granting him the same treatment given to our own group.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Article from Magazine "Duh!"

Here is a product of the 3000 year old accumulated Jewish intelligence:

Cabinet votes Gaza a 'hostile entity'

2 years ago we withdrew from Gaza. Since then, this "entity" has demonstrated non-stop hostility towards Israel, with daily attempts at bombing, shootings, infiltrations and rocket attacks on civilian targets. Meanwhile, we supply them with electricity, water, fuel and food. We also allow their workers to come into Israel for work. Then, if we threaten to stop materially supporting our enemies, we are accused of collective punishment.

The absurdity of this situation is a function of what Richard Dawkins calls "shifting moral zeigeist". Basically, this means that moral standards shift over time. Rights take precedence over responsibilities. During WWII or during the Vietnam War, the US or Britain could firebomb entire areas and kill civilians indiscriminately, who paid the price of the war effort. This same behavior would now be considered unacceptable, among Western powers. Nowadays the "rights" of the individual to safety (in our case the Palestinians) take precedence over the right or responsibility that Israel has to defend its citizens. It is also more important than the Palestinians' responsibility to prevent rockets being forward from their land. So Israel has to equivocate and do pilpul (talmudic back and forth analysis) before even turning off electricity in Gaza.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Iranian Nukes

I propose that Ehud Olmert forward the following email to the leader of Iran:

TO: Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the entire Iranian leadership

FROM: The Jewish State

SUBJECT: Your nuclear "project"

Dear Mr. President,

Of late there has been much discussion regarding nuclear technological development in your country. Although you deny the intention to develop nuclear weapons, it is unclear what belies your evasiveness, stonewalling and diplomatic maneuvering. Furthermore, your expressed desire to wipe our country "off the map" makes your hostile intentions towards us quite clear (if you mean what you say).

As a signatory to the NNPT you have a right to nuclear technology for civilian peaceful purposes, and Israel has no intention in interfering with this. But let me be crystal clear in stating, that Israel has no intention of allowing you to "wipe" us off the map, or allowing to you to possess the means to do so. We will vigorously defend our right to exist in our land, and will do whatever is required to secure that right. I believe that recent events in Syria adequately demonstrate our willingness and ability to do so.

Whatever your attitudes are towards the West in general or Israel specifically, we have no a priori hostile intent towards you and have no wish for war. However, as the leader of my country I will not shy away from the responsibility of defending the world's sole Jewish state from destruction, by you or anybody else.

For the sake of all peoples in the region, I call upon you to openly and fully cooperate with the IAEC's effort to verify your compliance with the NNPT and to confirm your development of solely civilian nuclear capabalities.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

What happened in Syria?

The fog about the recent IDF incident in Syria leaves us curious and thirsty for more information. What really happened there?

Lacking inside information (even Debkafile doesn't know!), but by reconstructing a few known facts we can try to guess:

1. Even by Syrian reports this was not an accidental or incidental foray across Syria's border. It was a deep infiltration via its northwestern coastal frontier to its central-eastern sector. Yet the planes were reportedly only fired upon upon their exit to the northwest.

2. The Syrians waited a full 12 hours before reporting the infiltration. This perhaps means that they were deliberating what information to release or to report on it at all. In other words, they appear to be concealing something, perhaps the targets, or the degree to which their anti-aircraft systems failed. Note that Russia was one of the first countries to condemn the raid.

3. The dumping of the fuel tanks appears to be an evasive maneuver. On their way out the planes were detected and being fired upon, but without being hit. (One can assume that if planes were downed we would know about it from gleeful Syrians)

4. What does the Israeli silence mean? There was probably a secret, sensitive mission (beyond routine surveillance), which, either 1. did not go as planned or 2. succeeded. My impression is of the latter, because if there was a failure we would be hearing leaks and people blaming each other for it. The smug, self-confident denials (and almost uncharacteristic total silence from govenrment officials) makes me believe that the mission was succesful, or that they are waiting for intelligence assessments of the mission.

5. What could the mission have been? Possibilities include 1. a probing of the Syrian/Russion/Iranian air defense systems. 2. destruction of the above system. My guess is the first, as an attack on a military target would be a clear provocation to war in which Israel is not interested at this point.

Islam and Terrorism

Five Reasons that western intellectuals give for terrorism and the Arabs/Muslims hatred of the west:

1. Israel's oppression of the Palestinians and lack of a Palestinian state
2. America's support for Israel
3. America's support for non-democratic Arab/Muslim regimes
4. Poverty and economic backwardness of Arabs
5. Western exploitation of Muslims (oil)

And Five Reasons why they are wrong...

1. Every time Israel and the Palestinians get close to some kind of peace agreement terrorism increases. The Palestinians would have had their state a long time ago were it not for Hamas and the second intifada.

2. Osama bin Laden couldn't care less about the Palestinians, whose lot only worsened after 9/11. If suddenly there were Pal-Israel peace, would Ibn Laden go away? Would Muslims stop blowing up Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, Ssudi Arabia, Sudan?

3. The Arab world is not ready for democracy. What happened when Algeria, Gaza and Iraq tried to democratize? Islamic fundamentalists took over and guess what? terrorism. America has supported plenty of non democratic govenments in its history, without promoting terrorism. The 9/11 terrorists came from well off families, professional men.

4. Poverty and economic backwardness abounds in Africa, South America, and parts of Asia. Impoverished Hindus, Vietnamese, Brazilians, Cubans? No terrorism.

5. There is economic interdependence between OPEC countries and the west, not exploitation. The west's economy needs oil, and OPEC's countries get huge amounts of cash.

The west's excuses are just wishful thinking and adopting of the Islamists own narrative. If only WE would be good the terrorists will go away...

So, what are the real reasons?

1. Arabs and fundamentalist Muslims are offended by Western infidels' dominance of the world and their own backwardness. This contradicts their religious expectations, sensibilities, history and sense of justice.

2. As much as they hate the West, they hate even more their own co-religionists who cooperate with the West. Thus their first goal is to topple "pro-western" muslim and Arab regimes.

3. A global economy and technological development have allowed previously impossible activities for terrorists. Cheap Asian made weapons, cellphones, internet and computers have given terrorists access to the logistics and coordination previously available only to governments or large organizations. While guerrilla warfare and terrorism also existed in the past, it was much harder and much less deadly. So now the fundamentalists have new tools at their disposal. They are empowered with new abilities.

4. The Islamists understand the modern West's weaknesses and how to exploit them: tolerance, sensitivity to suffering and loss of human life, democratic systems of government.

Despite the differences, there are remarkable similarities between the rise of Islamicism and the rise of Fascism. They are populist movements, led by demagogues who take advantage of the inferiority complex of peoples, fueled by resentment from real or imagined grievances, and whose growing power and danger are underestimated by liberal western societies. Western attempts at appeasement only encourage the Islamists and strengthen them.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Here are my favorite Israel news analysis web sites

Recommended sites:
  • Ynet-- The online version of Yediot Achronot, Israel's leading daily, available in Hebrew and English. Its a bit sensationalist, but overall gives fairly accurate headlines.
  • Jerusalem Post-- The leading English newspaper. The English editing is a bit weak, sometimes a bit dull, and the coverage is shallow at times. Editorial slant fairly centrist, with columnists representing both liberal and conservative views.
  • GPlanet-- Dr. Guy Bechor, if the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. News analysis and opinion. Provides very interesting essays regarding current events, from the point of view of an expert on Middle East affairs. Hebrew and English.
  • JCPA-- Excellent articles and essays on Israel, from a strategic, military and diplomatic perspective, in English.
  • Google News-- gives excellent coverage of the region, with often interesting news and analysis from foreign, including Arab, sites.
  • Israel National News-- English news site operated by Arutz 7, the right wing national religious station. The news stories are accurate, and right wing editorial for those who care to read them. Also, the site features good-news type human interest stories about life in Israel.
Not Recommended:
  • Haaretz-- a far left, anti-Zionist newspaper with poor editorial standards. Blatant editorial bias in news stories and headlines, and no accountability for inaccuracies. Haaretz does have a good financial section.
  • Debkafile-- A neo-con news and analysis website that claims to reveal behind the scenes scoops on current events. Basically conspiratorial and unreliable. Most of their "predictions" turn out to be false and their "sources" are questionable. They take bits of information, some reliable and some not, and weave them into an overall theory to fit their "spin"-- usually doom and gloom, neocon. Sometimes entertaining.

This is me on a cruise in Eilat, during my tiyul (leisure trip) with work. In the background is the Jordanian mountain range, off Aqaba.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Human rights in the era of terrorism

Once again Israel is being dragged through the tar by human rights organizations who claim that we targeted civilians indiscriminately during the second Lebanon war.

For the purpose of this argument, let us, for the moment, disregard the fact that Hizbullah intentionally targeted civilians, and that they hid their terrorist infrastructure within their own civilian population. The key question here is, what is deterrence? The doctrine of deterrence applies to the balance of power between states. It applied particularly during the cold war, but is an essential part of the defense doctrine of all western countries. In an era of missiles, warplanes, nuclear weapons, how do we defend our civilians? We say to our potential attacker, that whatever you do to us, we can do back to you even more harshly. If you attack our cities, we can attack yours. Otherwise, what's the use of deterrence, if, when your own population is attacked, you only attack "proportionately" again military targets only?

What other self defense is available in a situation, where rockets cannot be interecepted and cannot be located?

Israel acted correctly in bombing civilian and infrasructure targets. Now the Arabs know that we will not hesitate to massively bomb them if they bomb us. This is deterrence!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Cause and Effect

One of the adaptive abilities developed by higher forms of life, especially in humans, is the ability to learn from our environment. At the most basic level we learn an association between 2 events (such as in classic conditioning). Many animals can do that. We humans, as we grow, also develop the ability to discern causality, in that we are able to distinguish, given 2 associated events, between cause an effect.
Apparently the Palestinians, stuck in their collective psychopathology, lack this skill.
The recent justifications by the Palestinians for the continued Qassam rocket fire at Sderot illustrates this. This reminds me of a maladjusted child, who misbehaves and is punished for his actions, and who then protests and misbehaves even more, claiming that he misbehaved only because of the actions of those around him who are only responding to his offensive behavior. The Palestinians, like the child, confuse cause and effect (or pretends to). Everybody knows (except the Pals themselves) that if the Palestinians were not perpetrating terrorist actions from Gaza, there would be no need for the legitimate security measures that Israel is taking, such as the closures, etc. Further reinforcing this pathology is the international community which refers to the "cycle of violence", thus absolving the Palestinians from responsibility.
Another explanation is that the Palestinians know very well the cause and effect, that the Kassams have nothing to do with Israel's behavior but more to do with internal Palestinian power struggles.
Probably the truth lies in a combination of the two.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Self-hating Israeli news reporters

This article speaks for itself and confirms what I have said about many of Ha'aretz writers' unabashed anti-Israel bias.

Zionist Federation cancels Haaretz journalist
Columnist Danny Rubinstein reportedly likens Israel to apartheid South Africa

According to Alan Dershowitz's criteria, this kind of writing borders on anti-Semitism, while disproportionately demonizing and singling out of Israel for criticism, in the context of dozens of nationalistic struggles worldwide.

So now Danny Rubenstein can join the Avraham Burg club of Israel and Jew bashers.

I have found good summary articles from the excellent CAMERA site, regarding Ha'aretz's questionable editorial standards and anti-Israel bias; they can be found here and here

By no means should readers expect to obtain a balanced, responsible or objective view of events in Israel from Ha'aretz.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

It's not all bad

Perhaps, because of the selected emphasis of this blog, I have created an overly negative impression of events in Israel. So, on order to set the record straight, let's take note of a few additional facts:

1. The economy is continuing to grow at a healthy pace of 5-6% per year. A recent report by the IMF rates Israel's per capita income, at $31,767, placing it number 18 of the developed countries, on par with France, Germany and Italy. This is a remarkable acheivement, given Israel's challenges. About a month ago I attended a lecture by Dr. Stanley Fischer, the governor of the Bank of Israel, who is optimistic about Israel's economy. The interest rates here are lower than the US, the currency is strong with low inflation, we have large foreign currency reserves, a trade surplus, a balanced national budget, decreasing national debt and declining unemployment. All of these are basic indicators of a healthy economy. Liberalization and privatization in various sectors in the economy continues unabated

2. Israel has learned the lessons of the failures of the last war in Lebanon. Ground forces have undergone extensive additional training, and an effective short range rocket interception system is currently in the advanced stages of development. Despite the foulups of the last war, no country in the region is in a mood for a bruising fight with Israel, despite the rhetoric. The main cost of the war was an erosion of the Arab's sense that we can't be defeated, thus delaying the eventual realization that they have no choice but to make peace with us. Undoubtedly Israel faces new challenges with the potential of a nuclearized Iran, but I think that we are up to the challenge.

3. Israel has an excellent nationalized health care system based on rational allocation of resources and accessibility to all. It's not perfect, but on par with good systems in Europe. Nothing like the system presented in "Sicko".

Just to keep things in perspective...