Thursday, August 09, 2007

Covenantal Integrity

I'm sorry I haven't written much this week. But I just want to get out a quick post to announce our weekly Thursday meeting in the atrium of the central branch of the Vancouver Public Library - the commercial part of Library Square that isn't closed by the civic workers' strike - 7-9pm. We meet in front of Blenz Coffee, often with blue scarves, and discuss the political covenant that is Canada, what we can do to insure for each other the freedoms and civil exchange without which the covenant cannot continue to grow and avoid a collapse into some neo-tribalism or totalitarian empire.

One thing I read this week that I thought usefully touched on this theme was an argument by Richard Landes: On Just What Not to Do: The Honor-Shame Logic of Walt-Mearsheimer. Thinking more broadly about the covenant among Western nations, the responsibilty each free nation has to act as a guarantor for other nations' freedom (however much they compete with and resent other free nations), to uphold a system that guarantees the freedom of national self-rule in face of forces like the anti-national Jihad (with its dreams of a renewed Caliphate) and the imperious, leftist "internationalist" Utopias (whose promoters actively seek to regulate and destabilize free nations, and to exacerbate conflicts like those between Israel and the Arabs, or Canada (with NATO) and the Taleban, in order to increase the market for their - necessarily incoherent - utopian internationalism). Landes points out clearly why it is both our responsibility and self-interest as free people in self-ruling nations to defend Israel's existence, whether we think Israel is special because it is the first nation and the Biblical or historical guarantee of the possibility of realizing later covenants in the cause of shared freedom, or whether we see that Israel as just a run-of-the-mill little nation with corrupt politicians and foolish intellectuals, etc. If we cannot stand up for the first and for the ordinary Western nation, we are basically saying we no longer have the resolve to defend any part of Western national freedom from those who resent it and who dream the impossible dream that human conflict (which is part of freedom) could somehow be ended if we all just bowed to a common God.

It all boils down to a question of our own moral integrity, something a covenant zone exists to encourage by bringing people together so that they may realize good faith is not something an individual has on his own but is only good to the extent that it is shared with others in a common religious or political (national or truly inter-national) cause to expand the possibilities of a freedom we must share with each other, those we often resent, while avoiding the totalitarian political and religious systems and fantasies that would dictate to all if only they ever could:
Israel’s problems with Jihad (the problem from the beginning, not Palestinian nationalism), are our problems with Jihad. Israel’s experience of “withdrawing and conceding and apologizing” are keys to what we can expect when, for example, we leave Iraq, or we grant autonomy to majority Muslim cities and zones in the West.

Right now, despite the perverse fantasies of the moral relativists and their demopathic partners among the Muslims, everyone, at some level of consciousness, knows that the West is morally superior in its values and actions than the Jihadis and the corrupt Muslim regimes around the world. This includes the Muslims, who use Western values to make their demopathic case; and the “radical leftist” Westerners who would never chose to live in a Muslim country unless they had the privileges of a traitor to their own culture. By calling on the West to sacrifice Israel to their honor demands, Muslims have set up a moral test they hope — and expect — we’ll fail.

We dare not.

In the world of honor and shame, wisdom and sanity demand that one stick by one’s friends and confront one’s enemies. The Arabs and Muslims know that Israel is part of the Western world — one of the main reasons they hate it — and they are on the other side. And will respect us for acting accordingly, no matter how much it might anger them. And if we remain firm in these commitments, we have a real chance to provoke genuine and desperately needed self-criticism on the other side. Only by behaving with such integrity does the West stand a chance to survive; indeed, such integrity may mean more than survival. It might mean inaugurating a dynamic that will lead to a peaceful 21st century.

Ironically we come to the moral dimension of the realist argument. By behaving immorally (realistically in Walt-Mearsheimer terminology), we lose our status and our ability to make any demands of our foes. It is in the nature of “constructivist” as opposed to “realist” political science that moral discourse plays a key role. One does not rise from prime divider societies to civil ones without moral commitments, among them, putting aside the “dominating imperative” of “rule or be ruled.” And when civil societies are in conflict with prime divider ones, the most critical capital the former can lose is the “moral high ground.” Only fools and moral equivalencers would think we’ve lost that ground. And once we really do lose it, by doing something so irreversible as sacrificing Israel, we’ll know what it means to have really lost it.

Our move.


Sean Orr said...

"Israel’s experience of “withdrawing and conceding and apologizing”

Actually, thats the whole problem. Israel hasn't withdrawn, conceded, or apologized for anything.

dag said...


truepeers said...

Sean, Israel has withdrawn from Southern Lebanon, from large parts of the WEst Bank, from Gaza, from the Sinai - all places it occupied because its enemies were launching attacks from there. All sorts of concessions have been made to Palestinian and other Arab forms of blackmail and more legitimate forms of negotiation - do you know nothing of the Oslo accords that Arafat eventually torpedoed, for example? Do you know who feeds the Palestinians and arms their government, and why? Are you familiar with the kinds of prisoner for hostage exchanges Israel regularly makes? And some Israeli politician or intellectual has apologized for pretty much anything you can imagine. You'd be surprised at how many Israelis are leftists who "think" like you do. Where do you read up on your history? Do you know how full of ignorant propaganda you seem to be? What you don't seem too understand is why orthodox Muslims cannot accept the existence of Israel in any shape or form, no matter what it tries to do to placate them. As Landes says, it's the Jihad (stupid).

Anonymous said...

The important point made in Landes’s post is to identify the different levels at which the Israel-Palestinian conflict takes place. Those who argue that Israel should be thrown under the bus in order to sooth Muslim anger take a broad view of the situation that assumes the importance of a West vs. Islam dynamic. I agree that this is one aspect of the situation. And I also generally agree that the West sacrificing Israel (in practical terms, cutting off the US security assurance) would be a strategic and moral mistake.

While I’m sympathetic to the conclusions Landes reaches at the level of civilization-conflict, I find that it gives little guidance (or false guidance) as to what to do about the situation on the ground. The Israeli-Palestinian level doesn’t seem to interest him as much as the West-Islam conflict and I think this leads him to some vague and incorrect positions. For example, he states that Israel’s problem has been Jihad rather than a conflict between nations, explicitly denying that Israel has a problem with Palestinian nationalism. I know that Palestinian nationalism is infused with the concept of struggle and informed by religious ideas, but it is an identity and concept that is distinct from Jihad. Anyway, the practical implication of emphasizing the importance of the civilization lens is that it can lead to bad policy-making when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians. For example, if the West must stand firm and not concede, then settlements must be defended (or expanded) rather than dismantled. Removing settlements would be merely a sign of weakness. And this position would be logical at the civilization level. At the Israeli-Palestinian level the context leads to different conclusions I think. Many of the settlements are largely an economic, strategic, and moral drain on Israeli society, and the apparatus required to support them leads to unfortunate abuses of the Palestinian population.

I’m not na├»ve about the prospects of a stable land-for-peace deal in the near future. I’m just pointing out that what is morally and strategically advisable for Israel at the Palestinian-Israeli level is sometimes at odds with what one would recommend when taking the broader, civilization view. In other words, it’s not always ‘the Jihad, stupid’ (which seems to be the theme of the post of your response to the previous commenter). Broad thinking may be able to inform long-term alliance structures and strategies. ‘The Jihad, stupid’ thinking is likely to mislead us when confronting the down-and-dirty situation on the ground.

truepeers said...

Excellent comment, na.

I'm actually sorry that I used the word stupid in a heated moment - though I was just trying to follow the idiom... Sorry Sean.

My admittedly quick reading of Landes (I'm not a regular reader of his blog but maybe I should become one...) is that he doesn't have a problem with Palestinian nationalism for reasons not unlike those you have given, na: real nationalism - i.e. devotion to a nation that can put forth responsible and legitimate leaders to guarantee that one nation will act with another in more or less predictable and conventional ways - provides a realistic basis for negotiations at some time in the future. But to the extent that negotiating with the Palestinians is so far a largely hopeless business - just because no Palestinian leader, as Arafat showed, has had the real authority to sign any kind of comprehensive deal with the Jews and thus legitimize their presence in what is considered Dar-al-Islam - it is the Jihad (and Sharia) that is the central stumbling block. Yes, we should try to get around that block, but it is not largely up to us (Israel and the West)