Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Perils Posed by Religious Fundamentalism to our Politics

Wilson’s piece amounts to an injunction for the U.S. to support the Israeli government’s colonialism, and to frustrate efforts at peace-making.  It is riddled with historical inaccuracies—Wilson claims that Israel “lost half her population in a massive act of genocide”, clearly a reference to the Holocaust, which took place in Europe, several years before there was an Israeli state—and bizarre arguments. 
Wilson cites the long presence of Jews in the Middle East, apparently as an excuse for the Israeli state’s twenty-first century colonialism.  One wonders how Wilson would feel if the Native Americans with a prior claim on the North American continent re-took the land-mass and put the white, black, and Asian Americans currently living here in refugee camps on marginal land, surrounding them with armed encampments and restricting the flow of necessary supplies into those territories.
Wilson attempts to paper over the violence associated with the conflict which brought Israel into being.  Historians with access to British and Israeli archives have documented that while some Arabs left what is today the state of Israel of their own volition in 1948, many others (and we are talking hundreds of thousands) were driven out by the military forces of the new state.  Israel won its independence through a combination of leveraging international institutions and an armed insurgency then regarded as a terrorist campaign by the British.
Wilson indulges in conspiracy theories, claiming that Nazis trained the armies which attacked the new state which emerged violently in their midst, ignoring the fact that those armies were trained and in some cases led by the British (the Arab Legion in Jordan, for example, retained its British commander, General Glubb), who had colonised large swathes of the Middle East, and who promised European Jews a homeland in Palestine without consulting the people living there.   
But Wilson goes further, and has the temerity to write, “How intelligent people can believe the Palestinians are serious about anything but destroying Israel is beyond imagination”.  I do not know what Wilson’s tour of the Middle East was like, but I assume that he was on one of the Israel lobby’s propaganda tours which it offers to strategically-positioned Americans in various walks of life.  But the arrogance that allows him to claim that Palestinians are intent on destroying Israel is breath-taking.
Of course, there are Palestinians who seek to use terror as a weapon and who focus their efforts on attacking the colonial regime which controls the Balkanised and deliberately underdeveloped territories where they live.  And of course there are Israelis who advocate visiting a “shoah” on Palestinians, and who support the application of brutal military force against Palestinian civilians.  Just as there are religious fanatics in the United States who believe that we should ally ourselves unconditionally with Israel—that is that we should grant another state our backing without demanding anything in return or assessing whether that backing is in the public interest—because of a belief that such actions will fulfil a Biblical prophecy associated with the end of the world. 
But in each of these societies, these people are a tiny minority, and most Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans do not wake up thinking how they can do one another harm.  Most of the Palestinians I’ve met, in common with most of the Israelis I know, and indeed, with most of the people anywhere I’ve met, have similar desires.  Those include peaceable relations with their neighbours and the ability to live safe and secure lives.  A colonial state is incompatible with these desires, and the unconditional backing that Wilson argues we should grant Israel is as harmful to that nation as to that which Palestinians hope to call into being, or to the future that Israelis and Palestinians might conceivably share in some future state. 
Wilson argues that the current peace process is unjust because it requires that Israel cede some of the ground it has conquered by force of arms over the years in defiance of international law.  “American citizens”, Wilson writes, “need to demand this mirage of a peace process be halted until the Palestinians prove they are serious about it—at a minimum”.  Never mind that it takes two to tango and that Israel has expanded illegal settlements, sometimes in a manner calculated to give deliberate offence to visiting American officials who are seriously invested in a peace process.  Israel is not likely to halt is colonial programme, or to cease breaking international laws so long as it has the moral and material support of the United States.  It is particularly galling that the United States, a nation which won its own  independence from a colonial power, should demonstrate so little understanding of the untenable nature of Israel’s colonial rule in its territories. 
Wilson closes, “If you are a Christian in love with the God who became flesh in Christ...the fact that God promised to restore and protect Israel while destroying those who curse her in Ezekiel 16, Zechariah 12-14, Isaiah 49-54,and other places beyond count—should be enough to clarify His will in the matter.  That we Christians are grafted onto the Jewish people, and so bound to their fate and the favour God shows them, is stated simply and directly in Romans 11 and in other places.  Our responsibilities are as clear as our rights”.
But Wilson forgets something.  The United States of America is not a Christian kingdom, governed by words men wrote in ancient texts and took for the words of a god.  We are a Republic, founded by citizens who recognised that in an enlightened world, we should be governed by representatives who enact our collective will rather than by a priesthood which would bend us to its self-serving interpretation of canonical texts written in another age and another world, purporting to be the design of a deity.

Our Republic, however far it may be from a perfect democracy, at least respects the rights of all people to believe what they will.  Nonetheless, it makes very clear that our affairs of state must be governed by the public interest, and not by the teachings or superstitions of any religion.  Our Republic exists to implement Our will, not that of a Christian god.  Our rights are those which we reserve to ourselves through our civic sphere, and our responsibilities accrue to us accordingly.  Neither rights nor responsibilities, legally, have anything to do with what is written in the Old Testament.
One of our most eloquent founders, Thomas Paine, expressed his belief  “that any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child cannot be a true system”.  This is what I think of when I read Wilson asking U.S. citizens to put a halt to a peace process and instead promote a doctrine of international relations which makes a virtue of blood, death, and glory because of some balefully twisted application in the twenty-first century to U.S. foreign policy of a religion which to many ought to be about peace, love, and compassion.
It is very difficult to question or check the actions of a state which can argue that it is enacting the will of a god.  This is why one of the opening shots of U.S. imperial expansion, inaugurated by President William McKinley when he launched a war to seize territorial possessions from the Spanish Empire, was so difficult to criticise: McKinley claimed to be carrying out the will of God.  Similarly, when George W Bush launched his War Of, On, and For Terror—backed by rabid neoconservative and religious fundamentalists—he successfully connected his Christian faith to our patriotic responsibility, putting criticism of that illegal, immoral war of aggression out of bounds for many Americans.
This is why Wilson’s way of thinking about the conduct of our foreign policy is so dangerous and so antithetical to the correct functioning of a modern democracy.  The idea that relations between nations and the human beings in them—who share common aspirations for decent, democratic lives—should be governed by violence, prophecy, and superstition rather than by compassion, the application of our reason, and a sense of a common good is like something out of a dark, dank past.
Whether you are religious or not, surely the madness of helping to perpetuate a violent conflict on the word of a fundamentalist priesthood is something which is incompatible with our interests as a nation and a people, and would clearly serve neither the interests of Israelis or Palestinians, citizens of both of which need a real peace and the economic and social security which such a peace should bring.  

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