Saturday, July 01, 2006


I see that Israel has threatened to kill Ismael Haniyeh, the Palestinian prime minister, if the Israeli soldier currently held hostage, Corporal Gilad Shalit, is not released.

Let me revise my doubts about a larger Middle East war resulting from this crisis and concede that... it's at least possible. I think Israel needs to calm itself. I'm morbidly curious as to what role the US would play should Israel go through with an assassination. The role of simple "peace broker" would be out of the question. Should war break out, I imagine the US would take Israel's side, though this isn't entirely certain. While the US would almost certainly not take the Palestinian side, there's a chance we might go neutral.

As things stand now, the threat to kill another head of state has already shattered whatever relationship existed between the Israeli government and the Hamas-led Palestinian government. However, I can understand why a threat to the new government might come so easily: what sane Israeli can take Hamas seriously? Hamas's accession to power was very much the result of voters acting on their emotions and not on their rationality. A terrorist organization now heads up the Palestinian Authority. In a sense, the current crisis is one consequence of that electoral rashness. Arafat, while also a terrorist, was lucky enough to get the US imprimatur thanks to Clinton's politicking. He therefore enjoyed an air of quasi-legitimacy on the world stage, however undeserved it might have been. This quasi-legitimacy probably forced Israel to act with some restraint toward Palestine. Hamas is not viewed the same way by the entities that matter. It's therefore disturbingly easy to imagine news of a dead prime minister in the near future. I expect Israel to make good on a threat.

Remember the Korean security guard with whom I talked politics for an hour? He was very anti-Israel. After conceding that the Jewish people have gone through hell thanks to Hitler's Nazism and, before that, centuries of European antisemitism, he railed on about how Israeli soldiers snipe at kids throwing rocks. "They've got guns! The Palestinians-- what do they have? Rocks!" he said. "What about bus bombings in Israel?" I asked, in an attempt to ward off this caricature of Palestinians as peaceable victims of monstrous Israeli depredations. The guard shook his head. He agreed those were bad, but Israel, as far as he was concerned, was acting no differently from Hitler. "They built a wall! Like Berlin! And they made a Palestinian ghetto! Just like the Jewish ghettos made by Hitler!"

There was no arguing with the guy. As with so many people, he had fallen prey to the in-person version of Godwin's Law. Israel = Hitler.

There's no possibility of rational debate with people who use the Hitler cudgel in inappropriate contexts. I'm willing to concede that Israel isn't blameless in the current situation: hell, many Israelis feel the same way. But until we see Palestinians being marked with, say, crescent armbands, and then packed onto trains and sent by the millions to factories to be gassed and shot and burned alive, there's no justification in invoking Hitler. None. The magnitude of what Hitler did-- the impact that monster made on human history-- is incalculable. And with him in the same circle of hell: people like Stalin and Pol Pot (the latter having been praised by the likes of Noam Chomsky*).

Jumping countries: a commenter on another blog has been vigorously defending the idea that Korean anti-Americanism is an artifact of Korea's extreme left and not a popularly held sentiment. The argument doesn't appear to be based on statistics as much as on personal anecdotes. By that style of argumentation, I can make the case that I have encountered plenty of Koreans, young and old, in various walks of life, who share the security guard's belief that Korea is a weak country bullied by the US, that the US is merely a force for war in the world, and that strong countries have the moral obligation to yield to weaker countries (kang-han nara-deul yak-han nara-reul wi-hayeo yang-bo hae-ya dwaeyo... or something along those lines)-- a point of view that denies the reality that Korea is in fact a strong country (with reason to be proud of its strength) that needs to take more responsibility both domestically and on the global stage.

Kevin of the defunct blog Incestuous Amplification once did an impressive visual post that showed just how many people can come together to express their anti-Americanism. While I don't believe for a moment that all Koreans are consumed with "Yankee, Go home!" rage, I disagree that peninsular anti-Americanism is confined to a supposedly tiny slice of the population. To the contrary, I'd argue that the resentment simmers widely. This argument-- that it's the extremists who are making everyone else look bad-- reminds me a bit of the "moderate Muslim" rhetoric we hear on blogs and on the news. I'm actually open to the notion of the moderate Muslim (with "moderate" defined in Western terms, not Muslim terms), but have yet to see the claim that most Muslims are moderate widely substantiated. The "moderate Koreans" may be out there, too, but when thousands of good folks gather together to rip apart American flags, you have to wonder where, exactly, those moderates are.

Back to Israel: Oy. This isn't going to be pretty. A line has been crossed, in my opinion. Even if Israel gets Cpl. Shalit back... negotiations with the Palestinians look to be, effectively, dead.

*A very good online text on the subject can be found here. The link is to a chapter in a long paper (apparently a thesis or dissertation) that offers a great deal of background into the entire Chomsky/Cambodia affair. Of note are some of the writer's observations about Chomsky and Co.:

1. What is self-evident, however, is Chomsky's research techniques and predictive sensibilities. He uses far too little empirical evidence to create theories, which in turn do not predict very well.

Interestingly, this is the substance of the critique made by Marc Miyake of the linguistics blog Abode of Amritas with regard to Chomsky's linguistic theories.

[NB: Miyake's article here summarizes my own anti-nation-building sentiments nicely. More people are going to come around to my point of view, eventually. You don't start something unless you're truly prepared to finish it. And by "prepared" I mean more than just having the will: I'm also talking about possessing the means.

NB2: Miyake's blogroll contains an interesting link: Diary of an Anti-Chomskyite. Give the dude some hits. I loudly applaud his cause.]

2. By 1977, Chomsky was itching for a new target, since he did not have Nixon and Kissinger to kick around anymore. With his long-time collaborator Edward Herman, Chomsky found the Western media and its alleged differential treatment of atrocities in Cambodia versus East Timor, a convenient Trojan horse for a new wave of attacks on "imperialism" at the expense, of course, of the peasants he loved. Chomsky's onslaught was unrelenting, he began with a broadside on May 2, 1977 to the Christian Science Monitor for its editorial "Cambodia in the year zero" (CSM, 04/26/77) based on Jean Lacouture's "The Bloodiest Revolution" (NYRB, 03/31/77). He followed with personal correspondence to Lacouture and Bob Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books, which published the translated Lacouture review. This correspondence resulted in a clarification by Lacouture in "Cambodia: Corrections" (NYRB, 05/26/77). Still unsatisfied with these results, Chomsky and Herman published a book review in the Nation on June 25, 1977, entitled "Distortions at Fourth Hand" in which they dismissed the Barron-Paul book as "third rate propaganda"[127] and called the Ponchaud book "serious and worth reading" but full of erratas and unreliable, especially since it was based on interviews with refugees. Chomsky and Herman pioneered, with Ben Kiernan, a new way to look at refugees: suspiciously. [emphasis added]

The last sentence, above, is reminiscent of what some leftist apologists have said about refugee testimony coming out of North Korea.



Maven said...

Though somewhat tangentially related... and perhaps I'll assume the role of a "little bird," and plant these seeds into your "To Be Googled Next" list:

"Lavon Affair"
"USS Liberty"

Thought provoking to say the least.

Kevin Kim said...

Danger Mouse,

Thanks for the comment.

It's not a dismissal; quite to the contrary, it's fact, and is something that can be seen parallelled in other countries, including South Korea and the US. It's a basic fact of human psychology that we're not very happy in the middle; we prefer the yo-yo pattern of moving reactively from one pole to another, which is why I've been predicting a Democrat backlash in the US in 2008. A hawkish Democrat who focuses on the economy has a very good chance of yanking the presidency away from the Republicans. This seems obvious to me.

I don't mean that the Palestinians' stated reasons for voting in Hamas are lies: perhaps the Palestinians actually do believe that Hamas is somehow less corrupt and more efficient than Fatah. They'd be about the only ones to believe such a thing, which again strikes me as not particularly rational.

To me (and, I suspect, to other Westerners), it seems more as if the Palestinians took a desperate chance in a manner similar to the "anyone but Bush" mentality that pervaded the Dems in 2004: little actual reasoning and more emotion regarding "what we don't want."

I have no idea what slogans Hamas used to net votes. "A vote for Hamas is a vote for change!"? Yikes. It's the kind of slogan that would appeal only to people too wrapped up in the gravity of a dire situation to see things clearly.