Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Old News

Robert Araujo wonders if Catholic Legal Theory might have a novel solution to the Israeli-Arab conflict. Identifying "fear" (particularly "fear of difference"?) as the primary motivator of the conflict, he suggests that diplomats stress the intertwined destinies that Israelis and Arabs share, how strife for one means strife for all, and conversely how peace for one means peace for all.


Well, it might be a good approach, but I hardly think its novel. Not to be glib, but the idea that a foreign conflict might represent a prisoners dilemma--and that thus the route out lies in a restoration of trust--is not exactly a shocking revelation. As for the idea that focusing on the positives of mutual cooperation rather than mutual hate, didn't Golda Meir already comment several decades ago that "Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us"?

I don't know who disputes that "fear" is a primary characteristic of the conflict. Palestinians and Arabs fear Jewish difference. Jews might also fear Arab difference, but far and away the deeper fear that Jews have is one of extermination. Even if you don't think that any Arab or Muslim state (i.e., Iran) poses a threat of destroying the Jewish state (a dismissal which I think would be fanciful and historically naive), the psychology of Israel is intricately centered around the centuries of hate, persecution, and murder that have haunted the Jewish people, culminating of course in the Holocaust. Israel reacts the way it does because, from their perspective, losing does not mean that it loses a sliver of territory or more land than they'd like. Losing means getting rounded up and shot, gassed, or otherwise slaughtered. This is the trauma you're dealing with.

Remember, no matter how powerful Israel gets, even it turns into the evil oppressor state that everyone likes to say it is already, it will never be an existential threat to Arab existence--likely not even Palestinian existence as long as Jordan is still around. As much as folks like to play with this myth of Jewish power, we have to keep in mind that we're dealing with a strip of land smaller than Vancouver, set inside a hostile region larger than Canada. Israeli weakness means the lives of a significant proportion of global population Jews are in jeopardy--and indirectly, we all are threatened because Israel is the one place we can run to if anti-Semitism spikes again elsewhere. This is why Israel's existence as a Jewish state is so critical. Given the sad propensity of other people to kill us at random and bloody intervals, we need the safeguard.

But I digress. If Professor Araujo wants to deal with the fear, he has to start there well before he gets into fear of "difference." Convince Jews that--rhetoric of Hezbollah, Iran, and the Palestinian Authority notwithstanding--them there folks aren't harboring ambitions to kill us off brutally and without mercy. If he could pull that off, then maybe I'd concede that we'd have a novel breakthrough.


Disenchanted Dave said...

I think you're basically right that he didn't say anything novel, and I think you correctly identified the source of most Israelis'/Jews' fear. I just think that it's amusing that 1) there's such a thing as "Catholic Legal Theory" and 2) someone thinks it can explain a conflict between Jews and Muslims.

I also doubt that a legal theory based on lowercase-c catholic (i.e. universal) values can really understand difference all that well, since assuming that your values are universally aspired to is a good way to disguise, ignore, and generally misunderstand the other. Uppercase-c Catholicism in particular doesn't deal with diffrence very well (the technical term for differences with the Pope's beliefs is "heresy"). And now that I think about it, the last time the Catholics were heavily involved in that region, it didn't go so well, either. The Crusades arent' exactly anyone's favorite historical period.

David Schraub said...

Catholic Legal Theory is actually very vigorous and very interesting. I highly encourage you to check out Mirror of Justice (where Professor Araujo, among others, co-blogs). It's a first rate blog (even if this particular post wasn't).

Disenchanted Dave said...

I looked around like you suggested, and I didn't find any posts that were both a) distinctively Catholic and b) particularly insightful. If you have any examples, I'll check them out. It's refreshing to find religious commentary that actually concerns itself with the plight of poor people instead of the latest threat to sexual morality, though.

Aside from being shocked at the arrogance of assuming that the Jews, Muslims, International Relations theory, game theory, the entire diplomatic establishment, the political leadership of every country involved, and the citizens on both sides misunderstand their own affairs because they have the wrong religious perspective, my tentative position boils down to this (excerpted from a longer discussion at my own blog):

"With a few exceptions like the Talmudic tradition and perhaps law itself, there aren't many systems of thought that have struggled more intensely or for a longer period of time with the nature of the law than the Church. In fact, I'd be surprised if Catholicism didn't have something useful to say on the subject, just as I'd be surprised if Buddhism's introspective tradition didn't have anything useful to say about psychology. Still, I'm confident that there are issues on which Catholic teachings are worthless and even dangerous, and people are going to have an extremely difficult time convincing me to adopt a particular position simply because a Catholic theologian or scholar supports it... [I]f the posts I looked through are any indication, there's a danger of that with CLT."

Feel free to prove me wrong, though. If you remember some posts from MOJ (or elsewhere) that you think could change my mind, I'd be interested in seeing them.