Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Tears of Our Friends

There is a very important post that went up on the British, pro-Zionist blog Harry's Place a few days back. It refers to some articles written during the Gaza conflict by a man named Ed Husain. I had never heard of him, but apparently, he is a leading member of faction in the British Muslim community that most fervently rejects radical Islam, presses for separation of religion and state, and argues that the violent and theocratic movements that characterize organizations such as al-Qaeda and Hamas are un-Islamic and ought to be critiqued not just on liberal grounds, but on theological grounds as well.

But during the height of the Gaza conflict, he wrote this article. It is angry. It contains some passages that make me uncomfortable. The writers at Harry's Place (which generally is somewhat more "pro-Israel" than I might identify with, but not by much) say that "certain phrases in the articles that were uncharacteristically ill judged." Others have been more vocal in their attacks.

But HP did not join them. He did not chide or break ties. Instead, the writer of this post had this to say:
But look at the context of these articles. Have you seen the pictures of the carnage in Gaza? The human beings on fire, decapitated, reduced to lumps of meat? How did you react to that?

There is absolutely nothing wrong, in my view, with calling for urgent pressure to be put on Israel - as well as on Hamas - to take the risk for peace. You might not support such calls, or think them misguided and naive. But these arguments need to be had.

Can you appreciate why somebody might have a strong emotional reaction to - let us face it - the deaths of many many people, many of whom had absolutely nothing at all to do with Hamas, but were nevertheless killed?

You don’t agree?

Think about your immediate reactions to Islamist outrages against British or Jewish people. How did that make you feel.
The bottom line is this. What sort of politics does Quilliam [the foundation Mr. Husain helps run] represent?

From what I have seen of their work - and I’ve followed them closely - it is very clear that they stand firm against sectarianism, and are among the best at articulating the bankrupcy of the line that the Islamists have been pushing us to accept, that the the state should “ally with the soft jihadists to ward off Al Qaeda”. They’re genuine opponents of extremism: not extremists who have reined in their rhetoric.

Moreover, it isn’t as if democrats and anti-fascists have so many allies, that we can afford to engage in in-fighting with those with whom we have certain differences of opinion. So, Ed thinks that Israel should be ashamed of itself for its conduct in Gaza? Well here’s some news: lots of other people who are staunch advocates of two states do as well.
Here’s the bottom line. I may disagree with Ed Husain: but I will not see a friend and an ally being hung out to dry like this.

Lots of death breeds angry people. This is not an unreasonable reaction. Whatever else one thinks about Gaza, I think it is fair to say that the operation occurred because neither Israel nor anybody else has really figured out what's a "good" response to Hamas rocket fire. Doing nothing seems intolerable, but doing this seems unlikely to reign in the attacks either. That's a tough situation to be in, but it's not one that is likely to assuage the hearts of persons whose friends, relatives, neighbors, or brethren die as a result.

Angry people sometimes say things that make us fidget. Angry people sometimes say things they themselves regret. It's no shock that Jews and Palestinians (and human beings in general) are at their most radical in the wake of violence. I know how hard it is to maintain a moderate tone and press for a mutually just solution at the precise time when I'm imagining rockets falling on my head and people laughing at the carnage. Why should I expect the global Muslim community to not have a similar struggle when it their own compatriots are the ones who are suffering?

The post at Harry's Place is important, because it keeps all that in mind. This is a violent conflict. People -- including people genuinely and truly committed to a peaceful, two-state solution -- will get angry. That's not only to be expected, that's totally legitimate. We cannot be so quick to dismiss their emotions -- of grief, of anger, of rage. But we have to continue to move forward in the mutual hope of achieving dignity, peace, and contentment.

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