Herbert Weinstein

A Violent World, The Middle East's Zones of Conflicts, and Terrorism Spilling Over into the West. 
Remarks on a Problem and Suggestions for a Just Solution

Violence is as American as apple pie, an old saying goes. But violence is as much part of human history as apple pie, or kindness or poetry. It has its specific, modern, “American” traits in US society and US politics. However, this does not mean that other, again socio-culturally and historically specific forms have not existed and do not exist in other parts of the world. Violence is part of us. Some define it as an “anthropological” fact, an innate capacity or trait of the human species. Others have said that history is a history of class struggle. Its forms change, the antagonistic clashes persist; under different conditions, in different times, in the context of different social formations, their meanings and their impact vary – but as we look back we see traces of conflict between rulers and ruled, exploiters and exploited as far back as historical source material (both written and non-written) enables us to ‘reconstruct’ our past. Mankind’s past. Man-unkind’s past, all too often. No, we are not always kind. Certainly not those in power. And those bearing the yoke, those who periodically throughout history, have revolted? We would be kidding ourselves if we thought they were different. As anybody, they were capable of the best and the worst. It was a matter of luck, of chance almost whether the worst came out into the open or remained hidden, somewhere at the back of the mind. Overwhelmed by all that enabled a woman and man “to be good,” “to be loving.” Sometimes, the odds are against becoming like that. Sometimes not.And the historical circumstances, as well as chance, play a big role in this lottery. We may think we are free, free to be good. Yes, we are – if the circumstances are alright. If we had a loving mom and dad, for instance. If we did not live through a time of warfare and brutal cruelty that can deform the psyche of a man, a women. If we were not forced to fight for a crust of bread, in order not to starve. You can add to this. A simplified picture, as everyone knows. The issue is touchy. There is some amount of freedom to say ‘No,’ even when you are tortured, some have said. It may well be true. In the case of some. Others break, or turn insane.

If “class issues” were so often, and still are at the root of ‘internal’ violence, outright wars were most often – at least in modern times – driven by politico-economic clashes of interest. But don’t be mistaken: the governments of hegemonistic states on an expansionist course usually represented the dominant social class and its interests. There were those “at home,” in the “mother country,” who profited from slave trade, from slavery, from colonialism and so on. There are those “at home,” especially in the US and the European Community plus Japan (the G-7 countries, as they are called) who profit enormously from “globalization” and neo-colonialist schemes. The present support for the regime of Kabila jun. is just one example. The intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq are other examples. The way ‘first world’ capital brought about the so-called  East Asian Financial crisis of the 1990s is yet another example.

Violence today has many forms. Economic aggression can mean hunger, starvation, avoidable illness and death for millions. Cultural aggression wipes out languages, mores (not all of them ‘stupid’ and ‘backward,’ as the apologists of ‘worldwide’ Western cultural dominance want to make us believe). As for the unofficial and official American military form of violence, so often exerted by US governments after World War II was over, it is probably the most dominant form of violence practiced in the world today. Since 1991, it is the  almost unchecked ‘hammer’ that is swung by the only remaining superpower that remains after the so-called ‘Cold War’ has come to a close. If something can hope to check it at all, it is not a second, competing superpower anymore. It is public opinion, worldwide and in the US. Certainly, such contemporary military violence is different from that of the Mongol Khans whose armies swept across Central Asia hundreds of years ago. It wears a democratic garb while the governing ‘elites’ of the US break some rules and keep others. No doubt about it, if you think of the illegal war waged most recently against Iraq, in breach of United Nation rules. No doubt about it if you think of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and other ‘detention centers’ where torture is being practiced. These camps do not reach by far the extensions and horrors of Auschwitz. But they are related to it. It’s sadism again, it’s human beings turned into sadistically mistreated flesh, it’s a denial of every little remnant of human dignity. US military intervention in world affairs, in the post World War II era, has always been portrayed as defensive, as securing peace and democracy, even as a means of last resort, employed to protect and extend human rights. It has been whitewashed by the dominant media and by the various ideologues heard so often and so prominently thanks to them. 

It is perhaps necessary to recall some details of this ‘democratic’ violence exerted by the self-proclaimed stalwarts of ‘human rights’ in Washington.

It was America and Britain the forces of which intervened in the Greek civil war at the close of World War II.
It was the same alliance which was pulling the strings when the freely elected Prime Minister of Iran was toppled in the ‘50s.
It was the US which invaded Guatemala and toppled President Arbenz.
It was the US which put down the revolt of the populace against unjust social relations in the Philippines when a prominent feature of these social relations was a scandalous concentration of land ownership in a few hands. (The so-called Huk rebellion was vanquished and yet, other revolts flared up again and again, until today.)
It was US capital and US hunger for uranium which, thanks to collusion with the Belgian government and the Belgian ‘Union minière,’ were wiping out democratic beginnings in the newly independent Congo republic in the 60s, using every dirty trick in the book to achieve the assassination of President Patrice Lumumba. (As early on as 1945, a Rockefeller had a stake in Katanga mining.)

It was the US which accepted the Fascist ‘Franco dictatorship’ of Spain as an ally after the war against Hitler Germany and militarist Japan had ended. And, mind you, it accepted so many other right-wing dictatorships, from Thieu and Diem in South Vietnam to Stroessner in Paraguay. The US government triggered the coup d’etat against Greek democracy in the 1960s, against the freely elected government of Chile in the 70s, against Turkish democracy in 1980. It supported the Batista dicatorship in Cuba, the Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua. It backed the coup d’etats in Argentine, Brazil and Uruguay. It favored the assassination of President Allende, the ‘disappearances’ and the torture. And it had not hesitated to invent the Tonking incident, in order to ‘bomb North Vietnam back into the stone-age.’

The list can be continued, of course. Who backed cruel regimes like that of the late king of Morocco or of a ruler like Ibn Saud? Whose advisers stood by when political foes of Central and South American dictators were subjected to “water boarding” or tortured by electrical gear made in USA (incidentally, by Westinghouse, as Harper Magazine reported, in the case of Guatemala’s ‘treasury police’)? Whose military advisers and secret service personnel watched approvingly when some 500,000 victims of Suharto’s military coup d’etat were put to death in Indonesia? 

A poet, only a few years ago, wrote Yes, one minute of silence for the victims of violence that died in the World Trade Center of New York. If that’s what you want, in New York. But hours of silence for others, years for others, 500 years of silence for all those who suffered and died at the hands of Spanish conquistadors, Portuguese invaders, Dutch and French and British slave traders, and of all the soldiers and mercenaries of modern colonialism and hegemonism. 

It is not difficult to see the point.

So much violence, throughout history. Why? Why now? “When will they ever learn?” the words and melody of a song asked. Was that in the sixties?

There are those who will tell us that some violence meant a break-through for democratic rights. 1776. 1789. 1861-1866, 1910. 1911. 1918. 1949.  You can debate the issue. If you want.

There are those who say it was right to overthrow Batista, it meant a break-through, real social progress. You can debate the issue.

Fanon saw violence as justified when Algerians rose in revolution against French colonialism. Yes, they had a good reason – as had those who rose against apartheid in De Klerk country.

There are those who say, such fights although they are justified will always result in the death of innocent victims. Bystanders, so-to-speak. The Allied commanders who fought Hitler Germany, who fought Imperial expansionist Japan, who bombed Berlin and Dresden and Hamburg, and Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, say the same. Today, they say “collateral damage.” The Israeli politicians and Israeli military leaders will say the same, or something of the sort, about the dead civilians of Qana, the dead children of Beirouth.

The terrorists who wage attacks against civilian targets in Europe or elsewhere might say the same. Or very nearly so. “You kill our innocent civilians, we kill yours. Mere retribution.” What a stupid “game”! What an understandable justification. They feel like that, at least some do, in countries like attacked Lebanon. Just as many Israelis honestly feel that “the” Arabs want to annihilate them and are therefore entirely ready to commit another genocide. “Another Shoah,” in their political idiom.

Of course, the rules and basic legal foundations of  “international law” (a legal body of texts produced, mainly, in the West) are invoked against such “revenge,” such indiscriminate terrorism as was evidenced, for instance, in the train bombings in Madrid. If US planes are strafing an isolated farm house in the Iraq countryside, a clearly civilian target, it is a “deplorable mistake” for some, a war crime for others. But it remains, in the eyes of politicians and lawyers and Western media, nothing more than a sad exception in what is otherwise considered as “an ordinary war.” Wars are not, they insinuate, in themselves a breach of “international law.” Those who unleash them, if they win and if, on top of it, they are anyway the leaders of a powerful nation (as in the case of the present US government), who is going to take them to court?

Guerilleros, however, whether in Kurdish areas of Turkey, in parts of Columbia, in the West Bank, Sri Lanka, Kashmere, Aceh, Davao, or in parts of Mexico, are easily criminalized and branded as terrorists. If they wear no uniform-like garb, only the worse for them. If they kidnap civilians, worse even. If civilians die by chance in a shoot-out between the guerilla and regular armed forces, they are to blame. If some target the military in some instances, and in others they target civilians, this is the worst conceivable case.

Any outsider to a conflict can at least sympathize with the official view in the last case where civilians are targeted on purpose, in some strange game of retribution. We are all civilians, we probably think. It might be us who die in such a stupid, senseless act of violence.

But to the killer, the suicide bomber, for instance, this may not be a stupid, senseless act of violence at all. He or she sees himself or herself in a context of resistance. In a context of humiliation and suffering, perhaps. There is a moment before the moment before the moment when the bomb explodes, killing innocents. Are they so innocent? he may ask himself. Are they not part and parcel of a population which overwhelmingly elects and supports a government which suppresses us? Which kills so many of those of us who put up a fight, whether by word or deed, against the occupation? And not only them but innocent by-standers, as well?

To come to the point. This author, an outsider, a bystander in a far-off country, would wish that these suicide bombers choose life. That all the innocent civilians who were crippled or ripped apart by their bombs had remained unharmed. However, how easily do we say ‘innocent’? Are only soldiers involved in aggression, in acts of occupation and repression,  are merely such soldiers, involved in what is an armed conflict with the oppressed, truly ‘guilty’ –  if we speak of ‘guilt’?  Do only the combatting forces (on both sides) have blood on their hands? And the populations who support the government and the soldiers and the war  – do they have nothing to do with it? How ‘innocent’ is, in this case, the civilian population of Israel? How ‘innocent’ is the population of Europe – a Europe that has robbed and continues to rob the so-called Third World, that has again and again carried its wars into foreign, far-away places? The broad masses of Europe may have profited by it only a little, in comparison with the dominant social forces. But the standard of life achieved, despite all that is questionable about it, and perhaps even phony when analysed thoroughly and in detail, the standard of life was not a result merely of their own making. And the same goes for America, the United States of America, that is – and the “American way of life.” In American class society, there may be places the inhabitants of which can rightly say, “This is the Third World.” There are eight million Americans who go hungry, day by day, today, in 2006 – and 30 million more who cannot be sure what they will eat the next day, and whether there will be something to eat at all. And yet, the American masses are ‘privileged,’ in comparison with the landless peasants of Bihar. No doubt about that. They have received their small share. Of the riches of an exploited so-called Third World. It “trickled down” if ever something did “trickle down.” The hardhats of New York who supported Nixon during the time of the Vietnam war were not jingoist for naught. And the Australian, Belgian, Danish, Dutch, or German racists who want “foreigners” to be kicked out of the country do indeed defend their tiny privileges, seeing the “Others” as competitors in increasingly competitive job and tight housing markets.
The question “Who is innocent?” assumes a different quality in view of this.

But let’s not kid ourselves. The West is not the only culprit. There are scores of repressive regimes around the globe, many in the so-called Third World. Wars, as the one between Cambodia and Vietnam or between India and Pakistan cannot be blamed simply “on the West.” If the “little man” in Germany was easily seduced by Hitlerian fascists in the context of the Great Depression that began in 1928, the ordinary folks of other countries around the globe have their weaknesses, too. They are not simply fine and beautiful people, although they have (or may have) their beautiful qualities. Is it unfair to say that Hindu jingoism brought a perhaps near-fascist, certainly chauvinist party briefly to power in Gandhi’s beautiful country? Probably not, though it is unfair to single out India. The suffering of Ibos in Nigeria’s coastal province, during the now “far-back” civil war, or the more recent clashes between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria are no fine example of perfect intercultural, interreligious and inter-regional relations. Although the heritage of Colonialism and the current neo-colonialist impact made by corporations like Shell are certainly factors; in other words, the blame cannot be put solely on an “African” socio-cultural heritage.

Does this consideration that “we all are guilty, in a way” (no matter where we live) exonerate Western populations? I think to assume that the Westerners can get off the hook that lightly would mean that we are putting a blind eye to a long history of Western dominance and expansionism that continues unharnessed, in a new context and by relying on new forms.

Let’s therefore be a bit more modest in the West. Let’s not shout too loud that those who die in acts of terrorism committed by enraged or frustrated or hating youths from the so-called Third World are “innocent civilians.” They are civilians. They are no “military targets.” Terrorists are no ordinary combattants spreading ordinary death, including all the “collateral damage” you can think of. There victims are, to be sure, as innocent or as guilty as you and me. And they are, by every rational standard Westerners (at least) can think of, a completely inappropriate ‘target.’ People who deserve our empathy, as their surviving loved ones deserve our sympathy.

But when have we observed a minute of silence for the children of Fallujah? For the dead buried under the lawn of a stadium in Santiago de Chile? For those massacred in Shatila, or killed in Jenin?

Even the silence observed for those killed by Hitler Germany’s henchmen in the worst genocide ever committed in Europe in modern history seems to be ‘official’ and thus phony and formal, in many instances. Man is a contradictory, flawed being. And part of the phony game is that those who employed again the career diplomats of Nazism as democratic diplomats, and surviving officers of the Nazi army as democratic officers, and Nazi judges as democratic judges, had the guts or diplomatic cleverness to become one of the strongest supporters of Israel. In a country like Germany, it is the left today who questions the way the Israeli army conducts the war in Lebanon. It is the left who asks whether the occupation of the West Bank does not violate the rights of Palestinians. Whether the ‘intifada’ is not explained by the miserable conditions of life in the refugee camps. Whether the repression of the Palestinian liberation effort is not cruel and unjustified.

Of course, quite a few among the older generation of German leftists were killed in, or barely survived Hitler’s death camps. Many had Jewish comrades, Jewish friends. They were ready to say, in 1945 or 1948, of Jewish survivors preparing to emigrate to Palestine, “But where else should they go?” It was a reflection of their fear that racism in Germany (and perhaps Europe) had not disappeared for ever, with the defeat of Hitler’s regime. It was a reflection of their fear “that it would all happen again,” sooner or later. Discrimination, pogroms, killings, perhaps even the worst of the worse, as experienced in the years just past. Does is explain why they were blind to what large-scale emigration of these Europeans to Palestine would mean to the populations native to the place, whether Druse, Christian, Jewish or Muslim?

Today, as outsiders, we still find it hard to come to terms with what happened. As Europeans, we (most of us, apparently) so reluctantly accept immigrants. For a time, the corporations, the “economy” needed them, we were told. Now, after years of the most meagre growth and exploding mass unemployment, the general atmosphere, with regard to immigrating “foreigners” is largely hostile. The governments and the EU institutions deny that European policies are xenophobic but the fact that they are turning the Continent into a “fortress Europe” cannot be put in doubt.While the US put up a kind of “Berlin wall” at the US-Mexican frontier. To keep out “mejicanos.” “WETBACKS.” “Chicanos.” Unwanted people (though desired as cheap labor, in the fields of the Central Valley, or in middle and upper class households in need of a household help, a “maid” as they said in the past).
So WE are telling “Palestinians” that they should have gladly accepted immigrants most brutally persecuted only a short time ago. 

I for one think that it would not be sisterly or brotherly to kick those who came as survivors of percution and genocide out of the “new found home.” But neither can it be considered to be brotherly or sisterly if the persecuted Pilgrims arrive in their New World and kick the “natives” out of their house. If they did indeed, upon arrival, act and think and feel like the Europeans they were (looking at the “natives” as backward, and infested with “primitive,” “medieval” and “inacceptably outmoded” thoughts and modes of social behavior), they and/or their offspring would perhaps do better to change their ways and abandon any idea of being a “superior people,” one might politely suggest, as a fellow European more or less aware of the persisting European “superiority complex.” Of course, it is hard to lay aside your gun and take the “Other” into your arms if you fear he may stab you with a knife hidden under his bedouin’s coat. So images of the Other (as a barbarian hating you) and of one’s “Self” (as the offspring and heir of victims slaughtered who is still threatened by those who want to complete the “job Hitler started”) should be analysed and critized and overcome. And this on both sides of the fence (built, at the moment, or already almost cmpleted, by the Israeli government, as yet another remake of the “Berlin wall”, the “wall of death”, as we all remember…). Fences are no good between neighbors. Exchange, closeness, communication is good. If Israelis and Palestinians opt for private property, the following question should be asked, Who owned the house, the fields now occupied by an immigrant? Were the former owners justly compensated? Do they want compensation at all? Or the return of the property, which would imply that the immigrant needs to build a new house, and cultivate another garden, next door. If Israelis and Palestinians opt for a kind of commonly owned, communal property they would have to find ways to fairly share the communal property. It is not fairly shared in that country (Israel plus the West Bank plus Gaza) nowadays.

What appears to any impartial outside observer as not helpful at all but utterly destructive is the egotism of positions that demand all immigrants and their offspring should “leave the land.” Or that, on the other hand, regards Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank as rightfully and eternally “the Promised Land given by God himself to God’s chosen people.” If a concept is antiquated, it is this religious, extremely fundamentalist position that completely negates the rights of “the Others” to “the land.” 

I know that many say the hatred is so deep and divisive that no common, sisterly and brotherly possession of “the land” is possible. I know that many think “nationalism” is such a positive and necessary phenomenon that only an exclusive identity is acceptable. Here are the “Jews” (Israelis, citizens of Israel with a “Jewish background”). And there are the “Palestinians,” the “Arabs.” And the gulf, it is suggested, that divides them is simply too deep. And it is ”eternal.” Believe me, brother. Believe me, sister. Nothing is eternal. All is changing. The gulf is largely real pain remembered. But the pain has been suffered by both people, both groups, both parties. It is also a joint, a collective and common experience. It can give way to a common understanding that this senseless violence, this waste of creativity, of courage, and the sacrifice of lives must end. The earth belongs to all. Different people, with different backgrounds, raised in different socio-cultures have so much to give to each other, so much to learn from each other. Why fight? Why not cooperate? The basis of this can only be fairness, kindness, forgiveness, shared empathy. It is inconceivable that this can work on the basis of a master-slave relationship. The relationship of the ‘superior’ European master and the cheap labor made used of as needed and otherwise stowed away in “Palestinian ‘Bantustans’” won’t work. There are kinds of peace that will only breed more war, more hate, more divisiveness.

Let’s come back to how unequal and hopeless struggles spill over, into rich Europe, the rich United States. The ruling circles and their media call it terrorism and are right. But their analysis, at least in public, in the media, by and large stops there. They don’t ask for the reason why violence spills over from the Middle Eastern places of conflict to the West. They don’t ask whether it is Western (military and other) violence applied, directly (as in Iraq) or indirectly (through the Israeli military), against so-called Third World populations that “comes back” to its source of origin. Just as any wave hitting against a stone, a rocky coast, a sandy beach, is swept back into the ocean. Just as the D.D.T. sold by Bayer or whoever sold it to Ceylon tea farmers came back with the tea harvested in Ceylon’s highlands and exported to Europe and the States.

I have already pointed out that the Western criticism of terrorism is flawed in another respect. There are many forms of terrorism. The bombing of North Vietnam. The shipment of tens of thousands of damaged condoms to Zimbabwe when its government ordered the stuff to protect the people against AIDS. The encouragement of cash crop production while the production of vitally needed local food is discouraged (because of its low market price). Wasn’t the uranium depleted ammunition used against Iraqis a form of terrorism? How about the cluster bombs in Lebanon? And wasn’t the destruction of the power station of Gaza during the recent war against a civilian population of an occupied area (where the army had withdrawn, while independence had not been accorded) a form of terrorism, especially in view of the effects regarding the vitally necessary provision of electricity for hospitals and water works? 

But it does not help to counterbalance ‘our’ terrorism and ‘their’ terrorism. Both have to stop. “International law” is partial, in this regard, and so are UN resolutions. The issues will be decided in political struggles, for or against peace. Bush and Blair and others are to indebted to the arms industry to really want a peaceful world (unless it is a world that has succumbed and is completely dependent on the Western dominant social forces). Today, in countries like Spain, France, Britain, Italy, or Germany, at least 60 percent of the population object to the horrors of the July War conducted in Lebanon. Many feel the Palestinians are being wronged and have not been given a minimal chance to pursue a happy human life. The young radicals in the Middle East who feel they are prepared to “carry the struggle and the suffering” from Lebanon to the West should use the intelligence they are undoubtedly capable of. Acts of terrorism that are perceived by the general population in Western countries as acts of “indiscriminate violence” against “innocent people” may well swing popular opinion in the West from a critical anti-war position (at odds with the position of their governments) to a much more hostile, if not more racist position. Western societies are, at any rate, split. Although a majority is mildly “anti-immigrant” in the current sequence of economic recessions and intermittent phases of low “growth,” they still do not agree with militant racists. And they are overwhelmingly against Western military interventionism, and against the way Israel is waging war and conducting anti-Palestinian repression in Gaza and the West Bank. All this may change to the worse, as a consequence of indiscriminate, blind terrorism against the civilian population of still rich Western countries. It is remarkable that in Madrid and London, ordinary commuters were attacked. Working people, students, pupils, quite a few immigrants certainly among them. If the Bush government had wanted to sway popular opinion in Europe in favor of their militant interventionism, they could not have used a better ploy. From the point of view of the Palestinians and their objective interests, this terror is completely insane.

But it is nonetheless understandable. The frustration, the fury, the feeling of helplessness is there, and people in such a situation are likely to vent their anger and frustration in such absurd ways. Just as people traumatized by the ‘Shoah’ are likely to see themselves and their children permanently threatened in the most existentially threatening way, overreacting in an irrational way when encountering real or imagined threats. That the lives of Jews in Israel are threatened by katushas, by suicide bombers, by people shooting at them cannot be denied. But why are so few of them asking, Is the life of the ordinary Palestinian living in Jenin, Ramallah or Gaza also threatened, day by day? Are we (or, are our soldiers, is our government) responsible for this threat to their lives? How do we escape from this spiralling development where violence leads to more violence? It is clearly a question that if asked could have a cathartic effect.

Terrorism is just an ism, an ideological cloak of the real thing. And the real thing is the terror that enters real lives. The anxiety, the extreme, partly justified and partly irrational fear, and its psychopathic consequences. The way the Israeli forces and the Israeli government is overreacting (as Kofi Annan and others have unmistakably pointed out), the way Israelis feel ‘threatened’ and confronted by “Arab Hitlers” bent on annihilating them, are indications of a psychopathic effect that dates back, no doubt, to the collective experience of the ‘Shoah.’ Any population, or part of a population exposed to such terrors would show similar symptoms. The tragedy is that in learning the lesson of ‘never wanting again to be helpless, passive victims,’ they strike out so hard that they in turn appear as those who use forms of terror reminiscent of some of the methods used under Fascism. In other words, the victims of former times create, in turn, victims. That these ‘victims’ did not receive them, brotherly and sisterly, in Palestine when they arrived with all their ideological baggage of rebuilding “a national home,” is another matter. The past is the past. The victims of Israeli occupation and repression are still, to an astonishing degree, rational and sober in their struggle for their rights and for dignity. If the frustration and the feeling of being permanent victims further increases among a greater part of the oppressed, the psychopathic traits may well increase and there will be even more suicide bombers, even more terrorists. Given the support of Western governments for Israel’s occupation policies, this could well have further repercussions in the West.


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