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The ISIS Group Nightmare

ISIS T-shirt

Just when you thought you had heard of about every atrocity and psychotic group behavior, ISIS creeps into your dreams like a nightmare from ancient history. Beheadings, chemical warfare, mass murder, destruction of cultural, religious, and artistic sites are all tools for new political theory. Then, as the world sort of drifts into a coma rather than sleep we get nightmare 2.0 in the form of theocratized rape and slavery. Apparently, the Quran justifies rape and slavery as long as you pray properly beforehand and stay within the religious leaders “Handbook Governing Rape”. Yes, as David Brooks reported in the New York Times on August 28, ISIS leaders have a handbook to govern how to handle rape and slavery and it even has a helpful question and answer section. The example section below is from the David Brooks opinion article on Friday, August 28, page A21. Question 13 below is from the religious leader’s handbook of when rape and slavery are theocraticly justified

“Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty?

“It is permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who hasn’t reached puberty if she is fit for intercourse; however, if she is not fit for intercourse it is enough to enjoy her without intercourse.”

Anonymous, writing in the New York Review of Books, and Paul Berman writing in Tablet have confessed to confusion about how ISIS seems to defy some of the standard explanations for revolutionary movements. ISIS continues to succeed in gaining the respect of local communities, attracting foreign fighters from all sorts of cultures (some Islamic some not) and even managing an infrastructure of administrative efficiency, police services, military strength, and economic development.

How can this be!? Most experts, as Anonymous explains in the New York Review of Books, don’t get it. They admit to being confused. One explanation is that ISIS inherited Saddam Hussein’s Baathist administrative structure including a security apparatus and an officer corps. There is probably some truth to this but it’s not much of an explanation for the barbarism that defies human history. ISIS has transgressed every tick of human progress. Just when you thought there were times in history when the moral carcass of human nature lifted its head to inch forward in progress – the times of democratic flowering in Greece, the Reformation, religious tolerance, the Enlightenment, the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, world organizations for peace – when you thought we had learned something and were progressing, ISIS comes along and reminds us that mankind has not really learned its lesson.

I suppose we are not capable of learning. Some generation seems to make progress, and we experience something like the Nazis and assume we’ve learned a lesson. But the lesson is for naught because a new generation is born of a blank slate; we can’t pass the lessons onto the next generation except through education which is itself subject to so many influences the that it is an unreliable teacher.

ISIS is raw and naked group identity. The individual members share a set of basic values and belief in enduring characteristics. This sense that a group’s history is unique and its traditions preserve the group’s identity and comprise it is particularly true of religious groups. ISIS’s desire for positive evaluation is so great that they can justify anything. They make intergroup comparisons and of course value their own group to such an extreme that anything, even the most despicable violence, is justified in the service of their group identity.

Durkheim theorized, probably correctly, that all societies made the distinction between the sacred and the profane and something becomes sacred the more it is associated with the collectivity and the power of the collectivity to protect, reward, and punish. The sense of tribal or group identity is the building block of religion.

Future posts will take up this issue and explain how intergroup conflict is particularly recalcitrant when it comes to religious group identities – but “recalcitrant” is too mild a word for the existence of ISIS.

You can read more about these issues here


Seeing Media Bias Everywhere Is Bad for Democracy – and Peace

Media hear and see no evelThere is a well-known study conducted in 1985 that ran a perfectly simple clean little experiment. One group favorable toward Israel and another group supportive of the Arabs were exposed to identical news stories about the violence in Lebanon in 1982. Even though both groups saw the same story, and all conditions of the experiment were the same, each believed the coverage was distorted and biased with respect to their own side; that is, they thought the media was hostile to their side. This is termed “the hostile media effect” and it very simply refers to the tendency to prefer your own group (either pro-Israel or pro-Arab) and distort perceptions of an “out” group and thus believe that the media are hostile to your side but lenient and supportive of the other side.

Given the orgy of news coverage surrounding the war in Gaza, and the inevitable outcry about media bias, I thought I would clarify some distinctions and explain the social scientific foundation of media bias. More journalists and reporters work more diligently to present a balanced view of the conflict then the public gives them credit for. But the same journalists will tell you that their good efforts to be balanced are for naught and they are flooded with mail claiming bias regardless of what they do. This tells you that the bias probably comes from the consumer of the message rather than the producer.

The general tendency to see bias is common enough. One of the most well-established relationships is between message distortion and group identity. If you sort people into two groups (e.g. Israelis-Palestinians) this immediately sets into motion a series of processes that influence how messages are interpreted. And, these interpretations always favor one group or another including interpreting messages as biased against their own side. The results of the 1985 study referred to earlier have been replicated with numerous topics and events. We prefer to think of ourselves as treating people equally or respecting diversity of all sorts but the truth is we strongly identify with groups and define ourselves according to group membership.

From a rather straightforward evolutionary perspective, any exposure of your ingroup to negative information is perceived as a potential threat. This stimulates our sense of self protection, which takes precedence over other cognitive processes, and causes us to question the nature and quality of the information. Claiming that the media are biased against us or the information is substandard allows group members to minimize the inconsistency between their group favorability and information inconsistent with maintaining their ingroup status.

Moreover, the more one intensely identifies with their group – such as a religious group or ethnic identity – the more individuals feel potential threat and the more intense is the relationship between group identity and sensitivity to information threats. These relationships are further intensified when group members consider their group to be particularly threatened or vulnerable. If you ask a strong supporter of Israel or a Palestinian whether or not they feel their group is vulnerable, or threatened, or disrespected they will certainly answer in the affirmative and consequently are more responsive than most to information threats.

There are of course numerous consequences to the distortion of perceptions and information resulting from group identity – sometimes deadly consequences – but the threat to democracy is a problem that receives less attention than psychological ones. There are three of them: one, the quality of information failure. Information is discounted or judged negatively sometimes when it should not be. It becomes difficult to find common information acceptable to both sides which is necessary for conflict resolution. Secondly, group identity distortions result in political polarization. The two sides of an issue see themselves as more extreme than they might actually be and retreat to more extreme positions which makes it even more difficult to manage problems. And third, the sense of being threatened or the recipient of hostile media attention creates conditions that justify more extreme or even violent behavior. The group considers its existence to be in jeopardy and this justifies more extreme behavior in the interest of “protecting themselves.” It is analogous to increasing constraints on civil rights in the face of terrorist activity.

How do we moderate group identity affects? We will pay some attention to that issue next week.




The Boston Terrorists and Their Imaginary Kinship with Chechnya

The Tsarnaev brothers have little to do with Chechnya. They have spent most of their life in the United States and their connection to Chechnya is on the basis of an imaginary kinship with an ethnonational group. The brothers have been described as “self radicalized.” In other words, over time they developed a powerful sense of their ethnic identity and its humiliation which resulted in decisions to unleash extreme measures. How does this happen? How is it that generally average American boys, with Chechnyan heritage, all of a sudden foreground that Chechnyan heritage and behave so violently?

Well, ethnic identity is like a plot in a murder mystery; it thickens over time. But it remains true that this identity has to be activated or triggered. The more interesting question is how such an identity is triggered. What are the issues most associated with stimulating differentiated group identity? Such identity is rooted in tradition, sacred mythology of the past, and a collective consciousness. The work of Anthony Smith directs attention to the power of myths, memories, traditions, and symbols of ethnic heritage that are used by people like the Tsarnaev brothers to tap into and construct a narrative that tells the story of injustice and retribution. Under particular circumstances this can happen pretty quickly and easily. And it does not only apply to angry groups bent on violence to redress a past injustice. I have seen Jewish students with little knowledge of their Judaism and few touch points with Jewish culture and religion travel on the Birthright trip to Israel and return significantly influenced and changed if not transformed. They have experienced little more than the activation of their ethnic identity through symbols and myths that historically position them within something greater than themselves of which they assume a long kinship.

The map below is just for general information because most people (although not the readers of this blog!) think we are talking about Czechoslovakia rather than Chechnya. Some earlier research on terrorism found that terrorist groups achieved their goals one of which was gaining attention. In other words, immediately following a terrorist act the public turns its attention to the issue or cause of the terrorist. Palestinian terrorism in the 60s and 70s is generally known to have been successful at laying the foundation for future international sympathies toward Palestine. Consequently, I’m sure that Google was filled with searches about Chechnya a few days after the Boston bombings. The public simply asks “who are these people and what are they talking about.” At least that’s true of some of the public but unfortunately large segments remain oblivious and apathetic about conflicts in strange places far away.

Chechnya Map

Very briefly, the Chechens are autonomous people in the Russian Federation in the North Caucasus. They have been in conflict with the Russians for generations and this conflict has radicalized many and been violent, very violent sometimes, on the part of both sides. There has been a raging controversy between Chechens and the Russian government since the early 19th century when Persia gave the territory to the Russians. They became increasingly focused on Islam given the proximity of Chechnya to Turkey and Chechnya’s continuous desire for help from Turkey. In 1944 Stalin committed atrocities and massive human rights violations by deporting the entire population of Chechnya’s to Central Asia because Stalin claimed they were supportive of Hitler. In 1991 after the breakup of the Soviet Union Chechen separatists sought independence from Russia and this resulted in bloody wars. Chechnya continues terrorist activities rooted in ideological Islam and national pride.

Ethnic identity is a relational concept such that the categorization of an ethnic group is based not only on ingroup qualities but differences from outgroups. This is what Edward Said meant when he described the “Oriental” as inferior because he was relationally in opposition to Westerners. The Tsarnaev brothers somehow began to foreground their Chechnyan identity and define it in relational opposition to an American identity (as well as probably a Russian one). The added intensity of having a stigmatized Chechnyan identity (oppressed, mistreated, misunderstood) was probably sufficient to ratchet up their sense of humiliation and justification for violence. Unfortunately, the rising expectations about democratic development and the concurrent increased respect for group rights probably means that we have not seen the last of such violence.

News Frames and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

If you drew a map of the world and you drew the size of each country proportionate to how much news attention it receives, Israel would be the size of the old Soviet Union. There are a variety of reasons for this, namely, that Israel is a democratic country in which it is possible to walk around and file a story. It is also true that the international appeal of the conflict as well as the prevalence of English make newsgathering easier.

But there is another slightly more insidious reason. Media coverage of Israel is often simply framed in an extreme way or in a regularly consistent manner such that the frame takes on “reality” or a strong sense of “truth.” News stories of Israel are almost always framed around “conflict.” A conflict frame includes “violence”, images of Israel as Goliath and the Palestinians as David, along with accusations about “apartheid,” settlements,” and “occupation.” These violence and conflict frames overwhelm the rest of Israel. In fact, it is frame incompatibility that defines the conflict. An act of violence will be framed as a “security” issue by the Israelis and an “aggression” or “occupation” frame by the Palestinians. Frame management is one important route to conflict resolution.

Arguments can be cast or “framed” in such a way as to direct attention toward a specific type of information or cognitive processing. Framing, wherein the frame casts the same information in either positive or negative terms, has been the focus of substantial research activity in the past three decades.The issue is whether framing an alternative in either a positive or negative manner influences the response. Frames are an alternative to classical rationality. Subjective issues form the cornerstone of framing theory. For instance, as Kahneman and Tversky first pointed out, gaining a hundred dollars by going from $100 to $200 is more significant than gaining hundred dollars by going from $1100 to $1200. The absolute gain in both cases is the same; however the gain in the first example is psychologically greater. The framing perspective for ethnopolitical conflicts is heavily influenced by the presence or absence of various psychological factors. That is, it is an alternative to classical rationality and the effectiveness of the argument is dependent on the qualities associated with accepting or rejecting a particular frame.

A framing effect occurs when, during an argument, relevant considerations of how the argument is framed causes individuals to focus on these considerations when constructing their opinions. The arguments of others are an important window on our own reality; that is, people are influenced by the opinions and arguments of others. Such informational influences demonstrate the value of argumentative exchange; arguments have an informational influence and can direct the development of attitudes about an issue.

For example, the blame frame and the cooperative frame are two typical ways to frame messages, especially between Palestinians and Israelis. Blame is based on the perception that someone is responsible for a failure to achieve a goal or a particular social condition. Blame is also associated with a sense of injustice that can be very motivating and even used to justify aggression. The act of blaming another person or group serves to exonerate one’s own actions. I can ignore my own problematic behaviors because by blaming someone else, attention is directed away from my own behavior, and I can even justify my behavior as a result of someone else’s actions. The attribution of blame serves as moral justification for my own behaviors. The attribution of blame toward a competing party creates a particularly intense reaction because of the negativity bias: the tendency to be more sensitive to potential losses or negative information than to gains or positive information. Negativity is an informational cue that carries a strong negative valence and may have a more powerful effect on attitudes and evaluations. We would expect, then, an argument between Israelis and Palestinians that is framed by “blame” to elicit a defensive tension reducing response that prevents attitude change in the desired direction. Moreover, a “blame” frame acts as a “loss” frame in the Kahneman and Tversky sense of the term. In other words, potential outcomes fall below a reference point, because accepting an argument means accepting responsibility for inappropriate and even immoral behavior. A blame frame is negative stimuli and attracts more attention; it induces more cognitive activity and increases the analytical tension an individual brings to a decision. We would expect, then, that when Israelis and Palestinians argue their respective positions, that couching the argument in blame would be counterproductive and weaken the conflict resolution process.

Message framing is usually a highly intentional activity and used mostly by communication professionals who are crafting messages designed to elicit a particular effect. In the flow of normal deliberative conversation participants are usually, though not necessarily, less conscious of the arguments they are making. Message frames have been described as either forward or backward looking, which are somewhat related to cooperation and blame frames. Backward-looking statements prefer compromises and emphasize the past, including the symptoms of the conflict and implying that the other party is responsible. Forward-looking message frames, in contrast, are characterized by an effort to create a new framework and build a constructive future. The focus is more on similarities and mutual responsibility. Message framing is a powerful component of argument because how a message is perceived is equally as important as the quality of the presumptive relationship. Deliberation relies on quality argument and message framing can be used for good or ill. Deployed deceptively, a message framed in a particular way can detract from proper consideration of issues. On the other hand, framing can elucidate an issue and help provide perspective and clarity.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains fiercely entangled and frame management is one way out of the morass.

Will Jihadist Islam Give Way to Democracy?

The prospect for democracy in the
Islamic world is currently an energized debate that has interesting political,
religious, and practical consequences. One perspective on the problem is most
represented by the noted political theorist Samuel Huntington. Huntington was
blunt about the fact that democracy was quite incompatible with the Muslim
world. He argued that the Muslim world lacks the preconditions for a transition
to democracy. His very popular book, The
Clash of Civilizations
, was at least indirectly informed by a pessimism
about democracy and Islam. Islam lacked, according to Huntington, key concepts
such as popular sovereignty, human rights, and market economies.

But the problem with this perspective is
that it is short term. Moreover, this sort of pessimism about democracy and
Islam is overly influenced by current conditions of fundamentalism, fueled by
Al Qaeda, or “Islamism.” In fact, there is another way to think about
the issue. If one simply makes a direct comparison between doctrinal issues in
Islamism and democracy, then Islam will not compare favorably. Islamism in its
current extreme form is antithetical to any idea of democracy. But it is
possible to take different theoretical perspective – one that involves a longer
view of history and looks more to social and economic conditions rather than
doctrinal principles. It is possible to argue that the actual content of Islam
is less important than the conditions that give rise to it.

Michael Walzer, the noted political
philosopher, makes a very interesting argument based on his book from the 1960s
on the origins of radical politics. Walzer argues that radicals (read modern-day
Jihadists) emerge during periods of social dislocation. When societies are confused
about how to organize themselves, when they are confronting change and
transitions that require new ways of thinking and behaving, is when conditions
are ripe for the emergence of radicals, especially those that seek purity and a
return to discipline and order. The radical ideology subsides when peace and
calm are restored.

Walzer points out that the road to
radicalism begins with an individual or group that views themselves as chosen;
this chosen group is characterized by certainty and confidence; their
relationship with the rest of the world is warlike and they turn toward their
internal cohesion with testimonies of formal commitment. The chosen band sees
itself as a saint and free to propose new political organizations. The saints, as
Walzer terms them, carry people through a time of change and offer a form of

The parallels with Islamic
fundamentalism are easy to recognize in terms of the revolutionary content of
jihadist ideology, its transformative message, and the social origins of its adherents.
If the analysis is correct and has any traction at all there should be in the
future an evolution away from jihadism. Other scholars have made the argument
that modern-day fundamentalists are a departure from Islamic historical and
political conditions. And over time the counter reaction to Islamism will be
what ushers in liberalizing influences. Finally, if it is true that social
conditions are more important than the content of ideology, then perhaps
political theorists and social scientists can figure out ways to nudge history

The Coming Islamic Empire

Let me describe a few realities and you
tell me the common explanatory factor. First, the Israeli Embassy in Cairo is attacked
and the Israeli government sends jet fighters to evacuate the ambassador and
his staff members. Protesters stormed the Israeli Embassy and significantly
damaged the building. Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador and used the
flotilla incident as evidence of its damaged relationship with Israel.
Netanyahu presides over and intransient right-wing coalition that has paralyzed
him. He cannot maintain his government unless he placates this coalition and
that prevents him from conciliation, negotiation, and movement toward the two-state
solution. The Palestinians are going to the United Nations to have the UN declare
the Palestinian state. It seems as if no amount of pressure from the United
States will stop them. Israel is increasingly isolated and the declaration of a
Palestinian state by the General Assembly is likely to cause violence,
confusion, and release a hornet’s nest of attacks on Israel as the Palestinians
gain access to United Nations resources such as the International Criminal Court.

The declaration of a Palestinian state –
even an observer state – will be nothing less than deadly for the peace
process. Israel will not recognize the conditions of the state and a half
million Israelis who live outside the recognized boundaries of Israel proper, but
inside the geography of the new Palestinian state, will be classified as
occupiers. As the relationship between the PLA and Israel deteriorates, and
their mutual security agreements fail, the PLA will slip into the hands of Hamas.
This cascade of events will result in an even worse situation in the Middle
East than is presently the case. What explains it? It is explained by the
coming Arab Muslim Empire.

The tumult in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria,
all of which is supposed to be associated with an Arab Spring, has offered a
reality in striking contrast to expectations and images of a fledgling
democracy. Whether it be Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Syria, Libya, or Tunisia it is
possible in every case to result in the rise of Islam. And even if dictators
and brutal leaders in Egypt, Libya, and Syria needed to be ousted the
alternative might not be very satisfying. And the not so invisible hand of Iran
is in the shadows of the background.

We have seen this all before: military
leaders enriching themselves; a few elites pulling the strings of power; inept
and incompetent state institutions; whining blame reserved for other cultures,
mostly Western; and the humiliation associated with the Palestinian situation.
In the earlier part of this century revolutions led to dictatorial leaders,
emancipatory political ideologies such as Marxism, and military rule. But this time
it is going to be Islam that is the big winner. Mark my words, Egypt is not
going to be ruled in the future by the enlightened young Facebook intellectuals
responsible for the revolution and who looked good on television. These people
do not fit the model of traditional communities; they will be out maneuvered by
stronger and more organized religious forces.

As Robert Malley and Hussein Agha argued
in the New York Review of Books,
“Islamists of various tendencies are coming in from the cold.”
Islamists are the largest group in all of these cultures and the best
organized. They have been silenced and repressed in the past but a little
democratic air will allow them to breathe more freely. There was an outcry when
Hamas won democratic elections in Gaza in 2006, but the same is true of
democratic elections as is freedom of speech – in for a dime, in for a dollar:
If we’re going to accept democratic elections as legitimate expressions of the
polity then we have to accept outcomes we don’t prefer. Islamic groups played an
important behind-the-scenes role in Libya, Egypt, and in Syria. They provide a
moral code that speaks to the population and will certainly be the primary
warrant for arguments about the political future of these cultures.

And Islamic parties will probably play
it smart. They will have learned that presenting themselves as Jihadists would
be a mistake and will likely do the opposite; that is, explain to the world
that they are the best defense against Jihadism. The US has dreamt of
democratic forces taking a stronger foothold but we will be mostly
disappointed. And even though the liberal democratic culture of the United
States is quite divergent from conservative Islamic cultures, we will be in a
better position than Israel to curry favor with these new developments. Still,
our political and democratic sympathies lay with Israel whose future in the
Arab world will be beset on all sides by the forces of difficulty.

Why You Will Die for Your Ethnic Group But Not Your Book Club

Political systems
that tolerate and manage diversity are among the most sophisticated and
evolved. Even if there is a tendency toward maximizing self-interest, and
favoring one’s group, modern theory assumes that such narrow interests can be
“learned away.” In other words, the skills and habits of
multiculturalism and diversity will supersede the harsher consequences of
narrow tribal identity. Such assumptions are the foundation of conflict

On August 14,
2011 the New York Times reported a
story about how the Dutch are confronting the question of their own identity in
the face of rising fear of Muslims and the right wing anti-immigration
political party of Geert Wilders. The Dutch have a long history of tolerance
and political liberalism so the racism and hate speech circulating in their
culture is alien to them. But the Dutch cohesion and social solidarity has been
based on a history of cultural and ethnic homogenization. It is easy to enforce
rules of behavior on large groups of people when everyone is alike. In
relatively small groups composed of people with similar values and attitudes it
is easy to produce social cohesion and consistency.

But now the Dutch
are faced with social and religious groups in their society that are different
from the dominant group. Now it is time for the test of Dutch political
liberalism. Tolerating diversity has been so easy for the Dutch for so long
that they have forgotten the power of group identity. They have forgotten that
humans developed an evolutionary advantage by recognizing and favoring their
own group. The evolution of Dutch social graces and tolerance means that most
members of Dutch culture do not talk about ethnicity and race. But no one
objects to the hateful things that Wilders says, and a number of those
interviewed in the New York Times
article stated that Wilders was only saying what most people think. The Dutch
are struggling with group identity and will have to relearn its power. It is
group identity that justifies extreme and violent behavior.

Ever wonder
why there is such a long line of people waiting to blow themselves up? How
could it be that anyone except the most crazed outlier can strap Centex to his
waist and blow himself up? There are so many terrorists in the form of suicide
bombers that we have to conclude that any “normal” person is capable
of becoming a terrorist. Individuals in groups that have been frustrated or
insulted in some way are capable of expressing the most extreme anger. A frustrated
and threatened group identity (such as the Dutch identity threatened by Islam)
is far more dangerous than a threatened individual identity. It is the
identification with a group or cause that is the most potent explanatory factor

The incendiary
power of group identity is clear. A terrorist will do unspeakable things in the
name of their group or cause that they would not consider doing for personal
reasons. I should add that the benevolent and compassionate person who is
motivated to self-sacrifice (the medal of honor winner who dives on a hand
grenade) is no different than the terrorist when it comes to powerful group
identification. Rick McCauley in The
Psychology of Terrorism
explains these processes and clarifies how
terrorists are typically not poor, miserable, and uneducated. They know what
they are doing and do it willingly.

Group identity
(either ethnic, religious, or political) has the evolutionary advantage of
providing safety as well as obvious reproductive opportunities. But ethnic
identity is particularly potent. It represents a long history of the
convergence of interests. Numerous classical studies of group formation have
demonstrated how easy it is to form a group identity. That’s why people
identify so strongly and so easily with sports teams, organizations, clubs, or
any number of social and economic groups. But ethnic groups are a principal
source of values and individual identity. The fact that states and political
systems have so much trouble incorporating ethnic groups into the state is one
example of the strength of this identification. People will tolerate unjust
economic conditions, but will react violently if their ethnic group is
humiliated or dishonored in some way.

I will close
by pointing out that ethnicity is discussed in academic circles these days as subject
to the vagaries of interaction and a social construction. It is true enough
that people are not “born” with group identities. One does not emerge
from the womb as an “Irish nationalist,” or a “Norwegian,”
or a “Red Sox fan.” But one does emerge from the womb determined to
develop group identities. And the most basic group identities are based on what
we see immediately in front of us – gender and physiology. That’s why gender
and ethnic group identities are so powerful. And that’s why people will die for
their ethnic group, but not their book club.

Can Israel be a Jewish State and Not Discriminate Against the Arab Minority

The word on
the street in Israel is that Palestinians don’t have much problem with Israel
being a “Jewish state” but they do have problems with the Zionist
enterprise. Of course, they won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state just yet
and refuse to recognize its existence as such. This is some sort of symbolic
denial of Israel and silly in many ways because the partition in 1947 was
designed to create a Jewish state. The whole idea of Israel doesn’t make much
sense if it’s not Jewish. And some day in the distant future when and if there
is truly an end of conflict Israel will be known as a “Jewish state.”

The conflict
is heavily driven by the Arab refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
And even though many Palestinians have more problems with Zionism than Judaism,
they use the denial of Israel as a Jewish state strategically to argue for the
rights of Arab citizens. By denying the Jewish nature of the state they leave
the door open for a Palestinian population that will continue to burrow into
the state of Israel. Palestinians have a strong argument in human rights. About
20% of the population of Israel is Arab and they cannot be denied basic human

An interesting
debate emerges, however, by posing the question as to whether or not Israel
being a “Jewish state” automatically means discrimination against
others. Can Israel be a Jewish state and not discriminate against the Arab
minority? Well, probably not in the purest sense. Activist Palestinians use
this point quite regularly; that is, they make the argument that if Israel is
Jewish it will mean discrimination against its minority citizens. There are two
problems and inconsistencies here.

First, what
does “discrimination” mean? That will depend on how Jewish the state
is. If it is an Orthodox Torah state then discrimination will be considerable
against everybody. But let’s assume Israel becomes a “reasonable”
Jewish state that recognizes Jewish history and culture but still makes the distinction
between the public and private sphere. In other words, anyone will be able to
practice their own religion and culture within the private confines of their
own home. The state will make certain accommodations for Judaism such as rules
of kashrut, the Sabbath, the calendar, cultural touch points such as street
names, religious holidays, education, and the like. The United States certainly
is not a Christian state but Christian influences are pervasive. School
calendars, government offices, and institutional life all respond to Christian
traditions. As a Jewish state, public schools in Israel will teach some Jewish
history and Zionism. But the matter of private schools and whether or not it
will be possible to avoid the state religion will be debatable. There is a
distinction between discrimination and differences. Just because two groups are
different does not mean one is discriminated against.

It is also
curious that this problem emerges with respect to the Jewish state of Israel
with little or no mention of other religious states. This is an easy point to
make: a number of countries contain the name of the religion in the name of the
country such as the Islamic Republic of Iran or the Islamic Republic of
Pakistan. Turkey is increasingly an Islamic country even with its secular
military tradition. Jordan’s constitution says that no one can be king who is
not Muslim and this includes converts. All of these countries have minorities,
and to be sure they’re not treated very well, but these countries also come
from different political and cultural histories. They do not have Israel’s
history of democracy and equal rights, a history that should serve them well as
Israel works out these issues.

countries with more democratic traditions such as Denmark, Norway, in England
also have institutionalized religious identities. The Queen of England is the
guardian of Anglican Christianity. The Danes and Norwegians are all part of an
official Church of Denmark and Norway and these are countries that do not
receive the brunt of the world’s criticism.

The problem of Israel being a “Jewish”
state is really very minor. It is true that the legal aspects of certain
minority rights have yet to be argued through, but these problems should not be
insurmountable. And although conservatives in Israel are increasingly trying to
limit civil rights in an effort to ensure the Jewish nature of the state
through legislation, Israel still has no religious test to hold major office
and the Israeli Supreme Court has a strong tradition of guaranteeing human
rights. I understand that some have fundamental objections to any state with an
official religion, but this is a challenge for another time.

Terror in Norway: What to Remember about the Relationship between Terror and the Media

Anders Breivik
gunned down dozens of young people and blew up a building all in the name of
“Norwegian ethnicity,” “Christianity,” and “Muslim fear.”
It is important to remember that these are group categories and capable of
producing the greatest violence. We sometimes think of modern terrorists as
outlaws perpetrating violence for their own ends, but these terrorists usually
have larger political goals, and are more strategic than we think. They
consciously manipulate the media, and violence is the mechanism they used to do
so. As terrorists specialists have pointed out for some time now (e.g. McCauley),
terrorism is not best understood as an individual pathology. In fact, terrorism
would be easier to handle and understand if it were an individual pathology. It
would be easier to identify the individuals and prevent their terrorism. Their
behavior would be more predictable and they would be easier to catch.

No, terrorism
is a strategy. It is instrumental violence. It is violence in the service of a
goal and in some way the violence has been legitimated. It is not a pathological
behavior carried out for the pure pleasure of the perpetrator. Anders Breivik had
broader political objectives. His first request in court was to represent
himself and have the opportunity to speak. He is trying to manipulate the media
in the service of his political manifesto. Studies have reported the
correlation between the rise in terrorism and the availability of media. More
broadcast outlets are associated with more terrorism, especially dramatic and
high concept terrorism that attracts attention.

Terrorism has
two primary strategies: the first is a psychological impact on the enemy. Breivik
wanted the Norwegian people to “wake up.” He was trying to
“warn” the world about an impending danger. Blowing up buildings and
killing innocent citizens has very little material effect, but its psychological
impact is enormous. Terrorists need the media for these psychological effects.
The second strategy is to mobilize the terrorists’ own supporters. Even if
other supportive individuals do not engage in terrorist acts, they will
sympathize. This sympathy is also a goal. Breivik wanted to arouse the
Norwegian people from their slumber and expand the level of sympathy for his

such as Breivik use violence as a “communication strategy.” They have
an important relationship with the media, and are reliant on them for exposure;
they want others to ultimately embrace their cause. Modern terrorists are
sophisticated in that they want more than buildings simply blown up. Terrorists
need the media to damage their enemy, both psychologically and materially. But
governments also use the media to communicate to terrorist organizations. They
want to present themselves as in control and use the media to present favorable
images of strength and determination.

terrorists want to take credit for violence the media are in the untenable
position of assisting them. They can be easily used as dupes. The media need to
protect the public’s information rights, but not at the expense of assisting
terrorism. Moreover, when the public knows little about a particular terrorist
group they turn their attention to the media who report on the terrorist group
and increase the public’s understanding. Consequently, it is not uncommon for
the public to express a certain amount of sympathy for the terrorist group
agenda, even though the public condemns violence.

And, as much
as terrorists depend on media attention, they can also be exposed by the media.
Investigative journalists can get close to discovering and exposing terrorists
and thus put themselves in danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists (
reports a steady upward trend in the murder of journalists in the last two

Terrorism has a close relationship with modern
media. Over the years terrorists have refine their communication skills. Weimann
probably best captures the essence of terrorism by equating it with a
theatrical performance, complete with scripts, actors, and stage management.
The young people murdered by Breivik were actors in his script. He put on his
police uniform costume and played the role of avenger warning the townspeople
of the coming storm of Muslim immigrants. Breivik played his role successfully because
he is now reaching larger audiences.

The Flotilla Affair: The Ship of Fools

Listen to Dr. Harvey Jassem’s interview concerning the flotilla.

Jassem interview about flotilla

The radio interview above is worth
listening to because it gives good perspective on Israel and issues related to
Gaza. Some students at a campus radio station reported positively on the
flotilla incident, and Professor Jassem in the interview above provides a
little balance.

The flotilla spectacle seems to be
fading. The UN’s inquiry into the incident last year found that Israel’s
blockade was legal. But what’s even more important is that a crude attempt to
diminish Israel has been stopped. The flotilla activists, wrapped in their
symbolic kafiyehs, have had the wind taken from their sail as participants have
bailed out. It’s important to underscore that the flotilla was never about
human rights. It was about trying to embarrass Israel. Actually, I always
chuckled at the slogan referring to “liberating Gaza.” Liberating
Gaza from what? Hamas? Fine, have a good time. The organizers were also
embarrassed by the regular disclosures of the connections between Hamas and the
flotilla organizers. Some Dutch journalists reportedly pulled out after having
discovered the extent of Hamas’s involvement in the flotilla stunt.

This is another one of those situations
where some people end up defending barbarism. Moreover, many of them are
hopelessly uninformed. They actually believe Gaza is under Israeli occupation,
when Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. Others will claim that it is only the
blockade that they are protesting, and Israel is denying medical supplies and
humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. Again, this is a simple falsehood because
Israel allows all sorts of aid and supplies into Gaza, but does have security
issues. Israel simply must be sure that only aid and humanitarian supplies are
finding their way into the hands of the Gazan leaders – namely, Hamas. If these
human rights activists really cared about helping the downtrodden, there are
numerous other places in the world they would be traveling.

The issues that define the conflict
between Israelis and the Palestinians are complex enough. It simply is not
helpful when one group tries to turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a
world conflict, or a conflict between Israel and the world. Although any
thinking person realizes that the flotilla is designed to delegitimize Israel
rather than provide humanitarian aid, it is nice to know that various legal and
international groups have supported Israel on this matter. Israel remains in
the security dilemma; that is, it cannot ignore the rockets and violence aimed
toward Israel from the Gaza Strip. Yet, the more Israel responds by maintaining
its own security, the more it exacerbates the problem.

Benny Morris, writing in the National Interest, explains the origins of the relationship
between Israel and Turkey, and Turkey’s current role in the flotilla incident.
Ben-Gurion early in the history of Israel decided to reach out to the region’s
non-Arab and non-Islamic states such as Turkey. Hence, the relationship between
the State of Israel and Turkey over the decades began to mature and develop
into full diplomatic relations. But the recent rise of an Islamic government in
Turkey has changed all that. Turkey had become a source of support for the
flotilla. But the US is not happy with the turn of events in Turkey, and Turkey
would still like to appeal to US interests. There is some speculation that the
US has tried to cool Turkey’s involvement in the flotilla. Thus, the second
flotilla will not float.

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