[ by Charles Cameron — two voices of moderation with a glimmer of hope — plus a recap of some recent posts of mine ]
Scott Atran, an anthropologist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, John Jay College and the University of Michigan, is co-founder of ARTIS Research and author of Talking to the Enemy. Ed Husain is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author of The Islamist. Each has recently expressed an opinion about the grievous situation in Gaza, Atran in a NYT op-ed, and Husain in a CNN interview.
In U.S. Must Help Deal Directly With Hamas, Scott Atran points up the significance of sacred (not necessarily religious) values on both sides of the conflict in Gaza — and many others:
A chief problem in negotiations in seemingly intractable conflicts is each side’s deep commitment to sacred values that define “who I am, and who we are” as a people, and constitute the foundation of political legitimacy. In studies in world hot spots supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, my research team finds that material incentives or disincentives to force devoted actors to give up cherished values are considered vile insults, as would offers to sell one’s children or sell out one’s country, and only backfire, increasing support for violence and unwillingness to compromise.
But sacred values, especially those grounded in religious beliefs that are by nature unverifiable and unfalsifiable, can be reframed and reprioritized according to circumstances (think of myriad interpretations of biblical commandments). Even “rights” to return or settle can be reinterpreted in different ways with time, as long as people believe that the principle has been maintained.
Ed Husain, in his CNN interview, Bring Hamas to the table, also picks up on the importance of religious figures and of the need for recognition of Israel by Muslim leaders, telling us:
Arab political and religious leaders, despite historic grievances, have a duty to recognize that Israel is their neighbor. Israel is part of the mosaic of the modern Middle East. A change in tone and tenor and a public embrace of Israel by religious leaders will calm the nerves of an anxious Israeli population.
Husain also emphasizes that Hamas is both a terrorist organization and something more:
Hamas had a wide network of schools, financiers, mosques, makeshift hospitals, readily available doctors, banking services, and support for orphans and widows. We in the West deem Hamas a terrorist organization. Yes, one part of it is committed to terrorism, killing innocent civilians in the pursuit of political aims, but we are mistaken if we continue to limit our definition by one aspect of Hamas.
Unless we better understand Hamas, we cannot help halt the killings of Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East. Hamas is not a monolith, nor is it only a terrorist group: It is a social movement, with a mass membership, a popular message of resistance that resonates across the Muslim world, and a political party with which we must negotiate. [ .. ]
In the end, Israel has limited options. Peace is not possible without Hamas, and Hamas is not a simple terrorist outfit. Its political arm, its leadership inside and outside Gaza, despite their tensions, are open to indirect talks with Israel.
Atran, too, sees the possibility of a path to peace, albeit a slow and troubled one:
After pain and spleen are vented over years, grudging accommodation can emerge to stop the killing even if dreams of triumph endure.
Further, both men invoke the example of reconciliation in Northern Ireland, Atran writing:
Still, wars truly end when one side is obliterated or when enemies become nonenemies. For the latter, enemies first must talk. After spleens are vented, over years if necessary, as happened in Northern Ireland, enough grudging accommodation can emerge to stop the killing even if dreams of triumph endure. To succeed, such a process requires persistence, with strong international backing and policing.
Just as the British and American governments negotiated peace in Northern Ireland by reaching out to IRA terrorists through their political wing of Sinn Fein, we must tame Hamas through politics, not the failed strategy of war. [ .. ]
Hamas must be brought in. Almost 2 million people in Gaza need our support. If we fail to bring in Hamas and create a sustained peace that leads to prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, then we must prepare for an enemy who is worse: Salafi Jihadis. And with Gaza, the popularity of the Salafi Jihadi message will spread far and wide.
Extreme voices on both sides offer up their grim projects. Hamas in its not-yet-withdrawn Charter quotes the Gharqad Tree hadith, promising an end times war between Muslims and Jews:
The Last Hour would not come until the Muslims fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them, and until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say. Muslim or Servant of Allah there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree of Gharqad would not say it, for it is the tree of the Jews
— while Knesset member Ayelet Shaked reposts an opinion piece from 12 years ago by Uri Elitzur, PM Netanyahu‘s chief of staff during his first term as prime minister, on her Facebook page, with the comment “as relevant today as it was at the time”:
What’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy? Every war is between two peoples, and in every war the people who started the war, that whole people, is the enemy. A declaration of war is not a war crime. Responding with war certainly is not. Nor is the use of the word “war”, nor a clear definition who the enemy is. Au contraire: the morality of war (yes, there is such a thing) is founded on the assumption that there are wars in this world, and that war is not the normal state of things, and that in wars the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.
Against such a background, I believe both Atran’s and Husain’s voices deserve serious consideration.
Catchup: listing some of my recent posts relating to Gaza:
Gaza now stretches all the way to Disneyland Gaza now stretches all the way to God The Daily Illustrated Dante, or is that Milton? Balancing acts & mirror images: 1 Balancing acts & mirror images: 2 Balancing acts & mirror images: 3 Tisha b’Av and Gaza Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones 1: differing perspectives Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones 2: a Christian perspective Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones 3: a Judaic perspective
In my view, the two series are each worth reading as series.