Archive for the ‘DESMOND TUTU’ Tag

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: THE PECULIAR STATE   1 comment

THE PECULIAR STATE

John Chuckman

A lawyer gave a brief opinion piece on Canada’s public radio, the CBC, in which he flatly said that criticism of Israel is a form of anti-Semitism.

I guess we should be grateful that people in Canada are much less violent in their opinions than people in the U.S. where one lawyer wrote an essay, published on the Internet, seriously advocating the execution of the families of those who commit terrorist acts in Israel. Another American lawyer, a very prominent one, has advocated protocols governing the legal use of torture in the United States.

I can’t blame the CBC for once broadcasting what is essentially political smut because, on the whole, the network is fair, enlightened, and far freer of nasty political pressure than public radio in the United States. Everyone who makes an honest effort is entitled to make an honest mistake now and then.

Calling people names because you dislike their views is not logic and is not any form of argument. It is not even decent. I can’t see how this lawyer’s words differ from American Senator McCarthy using the dangerously-loaded slur, Communist, applied to anyone he didn’t want working in the State Department or in Hollywood.

If I indulge this lawyer’s name-calling, saying it resembles logic, what comes to mind is another lawyer’s argument at the trial many years ago of a man who had slashed a woman’s throat and then tried to strangle her with a lamp cord. That lawyer claimed his client had only been applying a tourniquet to a wound he accidentally inflicted.

This lawyer’s fantasy argument is that the very selectivity of Israel’s critics ipso facto proves their anti-Semitism. Why aren’t these same people out criticizing China about Tibet he demanded? Apart from the fact that many of them do criticize other injustices in the world – a fact which makes the lawyer’s words into the cheap trick of a straw-man argument – one has to ask just whom he includes in his indictment?

Does he include decent, honorable people like Uri Avnery, former member of the Knesset, a citizen of Israel who writes regularly of the injustices committed by the country he loves? Does he include the great pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim who grew up partly in Israel and has many times criticized its policies? Does he include the chief rabbi of the United Kingdom who expressed his rejection of Sharon’s brutality? Does he include Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela who both have described what they see in Israel as the apartheid with which they are intimately familiar?

All people supporting any cause must be selective. You can’t focus on the facts if your attention is distributed among fifty causes, and advocacy or criticism without facts is vacuous. Ghandi had a focus as did Martin Luther King as did Tutu as did all the early Zionist leaders as did Arafat. Taking on every injustice in the world plainly makes it impossible to say much to the point about any of them.

So why does anyone focus on Israel? In part, for the simple reason that we are overwhelmed with awareness of Israel in our press. A day almost cannot pass that we do not have a news story about Israel. The slightest statement of Ariel Sharon is reported with about the same weight as the words of major world statesmen. We hear of every change in his cabinet. We hear of every change in his plans. We hear of every meeting he has with other leaders. When was the last time you read or heard a story about Tibet?

As a quick check of the intuitive truth of this claim, do a Google search of leaders’ names. At this writing, a search of Sharon turned up 24,700,000 references. A search for Blair turned up 24,400,000. Bush, which includes two presidents of the United States plus governors and cabinet posts, nets us 88,700,000 references. China’s leader, Hu Jintao had 770,000 references. All of these searches, of course, include people other than the individual in question, but the world’s population of Sharons is not large.

The population of Israel is a fraction of the size of cities like Shanghai or Mexico City. Its population is roughly the size of Guatemala’s or Ecuador’s or that of Ivory Coast. How many stories do you read or hear about these places? Can you name the Mayor of Shanghai or the President of Ecuador? The mayor of Shanghai, one of the world’s largest cities, is a man by the name of Han Zheng. That name rang up 304,000 references, but with China’s huge population sharing something on the order of only about a hundred traditional family names, those references include many people who are not even distantly related to the mayor.

Why would it surprise any thoughtful person that Israel is far more on people’s minds than Tibet? But the question of focus on Israel involves far more than constant repetition, important as that fact is.

A good deal of the mess that we find ourselves in today, the so-called War on Terror and the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people, largely pivots on Israel’s policy and behavior towards the Palestinians and on America’s policy towards Israel. The problem of Israel versus the Palestinians has become a kind of geopolitical black hole which threatens to consume much of the energy and substance of Western society. Surely, we all have a right, and even a moral obligation, to address such a threatening situation without being called names.

Why doesn’t Israel just make peace? Israel holds virtually all the cards. The weapons. The intelligence information. The economic advantages. The immensely powerful ally. At least certainly compared to the pathetic group of people, the Palestinians, it calls its enemy.

The pointless destruction of Iraq, with at least a 100,000 civilians killed, a reign of terror unleashed, and the loss of some of civilization’s greatest ancient artifacts was never about oil. It was intended to sweep Israel’s most formidable, traditional opponent from the map. Never mind that Hussein no longer had any threatening weapons (a fact confirmed by experts several times over), and never mind that Iraqis suffered horribly under American-imposed sanctions for a decade.

Hussein was nasty but no nastier than dozens of thugs with whom the U.S. has comfortably done business since World War II. Power is what always takes precedence over principles in these matters, and Hussein opposed some American policies. Israel’s policy has followed the same path. For instance, Israel worked closely with the apartheid government of South Africa, heavily engaging in trade and military assistance. The South African atomic bomb, which quietly and quickly vanished with the changeover in government, unquestionably was the fruit of Israeli cooperation. Israel received its early assistance in creating atomic weapons from France in exchange for important support around France’s battles in its (now former) North African colonies.

So what do we hear from Sharon, as American Marines turn the once-thriving city of Fallujah into a rubbish pile, as horrific resistance bombs keep ripping apart Baghdad? Sharon, time after time, tells us the United States also should invade Syria and Iran. To intimidate Syria, he has Israeli Air Force planes buzzing the presidential palace in Damascus, the only reason Syria is buying short-range anti-aircraft missiles from Russia, missiles to which Israel strenuously objects. What would the news stories here be were Syrian planes capable of doing the same thing in Tel Aviv?

Is Israel the only country somehow magically immune to Lord Acton’s dictum about power? I think not, but in saying that I risk being classified an anti-Semite.

JOHN CHUCKMAN ESSAY: BLACK HOLES   Leave a comment

BLACK HOLES

John Chuckman

One of the great discoveries of the late 20th century was the existence of black holes.

Their existence was implied by Albert Einstein’s relativity theory, and their necessary characteristics were worked out by Stephen Hawking and others. Eventually, a new generation of powerful visible-light telescopes and x-ray observatories gave us direct observations supporting what had only been theory.

As every kid fascinated by science knows, black holes come from stars that collapse as their fusion engines sputter out of fuel. The resulting, unimaginably-dense bits of mass have the remarkable ability to grow by capturing matter and energy entering their space-bending gravitational fields.

Modern Israel started as a bright star of an idea, a place of refuge for a horribly abused people, but many observers today might agree that the bright star appears to be collapsing into a dark mass bending the geopolitical space of the entire planet.

The world waits for Mr. Bush to launch a terrible war against Iraq. The only purpose for this war is a preemptive strike at Israel’s most tireless opponent. But the honesty of national debate in America is so distorted by massive gravitational tides, even many of the war’s opponents do not understand what it is they are opposing.

No meaningful evidence has been offered for Mr. Bush’s shrill assertions. An argument for protecting intelligence sources might be accepted as reason for not releasing details to the general public, but what is ridiculous is that no evidence has been supplied to the leaders of major NATO allies. France and Germany would not require the “report” now being quickly cobbled together for Mr. Powell were the case otherwise.

Iraq has bothered no one for twelve years, so why the sudden rush to war before weapons inspectors even complete their work? The only explanation appears to be so that the furious, temporary momentum of American public opinion generated by 9/11 can be harnessed for a war that would not be supported otherwise.

Never mind the deliberately-misleading, invented term weapons of mass destruction, there is no evidence that Iraq has strategically-significant weapons. There is virtual certainty that Iraq has no fissile materials for nuclear weapons, and we know from the previous chief weapons inspector that Iraq’s costly facilities for manufacturing fissile materials were destroyed.

There is no evidence that Saddam Hussein had any past dealings with al Qaeda. Indeed, it is known there was considerable animus between Hussein and bin Laden.

The notion that secret national weapons programs, if any have been reconstituted since weapons inspectors left Iraq in 1998, can be successful when teams of well-equipped inspectors, kept informed by intelligence agencies, roam over the Iraqi countryside, free at any time to enter any facility, truly is delusional. And delusional notions are a mighty dangerous basis for going to war.

To reassure Israel, all reasonable parties are willing to see a strict inspection regime maintained in Iraq, but this is not enough for the single-minded American President who insists on going to war and inflicting more horror on Iraqi civilians. And it is certainly not enough for Mr. Sharon who cheers Mr. Bush on and proclaims maniacally that Iran should be attacked next.

How easily people forget, or perhaps they do not care, that modern war means killing civilians in large numbers. The proportion of civilians killed to military personnel killed has grown exponentially since World War I. America’s focus on overwhelming air power and its reluctance to accept any casualties of its own only makes the trend worse. The question of going to war now is one in which Americans take little account of death, for the deaths are almost all on the other side and remain unseen by a comfortable public thinking itself informed by its heavily-biased press.

General Schwarzkopf’s well-staged press briefings with highly-edited film clips during Desert Storm left the impression that precision munitions have turned war into a neat, almost bloodless computer game. The truth is that about 95% of the munitions used in Desert Storm were not precision. Precision munitions are extremely costly, they slow operations down, and they can themselves go wrong, so they are reserved for special applications. Good old-fashioned dumb bombs and artillery are the only thing to use when you want to do a lot of killing in a hurry. Something like a hundred thousand Iraqi civilians were killed by American munitions that were not precision.

As we wait for this war, we feel the world’s economy buckling and yielding to the threats and uncertainty of a vast, destructive enterprise, to the promise of inflation and dislocation that always accompany war, and to unavoidable, crazed gyrations in the price of oil.

As we wait for this war, the President addresses an uneasy world in the cadences of a fundamentalist tent-preacher thumping his pulpit and threatening hell’s fire, offering the five and three-quarters billion people who live outside America but are still affected by its arbitrary decisions, such reassuring observations as, “The course of this nation does not depend on the decisions of others.”

This President compounds economic uncertainty by running huge deficits and offering to keep preoccupied Americans happy with huge tax cuts – a bizarre, economically illiterate version of, “You can have it all and have it all now!”

As we wait for this war, Israel reduces the West Bank to an utterly bleak and hopeless landscape. All past commitments, as those of the Oslo Accord, are ignored. All the many past resolutions of the United Nations imposing obligations on Israel remain ignored, even while the U.S. asserts Iraq must be attacked precisely for ignoring other United Nations’ resolutions. The leader of the Palestinians is degradingly treated as a criminal virtually under a form of house arrest with whom no discussion can possibly be held.

No more worthy foes of injustice and hatred breathe than Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. They have made unmistakably clear what they see in the West Bank – a repeat in virtually every detail of South Africa’s hateful apartheid regime, but the collapsing star’s force field sucks in even the sympathetic emotions these observations should elicit from Americans.

As we wait for this war, Israel has approached the United States for another $10 billion or more in assistance, over and above the $3 billion it receives automatically each year (and, by rights, we should add the $2 billion paid annually to keep Egypt quiescent). This money is deemed necessary because Israel is run on a war-footing seemingly in perpetuity.

Israel behaves as a regional geopolitical-miniature replica of the United States, even to the extent of now building a triad of nuclear forces (land-based missiles, bombers, and submarine-based missiles – all nuclear-capable) – this in a country whose population is about the size of Ecuador’s, about one-tenth of one percent of the world’s people. The costly wastefulness of this is almost beyond description.

Bush’s War on Terror, rather than being a clearly-focused campaign against those actually responsible for 9/11, has become the label on a portfolio of grudges against all those in the world who balk at or oppose American foreign policy. The War on Terror is itself an emerging black hole sucking in resources, energy, and principles.

It’s not as though a good deal of the world does not understand what is happening. Voices of reason are heard from France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Egypt, South Africa, Russia, China, and other lands, but Bush announces he is willing “to go it alone” if necessary, meaning the entire planet, willy-nilly, must be dragged into a great vortex of destruction.