Friday, May 16, 2008

Matt 24 watch, 55: On the significance of the 60th anniversary of independence of modern Israel

This week marks the Western [solar-based] calendar's sixtieth anniversary of modern Israel's Independence -- after two generations of resettling and rebuilding under Turkish then British rule -- on May 14, 1948. (In the Hebrew, lunar-based calendar, the 60th anniversary of 5 Iyar, 5708 was last week -- which I confess caught me by surprise.)

Pardon, therefore, a politically incorrect moment:

Happy birthday Israel!

Why it is both politically very incorrect and vital to discuss the anniversary and its significance are aptly brought out by citing remarks at the end of a current Agence France Press report, headlined: "Bin Laden to release speech for Israel anniversary: reports" . . .

Israel proclaimed its independence on May 14, 1948, which it consolidated in a brief war with its neighbours that led to the expulsion or flight of some 700,000 Palestinians.

By sharpest contrast, Diana West is right to highlight and critique a remark on Mr Bush's part that he made in Israel on the occasion of its 60th anniversary of modern independence:

"I suspect," Bush said, "if you looked back 60 years ago and tried to guess where Israel would be at that time, it would be hard to be able to project such a prosperous, hopeful land. No question people would have said, well, we'd be surrounded by hostile forces — but I doubt people would have been able to see the modern Israel, which is one reason I bring such optimism to the Middle East, because what happened here is possible everywhere" . . . .
The jaw drops . . . No, Mr. President. What happened in Israel is not possible everywhere. Just for starters, what happened in Israel happened to a people whose monotheism and ethics, as Martin Gilbert writes in "Churchill and the Jews," was, in Churchill's view, "a central factor in the evolution and maintenance of modern civilization" — a central factor in liberty and democracy as the West still knows it.

This is not, to understate the case, something that may be said about the Islamic rest of the Middle East. Besides, what happened in Israel — the modern incarnation of the ancient Jewish nation that today enshrines freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, rule of law, women's rights, etc. — is also anathema (anti-Islamic) to the Islamic Middle East, which to this day seeks or plots Israel's annihilation, not in a what has become a sham territorial dispute, but rather to deny infidels (former dhimmis, to boot) a foothold in what Muslims regard as once-Muslim land.

So, which of the three versions of events is most nearly right?

Sadly, Ms West is far closer to the truth.

A glance at even so humble a "go-to-first-for-basics" source as the Wikipedia article on Israel will abundantly confirm that. For, we may read:

The modern state of Israel has its roots in the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael), a concept central to Judaism for over three thousand years. After World War I, the League of Nations approved the British Mandate of Palestine with the intent of creating a "national home for the Jewish people."[7] In 1947, the United Nations approved the partition of the Mandate of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.[8] The Arab League rejected the plan, but on May 14, 1948, the Jewish provisional government declared Israel's independence. The new country's victory in the subsequent Arab-Israeli War expanded the borders of the Jewish state beyond those in the UN Partition Plan. Since then, Israel has been in conflict with many of the neighboring Arab countries, resulting in several major wars and decades of violence that continue to this day.[9] Since its foundation, Israel's boundaries and even the State's very right to exist have been subject to dispute, especially among its Arab neighbors. However, Israel has signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and efforts are being made to reach a permanent accord with the Palestinians.
Israel is a representative democracy with a parliamentary system and universal suffrage.[10][11] The Prime Minister serves as head of government and the Knesset serves as Israel's legislative body. In terms of nominal gross domestic product, the nation's economy is estimated as being the 44th-largest in the world.[12] Israel ranks high among Middle Eastern countries on the bases of human development,[13] freedom of the press,[14] and economic competitiveness.[15] Jerusalem is the country's capital, seat of government, and largest city,[1] while Israel's main financial center is Tel Aviv.

In short, AFP is grossly wrong to suggest through its wording that Israel's declaration of Independence was effectively unilateral and that the Zionist Jews then set about expelling their neighbours from lands they intended to steal. Notice, too, how Wiki delicately omits to note that the war was launched by the Arab League, who declaratively set about wiping out the Jews of Palestine.

On this last, we may cite from the just linked, on the reported (and evidently representative) words of the Secretary-General of the Arab League:

"This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades."

It is that war that led to the call for Arabs to leave the zone of war pending the slaughter of their erstwhile neighbours (and to many others very understandably fleeing a battlefield); which seems to have by far dominated over any actual expulsion of Arabs by Jewish forces. Nor, do we find a serious balancing discussion of the expulsion of some 600,000 Middle Eastern Jews to Israel. Jews whose descendants are now the majority population of that country.

As Charles Krauthammer notes, nowadays, after decades of the assiduously promoted Palestinian Arab narrative -- one that calculatedly plays to 3rd world resentment and Western guilt over colonialism -- a recounting of such facts, in many eyes, seems hopelessly naive and unrealistic about the wrongs of the West, as embodied in the Zionist Jews of Israel. But, sometimes we do need to hear the other side of the story, the side that does not play to the prejudices and fashionable conventional wisdoms of the day:

As historian Barbara Tuchman once wrote, Israel is "the only nation in the world that is governing itself in the same territory, under the same name, and with the same religion and same language as it did 3,000 years ago."

During its early years, Israel was often spoken of in such romantic terms. Today, such talk is considered naive, anachronistic, even insensitive, nothing more than Zionist myth designed to hide the true story, i.e., the Palestinian narrative of dispossession.

Not so. Palestinian suffering is, of course, real and heart-wrenching, but what the Arab narrative deliberately distorts is the cause of its own tragedy: the folly of its own fanatical leadership -- from Haj Amin al-Husseini, the grand mufti of Jerusalem (Nazi collaborator, who spent World War II in Berlin), to Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser to Yasser Arafat to Hamas of today -- that repeatedly chose war rather than compromise and conciliation.

Palestinian dispossession is a direct result of the Arab rejection, then and now, of a Jewish state of any size on any part of the vast lands the Arabs claim as their exclusive patrimony. That was the cause of the war 60 years ago that, in turn, caused the refugee problem. And it remains the cause of war today.

Six months before Israel's birth, the U.N. had decided by a two-thirds majority that the only just solution to the British departure from Palestine would be the establishment of a Jewish state and an Arab state side by side. The undeniable fact remains: The Jews accepted that compromise; the Arabs rejected it.

With a vengeance. On the day the British pulled down their flag, Israel was invaded by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Transjordan and Iraq -- 650,000 Jews against 40 million Arabs.

Israel prevailed, another miracle. But at a very high cost -- not just to the Palestinians displaced as a result of a war designed to extinguish Israel at birth, but also to the Israelis, whose war losses were staggering: 6,373 dead . . .

All this, before there were ever any occupied/disputed territories, or Palestinian Arab refugees.

In short, in militant Islamist and Arab nationalist eyes, "Israel's crime is not its policies but its insistence on living."

So, what we really have to address is a hostile exchange of refugee populations, compounded by a partly religiously motivated, partly nationalist Arab supremacism that rejects the claims of other peoples in the Middle East to self-determination: compare the case of the Kurds for instance, or the plight of the Copts of Egypt [who derive from the original Egyptians], or the Dinka Nubians of Sudan. Thus, until and unless there is a reconciliation of underlying root differences, true peace -- beyond temporary truces between renewed fighting [a precedent which, unfortunately, the Militant Islamists easily derive from the teaching and praxis of their prophet; i.e. part of the reconciliation will have to be based on a serious religious reformation within Islam] -- will be impossible.

By way of contrast, we may reflect on Sir Winston Churchill's 1929 remarks at a tree-planting ceremony on the Mount Scopus [Jerusalem] site of what is now Hebrew University:

"The hope of your race for so many centuries will be gradually realized here, not only for your own good but for the good of all the world. But the non-Jewish inhabitants must not suffer. Every step you take should therefore be also for moral and material benefit of all Palestinians, Jew and Arab alike."

These words directly echo the November 2, 1917 Balfour Declaration:, which was later incorporated in the 1919 Weizmann-Feisal Hussein agreement [cf remarks here], formed a part of the 1920 San Remo Conference on anticipated Mandate responsibilities in lands of the former Ottoman Empire and the 1922 League of Nations Palestine Mandate:

"His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country."

Perhaps the most significant word in this declaration is "rights."

For, a right is a binding moral claim we make based in our God-given dignity as people made in the image of God. Among the rights we often claim is self-determination of nations; and where so desired, political independence as an expression of that right -- but of course, not at the expense of the legitimate claims of others.

In the case of Israel and several other territories after World War II, conflicting claims led to partitions of existing territories, here through a UN partition mandate of 1947, which led to the expiry of the British Mandate on May 15, 1948. The Zionists accepted the partition, the Arab League [and the Palestinian Higher Arab Committee] did not, and set about the publicly declared goal of wiping out the Jews through invasion, which followed hard on the expiry of the British Mandate.

By contrast, we read in the Israeli Declaration of Independence that:

On the 29th November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel; the General Assembly required the inhabitants of Eretz-Israel to take such steps as were necessary on their part for the implementation of that resolution. This recognition by the United Nations of the right of the Jewish people to establish their State is irrevocable.

This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign State.

Thus members and representatives of the Jews of Palestine and of the Zionist movement upon the end of the British Mandate, by virtue of "natural and historic right" and based on the United Nations resolution… Hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel to be known as the State of Israel . . . .

Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the "Ingathering of the Exiles"; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

By logical extension, the declaration states:

WE APPEAL - in the very midst of the onslaught launched against us now for months - to the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to preserve peace and participate in the upbuilding of the State on the basis of full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions.
WE EXTEND our hand to all neighbouring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighbourliness, and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.

Had the spirit of that appeal been honoured, there would have been no call by Arab leadership for Palestinian Arabs to leave Palestine while their Jewish neighbours were wiped out. Thus, there would have been no War of Independence, no Palestinian Arab refugee problem, and no forced emigration of some 600,000 Middle Eastern Jews to Israel, often in fear of their lives.

Unfortunately, as Ms West aptly underscored, there is an underlying clash of visions and values.

For, apart from all considerations of nationhood, we have to address the vision of militant Islamism, which sees itself as fated by Allah to subjugate the world under Allah, his prophet, his law and his warriors. To such a mindset, the Judaeo-Christian derived notion of democratic self-determination and self-government of by and for a free people is anathema; and, the idea that those fated to at best be dhimmis under apartheid-like terms of the Sharia rooted in the Quran's notorious Surah 9:29 ff, should hold independence and exercise rule on lands taken in the first wave of extra-Arabian conquest by the C7's Jihads, is equally intolerable.

However, that automatically means that the democratic independence of any nation outside of the framework of Islamic Law is anathema to the Jihadis.

So, the currently headlined claim against Israel is just a matter of degree, not a difference of kind. For, militant Islamism [as opposed to more moderate varieties of Islamic religious views and praxis] is -- in the light of the linked Surah 9 and a lot of other documentation and history for 1,400 years -- a religiously motivated world subjugation ideology.

That means that, while indeed Mr Bush's vision of a free, democratic Middle East that peacefully respects the national aspirations of its varied peoples is possible, for that to become on- the- ground reality, militant world-subjugationist Islamism will have to go down in decisive theological, ideological [and where necessary, military] defeat and discredit.

A grim challenge, and one that most of us in the Caribbean are reluctant to even acknowledge the reality of. But, that is precisely what the ongoing -- now decades long since about 1979 -- global war on terror is largely about.

That means that: as goes Israel today, so goes the rest of the world tomorrow.

A sobering thought, and a serious challenge to our complacency. END


UPDATE: Excerpt from Krauthammer, May 17.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Matt 24 watch, 54: On self evident truth, the Tao of virtue and the New Atheist attempt to deride God and biblical morality as monstrous

As usual, I am biting off a full mouthful!

(Also, on looking at the dateline for the last post, I see I have been very busy for longer than I realised; the last post here is April 18. That busy-ness includes that I am now sitting on a public hot seat on the draft sustainable energy policy for Montserrat. Your thoughts and inputs are most welcome!)

What stirs me this morning is, first, the idea of moral self evident truth, in the context of what C S Lewis in effect summarised as the Tao of virtue, its links to biblical morality, and the challenge of the New Atheists movement that the God of the Bible is a moral monster undeserving of respect and his followers -- by direct corollary --are dangerous, irrational, potential tyrants.

Let us begin our response by addressing the idea of self-evident truths:
1 --> Self-evident truths are those that, on careful inspection, are directly understood as sound, once we carefully reflect on what the claimed truth means in light of how we experience the world as conscious agents.

2 --> For instance, classically, a finite whole is greater than any one of its proper parts. We cannot understand each term save by reference to the others, and so we see it in light of our experience and exploration of the truth expressed in the statement -- a learning experience spiral.

3 --> And, once we have a basis of such experience to clearly understand what is claimed, we see that it is true and that it is necessarily true on pain of reduction to absurdity should we try to deny it.

4 --> Similarly, as Elton Trueblood reminds us in his General Philosophy, a book that deserves to be read far more than it usually is, Josiah Royce began his reflections on truth by considering the undeniably true claim: "error exists." Try to deny it, and one immediately instantiates its truth.

5 --> Indeed, Royce's pithy statement embeds ideas on what truth is, and on what error is, in light of the idea that truth accurately refers to reality, while error fails to do so.
Each of these is understood incrementally in a spiral learning relationship, and none can be understood without reference to the others. Attempts to "prove" the truth end up implicitly assuming it, but the result is not a dubious vicious logical circle: we are here in the presence of a key self-evident truth!

6 --> Then, this extends to moral truths. As Locke cites Hooker in Ch 2 section 5 of his 2nd essay on Civil Government, such self-evident moral truths include that:
. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.
7 --> In short, we see here a key element of the Tao of Virtue, and that it is a self-evident truth. One may indeed choose to reject it, but only on pain of blatant, often self-serving absurdity.

8 --> This gives us an excellent start-point and basis for calling for much-needed reformation of our civilisation.
In turn, I am equally stirred by reflections on the Moral Monster thesis. A good way to look at that is to excerpt a comment I made this morning at UD:


. . . the price one pays for rejecting self-evident truth is that one descends into a morass of absurdity and confusion, to the point where one cannot accept the obvious.

One may indeed choose to be absurd, but that absurdity itself is the strongest evidence that the Tao is as advertised; self-evidently true . . . .

. . . we are of course [also] seeing the now almost routine claim that “Biblical morality and/or the God of the Bible is monstrous.”

That tactic is not an accident, it is a stratagem of the New Atheists [following the good old fashioned “Village Atheist” of yore] to try to mock and discredit what they cannot directly address on the merits of the main point. Namely, that the core moral teachings of the Judaeo-Christian tradition are an apt expression of what C S Lewis called the Tao, the way of virtue based on key self evident moral truths. A way that has massively and sacrificially contributed to the rise of modern liberty and democracy, and a way that is also committed to the proper difference between liberty and libertinism or license or amorality.

A way that, therefore, all too many in our day would subvert and discard, the better to forward their own agendas — never mind the resulting moral incoherence and chaos. And, never mind the underlying moral principle in evolutionary materialist thought: “might makes ‘right’ . . .” — a moral absurdity if ever there was one.

So, let us first set the record straight by setting forth the core of Biblical morality in the community, using the words of Paul in an epistle recently dismissed by a certain US presidential candidate as “obscure” when it cut across his agenda [the same book and passage, BTW, that grounds the principle that government and citizenship are based on justice and good community order — thus was the theological foundation of the Dutch [1581], Scottish [C16 - 17], Glorious English [1688] and American [1764 - 88] Revolutions, cf. vv 1 - 7]:

Rom 13:8 . . . he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,”[a] and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

a –> The core principle of good citizenship is plain: love does no harm to its neighbour, so love fulfills the Tao.

b --> Hooker, in the justly classic Ecclesiastical Polity, set forth just how this principle is self-evidently true, in a passage cited and used by Locke in Ch 2 sect 5 of his 2nd essay on govt, to ground his own discussion of principles of law, liberty and citizenship:

. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man’s hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant.

c –> So, self-evidently, we share a common human nature: we are of one blood, as the same Paul observed in Ac 17, in speaking to the guardians of the West’s classical intellectual tradition up on Mars Hill in Athens, in 50 AD. Consequently, just as we wish for others to treat us with dignity, respect, etc, we have a duty to do the same to our equals in nature. Anything not consistent with that is morally incoherent and absurd.

d –> Thence also - on the underlying issues tracing to the arguments in and debates over Expelled — the follies of Nazi racialism and associated agendas. Notice, the concept of the Aryan man was that he was superior to the untermensch so had no obligation to treat them with respect, and certainly was not to let such racial inferiors breed up and overwhelm the master race! We all know where this led, and how it was rationalised.

e –> Now also, the passage cited above speaks not just to the duties of the citizen, but the ruler[s]. According to vv 1 - 4: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities . . . [the civil authority] is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

f –> So, there is a sword of justice that is a duty of the ruler, in a world in which there are evildoers who can only be held in check by force. So, rulers hold a further commission as God’s agents of judgement against determined wrongdoers who have to be so restrained.

g –> Unfortunately, the class of determined wrongdoers can also include the ruler himself. Rulers can turn tyrant.

h –> So, based on a multitude of biblical examples and statements that the New Atheists — tellingly — never cite, the reformers worked out the principle of interposition [by lower magistrates acting with and/or for the people] to restrain or remove an unjust ruler, thence of godly revolution and establishment of a new government with justice under God. This was foundational to the rise of modern liberty as the linked note on that history and associated key documents will bring out.

i –> So we see a due balance: citizenship is to be based on neighbour love, and government is established as God’s agency to do us justice and good, holding the forces of evil and resulting chaos in check. That means as well that rulers hold special duties and must have access tot he means of those duties, financial [v 7 — just power of taxation] and forceful [v 4 — just power of the sword].

j –> But note, the ruler acts as God’s agent, God being the supreme authority and judge, and the one who holds the original power of the sword as creator and governor of the cosmos and as the supremely Just.

k –> So, we must immediately recognise that God acting in just government against evil doers holds special duties and just powers. It is in that context that cultures that become a sufficiently destructive contagion and plague of evil in the world are destroyed by him: first by the self-destructive implications of such a way of life and society; second by their stubborn disobedience to the Tao and to those who stand up to warn them, thus proving that they must be held in check by force; and, thirdly by destructive force — the just power of the sword. (I tremble for our civilisation, as Jefferson once trembled for the United States . . .)

l –> Usually, that targets ruling elites and their key institutions. [Indeed, if one reads here, one will see, say, that the degree of destruction of Canaanite cultures was different than one might infer from a superficial, out of context reading of isolated texts. More generally, the Moral Monster thesis needs to also be re-assessed in light of considerations here.]

m –> But also, in the end, biblically, it is appointed to us sinful men once to die and thereafter to face just eternal judgement.

n –> That judgement of course — per Rm 2 vv 6 - 9 and 12 - 16 etc — respects the degree of light one may have had [and innocent babies are not in the position of willful men who refuse to live by the truth they know or should know], and respects penitent persistence in the path of the good and the truth that one knows, even where there is much error. But, it is the judgement of our Creator, and Lord — our ultimate ruler, not a fellow citizen on the same level.

o –> From that balanced biblical perspective, a lot of otherwise inexplicably troubling things take on a more balanced proportion.

p –> This includes the case with Abraham and Isaac. For, Abraham, doubtless was quite familiar with child sacrifice from his Canaanite cultural matrix. So, to him, the demand for such sacrifice would have fit into that context.

q –> But through a prophetic drama, Jehovah led him to see that the sacrifice of innocent children was needless, with a ram standing in as acceptable. And, as Hebrews reminds us, the rams [which BTW usually ended up as food for the priestly class, who in that culture carried out much of the processes of governance now carried out by secular governments] looked forward to the day when God himself would willingly offer himself up as the true sacrifice for all our sins, doing away with blood sacrifice in toto.

r –> Thus, too, we see the principle of long term moral and spiritual progress in light of what is understandable and acceptable to men at given times and places: accommodation to the situation we face and the hardness of our hearts, but with the principle and pointer to progress in it, opening the way for later upliftment.

s –> So, the real issue in our time is to go back to the principles of the Tao, and then look into our own sinful and self-deceptive hearts, asking ourselves hard questions on what is now simply allowed for the hardness of our own hearts today.

t –> While we are at it, we will need to ask: is this light or darkness, liberty or libertinism? And, for that the two halves of the core Tao are a sure guide: Love God our loving and good Creator, love our fellow human beings, made in God’s image.


So, now, will we listen to the call for repentance and reformation in light of the truth and the right in our culture.

Or, will we instead succumb to the blandishments of vice and its self-destructive absurdities?

Indeed, will we continue to turn our backs on the self-evident truths of the world without and heart and mind within that point, like a compass needle, to our Creator and to our duties under our Lord and God?

If so, we will lose control of our passions, find our minds blighted with en-darkenment even as we loudly proclaim our wisdom and learning, and will end up in demonic chaos; fallingunder the just judgement of God.

Defiance of truth and right are absurd, and self-destructive.

When will we come to our senses and repent? END