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Thursday, February 24, 2005

A Couple Of Good Things On Open Democracy

Open Democracy is one of my favorite sites, and recently they've published a couple of articles on the Middle East that I think are well worth reading for anyone interested in the region.

First off, "Rafiq Hariri’s murder: why do Lebanese blame Syria?" by Haziem Saghieh, on the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

In the post-11 September 2001 era, the moderate Rafiq Hariri was in principle the politician most able to act as mediator between Syria and the west. In practice, Syria’s “rational” rulers chose to extend Emile Lahoud’s presidency – and in so doing, struck both Hariri and the west with a single blow.

Their action reveals a deep, irreconcilable contradiction between two political choices embodied by the figure of Rafiq Hariri and the military regime in Damascus. The first is motivated by “building” a nation-state, the second is obsessed by keeping it annexed and subjugated; the first is driven by life and openness to the world, the second by death, martyrdom and (its brotherhood with Iran excepted) isolation.

The other must-read is "Talking to Terrorists in Gaza" by Mient Jan Faber, a Dutch expert in conflict resolution. I find it to be quite a fascinating article because, although I am not particularly religious, my world view is profoundly shaped by the Calvinist Protestantism ideas that are at the core of Faber's beliefs, and so it is interesting to see how this world view interacts with other ideas of the world.

I went to a small room in a little old house. There I sat with Sheikh Yassin, who was in his wheelchair. As visitors entered, they fell to their knees and kissed his hand as if he were a god.

He began to tell me how bad the Israelis were. After a while I stopped him. I said that I wanted to talk about his principles. I found that I had to explain this. I told him that I was a Calvinist and that though I had learned that people can do good, I also knew that they had a lot of evil inside them. I told him I believed you had to set yourself limits and that I called these limits “personal ethics”. I asked him if this idea of “personal ethics” was also present in Islam. He started talking about Israel again.

I said that I understood that Israel’s policies could not be justified but I asked him again: “Despite everything, despite what Sharon is doing, do you ever think personally about the two sides, do you ever question yourself and whether you can be responsible for sending suicide-bombers and their victims to their deaths?”

He had no clue what I was talking about.

How could he not understand the idea of personal ethics? It was something I thought was so clear.

I thought perhaps he was joking or lying but the people around him also found the question strange. I realised that nobody had ever asked the question in this way before.

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