עם זאת, שוב, ישראל?/مرة أخرى، فلسطين؟


So you’ve all doubtlessly heard about the shit hitting the fan in Israel. It all came in the wake of three Israeli teens being murdered, and spiraled from there, as Israel exacted revenge against…someone, via their usual policies of collective punishment. Hamas retaliated by firing off several missiles, which killed zero Israelis. Israel responded by attacking Gaza, and killed about 200 civilians. Tit, tat, etc.

Realistically what this situation calls for is for Israel and Palestine to be two separate countries, with Jerusalem as an open, international, city-state, freely accessible to basically everyone. This whole thing is a non-starter for Israel, as their prime minister said just the other day.

“I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.”

This, mind you, is the same man who called for revenge against the Palestinians following the deaths of those three Israeli teens. That revenge seemed to be partly fulfilled when a Palestinian teenager was murdered, and his cousin, an American citizen, was brutally beaten by Israeli police forces. The situation is further not helped by Israel continuing to repress Palestinians and treat them very much like how blacks were treated in South Africa and the United States. It’s also not helped by Israel continuing to expand their illegal settlements.

None of this is meant to say that Palestine is innocent here. Hamas needs to stop lobbing rockets at Israel. When your enemy is looking for even the slightest excuse to stomp on you, giving them that excuse is unwise. They need to be very loudly, clearly, engaging in peaceful actions against Israel if they’re going to have any hope for lasting co-existence.

But at this point, it’s obvious that the people in control on both sides don’t want peaceful co-existence. It’s clear that Israel’s government wants Palestinians to continue to be second-class citizens at best, and ideally gone from the areas of “greater Israel”. It’s also clear that there are many in Palestine, and many in the greater Arab world, who don’t want Israel to exist, either. So this is something of a problem.

I think at this point the best thing for Israel to do would to be to start to moderate their responses to attacks, and at the same time move toward either a free Palestine or full integration of the Palestinians into Israel. That means full citizenship, including voting and marriage (which is important, as Israel’s marriage laws make those of the Jim Crow South look tolerant and broad-minded). That isn’t something Israel is likely to do, since they want to preserve their identity as a Jewish state. They don’t want to give Palestinians their freedom, either.

As for the Palestinians, they need to start protesting hard against organizations that make their personal lives more difficult. If they’re ever going to have their own country, it will only be once Israel feels incredibly safe. That certainly isn’t going to happen under the current situation. They also need to accept, fully, the reality that Israel will be there now and forever.

As for what the United States needs to do, we need to stay the fuck out. We can provide help with negotiations or the like, but otherwise, we need to be far more neutral than we are. We also need to stop our knee-jerk support for everything that Israel does, no matter how evil it would be if someone else were doing it to Israel or to us.

Israel’s existence is, frankly, an error. The country should have never come into existence the way that it did; a way that completely ignored the rights of the people already there. In the wake of World War II, I don’t really blame the great powers for creating Israel, but they really should have thought about it a bit longer. Still, the country is there, and needs to be dealt with, and we need to stop treating them like our closest friend and start being a bit more skeptical.

Terrorism is Bad, Right?


I think, or at least hope, that we can all agree that it’s a very bad thing. So how come we support a state that engages in terrorism?

As you may have heard, an Iranian nuclear scientist was killed the other day by assassins who were almost certainly connected with the Israeli government. This was one of several murders of nuclear scientists that happened recently. Israel hasn’t admitted to doing these murders, but let’s be real here. We all know it was probably them. Yes, it is possible it was an internal conflict or that some other country did it, but Israel is certainly the most likely suspect.

I’m not at all in favor of Iran having nuclear weapons. I mean, that’d be something almost as horrible as, say, Russia, China or North Korea having them. But there are limits to what I’m willing to do to prevent them from having them. For example, I’m not willing to have us invade Iran. I’m not especially willing to tighten already tough sanctions that aren’t punishing the people in power. I’m also certainly not in favor of using terrorist tactics to prevent them from getting nukes.

I do understand and support Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself, but at what cost? I support our right to do those things, too, but that doesn’t mean I’d support us using terrorist tactics. It seems to me that targeting civilians for murder counts as terrorism. If they were targeting Iranian government officials, like the members of the clergy who are in charge, or the Iranian president, that wouldn’t be terrorism, but it would still be unwise.

Realistically we all need to just calm the fuck down and get to the negotiating table with Iran. We need to give them diplomatic recognition (though perhaps understandably we might not want to set up an actual embassy), and actually deal with them. We can’t just ignore them and hope they’ll go away and we can’t continue sanctions that don’t punish the people in power. What we don’t need is another war. What we don’t need are certain prominent politicians talking about how they’d love to have us invade yet another Muslim country.

What we certainly don’t need is to cede the moral high ground by engaging in terrorism or supporting terrorism done by our allies.

Yet More Religious Evil


You may have heard about a story recently where a little girl in the Middle East was on her way to school and a bunch of religious extremists, who make up a whopping 10% of the population of this girl’s country, attacked her verbally, spit on her, called her a whore, etc. Why? Well, she was wearing short sleeves. These are the same fanatics who believe there should be separate sidewalks for males and females. This isn’t even just confined to their country. No, these wackaloons have managed to export their insanity to the United States and have basically taken over a town in New York.

I really have nothing to say about this, beyond the fact that if your religious beliefs allow you to think that it’s ok to call little girls whores because they are wearing short sleeves, then you and your religious beliefs are fucked-up beyond all sanity.

Plans for Palestine


Mahmoud Abbas has announced plans for Palestine to seek full UN membership. This is a step toward them having their own independent state of Palestine. While I am very much in favor of a free Palestine, I am against this particular method.

First of all, it isn’t going to succeed. Even if they get a vote on it, the US, and likely the UK, will use their veto power to block it. So that’s the end of that. And second, trying to use this tactic at all doesn’t further their cause. All it does is make them look bad, further unite the Arab world against Israel and put everyone into an awkward situation.

Israel does need to grow the hell up and let Palestine exist as its own nation (ideally with Jerusalem as its capitol, or failing that, the city itself as its own nation). The current cycle of violence and reprisals doesn’t do anything to stabilize the region. A free Palestine might not do that, but on the other hand, it might. We do know that things as they aren’t aren’t stable.

But on the other hand, the Palestinian Authority needs to understand that trying tactics like this only makes them look bad and won’t accomplish anything good.

About Obama’s Speech


A few days ago Obama gave a little speech where, among other things, he told Israel that a good starting point for talking peace is returning to their legal, pre-1967 borders with land swaps to address both sides’ security issues and Hamas recognizing Israel. Naturally the right wing went apeshit because… I’m not sure why, actually. I mean, it wasn’t a departure from what Clinton and at least the previous Bush said. It’s just that it was Obama saying it. For a very good analysis, check this from Sully.

For the record, I fully agree with this stance. Israel has, for too long, gotten whatever they wanted to get because… I’m not really sure why, actually. Yes, it’s a democracy, but so what? We support, have supported and will continue to support nasty dictatorships in the region, so clearly that’s not why. I think it all dates back to the Cold War, actually. But anyhow, Israel has been far from a great ally and has seemingly gone out of their way in the last few years to avoid any chances of peace. Yes, Hamas and other groups don’t help, but we expect them to behave badly. We don’t expect that of Israel.

For there to be a permanent, fair peace in the area, Israel is going to have to make compromises. They need to stop building settlements everywhere. They need to stop treating Palestinians the way the Nazis treated Jews. They need to stop retaliating to every provocation in massively out-of-proportion ways. They need to let Palestine go their own way. They need to do a lot of land-swapping with the 1967 borders as a starting point. Ideally they should return their capital to the legally mandated location of Tel Aviv, but I don’t expect that to happen.

On the other side, Hamas needs to recognize Israel’s right to exist. The various extremist groups need to stop attacking Israeli settlements.They also need to be willing to make compromises on land and accept that they won’t get everything they want. On the other hand, at the end of the day they could end up with their own country again, and that’s pretty important.

Ultimately both sides need to grow the fuck up. They both need to stop acting like they’re the only ones entitled to that land. It’s stupid and wrong and doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. Extremists on both sides need to be ignored and then hopefully progress can be made.

What Should America Do?


As events in Egypt drag on, the central question on the Sunday talk shows is what we should do about it. Many people seem to have the opinion that we should, at all costs, stop democratic reform in Egypt, since it might lead to an Islamic government that’s hostile to Israel. I think this is what we call “obnoxious”.

Here’s what we should do: stand up for the principles we claim to hold. Defend the Egyptian peoples’ right to self-determination. Call loudly for reforms in public, and then Obama needs to be on the phone calling firmly but privately for Mubarak to resign. Yes, there’s a chance that a democratic government in Egypt might end up being Islamist and hostile to Israel. That would suck. But if that happens, it means that there needs to be a PR campaign to change the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people rather than the current situation, where there’s peace because a dictator is stomping out any possibility of no peace.

Besides, we should trust the Egyptian people. They have had thirty years of peace and diplomacy with Israel. There’s no reason to assume that’s going to suddenly disappear if they are allowed the same freedoms as we enjoy.

Ultimately in the long run we need to stop propping up anti-democratic regimes simply because we happen to like what their leader is doing for us. It’s a bad, odious habit that always comes back to bite us in the ass (Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are great examples of this). Either we are a country that supports freedom and democracy for everyone or we’re just a bunch of self-interested hypocrites. I know which I’d rather we be.

Some Perspective on Israel


Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan:

Imagine, for a moment, that a US ally that is not Israel – say, Turkey – killed an unarmed American civilian on an unarmed ship in international waters by four bullets to the head at close range. And imagine that president Obama decided that we shouldn’t rush to judgment and that Turkey was in an understandable bind, because it was enforcing an embargo on a tiny strip of (say, Kurdish) land it had recently strafed with missiles and bullets, killing over a thousand. The land was home to an elected Kurdish government that was viciously terroristic – even totalitarian in some respects – and wanted to destroy Turkey, even though it had few means to accomplish this. The Kurds, like the Palestinians, had no homeland at all, and were now suffering greatly under the blockade and embargo.

Can you imagine how the Republican right would explode at this example of classic Obama “weakness” and “appeasement”? Can you even conceive that the American right would actually champion and celebrate Turkey’s attack – and be far more solicitous of Turkey’s actions than any of America’s allies? Can you imagine that the conservative British prime minister would be more outraged at this attack on a defenseless ship and the murder of an American citizen than the president of the United States?

Sully is using this as a way of highlighting the double-standard that we have when it comes to Israel. We support them doing things we would never put up with any other countries doing. And if some other country did it to us? Can you imagine the hue and cry?

In the example above, Turkey would clearly be wrong in what they are doing. So why isn’t it wrong for Israel to do the same thing?

Here’s some more from Sully:

To read Charles Krauthammer today is to enter a twilight zone of an alternate reality. A country permanently occupying and colonizing a neighboring region, and treating its original inhabitants as dangerous interlopers, is the victim. An elite commando unit attacking a ship carrying toys and wheelchairs in the hours before dawn are those we should feel pity for. A country with 150 nuclear warheads and the strongest military in its region, the victor in every conventional war it has always fought, is somehow also always fighting for its very existence. A country backed by the sole superpower, supplied with aid by huge majorities in the US Congress, is facing extinction. Self-defense requires not civilly disabling and inspecting the cargo of an unarmed ship but raiding it at dawn and killing nine and injuring dozens. Basic human revulsion at a military that can kill over a thousand people – including scores of women and children in a trapped, impoverished enclave – can only be a function of anti-Semitism. A territory that is being systematically populated with Israelis in illegal settlements in contravention of the Geneva Conventions is merely a “buffer zone”. You need to colonize buffer zones?

Exactly. Israel needs to stop pretending they are always and forever the victim. I’m also tired of people saying they are “surrounded” by enemies. They aren’t. Egypt and Jordan, while not exactly Israel’s best friends, get along with them more often than not.

None of Israel’s behavior, of course, excuses the actions of the terrorists in the West Bank and Gaza. They needs to be rounded up and punished. But Israel needs to stop overreacting because it is not doing anything to make things better for anyone.

A Reply to Jonolan


I recently wrote an article about Israel’s interception of a flotilla of ships that were trying to get around the blockade of Palestine. This resulted in some lively comments from an anti-Muslim blogger named Jonolan. The most interesting one is reproduced below:

There’s not a single Muslim country that doesn’t execute homosexuals and there’s not a single Muslim country where their populace seems, by and large, to have a problem with that.

The following countries have Muslim majorities and do not punish homosexuality at all:

Albania
Azerbaijan
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Turkey
Kosovo
Guinea-Bissau
Chad
Kazakhstan
Tajikistan
Kyrgyzstan
Iraq (since 2003. See, our invasion was good for something after all!)
Jordan
Indonesia (legal in all but one state, and then the laws apply only to Muslims)

So by my count that’s thirteen countries that are majority Islam where homosexuality isn’t even illegal. This is a somewhat larger number than zero.

Here’s a list of majority Muslin countries where homosexuality is illegal but is not punished by the death penalty.

Algeria
Egypt
Tunisia
Libya
Morocco
Burkina Faso
The Gambia
Guinea
Nigeria (illegal throughout the country, punished by death only in, yes, areas controlled by Sharia law. Does that make you feel better?)
Mali
Senegal
Sierra Leone
Comoros
Eritrea (almost exactly half the country is Muslim and almost exactly half is Christian, so I’ll count it on both lists. Both, you say? Oh, just wait)
Djibouti
Tanzania (split almost exactly in thirds between Muslims, Christians and indigenous religions, so look for it on the other list as well)
Cameroon (also split between Muslims and Christians, so, yes, other list)
Bahrain
Turkmenistan (legal for women, illegal for men)
Oman
Uzbekistan (anal sex is illegal, but everything else seems fine)
Kuwait
Lebanon
Palestine (so, yes, illegal there, at least in places. See this article for details)
Qatar
Syria
Afghanistan
Pakistan
The Maldives
Brunei
Malaysia

So that’s another 30 where it’s illegal but doesn’t carry the death penalty. So far we’re looking at a total of 43 Muslim-majority countries where homosexuality is not punished by death.

Now let’s look at those Muslim-majority countries where homosexuality is illegal and is punishable by death.

Sudan
Mauritania
Nigeria (in parts)
Somalia
Saudi Arabia (a staunch US ally, btw)
United Arab Emirates
Yemen
Iran

So, that’s eight. Of the Muslim-majority countries where I could find the information, which is a total of 51, there’s eight that practice the death penalty for homosexuality, at least officially. How often it’s actually enforced in a place like the UAE could be another matter. Let’s review what Jonolan said:

There’s not a single Muslim country that doesn’t execute homosexuals and there’s not a single Muslim country where their populace seems, by and large, to have a problem with that.

Thirteen where it’s legal, thirty where it’s illegal but doesn’t carry the death penalty and eight where it’s illegal but does. It’s also worth noting that Albania is discussing the legalization of gay marriage. Several of these countries also have anti-discrimination laws.

Now for fun, let’s look at a list of majority Christian nations where homosexuality is illegal and not punished by death (and yes, I’m not going to bother listing the ones where it’s legal. A: that’s less fun, and B: there’s just too many Christian-majority nations to do):

Eritrea
Cameroon
Tanzania (see, I told you you’d see those countries listed again!)
Ghana
Liberia (settled by former slaves from the USA. I guess they learned a lot from our country, where homosexuality was illegal in several states until 2004)
Angola
Democratic Republic of the Congo
São Tomé and Príncipe
Kenya
Burundi
Malawi (a shocker, I know)
Ethiopia
Seychelles (illegal for men only)
Uganda (which is trying to pass laws that would include the death penalty)
Zambia (male only)
Zimbabwe (male only)
Botswana
Lesotho
Namibia
Swaziland (male only)
Belize (male only)
Antigua and Barbuda
Barbados
Dominica
Grenada (male only)
Jamaica (male only)
St Kitts and Nevis (male only)
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
Guyana (male only… again)
Solomon Islands
Papua New Guinea
Kiribati (wanna guess which gender this applies to?)
Nauru
Palau
Tonga (male only)
Tuvalu (male only)

(source for all the above information)

So that’s thirty-seven majority Christian nations that outlaw homosexuality. None of them punish it by death, at least not officially, but Uganda is certainly trying their best to change that, and, like I said up above, remember that it was illegal in several US states until Lawrence v Texas in 2004. Yes, it took a Supreme Court ruling to change the laws here; it wasn’t done by the people of those states just deciding to do the right thing.

The interesting thing to note here is that the problem isn’t Islam per se, it’s religion in general. The countries that make homosexuality a crime are those where religion and ignorance dominate. Heck, in my research I even found a couple majority Hindu countries that outlaw homosexuality. This is not a problem that’s exclusive to Islam.

So I think I’ve dealt with that part of the comment nicely. What’s the next part? Oh, yes.

Similarly, you’re an Atheist and a “militant” one. That’s a capital offense in most, if not all, Muslim countries as well and, again, their populace seems, by and large, don’t have a problem with that..

I’m a militant atheist? In what way? I’ve never called for religion to be illegal. I think it should be eliminated from the world’s culture, but I’d do that through eduction and learning, not through guns or laws. Now you did put that in quotes, so I know you didn’t mean it in the military sense of the word “militant”, but I’m not sure in what way you do mean it.

Also, the following Christian countries have laws against blasphemy. ;)

Australia
Austria
Canada
Denmark
Finland
Germany
Greece
Ireland (this one has gotten some attention lately)
Malta
The Netherlands
New Zealand

Admittedly it’s unenforced in most of these countries, but you get the idea. Also I’m willing to bet that, if polled, most American’s would be in favor of anti-blasphemy laws here in the USA.

Ah, but you mentioned specifically Muslim countries. Yes, it’s illegal in a great many, though not punished by death in most and not illegal in all. I’m just not in the mood to type up another long list.

Let’s go to the last line of the comment:

So why side with them?

I’m not, exactly. I’m saying there’s plenty of blame to go around. I’m saying Israel has done some very evil things in the last few years aided and abetted by the USA. I’m saying that collective punishment against an entire group of people is a bad thing. I also understand that Israel has the right to defend themselves and that terrorism is bad no matter who is doing it.

And yes, I’ll stand up happily for the rights of people who would gladly have me horribly murdered for my sexual preferences and/or atheism. Why?

Because I’m a better person than they are.

Israel’s Latest Mistake


As I am sure you have heard, Israel stopped a set of ships in international waters the other day, a bit of a fracas ensued and several people were killed (none of them Israelis). Israel claims this is perfectly justified. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu was just on TV a few moments ago saying that Israel has the right to defend themselves, and they do. But they need to learn the words “proportional response” and they need to stop thinking that every little act out of Gaza needs to result in an entire population of people being stomped on.

We don’t yet know all the details and probably won’t ever know them all. But what I at least know is that it’s clear that Israel’s current practices are not working. They’ve done great evil to the people of Palestine and then act amazed when bad things are done them in turn. They really need to learn how to suck it up and start treating the Palestinians like equal members of Israeli society or they need to allow them to form their own nation.

Israel, of course, won’t allow the second option. The land is theirs, they say, and has been since God gave it to them. Well, tough. It’s not just your land, you share it with a lot of other people. So either treat them right or let them go their own way. Oh, and while you’re at it, move your capitol back to Tel Aviv, where it is supposed to be.

Oh, and can we in the USA please, please, please stop our collective knee-jerk approval of everything that Israel does? It doesn’t help us and it doesn’t help anyone else, except the al Qaeda recruiters.

The Current Mess in Israel


So I see that, once again, people who claim their religions are about peace and brotherhood are busy murdering one another in what’s supposed to be the holiest part of the world. Yes, it’s time to talk about the war between Israel and Hamas, which is apparently about to become a ground war.

Andrew Sullivan wrote a very good commentary on the issue which I think sums up my personal views on this. Yes, Israel has the moral high ground here, but on the other hand, they’re killing far more civilians than Hamas ever could. This is doing nothing more than continuing to fuel the fires of religious hatred and breed a new generation of future terrorists.

Problem is that there is not a solution here that either side would find acceptable. Israel needs to give the Palestinians their own homeland and bugger their government back up to Tel Aviv where it belongs (that’s the official, UN-endorsed capital, not Jerusalem). For their part, the Palestinians need to stop supporting groups like Hamas and understand that, like it or not, Israel is here to stay.

Of course ultimately if both sides just rejected their religions they could live at peace. If you don’t have rabbis on one side and imams on the other telling both that it’s kosher/halal to go around murdering people who don’t believe in your god the same way you do, nothing will change. I absolutely guarantee you this problem would not be happening of both sides were secular.

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