Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Violence in response to violence - An ineffective tactic

The recent rocket exchanges between Palestinian terrorists and Israel underscore some important aspects of the so-called "War on Terror".  I'm going to try to show how ineffective this process is for both sides in the Middle East conflict.  Retaliatory violence in response to violence never works against terrorism.  Retaliation makes sense, perhaps, only in the case where one nation is attacking and invading another nation in a more or less "set piece" military conflict.  I have absolutely no problem with a nation defending itself in this sort of engagement.

In the Middle East, of course, the Palestinians were more or less evicted from their lands at the end of WWII, with the collaboration of the victorious allies.  Claims to the incredibly harsh landscapes of the Middle East have been in dispute for far longer than that, no doubt extending back at least 2000 years, and likely much more than that.  Who "owns" the Middle East?  All the ethnic groups, separated by atavistic tribalism and poisonous religious influences, have some historical claim to the lands that have some validity.  In all their wars, the land has changed hands many times, to the point where no claim can be said to be absolute.  It's pretty evident that no lasting peaceful "solution" to this problem has ever been possible.  Both sides are deeply suspicious of each other and separated by millennia of previous violence against one another.

In this atmosphere of deep-seated hatred and historical mistrust (an atmosphere comparable to the Balkans in Europe), we find ourselves in the middle of a fresh round of mutual retaliatory attacks. Some Americans believe that the only possible response to a terrorist attack is retaliation in kind.  Some even advocate truly insane things, such as bombing the terrorists with thermonuclear bombs!  This sort of biblical old testament - "eye for an eye" reaction is precisely what was supposedly repudiated in the bible's new testament, but many religious right-wing "conservatives" conveniently overlook that point in their support of Israel's military responses to terrorist attacks.

The main problem with this tactic is that the evidence of at least 2000 years of history shows that it doesn't work!  Lasting peace in the Middle East simply hasn't been possible for all these years because all sides see it as some sort of holy war, when it's really nothing more than primitive tribalism.  All their wars have settled nothing, including wars fought with extreme violence (attempts at genocide)!  If the peoples of the Middle East could be convinced to forget the past and try to co-exist in a peaceful arrangement with equal treatment for all, the terrorists would become universally irrelevant and lose their support base in the populace.  But in the Middle East, it seems, past "wrongs" can never be forgiven, present-day provocations must be answered in kind, and death dealt out to the opposition!  Religious differences feed and reinforce the tribalism, and both sides proclaim that the deity they have in common is on their side, naturally!

Terrorism is a different animal completely from a war of national aggression.  The Palestinians engage in terrorism because it's a tactic best suited for the weak.  The muslims of the Middle East have learned, more or less, they'll be defeated in any aggressive set-piece war against Israel.  The Israelis, with their national existence at stake, have developed a very competent military machine in response to the repeated attempts to wipe them out militarily.  Terrorism is the only path left for the muslims to pursue if they wish to strike at Israel.  I'm not justifying terrorism with its violence visited on the innocent, of course, merely explaining it.  But it unites the Palestinians by showing they don't have to take perceived aggression by the Israelis without some sort of response!  The problem with attempting to "destroy" the terrorists is that it's simply not possible to do so.  And terrorism isn't going to to destroy Israel!  Responding to violence with violence simply means the Israelis have lowered themselves from the moral high ground down into the same moral sewer occupied by the terrorists.  In effect, muslim terrorism wins whenever they can cause Israel to retaliate in kind.  Killing individual terrorists does two things:  (1) makes them martyrs for the cause, and (2) typically includes "collateral damage" - i.e., casualties among non-terrorist civilians.  Both of these results are the best tools for recruiting that terrorists possess!  Killing terrorists begets new terrorists!  It doesn't discourage them - it stiffens their resistance and brings new volunteers to the cause.  It fans the flames of the religious and deep-seated hatred that drives them to terrorism.  For both sides, it just does not work and so is an ineffective tool for "solving" the problems of the Middle East.