Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Off the face of the earth

I've found it easy to resist the surge of commentary about Mel Gibson's drunken remarks about Jews, mainly because I'm not particularly a fan of Gibson's. I thought The Passion was definitely one of the more interesting attempts at serious religious art in the film medium, but aside from that I've thought every movie that he's directed was just terrible.

But I was amused by this opening paragraph in an editorial in this morning's WSJ:
So Mel Gibson, arrested in Malibu, Calif., for drunk driving, tells a police officer that "the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Pity the actor for not substituting the word "Israelis" for "Jews." The latter apparently confirms his long-suspected anti-Semitism. The former would have made him a darling of right-thinking progressives the world over, especially at this moment of Middle East stress.
That had kind of been my own thought as well, to be honest.

Of course, Israel represents a rather interesting question in regards to the whole idea of Just War. I tend to support Israel for something of the same reason that John Derbyshire once gave: Because in a generally oppressive and uncivilized area of the world they are one of the few fairly just and egalitarian democracies. (Ironically, the runner up in that category is arguably Lebanon.)

However, there is another half of conservatism that is much less sanguine about Israel. Some say this is because of anti-Semitism (and there is some of that in certain paleo-conservative circles from what I can see) but I think it is also because Israel represents something of a puzzle in that it is so new. Fifty years ago there was no state of Israel, and 100 years ago there was not a Jewish majority population in that area. Israel is an example of a phenomenon which has become very rare in the modern world, though it happened often in the 'Dark Ages', of a people moving into a previously populated area and securing political control over it essentially by force.

The Normans did this to England in 1066, and before them the Danes did much the same to parts of central England in the 700s to 900s. Before that, the Saxons did the same thing to the Celts and Roman Britains when they invaded. By comparison, the Israelis took a fairly peaceful route: moving into the area while it was under Turkish and then under British control, and building up to where they represented a sizeable percentage of the population before demanding political control. And yet, there is a sense in which the local Arab population can rightly see Israel as an invading population.

Much of just war doctrine centers around whether or not a war is defensive in nature. If your country is invaded, it's generally considered just to defend it. Going off and invading someone else's country requires much more work to justify -- some maintain that it can't be justified at all.

And yet, pretty much all the territory on this earth is conquered territory many times over. Which raises the question: at what point is one required to admit that no matter what you think about how the current owners acquired their territory, their right to it should now be respected? People have long memories. In Northern Ireland the IRA and the Orange Men are still fighting it out over the wrongs committed by Cromwell and William III, as well as the much more recent oppression of the Irish Catholic population. In the Balkans grudges stretch back 1000 years or more.

Israel is new by comparison -- unless you count the country established in 1948 as possessing true historical continuity with the Israelite kingdom that was dispersed in 70AD. And yet, looking at the map of the world, a goodly portion of them did not reach their current form until after 1948. I don't think there's any period of time one can lay out which makes a new country "established" rather than "invading".

Israel has stood the test of time for more than a generation, and it offers its Muslim citizens as much freedom and more opportunity, in many ways, than most of the surrounding Muslim countries do. It seems to me that at this point in history, all reasonable observers must acknowledge it as a country that is here to stay (not an invading population) and that with that status comes a need to proportionately defend itself from attack. Not that anyone has ever accused Hamas and Hezbollah of being reasonable...


kipwatson said...

You're sort of right, a little marred by imprecise historical references though.

The various slavs peoples had only just arrived, were arriving or were soon to arrive in the Balkans 1000 years ago, their specific grievances really only date back a few hundred years, (except in their minds, which probably amounts to the same thing, so I guess your point stands).

As for the Jews. They may not have been a majority in the entire Palestine Mandate, but they were always a majority in the Jerusalem area and probably the rest of modern Israel. This whole area was sparsely populated until the arrival of the Zionists in the 19th Century (who were welcomed by the Ottoman Empire so it's not fair to call it an invasion). The descendants of most Palestinian Arabs probably only arrived there as the economy of the region boomed during this time.

And the Irish, what can I say? Yes, what my English ancestors did was horrible, but while many specific acts were evil, the need to do something about the Irish was much like the need to do something about Iraq and Afghanistan. It was simply not reasonable to allow a treacherous neighbour to continue to plot the conquest of England with the European tyrants.

A telling comparison with Israel perhaps - as England was then a small state repeatedly fighting for its survival against those who sought its destruction for fanatical reasons, sorry if that's a bit close to the bone even after these centuries!

Anonymous said...

Yes, what my English ancestors did was horrible, but while many specific acts were evil, the need to do something about the Irish was much like the need to do something about Iraq and Afghanistan. It was simply not reasonable to allow a treacherous neighbour to continue to plot the conquest of England with the European tyrants.

Which invasion of Ireland are you thinking of with that one? Surely not Henry II, who started the trend of invading Ireland when the English had nothing better to do. Cromwell? I don't know about European tyrants, but surely pretty near half his own country wanted him dead...

Actually, I've got ancestors on both sides of the England/Ireland history -- though I certainly tend to identify with the Irish Catholics more than the Orange Men.

I'll admit to not knowing as much about Israeli history as I ought to, but I'd had the impression that even in the Zionist period leading up to the war of independence the Jews actually made up a minority in Palestine, until the surrounding Arab countries effectively gave them a Jewish majority by driving all of their own Jewish populations out, thus flooding Palestine with Jewish refugees with very good personal reasons to be ready to defend their new homes.

There is a certain similarity between the Palestine and Norther Ireland situations, though, in that it's the religious dividing line that keeps things permanently divided (one of the main reasons, I think, my Henry II's invasions didn't cause nearly the long term hatred that later ones did). Also, while the various radical Arab militias take terrorism farther than even the IRA could have imagined, the Israelis to, once in a while, fall into the same trap as the Brits kept doing in Ireland during this century, in that they are occasionally goaded by the terrorists into taking reprisals which fall generally enough on the population that it simply radicalized the Palestinians more.

kipwatson said...

Ha ha, we can laugh at the wogs (sorry, that's what we call them here in Australia) who won't let go of their historical grievances, but then a subject like Ireland comes up and shows us for the hypocrites we are!

Look, I'll never defend Oliver Cromwell, but there's two sides to every story, and that was ours.

Yes, the Jews were a minority in 'Palestine'. But, of course that name referred then to what we now call, Israel, the West Bank *and Jordan*, which makes all the difference in the world. Modern Israel (or most of it) always was majority Jewish. I don't have the numbers, but remember the 1948 partition plan, which was only a little smaller than the 1967 borders, took place before most of the modern immigration had happened (even from Europe). The land allocated to Israel was all Jewish majority land, an overwhelming majority in most cases.

A lot of Jews did move to Israel after 1948, but a heck of a lot were there already. For example, Hebron had a thriving Jewish population that could trace their roots back, well, basically forever. They were driven out (and slaughtered) in the 1920s under the less-than-watchful gaze of the British (oh dear, not them again), hence the passion of the current settlers in that town.

Not exactly the Norman Conquest.

I still agree with your point, though... about invasions...

Joseph said...

By American standards, the boundary between "established" and "invading" is four decades. Events that occurred for than 40 years ago are regarded as part of the "dead past" and relegated to museums. For example, President Reagan visited the Bitburg Cemetery 40 years after WWII with only token criticism. (My comment at the time was that he placed wreaths on the graves of Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schulz.) There is a considerable amount of sympathy in the U.S. for the fact that the Arabs lost land in the 1967 war but very little for the land lost in 1948. That is, of course, why the US sided with the Arabs in 1956. Since the Arab claim to sovereignty was less than 40 years in the past and any earlier Jewish claim to the land was more than 40 years in the past (as of 1956), by American standards the Jewish people had no intrinsic right to the land at the time.

Fidei Defensor said...

"I've thought every movie that he's directed was just terrible."

Bite your tounge sir!

Every movie invovling Mel Gibson and either religion or history is worth seeing again and again and again!

Darwin said...

Got to disagree. I thought that Braveheart and The Patriot were both gosh-awful -- not to mention just plain stupid.