One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Bend it like Nir Rosen

This blistering Guardian piece — on the relativity of terrorism as it applies to Israel-Palestine — by intrepid journalist Nir Rosen goes just a bit too far.  He rightly condemns Israel’s assault on Gaza, but, perversely, sees it as not just a humanitarian and political travesty, but as a symptom of the cruel and blackened heart of every Israeli politician, writing, without a sense of the moral weightiness of the claim, that “[y]ou cannot be prime minister of Israel without enough Arab blood on your hands.”

There may be metaphorical Arab blood on Mr. Olmert’s hands, but to imply that Olmert’s action — and every Israeli polician’s desire — is motivated by the singular racist goal of spilling this blood is morally and intellectually irresponsible, to say the least.  To imply, further, that each successive Israeli government will simply try to out-slaughter its predecessor is a tired non-starter for any sort of peace process.

Terrorists aplenty in Gaza

Terrorists aplenty in Gaza

Channeling Noam Chomsky, Rosen makes the legitimate point that “[t]errorism is a normative term and not a descriptive concept.”  This is anathema — and downright treachery — to conservatives, of course, but the truth behind it is why, to choose an example that the right doggedly derides, the UN has not been able to come up with a “definition” of terrorism.  The United States’ definition, as Chomsky would not hesitate to interject, would, applied honestly, very easily bring many of its own policies under a very uncomfortable umbrella.

But the breadth of even a Potter Stewart-esque “I know it when I see it” definition of terrorism should not allow the pendulum of subjectivity to lodge too far in the other direction.  To wit, in a neat inversion of conservatives’ t-word-baiting, Rosen’s mock incredulity at the description of someone who throws acid at someone’s face as a terrorist.

Haaretz reported that a Palestinian woman blinded an Israeli soldier in one eye when she threw acid n [sic] his face. “The terrorist was arrested by security forces,” the paper said. An occupied citizen attacks an occupying soldier, and she is the terrorist?.

Terrorism is not, as it were, mutually exclusive.   The real takeaway here, though, should be the utter uselessness of calling either the civilian or the soldier a “terrorist.”  Throwing acid in anyone’s face is, by any measure, a recourse to criminality.  The complications of power dynamics, of course, make explicating the situation of the Israeli soldier much, much more complicated.  But calling him a terrorist is, again, not an effective way to end his — and more accurately, his government’s — policy.

But one more exaggeration from Rosen:

Do not be deceived: the persistence of the Palestine problem is the main motive for every anti-American militant in the Arab world and beyond. But now the Bush administration has added Iraq and Afghanistan as additional grievances.

This is infantilizing reductivism conducted on the part of anti-American militants everywhere.  Suggesting these factors as relevant “grievances” is one thing; boiling away all other motivations to get to this rock of an issue is another.

(image of an Israeli patrol in Gaza in 1988, from flickr user cromacom under a Creative Commons license)

December 30, 2008 - Posted by | Conservatives, Middle East | , , , , ,

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