Unhappily most of the violence and abuse of persons in the Middle East — Israel/Palestine, Iraq, elsewhere — is stimulated by two somewhat archaic human attitudes towards ‘enemies’.

The first of these was explicated by Kwame Anthony Appiah, also as Barack Obama, the son of a Caucasian mom and African dad.  In a penetrating analysis of what he called “racialism” Appiah noted that racism can be divided into two types of negative prejudice:


The less malevolent he denoted “extrinsic” — people have acquired negative attitudes towards other groups, but can be persuaded against such either by education or through positive experiences with those denigrated.  The other type, “intrinsic racism,” is much harder to eradicate precisely because it is linked to competition with one’s own group.  Thus, to admit the error is at the same time to subvert one’s own.  One has heard of the expression, “self-hating Jew” applied to those who criticize Israel, some feature of Jewish life or behavior, etc.

The other source of abuse is linked with a more primitive stage in our notions of punishment.  Originally punishment was institiuted largely by the powerful to intimidate and control slaves or others subservient to their interests.  For example, crucifixion was apparently designed along with a number of other horrors as a punishment to intimidate rebellious slaves.  The move towards modern theories of punishment reflected in the retributivist (Kant) or utilitarian (Bentham/Mill) theories stressed individual responsibility or at least controls on human behavior directed to individual wrong doing.

The intermediate stage of punishment — which is now manifest in the Middle East and the extremist defenders of their own ethnic groups against their enemies — is “collective.”  If you harm one of mine, I am entitled to do harm to one of yours — regardless of individual responsibility.  Suicide bombing is the archetypal manifestation of this attitude in that it is indiscriminate in determining who precisely will be killed or wounded.

Needless to say there are comparable statist manifestations of such ‘homicide’ killing that fit this pattern — rockets and bombs from on high, shooting into crowds, etc.

For those of us who hope for peace in that tormented part of our globe, condemnation and criticism of both racism and collective punishment are not only justified, but essential to curb these barbaric practices.

There is no justification for indiscriminate killing.  We eventually emulated our enemies in doing that in both Japan and Germany before WW2 had been concluded — the aim of our bombings was manifestly to ‘terrorize’ civilians, not to destroy military targets (fire raids on both Tokyo and Dresden being prime instances as well as the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

I mention these things because there are some now apparently plotting a nuclear attack on Iran.  Such could not be done cleanly and without loss of life as was the Israeli attack on Hussein’s early nuclear program.  It would constitute a dangerous war crime of the first order.  Bluffing this may be, but the risk of a weak leader playing wag the dog is too much with us these days to disregard these threats!  And let us not forget that history has a way of fomenting revenge upon those who abuse others.  It would be all too easy to ship a batch of nuclear weapons in crates to any or all major cities in the West.  Let’s not restart the Armageddon game again!  I don’t want MY children or theirs to be destroyed because week and foolish men could not resist the temptation to pull such a trigger in my era!

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  718-951-5324 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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