Thursday, September 28, 2006

Pipes and “provocation”

Daniel Pipes is one of the West’s most prominent experts on radical Islam and the various organizations promoting an Islamist agenda in the West. In addition to his columns in, The New York Sun, and The Jerusalem Post, he produces his own blog; he offers a weekly email version of the blog for those of us too lazy to take the initiative and go read it ourselves. (He also offers email distribution of his columns; sadly, he doesn’t deliver pizza, so I can’t survive on Pipes alone.)

Mr. Pipes has a lot of interesting things to say, a lot of good information to convey, and some strongly-held opinions and values – some of which I even agree with. However, one of his recent blog pieces raises some serious questions about his adherence to his own professed principles. His initial remarks, along with his reaction when I questioned them, lead me to conclude that Daniel Pipes, while a genuine expert on his own subject matter, is too much a partisan to be taken seriously as a commentator on terrorism.

Mr. Pipes’ blog post refers to reports that a small group of British rightists have threatened to attack Moslems – even going so far as to brandish large knives and threaten to behead British Moslems who don’t “go home”. After a short introduction and a long quote from the original report (from an Australian newspaper rather than a British one, oddly enough), Pipes adds his own brief commentary:

“It is nearly inevitable that Islamist barbarism provoke anti-Muslim barbarism... One can only hope the Islamists will call off their hordes before things get out of hand.”

Pipes’ comment set off alarm bells in my mind (which, as you’ll know if you’ve experienced it, is a very annoying phenomenon – those things are loud!); so I sent the following comment to his blog:

I was rather taken aback by the comment you made at the end of your “Behead Islamists?” post.

Aren’t you making the same mistake you accuse Islamic organizations of making? In “Islamists Threaten Civil War in Great Britain – A Good Idea?” and in many other places as well, you specifically (and correctly) castigate Moslem groups for threatening that Islamist terrorism will increase if Britain’s or America’s foreign policy isn’t changed, Moslems don’t get special privileges, or whatever. The point you make regarding Moslems – that terrorism is wrong and reprehensible regardless of its “root causes” – applies equally to anti-Moslem attacks, doesn't it?

By calling for Islamists to “call off their hordes before things get out of hand,” you appear to be blaming the victims (potential or actual) of anti-Moslem terrorism in a way you don’t do when the terrorism is perpetrated by Moslems against the West.

I’m sure that you didn’t mean to make this distinction; but the fact that even someone as careful and conscientious as you are can make this kind of mistake is an indication of how careful we all have to be to avoid hypocrisy and inconsistent standards. If terrorism is wrong, it’s wrong – period. That means that terrorism is just as wrong when it’s directed at people we don’t like as when it’s directed at our friends; and it means that our enemies are no more required to change their political beliefs and strategies as a response to threatened or actual terrorism than our friends are.

To his credit, Mr. Pipes (who vets all user comments before they’re published on his blog) allowed my comment to appear. But he published it with the following reply:

“It is wrong and I called it ‘anti-Muslim barbarism.’ Further, I am an analyst of this subject, not a spokesman for the British far-rightists, so I think your comparison between my analysis and the Islamist threats is a bit far-fetched.”

Perhaps I didn’t make my point clearly enough when I commented on Mr. Pipes’ blog; but I hadn’t thought that someone as sophisticated as Daniel Pipes would need to be spoon-fed what is, after all, a fairly basic and standard bit of counter-terrorist reasoning. The point I was making was not that Mr. Pipes approves of anti-Moslem terrorism; his use of the term “barbarism” is clear enough even to a reader as obtuse as I. What is objectionable, though, is his call for British Moslems to soften their political rhetoric (assuming that this is what he means by “calling off their hordes before things get out of hand”) in response to terrorist threats against them, despite the fact that he consistently advises Western governments not to modify their policies and rhetoric in response to Moslem terrorist threats against the West. This kind of ideology-based inconsistency is terribly damaging to the fight against terrorism, and if Mr. Pipes has any aspirations to speak with authority on the subject, he needs to understand why.

Terrorism is politically-motivated violence against civilian targets. What is most important about this definition is that it does not distinguish between worthy and unworthy political goals: targeting civilians to further a political cause is terrorism (and is wrong) no matter how just the cause in which it is carried out. As soon as we begin to justify terrorism “in a good cause” (or relabel terror attacks as something more palatable like “resistance to occupation”) we’ve lost the battle against terror – since every cause is a good one in someone’s eyes. Instead of working to prevent civilians from being targeted by political violence, we’re stuck debating which political causes are worth killing for – and dying for.

If we intend to fight terrorism effectively, we need to banish from our thinking the notion of “provocation”. By writing that Islamist barbarism inevitably provokes anti-Moslem barbarism, Daniel Pipes in effect blames British Moslems (or at least their leaders) for any attacks carried out by British rightist “barbarians” against innocent British Moslems – and thus gives the rightists a license to kill. They aren’t committing acts of racist terrorism, after all – they’re simply responding to provocation.

The problem, of course, is that every terrorist on the planet justifies his actions this way. Nobody goes around killing noncombatant civilians just to relieve the boredom of modern life; terrorist movements are founded upon a sense of grievance, and responding to provocation sounds much more sympathetic than murdering the innocent or attacking people you don’t like just for the hell of it.

I don’t sympathize with the goals or tactics of Islamists, British or otherwise. But even if British Moslems are themselves sympathetic to Islamist terrorism, attacks against them are terror attacks, and should be condemned unreservedly. No discussion of “provocation” or “root causes” should be allowed to absolve terrorists of full responsibility for their deeds; terrorism is never “inevitable”, because there are always other ways of achieving political goals. No matter what the provocation, no matter what his grievance, the would-be terrorist must at some point decide that his political agenda is more important than the lives of his victims. It is precisely this dehumanization of the victim that enables terrorism to exist, and it is precisely this dehumanization of the victim that makes terrorism evil.

It’s very easy to condemn terrorism when the perpetrators are our enemies and the victims are our friends. But the true fight against terrorism requires us to oppose political violence against civilians even when the attacks are carried out by our dear friends against our sworn enemies; it requires us to defend our opponents’ right safely to hold and express opinions we find indefensible. This fight requires not only expertise, but also moral clarity and backbone. By falling into the trap of “provocation”, Daniel Pipes has shown that he’s not quite ready to be a true counter-terrorist.

(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

BlogAlert Update: Noa Haviv is free, sort of, for now…

It was reported today that Noa Haviv, the young Israeli backpacker who was arrested in India because she inadvertently brought her brother’s pistol magazine (containing 16 9-millimeter bullets) with her, is now free on bail. She can’t leave the country, and she needs to appear in court on 10 October. It’s not clear from the reports how likely it is that she’ll be convicted of a crime and, if she is convicted, whether she’ll have to serve further time in jail.

Until and unless Ms. Haviv is freed “for real”, I’d suggest that we keep exerting pressure – of the most polite and gentle sort, of course – on the Indian government to let her go.

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Monday, September 25, 2006

BlogAlert: Israeli backpacker needs YOUR help!

David Bogner of Treppenwitz has posted an important alert: a young Israeli backpacker has been arrested in India for possession of a pistol magazine, which had been left in the duffel bag she borrowed from her brother. While we Israelis are quite careful about firearms, we are traditionally much less scrupulous about ammunition; as Dave reports and I can attest from personal experience, it’s quite normal for bullets to be scattered on the floor (and in the trunk) of our cars, cluttering up our bookcases, and even to be played with by our cats once they’ve run out of dead scorpions.

One could argue that the young woman in question made a pretty dumb mistake in not checking her brother’s bag more carefully before packing her stuff in it and taking off for foreign climes. But nobody was hurt or even endangered, and the heavy prison sentence she faces seems out of all proportion to her error. Please go read Dave’s article, and add your voice to those trying to get Noa home.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Don’s recommendation of the day: Pointless Drivel

One of the best ways of not writing a blog post is to recommend someone else’s blog post. While this lacks some of the thrill of tinkering with your template – danger is, after all, kind of a rush – it has the advantage that your readers, if any, actually see what you’ve done. Spending hours on template hacking may run the risk of destroying your entire blog, but it runs an even higher risk of creating “improvements” that nobody notices. (OK, dear readers: look to the right and admire the fact that “Archives” and “Recent Posts” are now implemented as drop-down lists. My sidebar may still be incredibly long, but it’s shorter than it was. Worship me.)

So… here’s today’s recommendation: Read this post at Pointless Drivel – a consistently funny, well-written, and good-looking blog with even more stuff in its sidebar than mine has. Enjoy!

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Monday, September 18, 2006

This is not a blog post

OK, so I’m not exactly René Magritte, although I think I've come fairly close to surrealistic blogging once or twice. But this really isn’t a blog post, since (A) I’m writing from a (very good) hotel in Eilat, working on a laptop that isn’t set up with nice utilities like Blogger for Word, and I wouldn't enjoy writing on it even if it did have Blogger for Word because I can't stand typing on laptop keyboards; and (B) my mind is essentially blank, as I've got to give my presentation to this workshop (on “Hypermedia Seduction for Terrorist Recruiting”, sponsored by NATO; my topic is “Virtual Communities as Pathways to Extremism”) in the morning, and I have the usual jitters.

Every time I’m due to present something at a conference, I always have the same insecurities: I don’t really know anything, everything I do know is incorrect, everyone is going to throw leftover food at me - you know, the usual stuff.

So I’m not writing a blog post; I’ve got my PowerPoint presentation to go through, my ideas to try to find some merit in - and of course, I’d be better off if I gave up on trying to improve anything and went to bed instead.

But in any case, I certainly don’t have time to write a blog post!

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Lessons from Google, or How I Got My Dander Up

It’s a normal blogger thing: You look at who came to your blog, and how they got there. If your blog came up on the first page of a Google search for something important, you feel great. You’ve been validated – you’re the authority, you’re the man, you’re it. Coming up on the seventeenth page is all right, I suppose; but it doesn’t have that ego-tripping zing that the first page has.

So today, after one of my usual hectic Fridays, in the middle of preparations for a conference down in Eilat at which I’ll be lecturing on a subject I don’t know very much about (I was a last-minute emergency replacement – it’s a long story), I checked my SiteMeter report. Someone found On the Contrary with a search for “Holocaust ‘innocent Jews’” – fair enough, and I don’t even mind a fourth-page finish for search terms like that (sniffle, sob, bravely squares shoulders).

Ahh, but what do we have here? Another Google search that led to On the Contrary? Yes! And this time I made the first page! I’m even above the fold (assuming that someone printed out the Google page and folded it; On the Contrary is listed fifth out of ten items on the page). I’m enough of a closet journalist wannabe that being above the fold means something to me.

Oh, yes… the search. What was someone looking for when my blog – my erudite, controversial, noble, and otherwise admirable vehicle for self-expression and the enlightenment of the multitude – came up on the first page?

“Dander fluff”. Yes, folks, it turns out that Google considers On the Contrary to be the fifth most relevant and authoritative site on the entire Internet on the subject of “dander fluff”. I guess this proves that I’m not wasting my time blogging. No sir. Don’t mess with me, people: I’m The Dander Fluff Man!

The post that this desperately-dandered reader found wasn’t even all that much of a piece of fluff, really – it was about reactions inside Lebanon to the United Nations cease-fire resolution passed last month, and my reactions to the reactions. Ah well… I hope the guy enjoyed it.

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Dave Bender gets on my blogroll – the hard way!

I very, very seldom laugh out loud at anything I see on my computer screen. It’s not that I’m humorless (although a lot of people would prefer me that way, I fear); it’s just that I’m not usually an “intense reactor” type.

But today I saw something that had me practically hysterical, right here at my day-job desk. It’s The Armageddon Flowchart, and the guy who steered me to it is Dave Bender, author of the Israel at Level Ground blog. The rest of his blog is excellent, too – and he has a link to On the Contrary, which makes it that much more special. (OK, Dave – now fix your sidebar so it shows up on the side instead of at the bottom!)

*          *          *

WARNING: Nerdy stuff of interest only to bloggers follows. Normal humans should quit now and find something better to read.

While I’m on the subject of blogrolls: I’ve come up with what I think is a fairly clever solution to an annoying blog-maintenance problem, which I will hereby share with whoever wants it.

Traditionally, a blogger lists his/her favorite blogs by editing the HTML of his blog template. This is tedious and time-consuming, and in my experience it’s all too easy to forget to keep your hard-coded HTML blogroll up to date. The advantage, though, is that you have full control over how your blogroll displays; in particular, you can create separate categories for the various blogs to which you link, making it much easier for the reader to navigate. (For an example of what I mean, see the Dry Bones Blog – Yaakov Kirschen has a very nicely organized HTML blogroll.)

To simplify the maintenance of blogrolls, a lot of bloggers – myself included – have chosen to use to maintain their blogrolls. BlogRolling lets you keep track of your blogroll without all that tedious mucking about in HTML; you just create an account (which doesn’t cost anything), insert some code in your template, and then use BlogRolling’s interface to add blogs to your list.

The problem, though, is that BlogRolling doesn’t offer a way of neatly categorizing the blogs on your blogroll. You can sort them alphabetically, or by length (for visual effect), or by “priority” – which is a number you assign to each blog on your list, from 1 to 99. But when you’ve got a whole bunch of blogs on your list, none of these approaches is really satisfactory – and all too often, BlogRolling blogrolls are so long that any particular blog – most importantly, my blog – gets lost in the crowd.

So here’s what I did, after long cogitation: I set up the following list of categories for my blogroll, each one with an associated “priority”:

Priority     Description                              
10             Israeli blogs
20             Jewish blogs from elsewhere
30             Arab / Moslem blogs
50             Political blogs (from outside Israel)
80             Everyone else

Then, I set up “dummy blog” entries in my blogroll to provide headings for each category. The idea was to add something to the list which would work like a section heading, even though BlogRolling doesn’t offer any such feature. The “dummy blogs” would have to display differently than “real” blogs, and if someone should happen to click on one, nothing should happen. Here’s an example of one of my “dummy blog” entries – with square brackets substituted for HTML angle-brackets so the tags will be visible:

Title:          [br/][font size=+1]Everyone else[/font]
          (larger font, with a blank line before)

URL:          #not_a_real_target
          (if user clicks on it, nothing happens)

Description:     blank
          (nothing appears when user “hovers” over the link)

Priority:     79
          (the heading comes immediately before the “Everyone else” blogs)

You can see the results on On the Contrary's main page. Cute, no?

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Israel and the West Bank: Is it an occupation, or just a hobby?

Yet again, has come to my rescue. Just when I was coming to grips with having to finish the first post in my upcoming and long-awaited “Lessons from Lebanon” series, someone asked me a good question that allowed me to write something bloggable while continuing to procrastinate.


Dear Don,

I hope you don’t interpret my questions as hostile, I’m just wondering what the Israeli point of view is.

Firstly, do you consider Israel’s presence in the West Bank to be an “occupation”?

If so, why does Israel continue to occupy the West Bank? The fact that it is building more settlements in the West Bank (I read that 9,000 settlers were removed from Gaza in the summer of 2005, but a larger number have since moved into the West Bank) suggests that it wants to annex the territory and make it part of Israel. Do you agree?

I think I may have some more questions after your response,

With respect,


Dear E____ –

Whether Israel’s presence in the West Bank constitutes an occupation is a surprisingly complex question. The normal definition of that term – or at least the standard definition under the Geneva Conventions – designates land as “occupied” when it legally belongs to one “High Contracting Party” (meaning a sovereign country that is signatory to the Conventions) and is currently under the military control of another “High Contracting Party”. In the case of the West Bank, however, there is no generally-recognized previous owner (that is, a country with sovereignty) of the West Bank:

  • The Ottoman Empire no longer exists, and modern Turkey makes no claim on land in our region;

  • Jordan's post-1948 annexation of the area was recognized only by the United Kingdom and Pakistan (and Jordan has renounced all claim to the West Bank in any case);

  • “Palestine” has never existed as a sovereign country;

  • All the land from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean was allocated by the League of Nations to the “Jewish Homeland” – but the League of Nations Mandate (which is still part of “international law” to this day) did not specifically mention Jewish statehood and sovereignty, even if eventual Jewish statehood was implied by the terms of the Mandate;

  • The pre-1967 “Green Line” was never a legally-recognized border; it was just an armistice line. The 1949 Armistice Agreements explicitly state that the Green Line is not an official border, and that neither side renounces territorial claims on the other side of the Green Line. (This, by the way, is the principal reason why Israel never put up a fence along the Green Line: to do so would have been to grant it de facto recognition, and considering how vulnerable the pre-1967 shape of our country made us – with hardly anything between our effective eastern border and the sea – we never wanted to make the unmodified Green Line permanent);

  • Outside of Jerusalem, Israel has never formally annexed any of the land taken from Jordan in 1967; so while we have never abandoned our claim to sovereignty over the West Bank, we have never formally asserted this claim either – except regarding the small portion of the territory that is now part of Jerusalem;

  • United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which is generally accepted as the political and legal basis for Mideast peacemaking, affirms that Israeli withdrawal from territory occupied in the 1967 war should be one of the principles on which a Mideast peace agreement should be based; but the resolution does not specify a full withdrawal, designate Israel’s legal border, or call for an Israeli withdrawal outside the context of a Mideast peace agreement. (Note, also, that U.N. 242 refers to the territories as “occupied” rather than “disputed”; but in this context, it’s not clear that the phrase “territories occupied in the recent conflict” implies any specific opinion regarding the West Bank’s legal status. The United Nations certainly never recognized the West Bank as sovereign Jordanian territory, which at that time was the only obvious alternative to Israeli sovereignty over the area. Resolution 242 makes no mention of “Palestine” as an actual or potential state, or of the creation of a new country to accommodate Palestinian Arabs.)

All this means that for political and legal purposes, the West Bank is more accurately described as “disputed” rather than “occupied” territory. On the other hand, the practical realities on the ground are essentially the same whether the land is “occupied” or “disputed” – and thus Israel has chosen to adopt a sort of hybrid approach: we adhere (in theory, and for the most part in practice) to the humanitarian provisions of the Geneva Conventions regarding our treatment of the Palestinians living in the West Bank, while we do not necessarily adhere to the more strictly political provisions of the Conventions.

The League of Nations Mandate for Palestine (which, by the way, uses the term “Palestine” in a strictly geographic sense – the term was never used to refer to a potential state until much later) specifically gives Jews the right to settle in all areas of Palestine west of the Jordan River; this right has never been revoked, and the United Nations Charter recognizes the legal validity of League of Nations mandates. Thus one can make a very solid legal argument that Jews have every right to settle in the West Bank – subject, of course, to humanitarian considerations, land-ownership issues, and so on.

In practical terms, most Israelis have no desire to annex all of the West Bank – not that we wouldn’t like to have a larger country without that vulnerable 14-kilometer-wide “wasp waist”, but simply because we know that there are far too many Palestinian Arabs living in Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, and the other West Bank towns and cities; to incorporate this territory into Israel, we would have to choose between giving up our status as a Jewish state, abandoning democracy, or committing a mass expulsion (or worse) of West Bank Arabs – a measure which only a tiny minority of Israelis are ready to tolerate.

At the same time, most Israelis are very reluctant to withdraw all the way to the pre-1967 “border”: to do so would be a strategic nightmare, especially in this age of rocket attacks. Given all of the West Bank to play with, the Palestinians would easily be able to fire rockets at the vast majority of Israeli population centers.

Accordingly, the vast majority of Israelis are ready to make some sort of territorial compromise on the West Bank: Most of the land would be used to set up a Palestinian state (or, alternatively, given to Jordan – except that nowadays Jordan probably wouldn’t take the West Bank even if we asked nicely), while Israel would retain “settlement blocs” near the Green Line, and perhaps give up some sovereign Israeli territory adjacent to the Gaza Strip as well. Of course, the devil (as always) is in the details; but the fact remains that Israel has repeatedly expressed willingness to negotiate along these lines, while the Palestinians have never responded affirmatively or even offered a realistic counter-proposal.

I hope this clarified the issues a bit. If your head is spinning, that’s a good sign: the status of the West Bank, the legality of Israeli settlements there, and eventual prospects for a resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict are tremendously complex issues, with far more questions than answers. Of course, I’ll be more than happy to try to answer follow-up questions.

Best regards,

-Don Radlauer

(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Happy Blogiversary to Me: Introducing the Hall of (Obscure) Fame

A year has passed since I began blogging. (Actually it’s a year and five days, but so what?) In order to celebrate a year of gnashing my teeth, procrastinating, feeling guilty when I didn’t post regularly, feeling guilty when I did post but neglected the rest of my so-called “life” to do so, and agonizing over fine points of punctuation, I’ve added a “Hall of (Obscure) Fame” section over on the right-hand column, just beneath “My Non-Blog Articles”.

To assemble a list of my personal favorite posts, I read through my whole year’s output. Some of the posts I picked are lame attempts at humor; others are lame attempts at seriousness; some are a bit odd, and one or two are out-and-out weird.

It’s been said that all writing is autobiography. If so, the pieces in the “Hall of (Obscure) Fame” – reflecting what was going through my head when I wrote them, as well as what I was thinking last night when I chose them and not others – presumably say something profoundly meaningful about me. Take a look at them; and if any of you figure me out, let me know. I’ve been trying to do it for years, and I still don’t have a clue.

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