Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sleeping with Hamas

Bin Laden seems to have put out a tape broadcast by Al-Jazeera in which he says, in the words of NBC, that "the West's decision to cut aid to the Palestinians proves it is at war with Islam." This "breaking news" story went on to say that OBL claimed that "the blockade which the West is imposing on the government of Hamas proves that there is a Zionist crusader war on Islam."

OBL is engaging in The Big Lie approach to rabble-rousing in saying that the withdrawal of aid to the Palestinians by Western countries is part of some Zionist plot. It plays well, I'm sure, in the Arab world, but just seems foolish, I suspect, to most others, including educated Arabs. There is definitely a cultural war going on, but it is not Zionist inspired. It is inspired by Al Queda and others who know to a moral certainty that western democratic values like freedom of the press and separation of church and state, as well as the materialistic values of the West, are a threat to fundamentalist Muslim values. But the initial European, American, and Israeli reaction to the victory of Hamas strikes me as quite foolish as well.

Some forty or more years ago, while I was teaching at the University of Illinois, Professor Charles Osgood, a psycholinguist, gave me a paper he had written called, "Conservative Words and Radical Sentences in the Semantics of International Politics." Naturally, it has been consigned to some landfill somewhere but I have reserved a book containing the paper and will be getting it very shortly. However, I am too impatient to wait for it before blogging onword.

Back when Charles gave me a copy of this paper, the Cold War was very much in the minds of Americans and others and our government was engaged in negotiating treaties with the Soviet Union on such matters as nuclear test bans and arms reduction. Many Americans felt about entering into treaties with the Soviet Union the way Amerindians must have felt about entering into treaties with the American government for a constant refrain at the time was that we couldn't trust the Soviet Union to abide by any treaty we signed with them.

One of the points Osgood tried to make in this paper, is that the idea that we should negotiate treaties only with countries we trust, is back-assward (not a term Charles would have used). If one made a precondition of any international agreement that we trust the people we are negotiating with, there would be no agreements except, perhaps, for little things like trade agreements. The point of entering into a treaty with an enemy, Osgood said, is that by doing so can one begin to establish a foundation for mutual trust. This was certainly true of the treaties negotiated by the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War. We did gradually learn to trust each other, at least a little bit.

Israel does not trust Hamas and vice versa. The United States and our European allies, such as they are, do not trust Hamas and vice versa. Nevertheless, the Palestinian people elected sufficient Hamas candidates to give them control of the Palestinian government and they did so because they had more confidence in Hamas to help them than in the PLO or any other Palestinian organization. The withdrawal of financial support from the Palestinian government is guaranteed to have one effect -- it will hurt the Palestinian people, a people that has enjoyed nothing but pain for many decades. It will not hurt Hamas.

Obviously, the correct action for the US and our European allies, and Israel, to take is to provide support to the Palestinian government. The blog One Jerusalem unhappily reports
The United States has lifted its total ban on dealing with Hamas while Israel is "considering contacts." Both are using the excuse of providing humanitarian aid. The fact is that the aid will do less for the people and more for propping up the terrorist regime. Let Hamas, its Arab, Iranian, and Russian allies shoulder the burden of keeping the government standing.
This is the sort of thinking Osgood deplored.

The facts are these. First, Hamas was elected in what appears to have been as fair an election as one could reasonably ask for and we, ostensibly, support those who support democracy. Second, withdrawing financial support for the Palestinian government/people will hurt only the people. Hamas can surely get, as One Jerusalem noted, whatever money it needs from its friends. Third, it is only by working with Hamas that there is any hope for a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Israel and those who have pledged to destroy Israel.

One Jerusalem says
Israel, the United States, and all civilized nations should impose a total cessation in aid. Its not like the Hamas supporting states are without the means of helping their cohorts.
This is the worst idea of all. The correct idea is to reduce the need for Hamas to rely on the bad guys for support in the hope that over time, some sort of rapprochement between Israel and the Palestinian state can emerge. The Cold War took 50 years or so to end. It might take that long for an Israeli-Hamas rapprochement to occur. In the meantime, the US can make it known to Hamas that the ultimate consequence of a serious escalation of violence against the Israeli people is that they will be wiped from the face of the earth. Mutual assured destruction is, perhaps, the most effective instrument for the development of peaceful relations ever invented. In one form or another, it is the source of the Geneva Convention and of the "normalization" of relations between the US and Russia.

So, you ask, "What does this have to do with language?" As Osgood noted, if I still recall what he said, we constantly get hung up on what he called "conservative words," words that pop out automatically in a context such as this and come with a good deal of political baggage. Words like "terrorist" and "propping up" (One Jerusalem) and "Zionist" and "crusader" (OBL) evoke preprogramed reactions in people and as such are inherently conservative. What is wanted is radical sentences, sentences that liberate us from these automatic reactions.
1. Israel should create contacts between its government and the Palestinian government.
2. The US and Europe should provide aid to the Palestinian state.
Israel's creating contacts with the Hamas government does not mean sleeping with them. It means "talking to them." Providing aid to the Palestinian state does not mean supporting or "propping up" Hamas politically. It means supporting the Palestinian people economically. One cannot control all of the consequences of one's actions. Proviing aid to the Palestinian state may help Hamas retain control but it has already earned the trust of the people so its not as if this aid will create something new.

In my personal opinion, the election victory of Hamas is the best thing that could happen because it brings Hamas out in the open. The Brits needed the political arm of the IRA (its public face) to talk to even while hostilities continued between the Brits and the military arm of the IRA. Israel could have a similar sort of situation with Hamas if not now, then perhaps soon.

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Blogger Mr K said...

Fantastic post. As distasteful as it might be for us to deal with terrorists, these are duly elected terrorists for an entire people- trying to kill them has manifestly failed to work, so we shall just have to try talking to them.

There is also this odd thing where if we disapprove of a regime then apparently the only thing we can do is impose sanctions- despite this normally hurting the population and not the leaders, who, after all, control most of the forms of propoganda. I am no trained diplomat, but I'm pretty sure theres more to it than sanctions and war?

2:21 PM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

The Palestinians have learned from the Israelis -- ignore the big guy. The Israelis have made an art form out of ignoring what the US wants -- unless it conforms to what Israel wants. Bush has added Germany and France to the list of those who ignore our wishes. It could become an epidemic.

1:35 PM


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