Monday, December 29, 2008

An Insoluble Conflict and an "Impossible" Answer

My grandfather predicted World War III for the Middle East, to commence in 1987. That was back in the early 70’s. He was a war correspondent and newspaper editor, back in the old country, having covered the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914 as a cub reporter (the anarchist Gavrilo Principe fired at the royal carriage from 100 feet, with a Baby Browning, an impossible shot. That one bullet killed both the Archduke and his Duchess). It appears that Deszo baci (in Hungarian, baci is a term of respect for an older man, pronounced just like it is in Italian, where it means kiss) was wrong when it would start. Maybe 2009 would be a better prediction.

Because – make no mistake about it – just like in Planet of the Apes, we could blow it all up. It would be a sad ending for so much enlightened striving for what is great, beautiful, and possible. Against a nuclear war, global warming is mild in comparison. Paradoxically, a nuclear war would probably end the threat of global warming, both by creating the famous “nuclear winter,” and also by ending most industrial production, and certainly a lot of consumer demand.

The Gaza Strip is a rectangle about 7 miles wide by 30 miles long. Within those borders live 1.5 million people. On Google Earth, it’s a huge city, and looks a lot like the South Bronx, before the boom of the 90’s. But you can get out of the South Bronx, and you can’t get out of the Gaza Strip. It’s not just the fault of the Israeli state, if one has to ascribe fault at this point in the essay. The Egyptians have the other border sewed up tight, too. It’s like a sausage that’s being cooked and that will eventually burst, like the best Hungarian sausages.

According to a Jewish friend, the Palestinians are “an irrelevancy,” which is a cold-hearted comment I don’t quite understand. Don’t the Jewish sages say, whosoever saves one, saves the whole world? And isn’t there a special place reserved in Israel for the gentiles who heroically saved Jews during the Holocaust? Are the Palestinians any different? I mean, can’t one Palestinian save another one and save the whole world?

No, and here’s the first principle: every person is of equal value. That concept begins the discussion. If the human race were wiped out except for a tribe of Hottentots, those Hottentots would eventually populate the world, and they would have their own Beethoven, Shakespeare and Einstein. So we must reject any ideology that says that any people are special. Isn’t that self-evident? So, we must bring the curtain down on religious beliefs that say the contrary – Orthodox Judaism, right-wing fundamentalist Christianity, and radical Islam. The claims of specialness in religions are atavistic. The idea that I have a moral ground to reject you, because you do not believe as I do, or because you were not baptized, circumcised, or adopted in my special way must go.

Religious differences are not religious. Hateful right-wing racists, or the hateful actions of the State of Israel, or the fatwas of an Imam who sanctions the killing of unbelievers, are not religious. Religion means reconnection – spirituality in the best sense, the sense of being part of a web that includes all living creatures, and holds all that lives as sacred. The actions against global warming may seem to be about people and property, but they are more properly wider than that – because a catastrophic warming would so do much to wreck the delicate ecosystems that make the earth so beautiful. It would not be right to call Israel “the Jewish State,” because while it may be true on one level, it’s false on another. Many Jews are praying for peace to break out, and are doing everything possible to promote understanding. Just as the continual refrain during the Bush years from foreign peoples was that we love Americans, but not your government, so it is with Israel. We must distinguish the actions of the State of Israel from the beautiful spirituality of Judaism.

Is it true that the Palestinians are an irrelevancy, because world oil prices are down, so the industrial giants don’t really care about the potential that a Middle East conflict has to raise oil prices in the near term? Maybe for geopolitical considerations, they are, but not from human considerations. Remember the value of the Hottentots; we must take care not to diminish any human being

So, let’s turn away from any religion which promotes differences. Maybe we should all become Anglican, or Unitarian Universalist. Bring everyone into the tent, and then abolish the tent. We must agree on the definition of a human being, and honor that, in a way reminiscent of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And use our know-how to resolve problems of food scarcity, lack of access to water and health care, and surmounting the population bubble of about 9 billion later this century, before the human race can adjust its numbers peacefully to sustainable levels.


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