June 16, 2003
Reader Request #1: The Middle East
Welcome to Reader Request Week, in which most entries will be on topics suggested by readers. Why? Why not? I'm still taking requests, by the way, and will be all week long. Put them in the comment thread here.
Our first request, from "Ohako": I'd like to hear you jaw on about the Middle East, from the way things are now, to the way things should be, to the 'Pundit Fights' that CNN stages every now and then.
When people say "Middle East," my brain says "Israel and Palestine," and I'm generally not very optimistic about that. To give you an indication of how not optimistic I am about that, I'll note that in the science fiction novel I'm currently writing, which is set an unspecified number of centuries in the future, a Secretary of State comments to another character about how this year's negotiations were going along just fine until another suicide bomber blew himself up in Haifa. It's not a major plot point in the story, just an aside, but there you have it.
As a matter of personal philosophy, I'm very pro-Israel, and I'm very pro the US guaranteeing that nation's existence. I think life would be tremendously easier if "Israel" wasn't where it is geographically -- If it were in South Dakota, say, we wouldn't have nearly the problems we do now -- but there's not much that can be done about that now.
I think the current Israeli government is treating the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza badly, but on the other hand, it's difficult to treat any people who send their teenagers into malls packed with nail studded C4 with any real measure of respect. Israel's governments may have varying levels of interest in peace, but the Palestinian government, such as it is, is utterly worthless on this score. I have some mild hopes that the new Palestinian prime minister might be the sort of pragmatic leader who prefers to see his people live in peace with Israelis, but I don't discount Arafat's ability to keep screwing things up, either.
The one thing I always come away from the Israel-Palestine thing is the idea that I'm lucky to live in the New World, which is were people came to get away from the people who were holding grudges against them for something that happened several centuries ago or whatever. The US is not an entirely blameless country (it did sweep the then-current inhabitants off the land), but the fact is that by and large in today's America, anyone can live anywhere they want and not have to worry about the neighbors holding a grudge from the old country. You don't see Jews and Muslims at each other's throats, or Armenians and Turks, or Serbs and Muslims, or Greeks and Turks, or Protestant and Catholics, Hindu and Muslim or whatever other penny-ante centuries-old crap they're carrying around in the rest of the world. And while not in the least excusing our own racial problems, ours today tend not to leave piles of bodies lying around.
Ultimately, Americans would rather live together than live apart, which is something that differentiates us from the Middle East and indeed from most of the world. It helps that Americans, while not ignorant of past hatreds and wrongs and whatever, also have a tendency to be willing to leave them where they are, in the past, and work with what we have today and what we want for the future. We're pragmatic and unromantic in that way, and that's a very good thing. What I wish for the Middle East, and indeed anywhere, is some of that American pragmatism and unromanticism.
Re: Talking heads on CNN -- I don't watch them. It's like ESPN for Wonks, and I don't even watch regular ESPN. Anyway, when I want to see people snarl back and forth about a subject, I read blogs.
Posted by john at June 16, 2003 08:01 AM
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