“We, with our knowledge of conflict and human history; of the consequences of trauma in our lives, watch children cry, and wonder how, out of sight of some new skyscraper, now the tallest building on the planet, we manage with every new generation, to construct a new hell on earth” (author and blogger Peter Wells).
For a liveable future to be possible, here are two fundamental truths: Number one: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” (Confucius). Number two: Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Puzzling, isn’t it, how quickly these are pushed aside when we are confronted with danger, and fear replaces rational thinking. An example of this follows in a blog post by neuroscientist and author Sam Harris titled “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel?” Expecting a rational, well-reasoned and supported article, what I found was a casebook example of how fear can and often does trump rational thought and, in so doing, supports positions that are insupportable morally, ethically, and historically. Following are examples from Dr. Harris’s blog post.
Israel’s existence is justified because “the rest of the world has shown itself eager to murder the Jews at almost every opportunity.” “The rest of the world”? He gives no supporting evidence.
About Israel’s behavior toward Palestine’s indigenous population, he admits “the Israelis have done things that amount to war crimes” because “they” (the Israelis) “have been brutalized . . . over the course of fighting multiple wars. . . But that is largely due to the character of their enemies.” Israelis, he writes, are “held to a different standard” than the rest of the world. Evidence? Once again, not a shred. Israel, he implies, is a victim state, which justifies its actions.
On the subject of Gaza: “One of the most galling things for outside observers . . . is the disproportionate loss of life on the Palestinian side” which “doesn’t make a lot of moral sense” to him, because “Israel built bomb shelters to protect its citizens” but “The Palestinians built tunnels through which they could carry out their terror attacks and kidnap Israelis. Should Israel be blamed for successfully protecting its population in a defensive war?” He doesn’t think so. Once again, no evidence of having studied the subject with any depth, as I expected he would do. To Dr. Harris, there is only one side, and that is Israel’s.
What he is really frightened (terrified?) of? “What would the Palestinians do to the Jews in Israel if the power balance were reversed? There is every reason to believe that (they) would kill all the Jews in Israel if they could. (They) are trying to kill everyone. Killing women and children is part of the plan. . . If you’re going to talk about the conflict in the Middle East, you have to acknowledge this difference. I don’t think there’s any ethical disparity to be found anywhere that is more shocking or consequential than this” (emphasis mine). Underlying these assertions is his fear of Islam. “If Israel kills a dozen Palestinians by accident” (accident?) “the entire Muslim world is inflamed. God forbid you burn a Koran, or write a novel vaguely critical of the faith. And yet Muslims can destroy their own societies — and seek to destroy the West — and you don’t hear a peep.” “What would the Israelis do if they could do what they want? They would live in peace with their neighbors, if they had neighbors who would live in peace with them.” Again, Israelis are portrayed victims, a peaceful people living in a neighborhood where they are hated. Looking at history, what has Israel done to seek friendship with its neighbors? Nothing. What I have found is genocide and ethnic cleansing, engaged in by Israeli Zionists from the beginning. How is it that a rationalist like Sam Harris doesn’t see this? Overwhelming fear of an Other that is regarded as sinister.
When fear takes hold, it erupts from the amygdala, the part of the brain where fear, anxiety, aggression and PTSD emerge in fight, flight or freeze responses that overwhelm rational thinking. It’s a part of the brain that Dr. Harris, as a neuroscientist, should know well. Yet when emotionally loaded issues like Israel and the Palestinian people arise, he, like so many others, are overwhelmed by fear, which all too often has disastrous results.
For a liveable future to be possible for our children and grandchildren, the kind of thinking evident in Sam Harris’s blog post must be faced and changed, or the tragedies we have witnessed for so long will continue. For a liveable future to be possible, we have to learn to treat everyone with dignity and respect, see others as members of our family, and learn to treat them the way we want to be treated. We are, after all, as humans, members of the same family. It’s past time we learn to live that way.
I’ll be posting on these and other related subjects in up-coming posts.