Saturday, November 25, 2023

Footnote to the preceding: A not-so-easy question

[Welcome, John Swift Roundup readers! If you want to see the post to which this is a footnote, it's here.]

 There is no way to say this without appearing to endorse or at a minimum condone terrorism, but I will ask it anyway.

Bear in mind first that Palestinians have been and are living under illegal occupation by an apartheid state (Israel has been found to be such by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B'Tselem, among others), their people killed, their land stolen, their right to statehood denied.

Bear in mind second that the Gaza Strip has been described more than once as the world's largest outdoor prison.

And bear in mind third that our nation, the United States, was born on a principle of a right to revolution.

With all that in mind, here is the question: If Israel has a right to self-defense, do the Palestinians?

Put another way, does an oppressed, occupied people have a right to resistance, a right to rebellion?

If not, why not? Why do they lack the right were have declared for ourselves?

And if they do, just what is it you say the Palestinians should have done and should now do to that end? Don't say "stop terrorism," because I didn't ask you what you would have them not do, but what you would have them do. What effectual means of resistance are open to them which you would accept?

End It

Recently, Bernie Sanders released a statement on the war against Gaza followed by an expanded version as a New York Times op-ed a few days later.

On the whole, it was surprisingly good coming from a US politician, even one so avowedly progressive, as it
- included justice for Palestinians an explicit goal,
- called for future aid to Israel to be conditioned on behavior, and
- expressed a commitment to a two-state solution.

I could have wished for a direct and overt call for an immediate end to all military assistance to Israel until an actual agreement is reached, but I'll take what I can get.

While I'm sure there are other area of emphasis or even disagreement I could find by going over the statement in detail, I did see two shortcomings I wanted to note.

First, I was quite disappointed in the parts about how Hamas "must be" removed from power and "new Palestinian leadership will be required," which together endorse the Israeli war while claiming to be calling for an end to it. More to the point, it raises a question which demands an answer: If there is a free election in Gaza (which I assume is how such "new leadership" is to be chosen) and Hamas wins, would Israel and the US accept that? Or would they use that as an excuse to do nothing toward justice for Palestinians "so long as the terrorists remain in power?"

Don't ignore the question. It's based in history. After Yassir Arafat died in November 2004, the US and Israel demanded elections among Palestinians for "new leadership." Those came in January 2006 and resulted in Hamas winning seats, leading to months of conflict between Hamas and Fatah and finally, in early 2007, a painfully worked-out coalition government between the two factions - upon which Israel and the US flatly refused to deal with this "terrorist government." That is, they demanded elections but when they didn't like the result, they rejected them even though they knew, they had to know, the outcome would be continued conflict.

Their rejection resulted in the coalition fracturing and renewed civil war, leading in short order to the present situation where Hamas controls Gaza and Fatah controls the West Bank.

So the question stands: Will the US and Israel pledge to support the outcome of any elections for "new leadership" even if they don't like the outcome? Any answer other than "Yes" translates to "You will choose the government we tell you to" and marks such "new leadership" as a mask for continued oppression.

The second shortcoming was a matter of let's call it incomplete comparisons. Sanders writes that Hamas killed about 1200 Israelis, adding that "On a per-capita basis, if Israel had the same population as the United States, that attack would have been the equivalent of nearly 40,000 deaths, more than 10 times the fatalities that we suffered on 9/11."

Which is absolutely true.

However, while he notes the estimate of 12,000 Palestinians killed by the Israeli military, he fails to make the same comparison as before. So let's do that here:

Population of Israel: 9,812,480.
Israelis killed: 1200
That is .012% of the population.

Population of Gaza: 2,375,259
Palestinians killed: 12,000
That is .50% of the population.

Population of US: 334,233,854
.012% of US population: 40,110
.50% of US population: 1,671,000

So by the per capita basis Sanders used, the Israeli military has killed FORTY-TWO TIMES as many Palestinians as Palestinian militants killed Israelis.

Forty. Two. Times.

We can properly call what what Hamas did  "slaughter." But then what description can we apply to 42 times as many killed by those who have sworn to continue killing more? Who forced half the population of Gaza to abandon their homes, demanded they run to the south, and then began bombing the very area to which they told them to flee?

End all aid to Israel. Now. Immediately and totally. Because while it can be argued that we may not be able to stay the hangman's hand, we can damn well stop paying for the rope.

On Patriotism

I intended to post this over Veterans' Day weekend but obviously I didn't. But late being better than never, I decided to put it up anyway. This is a report of something I wrote in 2013.  It still seems appropriate.


I want to talk about patriotism.

When I've talked or written about this general subject before, I've always noted at the beginning that know that what I say will be misunderstood by some and deliberately twisted by others - and I've never been disappointed in that expectation. So I say it again here. I will try to be clear but I know that no matter how hard I try, for some I will fail.

To start: I am not a patriot.

And right away, I have to amend that. I am not a patriot in the shallow way the term is usually understood. I do not wear a flag pin. I do not put my hand over my heart during the national anthem (which, I’ll note in passing, I was taught as a child was something that some folks did but was not required). I do not sing along with the national anthem. In fact, I don’t even stand up for the national anthem. I will note that I certainly don't intend to give offense that way, so I usually manage to be out of the room at the time.

And I don't celebrate soldiers, nor do I, as candidate Barack Obama called on us to do, "always express our profound gratitude for the service of our men and women in uniform. Period," thus exempting those folks from any and all moral judgment. I can and do celebrate individual soldiers - but not "soldiers" as a category. As I have said and written several times, soldiers are not heroes. They can be heroes, they can act heroically, they can do heroic things - but the act of putting on a uniform does not make you a hero, it does not make you or your life more worthy of honor or respect than anyone else's.

Joseph Darby, the soldier who revealed the abuses at Abu Ghraib, is a hero. The soldiers in his unit who in response threatened him to the point that he had to be shipped out early for his own safety, are not. Bradley [now Chelsea] Manning, the man [sic] who revealed war crimes committed by US troops in Iraq, is a hero. The soldiers who committed those crimes, such as those in the video called "Collateral Murder," are not.

So, I say again, I am not a patriot.

Except that I am.

How? Let me explain.

Patriotism that consists in, that is measured in terms of, wearing flag pins, singing the national anthem, and the like is worthless and even dangerous. It is a shallow, a hollow, “patriotism,” a shell that prefers form to substance and too easily, as we have seen over the last years, slides from “patriotism” into jingoism. If, as someone said a while back, “patriotism requires no apologies,” neither should it require conscious demonstration.

And to try to head off some of that misunderstanding I expect, don’t bother claiming I said wearing a flag pin or whatever is itself “hollow.” I said that a patriotism measured or defined in those terms rather than by a deeper commitment is hollow. And it is.

But that obviously raises the immediate question of "what deeper commitment." What does it consist of - or, more exactly here, what do I think it consists of?

Well first, saying it consists of a commitment to "flag and country" is meaningless, empty, it's the vapid patriotism of bumper stickers and needlepoint homilies. It doesn't mean anything.

Saying it's based on the supposed fact that "this is the greatest country in the world" is nothing short of absurd - unless, that is, you want to tell me which country is the 7th greatest or the 14th greatest or the 63rd greatest. Because to say this is the greatest country means you must have some objective standard by which countries can be judged and ranked. I can't imagine what such a standard could be since on so many social scales - inequality, poverty, child poverty, access to health care, the list goes on - we rank so embarrassingly low and even on some of our proudest achievements, such as the Bill of Rights, we are losing ground.

And a patriotism based on calling out Stephen Decatur's famous line "my country, right or wrong" is downright dangerous. Unless, that is, you want to amend it to the version of then-Senator Carl Schurz, who said in the 1870s "Our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: Our country - when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right."

(BTW, look up Carl Schurz. Interesting guy.)

His quote about "true patriotism" points toward my own convictions.
In addition to embracing the comment I read some years ago that “it is natural to have an abiding affection for the land of one’s birth,” I say being an US patriot means being dedicated to the ideals on which the country was supposed to have been founded and which, at its best moments, it strives to uphold to as full a measure as possible: Ideals such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” as the right to rebellion against oppression, as “promot[ing] the general welfare,” as political freedoms, as representative government “of, by, and for the people” - the ideal of, to sum up in a single phrase, an intent to “establish justice,” a justice I say must include the economic and the social as well as the political if it is to have real meaning.

Patriotism means embracing those ideals; it means striving to hold this country to the highest of those ideals instead of the lowest of its prejudices, as committing to a notion of what the US, of what we as a people, can be and have at times approached being.

Patriotism, that is, lies in the devotion to the ideals, not in any symbolic outward expression of it. Further, patriotism thus does not lie in support for or opposition to any particular administration or any particular policy except insofar as that support or opposition is an expression of that internal commitment to those ideals.

Someone who during the Bush administration who opposed the Iraq War and was angered by Bush's usurpation of power was much more patriotic than the war supporters who kept referring to Bush as “the commander-in-chief” as if we were all soldiers expected to obey orders rather than citizens with an obligation held by any free people to “question authority.” And someone during the Obama administration who denounced his unprecedented attacks on whistleblowers and was outraged by his mad claim that he could on his own authority order the assassination of Americans without trial or charge is more patriotic than the Obamabots who stand silent in the face of the drone war and were incapable of seeing the very obvious distance between dissent based on political rejection and dissent based on racism.

So on that basis, on that understanding of patriotism, I submit to you that I am as patriotic as they come. And I have neither patience with nor tolerance for those who would make patriotism a matter of gestures and decorations rather than conviction. And I have even less of either patience with or tolerance for those who would try to prove their patriotism by impugning mine.

I am not a patriot. Except that I am.

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