BRINGING PEACE TO THE MIDDLE EAST AT CHRISTMAS
by Ted Honderich
This is a piece asked for by one editor of a British provincial newspaper in December 2006, when Blair was in Israel. Alas, as the editor reported, he liked it but it was vetoed by a higher editor on the grounds that it wasn't really the approach the higher editor wanted -- apparently he was looking for a less philosophical analysis and a more directly political approach.
First there was the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. This was right, a moral necessity, the obligation of all humanity after the Holocaust. It was also the catastrophe of the innocent Palestinians. Then, with the 1967 war, there was neo-Zionism, the taking from the Palestinians at least their freedom in the last 1/5th of their homeland. Neo-Zionism was in due course the largest single cause of 9/11. It was then salient in the mess of reasons for our war on Iraq. It has been as much of the explanation of such terrorism as 7/7 in London.
Now Blair -- no longer Tony to all of us, having played a full part in the barbarism of Iraq and the horror of 7/7 -- flies to the Middle East at Christmas to do his best with that problem. This is not, as cynics have said, a matter of getting into the past of our newspapers the unique fact that the Prime Minister has been helping the police with their inquiries in a smaller matter -- his party's selling honours, making wealthy supporters into Lords in return for money. No, the Prime Minister is in the Middle East to do what is always his concern, the right thing.
How could he do that? Can he think of that thing? If so, will he do it?
Will he again find the way forward with the problem, out of the history since 1948, in the great truth of our time? It is that in the Manichean battle of good and evil, democracy and terrorism, we must stand firm with democracy.
Well, he is on this very visit supporting the adversaries of the democratically elected government of the Palestinians, HAMAS. So he will not persuade people of some right thing by claiming it to be no more than the simple recommendation of democracy. Nor will they be overwhelmed by his definition of terrorism, which for a start leaves out neo-Zionist ethnic cleansing. Nor will people be overwhelmed by the argument of the leader of one of the two hierarchic democracies which by a terrorist war are killing innocents daily and destroying Iraq.
Will Blair see the way forward for the Middle East, instead, in terms of human rights? If no doctrine of them has moved either him or his colleague Gordon Brown to save many children in their own country from poverty, will something like the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights now bring light to Palestine and the Lebanon? It will not, since no known doctrine of human rights tells us what to do in the central cases where both of two people or two peoples say their rights are being violated.
It is not just that neither hierarchic democracy nor doctrines of human rights can be supposed actually to give the answer to a great question of right and wrong, let alone guarantee it. It is also the case, as I say, that people know this. So they will not stop killing the other side because a politician says my democracy is what you must learn in your refugee camp. They will not lie down before the pomp of talk if they believe they have a human right to their terrorism. They may remember the terrorism of historic Zionists even if they do not share my defence of them.
Blair will not find the right thing either by remembering his earlier trade, that of lawyer -- and thus giving his opinion that things are to be settled by international law. The Palestinians, and certainly the honourable Israelis, of which there are many, know the difference between what is legal and what is right. They will remember, too, the frustrating of the 65 or so U.N. security council resolutions against neo-Zionism. Also, they will remember that our bringer of light to the Middle East has a notable record of contribution to international law, in connection with Iraq, which is the record of making it up as you go along.
There are other means our missionary may seek to employ. Maybe the mantra of negotiation, so forgetful of so much, and known to be such. Should the Russian tanks have stopped as they were ending the Holocaust so that a conference could be called in Geneva instead? I pass by Realpolitik or the politics of realism, and Just War Theory, and whatever else, maybe the luminosities of The Third Way, that now forgotten mission of the New Labour Party.
We all see what is right in general when our sight is not clouded or destroyed by selfishness, say the selfishness of the conservatism of New Labour. It is that we should take rational steps as distinct from political and social pretences to get and keep people out of bad lives. Bad lives understood as all of us out of our human nature understand them -- lives deprived of some or all of the great human goods. Of a decent length of life, bodily well-being, freedom and power, respect and self-respect, the satisfaction of relationships, and the goods of culture.
This morality of humanity, this Principle of Humanity, is not that the end justifies the means. It is that only the end and the means justify the means. That the end justifies the means has been and remains the principle of Blair in Iraq. It is not that the vileness of the war and the aftermath was unpredictable, that the thing turned out badly against anticipation. It was judged in advance to be worth the risk.
The upshot of the morality of humanity for Palestine, the right thing, is of course the obvious one. It is the obvious answer to a question that is not complicated, not complex, but simple. The answer is that Israel should withdraw immediately, without agreement or negotiation or qualification of any kind, from the last 1/5th of the homeland of another people and from any control of it. Plainly this can be done with greater self-safety than would attend the right thing being done by any power in any other existing conflict in the world today.
Our leader could do his best for the Middle East by giving up his past, by announcing this simplicity, by embracing the morality of our human nature, by a change of mind and heart on the road from Baghdad to Damascus. As his past demonstrates, however, he is not of a moral intelligence sufficient to the task. He is of a political class, including a corrupt political class, and of other classes, all blinded by the moral stupidity of self-interest.
Ted Honderich's recent book is Humanity, Terrorism, Terrorist War: Palestine, 9/11, Iraq, 7/7.... You can look at some of it here. On the simplicity of the Palestinian question, you can also look at the thoughts of another philosopher, Michael Neumann, in his book The Case Against Israel. For Palestinian and other condemnation of Ted Honderich's propositions, you can start with On Being Personal Non Grata to Some Palestinians Too, and Some Moral Philosophy. Also Why Ted Honderich is Wrong on All Counts.
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