"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, June 20, 2011

Michael Totten and Incommensurables in Jerusalem

The great British philosopher, Isaiah Berlin, described what I would call his "tragic world-view" by noting that competing belief systems held by human beings can be "incommensurable."  What he meant was that certain ideas are not reconcilable with other ideas, no matter how much discussion or reasoning or logic is applied.   His ultimate point was that the liberal Western post-Enlightenment belief that science and reason can solve all issues in human societies is wrong-headed and doomed.  

I thought of this concept of "incommensurables" today when I read this article by Michael Totten, one of our finest foreign correspondents, writing about Arabs in Jerusalem.   Here's the passage that jumped out for me:
    “Where were we?” he said.
    “We were discussing politics,” I said, “so let me ask you what you think of Barack Obama.”
    “I will cut off my hand if Obama makes peace in this country,” he said. “He can’t. And when he’s gone, the next president will be the same. Obama is on Israel’s side. I don’t know if it’s because of the Jewish lobby or what, but he will never force Israel to give us a state.”
    “All our recent presidents,” I said, “including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, supported a Palestinian state.”
    He dismissed what I said with a wave of his hand.
    “What about Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza?” I said.
    Again, he dismissed what I said with a wave of his hand.
    I asked him about Barak’s and Clinton’s offers for a final settlement in 2000, which would have given the Palestinians all of Gaza, almost all of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem, including the Muslim, Christian and Armenian quarters of the Old City.
    “They wouldn’t give us the mosque,” he said.
    “The Al Aqsa Mosque,” I said.
    “Yes, the mosque,” he said.
    “Israelis don’t care about keeping the mosque,” I said. “They just want to keep the Western Wall of the temple.”
    “I hope Iran gets the bomb,” he said. “Then we’ll be equal.”
    “Don’t you think that will make the Middle East even more dangerous than it already is?” I said.
    “I am ready to die,” he said. “If Israel can be destroyed, I am willing to die.”
Can you reason with a man who would willingly die so long as he can destroy Israel?   Can you make peace with him?   Would even giving such Palestinians a homeland satsify him?   I doubt it.   The non-sequiturs tell the tale:  when told that Israelis would concede a key point about the Al Aqsa Mosque, he doesn't care, and switches the conversation to his hope that Iran gets nuclear weapons.  

It also reminds me of this passage from an article today by the inestimable Mark Steyn, writing about "Amina Arraf," the so-called "Gay Girl from Damascus" blogger, who became a cause celebre of the left, but who also turned out to be a 40 year old college student (read: slacker) from Georgia:  
Tom MacMaster topped even that. He took an actual, live, mass popular uprising and made an entirely unrepresentative and, indeed, nonexistent person its poster “girl.” From CNN to the Guardian to Bianca Jagger to legions of Tweeters, Western liberalism fell for a ludicrous hoax. Why? 
Because they wanted to. It would be nice if “Amina Arraf” existed. As niche constituencies go, we could use more hijab-wearing Muslim lesbian militants and fewer fortysomething male Western deadbeat college students. But the latter is a real and pathetically numerous demographic, and the former is a fiction — a fantasy for Western liberals, who think that in the multicultural society the nice gay couple at 27 Rainbow Avenue can live next door to the big bearded imam with four child brides at Number 29 and gambol and frolic in admiration of each other’s diversity. They will proffer cheery greetings over the picket fence, the one admiring the other’s attractive buttock-hugging leather shorts for that day’s Gay Pride parade as he prepares to take his daughter to the clitoridectomy clinic.
It's a fantasy to believe that we can "all just get along."

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