Archive | September, 2012

Apollo’s Curse and Climate Change

29 Sep


            The fertile mythic mind of ancient Greece gave us a tragically relevant tale, told in different versions, of how the Greek god Apollo laid a curse of the beautiful and humanly captivating Cassandra. According to the myth Apollo was so moved by Cassandra’s beauty and presence that he conferred the gift of prophesy enabling her to apprehend accurately the future. Yet the gift came with a rather large macho string attached: he expected in return that Cassandra would agree to become his love partner, but she by tradition was sufficiently attached to her virginity and pride as to refuse Apollo’s crude entreaty. Angered by such defiance, Apollo laid upon this innocent young woman a lethal curse: she would continue to foretell the future but she would never be believed. Such a twin destiny drove Cassandra insane, surely a punishment of virtue that was perversely exacted. Or are we as mortals expected always to cast aside our morals and virtue whenever the gods so demand?


            The sad story of Cassandra is suggestive of the dilemma confronting the climate change scientific community. In modern civilization, interpreting scientific evidence and projecting trends, is as close to trustworthy prophesy as this civilization is likely to get. Modernity has proceeded on this basis, applying knowledge to bring greater material benefits to humanity, including longer and healthier lives. The culture is supposed to place its highest trust in the scientific community as the voice of reason,  and modernity is largely understood as allowing scientific truth and instrumental reason to supersede superstition and religious revelation. Galileo’s capitulation to the authority of the Catholic Church is the insignia of the pre-modern worldview that made religion the incontestable source of truth.


            The world scientific community has spoken with as much authority as it can muster in relation to climate change. The UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), drawing on the work of thousands of climate specialists around the world, has concluded that the continuation of greenhouse gas emissions at current rates, as a result of human activities, is almost certain to cause a disastrous level of global warming, that is, above 2 degrees centigrade, that will produce, and is already producing, a series of disastrous effects on planet earth that cannot be adequately explained by natural weather cycles: extreme weather; polar melting; droughts and flooding; ocean warming  and acidification; desertification; destruction of coral reefs and fisheries . Among the societal effects, already felt in various places, would be food insecurity, ethnic conflict, environmental migrants and refugees, and coercive to patterns of governance. Depending on how much global warming takes place over what period of time, there are more dire predictions being made by reputable observers (James Hanson, Bill McKibben, James Lovelock) civilizational collapse and even threats to species survival.


            Why is the strong consensus of the scientific community so ineffectual on this issue? Why are its dire warnings substantially ignored? The full story is complicate and controversial. There are several underlying explanations: states primarily look after national interests, and are reluctant to cooperate when expected burdens on economic prosperity are likely to be heavy; this is particularly true when the complexities of an issue make it almost impossible to agree upon an allocation of economic responsibility for the buildup of greenhouse gasses over the course of several centuries; ordinary people are reluctant to give up present gains to offset future risks, especially when the sky that they daily see looks no different and massive poverty exists; politicians are far less moved to action by risks that will not materialize for some decades, given their short cycles of present accountability almost totally based on present performance; the worst current effects of global warming are taking place in countries, sub-Saharan Africa, which makes only minimal contributions to emissions, and so there is a mismatch between the sites of emission and sites of current harm; those with entrenched interests in refusing to curtail present uses of fossil fuels, have the incentive and resources to fund a counter-narrative that denies the asserted threat of global warming; as the threat is primarily in the future, despite some conjectured present harm, there is always an element of uncertainty as to the reliability of predicted effects, and there are likely to be some scientists who sincerely dissent from the prevailing views, especially if their research is funded by those with an interest in promoting climate skepticism. There is also a corporate mentality, generally sincere, that is convinced that a technological fix will emerge in time to address what truths are embedded in predictions of harm from global warming, and some geo-engineering ‘fixes’ are already at the blueprint stage.


            What then is the relevance of the curse of Apollo? By making the political process in a world of sovereign states primarily responsive to the siren call of money, the guidance of science is marginalized. More explicitly, when money in large quantities does not want something to happen, and there is absent countervailing monetary resources to offset the pressures being exerted, knowledge will be subordinated. We have become, maybe long have been, a materialistic civilization more than a scientific civilization.


            This overall picture is complicated by the fact that the scientific consensus is endorsed by most governments at the level of rhetoric, but without the political will, to change the relevant pattern of behavior.  If we look at the declarations being endorsed by governments at the annual UN climate change gatherings, we might be surprised by the degree to which political leaders are willing to affirm their sense of the urgency in relation to the climate change challenge, while at the same time in their diplomatic role using the geopolitical leverage at their disposal to make sure that no obligations are imposed that require an agreed level of reductions in emissions at levels that are responsive to the recommendations of the scientists.


            The case of the United States is exemplary. It remains the largest per capita emitting country, although surpassed for the last couple of years by China in relation to aggregate total emissions. It remains the world leader in relation to the formation of global policy on problems of planetary dimension. It has been led in the past decade by one president who was distinctly anti-environmental and another who once talked the talk of environmentalism, and yet the approach has been basically the same—avoid

all commitments that might encroach upon present or future economic growth. In effect, it has been the United States, more than any country, even during the Obama presidency, that has poured ice cold water on international climate change negotiations. There are some explanations for this disappointing de facto accommodation to the position of the climate skeptics, thereby wasting valuable adjustment time: an economic crisis at home and abroad that makes it politically difficult to weaken in any way economic prospects by invoking environmental concerns, a reactionary Congress that would block appropriations and national commitments associated with climate change protection, a presidential leadership that tends to shun controversial issues, and a public that cares about its immediate material wellbeing beyond asserted worries about the future.


            The long struggle to discourage smoking due to its health risks illustrates both the frustrations of the scientific community, the ambivalence of politicians, and the powerful obfuscating tactics of the tobacco industry. But smoking was easier: the health impacts could be addressed by individual action in response to what the scientific community was advising; there were no societal effects produced by a refusal to heed the warnings; time was not a factor except on a personal level; and adverse results were often concrete and afflicted the rich almost as much as the poor. In this sense, unlike climate change, there was a correlation between the harmful activity and the adverse effects on health, and less need for governmental action.


            Apollo’s curse, then, can be understood either in terms of the undue and destructive influence of money or as the cool aid of unconditional economic growth under present conditions of global warming and some additional issues of ecological sustainability. The warnings of the scientific community, while not quite voices in the wilderness, do increasingly seem shrill shouts of frustration that are only likely to intensify in the years to come as the evidence mounts and the heedlessness persists. Whether this induces madness remains to be seen? Perhaps, it is more likely, that most scientists will begin to feel as if members of a classic Greek theater chorus that bemoans the onset of a tragedy while recognizing their helplessness to prevent its unfolding before their eyes. Perhaps, it is easier to remain sane if part of a chorus than fated to make the life journey alone, an experience that undoubtedly added to the inevitability of Cassandra’s sad demise.    


Reviving My Blog After China

27 Sep



            After three weeks in China I have returned to the United States  yesterday before departing for Turkey and Rhodes later today. I mention this to explain my failure to post during this period or to comment or monitor comments on the blog. This failure was not due to a lack of access to the Internet or even finding time during a busy travel schedule. It was due to my lack of skill in circumventing what is known as ‘The Great Firewall of China’ that blocks entry to most blogs, Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, as well as assorted other sites. Sophisticated Chinese know how to circumvent, and the authorities do not seem to mind, as the blockade is apparently intended to limit access on the part of ordinary Chinese. This is true of the Chinese media generally, which is highly regulated, especially TV, giving only officialviews, although the English language dailies, which are quite informative aremore objective, and do not read as propaganda.


            While in China the media was dominated by the intense Chinese reaction to the Japanese government decision to purchase the Daioyu Islands (called Senkaku Islands by Japan) from private Japanese owners, which was interpreted as a provocative step toward implementing Japanese disputed sovereignty claims. There were sustained, sometimes violent, demonstrations against the Japanese move in all major Chinese cities, interpreted by residents as events largely orchestrated by the Chinese Communist Party. At the same time there is an undercurrent of anti-Japanese resentment that is genuine, activating memories from the era of Japanese imperialism, which inflicted many harsh abuses on China. There seemed to occur anti-Japanese spontaneous acts throughout China in recent days that probably exceeded what the authorities in Beijing wanted, including attacks of Japanesecars, restaurants, and boycotts of products. Some Japanese business establishments flew Chinese flags or posted notices to show that they supported the Chinese position with respect to the islands. It is generally in believed that neither government wants the dispute to escalate further as it could severely harm, if it has not already done so, the extensive trade and investment relations between the two countries. It was a widely shared opinion that while the government took the lead in promoting the popular demonstrations, it might experience difficulty in containing this genie of anti-Japanese sentiment once in gained its freedom. Similarly, in Japan, nationalist sentiments in internal politics will complicate any diplomatic retreat by Tokyo.


            This was my third visit to China. The first in 1972 involved a delicate mission to escort three American pilots, shot down in the Vietnam War, from their prison cells in Hanoi to the United States. The pilots had been prisoners of war for varying lengths of time, and were released into my custody along with other ‘representatives of the American peace movement,’ William Sloan Coffin, Cora Weiss, and David Dellinger, on condition that they return to territorial United States in our custody. There was an express understanding that nay future prisoner release would be influenced by whether we could uphold this condition, which we took seriously. After their release, we spent another week in what was then North Vietnam, especially visiting various cities and villages that had experienced serious bomb damage. I was struck by the astonishing lack of bitterness on the Vietnamese side considering their extreme vulnerability to these high tech attacks. There was political sensitivity on all sides: the pilots were concerned that they might be denounced, or even prosecuted, as collaborators, the U.S. Government was worried at a time close to the presidential elections that these pilots could influentially criticize the war policies, China was concerned at a time shortly before the Nixon-Kissinger visit that Washington might cancel or defer this historic diplomatic breakthrough, and we were worried that we might be in trouble for engaging in ‘private diplomacy’ prohibited by an old and unused law. Actually none of these concerns materialized, but our ten days or so in China were very circumscribed partly because the authorities did not want to publicize their facilitative role, and it was the last throes of the Cultural Revolution, which was evident in the city of Wuhan where we were confined for a week while the remainder of the logistics of the trip were worked out. After a long journey via Beijing, Moscow, and Copenhagen we did manage to get these pilots back to Kennedy Airport in NYC where before deplaning they were, in effect, rearrested, this time by the U.S. Government, to avoid media contact under the pretext of the need for a ‘medical debriefing.’ Among those who boarded the plane was a Pentagon official who had studied at Princeton, and made a point of apologizing to me for this harsh welcome being given to these young Americans who had endured being shot down, Vietnamese imprisonment, and the uncertainties that awaited them at home. 


            My second visit in 1987 was comparatively low profile so far as media attention was concerned . I gave a few lectures in Beijing and Shanghai as part of an exchange program with Princeton, and my Chinese hosts arranged three weeks of travel throughout the country, which included a trip along the Yangtze River including the Three Gorges segment prior to the construction of major dams, Chunking, and Tibet; I did meet with the Deputy Foreign Minister of China who told me that if United States wanted positive relations with China it should show support for the remnants of the Khmer Rouge (in Cambodia) and stop encouraging resistance to the sovereign Chinese presence in Tibet. As a strong critic of the genocidal behavior of the Khmer Rouge and a supporter of Tibetan self-determination, I was somewhat surprised that a high Chinese official was naïve enough to suppose that I was a suitable conduit for such an unwelcome diplomatic communication. More satisfactory, by far, was a meeting of China’s Vietnam experts in Beijing that had been organized at my request. I had heard the Vietnamese side of the story as to why relations between the two supposed allies had so badly deteriorated after the American departure in 1975, and wanted to get a sense of how the Chinese portrayed the relationship. In essence, the Vietnamese claimed that China wanted the war to go on until ‘the last Vietnamese’ while the Chinese generally faulted Vietnam for being ‘ungrateful’ for extensive assistance at a time of economic hardship in China. While in China I was accompanied at all times by a Chinese ‘interpreter’ who monitored my agenda and became a friend; during our river travels he asked that I give him a daily lecture on international relations, which I gladly did; he later took a bold step and allowed us to meet some young fiction writers in Shanghai, departing from the approved agenda, which at that time, took a measure of personal courage. In China there was a sense of relief that the Cultural Revolution was over, and repudiated. There were few signs of the historic move to modernization, or receptivity to foreign capital, which were destined to revolutionize China in the following decades. Traffic in the big cities was almost exclusively by bicycle, with a few government cars and occasional taxis. I remember being in a taxi in Shanghai that had stopped at an intersection when it was struck by a cyclist who had fallen asleep. The taxi was immediately surrounded by an angry crowd, which dissipated only when it became clear that the accident was entirely the fault of the man on the bicycle.


            On this third trip China had become a different country!  The ‘New China’ had many extraordinary features, including the darks sides of rapid modernization—terrible pollution and traffic gridlock. On Nanjing Road in Shanghai, a shopping thoroughfare closed to cars, there were huge Western stores, including an Apple mega-store and many world class luxury shops. It was notable that many of these stores were rather empty, although the street outside was jammed with pedestrians. Modern China is an enigma in many ways. It still almost impossible for a foreigner to get along unless fluent in the language, and even difficult to do such routine things as go to a well known hotel or train station without a native speaker and guide. We had great difficulties going from the Shanghai train station where the fast train arrived and a large Marriot hotel in the city center. Many taxis refuse to take foreigners, and it takes great perseverance to find someone, usually a person under 25, who speaks some English. The fast train, traveling at speeds in excess of 185 mph, was comfortable, on time, an excellent way to get from Beijing to Stanghai, and a grim reminder that the U.S. enslaved to the auto industry, is a backward country when it comes to public transportation.


            There is much that could be said about this visit to China. I will write a separate post about a workshop and public meeting at Peking University and a quite extraordinary conference on religious traditions in China that took place in Dengfeng, China’s ancient capital and a UNESCO cultural heritage site since 2010.  At this point I will limit myself to a few reflections: there is taking place a serious effort to blend traditional Chinese culture and thought with the new China; few expect any change for the better politically within China over the course of the next ten years; there is great appreciation of American higher education and no hostility toward the United States (the Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, visited a few days ago and was greeted as a valued friend by Chinese leaders, who spoke of greater cooperation between the armed forces of the two countries), not much interest in the world outside of East Asia (although American popular culture is a definite exception, divided attitudes on the part of Chinese intellectuals toward Mao who remains the face of modern China (e.g. a massive portrait at the entry to the Forbidden City), blamed for the mistakes of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s but appreciated as the dominant revolutionary leader; a sense that there is a widening sphere of freedom of thought so long as the red lines of anti-state activism are not crossed, particularly in organized fashion; some realization that the rapid growth of recent years is unlikely to continue due to a mixture of internal and global reasons, especially rising labor costs and insufficient consumer demand; and a seeming rising dissatisfaction with the one-child policy.


            Despite all the qualifications and criticisms, what China has achieved for its people, and in a sense for the world, is remarkable, unsurpassed in human history. I remember attending an off-the-record briefing by the lead journalists (I recall Dan Rather, Eric Severeid, but there were others)who had accompanied Nixon to China in 1972 that was held for invited guests at the Plaza Hotel in NYC. I was seated at a table with several presidents of American airline companies who seemed as astonished as I was by what we were told.  The journalists formed a panel and took questions, and I remember, especially, the words of Severeid, which I paraphrase from memory: “We were scared to tell the American people how impressed we were by what we saw and experienced in China. We came away with the belief that China possessed a superior civilization.” Of course, China had been off limits to Westerners since the Communists took over in 1949, and American Cold War propaganda had been intense during the period of the Vietnam War. It is odd in light of later developments, including the war between China and Vietnam in the 1970s, that the U.S. Government believed that North Vietnam was essentially an extension of China, referring to the Vietnamese in official documents at the time as ‘ChiComs.’ So much for the great political understanding of the Washington cable-reading intelligence community!    

Paradoxes of Turkish Pride

10 Sep


I have been struck by the strange firmament of Turkish pride. In one respect, the nationalist and patriotic fervor of Turkish holidays confirms the enduring success of Kemal Ataturk’s great nation-building project after World War I. Huge Turkish flags are more prominently displayed than in any country I know, and Turkey has earned  dubious notoriety for its criminal code provision that punishes insults to Turkishness, potentially including even imprisonment. Such a law has been used in a manner that encroaches upon freedom of expression, targeting even such cultural icons as Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafik, and undoubtedly intimidating thousands of others who hesitate to make any assertion that might be interpreted as offensive by the Turkish custodians of national pride. Even many of those who reject the idea of criminalizing anti-Turkish comments were still angered by Pamuk’s interview in which he acknowledged the 1915 genocide against the Armenian community, first because it was contained in an interview conducted in Switzerland and, secondly, because he added the annoying aside “and only I will say this.” Instead of examining the substance of his indictment, the focus was on Pamuk’s supposed anti-Turkishness. Shafik faced a similar storm of criticism when she published the Bastard of Istanbul, which also in a fictionalized context essentially accepts the Armenian narrative of the tragic events that occurred almost a hundred years ago. Neither Pamuk nor Shaifk were convicted, but prosecution was bad enough. My point here is to take note of the extreme sensitivity that Turkey continues to feel whenever critical commentary is regarded as a taint on national pride and collective memory.


At the same time, as with most countries, but perhaps with an added intensity, Turkey celebrates its athletic exploits. Recently it welcomed home its medal winning woman runners with great fanfare after the London Olympics as if they had made epic contributions to the wellbeing of the country, and it seems they had. And on that day sometime in the near future when Turkish football ascends the heights of a World Cup final, national fervor will certainly become hysterical. This is to be welcomed as an expression of national joy over the most loved sporting event in the world.


And yet, on different planes of discourse there is a strange national reluctance among Turks to enjoy certain achievements of their citizens, even a widespread tendency to belittle them. Over the years in the course of countless conversations about the Turkish Nobel Prize winning author Orhan Pamuk I have encountered such a tendency among Turkish intellectuals intent on downgrading his stature as a world class literary master: “he knows how to appeal to foreigners,” “he is very good at promoting his work overseas,” “he benefits from his translators,” “he is derivative,” “there are many better Turkish writers,” “his fame rests on a heavily funded PR campaign,” “his use of the Turkish language is undistinguished.” Less intellectually minded Turkish detractors, and there are many, complain that Pamuk is personally unreliable and selfish, that he is a womanizer, that his books are unreadable, or at best, that his imagination only works when he is fictionalizing historical themes or contents himself with being “the biographer of the city of Isranbul.” What he should not do, according to his Turkish critics, is attempt to interpret the contemporary Turkish reality as he did so persuasively in Snow.


I would not suggest that all of these criticisms are unfounded, but what I would say is that their tenor exhibits an unaccustomed Turkish lack of generosity and balance. As an admirer of Pamuk, along with many friends with stronger literary credentials than mine outside of Turkey, I can report that Pamuk’s best books, and there are several candidates, have a vivid resonance for readers that rests on deserved literary acclaim, and cannot be explained away as a triumph of self-promotion. Pamuk has a great gift for breathing life and its mysteries into a variety of persons, places, situations, and uses the metaphor of ‘the detective’ or ‘the traveler’ with great skill in constructing his captivating plots. Why don’t Turks take great pride in Pamuk’s recognition by the Nobel Prize Committee? Would many Turks diminish a sporting team victory by examining the allegedly compromised private lives of its star athletes?


This brings me to a more controversial set of considerations bearing on Turkish foreign policy, which I view as an extraordinary series of successes, coupled with some disappointments, and several understandable missteps. Such an assessment is far from the perceptions common among Turkish critics of the AKP leadership, and deprives Turkish society as a whole of the satisfaction of being justly proud of what their government has achieved at a time that has been exceedingly difficult for almost every other country in the world. Turkey emerged from the shadowland of its role as junior alliance member of NATO during the Cold War era and non-presence in the Arab world to become the most admired country in the region, especially during 2011 in the aftermath of the early successes of the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. On the basis of my visits to the region over the course of the past two years, this admiration rested on three principal sources: deep respect for the diplomatic skill, dedication to conflict resolution, and the great energy and intelligence of the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu; the adoption of an equi-distance diplomacy that allowed Turkey to be critical of Israel and supportive of the Palestinian struggle without alienating the United States and Europe; and most important of all, establishing a flourishing economy that was supported by the more deprived segments of Turkish society, while creating a political leadership that was sensitive to Islamic values without abandoning the core principles of secular government, that is, the emergence of a so-called ‘Turkish Model’ that is contrasted throughout the region with the negativity associated with the ‘Iran Model.’


I would have thought and hoped that however critical a Turkish citizen would be of some domestic policies of the AKP there would be uniform applause for this formidable array of foreign policy achievements. Much critical attention in the Turkish media has been directed at ‘zero problems with neighbors,” especially in light of the debacle in Syria and the upsurge of violence in relation to the Kurdish minority, and it is true that the doctrine from the outset undoubtedly expressed more a hope than a guideline. At the time it was enunciated, there was no Arab Spring, no Mavi Marmara, no uprising against Qaddafi or Assad, but these unanticipated circumstances required, and produced, a major restatement. Davutoglu made clear that the real commitment of zero problems was in relation to the people and not necessarily to the government, and more specifically, the regimes in Tripoli and Damascus lost their legitimacy when they committed Crimes Against Humanity in relation to their own citizens.


Similarly, Turkey sought to mediate the conflict between Israel and Syria centered on the Golan Heights, lending great energy to the endeavor, but once Israel attacked Gaza at the end of 2008, it was clearly not possible to proceed further toward a resolution of the conflict. Turkey tried a number of other bold initiatives that ended in disappointment, but seemed as though they should have succeeded ithe values of peace and justice were genuinely shared and not just proclaimed. One was the effort to bring Hamas in from the cold, be accepted as a normal political actor, and shift the Isreal/Palestine conflict from sites of violent struggle to diplomatic arenas. After all, in 2006 Hamas had been encouraged by the West to compete in Gaza elections, but they were not supposed to win, and as a result an unlawful blockade has been imposed since 2007 on the people of Gaza and the Israeli insistence upon treating Hamas as ‘a terrorist organization’ has blocked a political solution. Similarly, in 2010 a brave attempt by Ankara, in collaboration with Brazil, was made to dampen the pre-war flames that surrounded Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, but the United States and Israel were intent on confronting Iran by way of coercive diplomacy in the form of escalating sanctions and unlawful threats of a military attack. The disappointment here reflected the impact of mainstream geopolitics on relations with Iran, but it only highlighted the constructive nature of the Turkish effort to produce a shift in tactics and vision in the direction of soft power diplomacy.


The discourse in Turkey takes no account of the radically changed regional circumstances or the boldness of peacemaking experiments that deserved to succeed. Instead, the failures are dwelled upon to establish that Davutoglu is out of touch, that he does not comprehend the true nature of world politics or the conditions prevailing in the Middle East. Mainly, such conversations shift to a barrage of criticisms directed at the AKP and Erdogan: “they have lost touch,” “they have become too powerful,” “the government imprisons its opposition and silences its critics,” “Erdogan is planning to run an authoritarian state,” “the government is bending to the will of Washington,” “despite its promises it has failed to solve the Kurdish problem.” To varying degrees these criticisms are justified, although exaggerated, given the overall reality of state/society relations in Turkey.


My surprise is the unwillingness of many Turkish friends to separate these appropriate concerns from an appreciation of the extraordinary rise in Turkish stature as a political actor, not only regionally, but globally. Turkey is now an important middle power at the United Nations. It provides a diplomatic venue for many international events that used to be held in Europe. Its courageous Somalia initiative has given Turkey a post-colonial identity in Africa that no other non-African government has been able to achieve.  It is my belief that Turkey more than any other country in the 21st century has increased its relevance to the conduct of regional and global politics, and this is something that all Turks can be proud of in a world of 195 or so sovereign states!


Waving the national flag is fine, yet finer still, is taking justifiable pride in what has been accomplished by those who act on behalf of one’s country.

Short Addendum to the Open Letter to My Blog

6 Sep


            As I should have anticipated the responses to my effort to set some rules of the road for my blog produced considerable feedback, which was equally divided between those who welcomed such monitoring to sustain a civility of tone and useful substantive debate and those who believed that debate should go forth without such constraints, and that it was my moral failure, even alleged cowardice, to control the comment section in this way. Some contended that there were benefits from even uncivil exchanges, a position I understand, but do not share. Several of the responses were, as earlier, accusatory toward my character, repeating old charges, some demeaned the character of others who submitted comments, and some derisive in their attitude toward the Palestinian and/or Arab or the Jewish people.


            I want to restate ever so briefly that I will not in the future give my approval to comments that dwell on character failings of myself or other contributors to the blog or show no respect for the dignity of the Palestinian or Jewish people. Ethnic hatred and prejudice is the source of much suffering in our world and throughout history, and never heals wounds.


            I acknowledge a special interest in the quest for a sustainable peace in relation to the Palestine/Israel conflict, however remote its achievement currently appears to be. Let me also be forthright in admitting that I feel no responsibility to respond to comments that do not accept as a political premise the relevance of the structure of oppression and disparity of circumstance that separates the Israeli reality from that of Palestinians living under occupation, in refugee camps, in exile, or as second-class citizens in Israel. As well, I am not inclined to respond to those comment writers who question the inalienable and elemental Palestinian right of self-determination in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, claiming that sovereignty is either ‘disputed’ or inheres by biblical or historical claim to Israel. Those who hold such position have many outlets for such views within the blogosphere and elsewhere, but for my purposes, such positions are outside the boundaries of responsible debate.


            Finally, I realize that many blogs and online media comment sections operate with much more permissive rules of the road, or virtually none. I tried this, but feel it engendered, especially recently, an atmosphere of acrimony.Such a tone and spirit of intemperance is the very opposite of my goal in establishing and continuing the blog. This new more constrictive approach is one more experiment of mine undertaken in the hope of finding a workable arrangement consistent with my values.


            With thanks and feelings of gratitude for all those who have participated in these discussions of my posts over the past couple of years in good faith whether in agreement or not with the positions being set forth. I hope to continue to discuss sensitive issues in ways that will undoubtedly infuriate some of those who visit the blog, but I hope if you choose to participate actively you will embrace this ethos of civility, which in my mind is inseparable from an affirmation of the dignity and sacredness of every person, as well as being a show of respect for the diversities of race, ethnicity, religion, nationality, and gender that currently constitute the human species.




An Open Letter to my Blog

2 Sep


Passenger Information
An Open Letter to my Blog


            I have been disturbed by the recent exchanges of personal attacks inthe comments section of my blog. I realize that the subject-matter, and my views, are controversial, and attract strong responses for and against. I have tried to be broadly receptive to this broad range of opinions, and have excluded only those that have no substantive serious content. From my perspective some of these views are quite extreme, and as such provocative and deeply objectionable to those who see things differently. This tension among readers of the posts, not surprisingly, is mainly in relation to the Israel/Palestine conflict, and relates to both my views and to those of some of those who take the trouble to submit comments.


            I had the hope that the comment section could serve as a dialogic channel for the exchange of views, but I increasingly realize that this was an unrealistic wish. In my long academic experience I have found that dialogue is only mutually beneficial if there is a minimum of shared underlying understanding. If such an understanding is absent, the discussion quickly deteriorates, and becomes an exchange of angry views, and accusatory claims directed at the opinions of those who views are rejected. To be more concrete references to ‘Jew-hater’ and the like, or merging criticisms of the Zionist project with Judaism as religion or Jews as a people, create an atmosphere of discussion that I find unacceptable.


            In the interests of full disclosure, I acknowledge that I am deeply critical of many aspects of Israeli behavior, especially in relation to the Palestinians, and strongly supportive of lawful Palestinian resistance to a prolonged occupation (that, incidentally, has become an increasingly transparent cover for annexation and apartheid) and to the overall Palestinian struggle to realize their inalienable right of self-determination, as well as other rights under international law, including those pertaining to Palestinian refugees.

My main motivation to write posts for this blog, a considerable investment of time and energy, is to have a self-monitored outlet for my views on a wide range of issues having long ago realized that the mainstream media in the West would generally not publish what I have to say. This conclusion was not fanciful, but is substantiated by a pile of rejection slips and equally frustrating experiences of having submissions accepted on condition that I soften my views if I was to be permitted to pass through various gates of informal censorship maintained, with great arrogance, by the NY Times and other august media establishments.


            Some comments are critical of posts in view of my position as Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine for the UN Human Rights Council, and my failure to repudiate certain comments due to this affiliation. It should be understood that my UN appointment is an unpaid position that has certain guidelines in terms of the conduct of the mandate to which I adhere. I have done my best to fulfill my fundamental duty to the UN by doing my being truthful, accurate, and comprehensive in reporting on Israeli violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law. I do not claim a UN credential in composing this personal blog, and consider it to be an exercise of my rights of free expression as a citizen of a constitutional democracy. At the same time, the implications that I am anti-Semitic or a covert self-hating Jew are deeply offensive, and seem to me consistent with many other efforts to confuse the domain of criticisms of Israel and Zionism with various forms of hate speech and racist emotions so as to insulate Israel and Zionism from various lines of criticism. It is also the case that certain pro-Israeli NGOs have consistently harassed me by issuing a variety of defamatory allegations, including pulling excerpts from the blog out of context and elaborating on their meaning in an inflammatory manner.  


            On this basis, I have decided to become much stricter about approving comments dealing with the Israel-Palestine conflict. There are many influential outlets for those with strong pro-Israeli, pro-Zionist viewpoints, and my modest blog is not needed to get such positions into the public domain. Consider the positions on the Israel/Palestine conflict adopted by the two main political parties in the United States to get a sense of the extent to which extremist  pro-Israeli sentiments dominate the dissemination of views about the conflict.


            Of course, there are other spheres of sharp controversy that overlap with my posts, for instance, the assessment of Turkish governance and foreign policy in recent years. Here, too, there are ultra-critical voices of current AKP governance that I find too ‘extreme’ and so far from my perceptions as to produce, at best, merely recurrent arguments, that is, various recycling of respective viewpoints, and not an engagement with substance within a framework of shared fundamental perceptions and presuppositions. In effect, one litmus test of a polarized society is that the abyss separating the essential worldviews are not reconcilable, and discussion excites emotions but it does not foster deeper understanding of the policy conflicts, but rather at best clarify the factual and normative foundation of the respective contradictory interpretation of current patterns of Turkish governance. I do not deny that many people enjoys such debates, but I am not one, and do not intend to allow this blog to become such a vehicle for polarized debate.  I will, however, continue to publish comments that responsibly express even extreme viewpoints if they do not engage in personal polemics.

             I hope that those with substantive interests will continue to submit comments, including harsh criticisms directed at my interpretations and analyses. I am interested in the connections between knowledge and policy, but not in argument or debate with those whose standpoint is radically different than from own, especially on the Israel/Palestine conflict. In relation to this conflict, I am deeply interested in an exchange of views with those that share my basic suppositions, and even within this constrained framework of inquiry, there are sharp disagreements, for instance, as between various one-state and two-state solutions, and their nature. My blog ethos can be summed up: Let many flowers bloom, but recognize that on this particular soil certain flowers will not flourish.