The world owes comedian Jeff Foxworthy a debt of gratitude for his funny and clever stand-up routine “You might be a redneck”. While some rednecks might take pride in the label, other labels, particularly “ist”s, are rapid argument enders. No-one wants to be labelled a racist. Indeed a recent blog post gives a guide to supporters of Israel who do not want to be labelled a racist. This looks like a follow-up to the earlier publication by the same blogger of a guide to criticizing Israel without being labelled an antisemite.
So in the spirit of Foxworthy, and so make sure people aren’t incorrectly labelled as racists, here is my simple guide to whether certain comments or responses to the Middle East conflict are racist or not:
1. If you speak out against the deaths of Palestinians but ignore the brutal killing going on in Syria, Africa, and other parts of the world, you might be a racist. In Syria, hundreds of innocent people are being killed every day by the brutal Assad regime. The world media has quickly banished that story from the headlines in favour of the current Gaza conflagration. Indeed, the death of a single innocent Palestinian child will create far more media interest than the death of a larger number of innocents in other parts of the Third World. This makes no sense. Such bias in coverage is to suggest that the life of a Palestinian is worth more than the life of another Middle Eastern or Third World child, which is racist.
Jewish universalists who gush with empathy for Palestinians seem not to have enough empathy for the far higher numbers of Muslims around the world who are trapped in terrible conflict with … other Muslims.
2. If you claim Palestinian children are “taught to hate”, that doesn’t make you a racist. One of the things that perpetuates the Arab-Israeli conflict is the teaching of lies and hatred to children. An entire generation is being brought up genuinely believing that Jews are “descendants of apes and pigs” – subhuman and not deserving of life, let alone the right to live in safety and secure borders in their own country. Now that is definitely racist.
These children are no less innocent than any other children. Their deaths are just as sad as the deaths of Jewish children, or any child. These children are victims of awful, despotic regimes like Hamas. Not only do they indoctrinate them with hate and celebrate death and martyrdom, but they also use them as human shields when they place military infrastructure in the middle of residential areas, in an effort to maximize collateral damage, and then seek the pity of the world at Israel’s expense.
3. If you say that Arabs/Muslims don’t really love their children or don’t value human life, that doesn’t make you a racist. Even if they didn’t love human life, that doesn’t make their lives worth less, nor does it give anyone an excuse to kill them. There are stark differences between Western and Arab/Muslim cultural values, and it is a huge mistake to impose our values on others, or to expect that people from other cultures will respond in the same way as someone from our own culture (take note, Barrack Obama). That is essentially “International Business 101” – learning to respect, understand, and work with people from other cultures.
Golda Meir famously said that “peace will come when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us”. That doesn’t suggest that Arabs don’t love their children, nor that their children’s lives or their lives are worth less than ours. Rather, it reflects their hatred of Jews and of Israel, and the associated cultural priorities. If they choose to sacrifice their children for the sake of a never-ending war to destroy the Jewish state, then that is their choice. Our culture may find such an idea sickening, and it may take generations for such a culture to change and be more in line with contemporary Western values.
4. Saying Muslim when you mean Palestinian doesn’t make you a racist. It more likely makes you ignorant. Most Palestinians are Muslim. Most Egyptians are Muslim. In both places, there are minority Christian populations. In both places, these Christian populations are discriminated against and oppressed by ruling radical Muslim governments. These populations are steadily declining as the Christians look elsewhere for somewhere safe to live.
5. Saying Jewish when you mean Zionist or Israeli doesn’t make you a racist. It’s an incorrect generalization. Israel was created as a homeland for the Jews. It is a Jewish state. There are no other Jewish states (some countries would consider themselves Christian states and there are lots of Muslim states). This makes the nature of Israel as a state a little different to many others. There was a UN Resolution in 1975 that determined “that Zionism is a form of racism”. This was revoked in 1991.
Not every Jew is a Zionist or believes there should be a Jewish state, or that the state of Israel is doing the right thing in its dealing with its neighbours. There is a significant non-Jewish population in Israel – Christian, Muslims, Druze citizens of Israel. They vote and participate in society, although some do not have to complete mandatory army service. I’m not sure if that’s racist.
6. Claiming that Islam is inherently violent or evil, or that all Palestinians are terrorists or support terrorism doesn’t make you a racist. Again, those statements are gross generalizations and as such are quite incorrect. There are Muslim groups that use Islam to justify violence and terrorism. There are Palestinian and Muslim groups who are terrorists or who support terrorism. They are the minority, albeit a very vocal and dangerous minority, and in many cases a minority that is in power over others. Another subset of Muslims and Palestinians are those who don’t care either way and just want to live their own lives in peace. That is likely the majority. Another subset of Muslims and Palestinians are those who are vocal in their opposition to terrorism, their advocacy for women’s rights, and other worthy reforms. They are either a very small minority, or dead.
7. If you suggest that the Arab Spring has turned into a Muslim Winter because the Arabs are savages, you might be a racist. Calling any ethnic group “savage” is dehumanizing and racist.
The Arab Spring brought a lot of hope to people in the West, who saw it as the vanguard of transformation of the Arab world to modern, democratic and open societies. So far, it looks more like a transformation of countries from minority-controlled police states to Islamist states. Surely we should have known better after seeing that Iraq didn’t instantly blossom into democracy after the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Why has this happened? Well, it took Europe and the US years of civil war and conflict to transform into modern democracies. Expecting Arab countries that are steeped in a culture of tribalism, and whose citizens have been repressed for years by despotic rulers to embrace democracy overnight is blind idealism. The West took a journey hundreds of years ago, and the Middle East is taking its own journey now. Let’s hope that we can make their journey toward liberated society easier. But we must remember that it is their journey.
8. If you use body counts as a metric of the relative merits between Israel and the Palestinians, that doesn’t make you a racist. After all, you are putting an equal value on human life. If a much larger number of Palestinians have died in the conflict, then it’s reasonable to say that they have suffered a greater human loss. However, taking the leap from “more of them were killed” to “their cause is more worthy” is just bad logic. It ignores the reasons why one side has lost more lives than the other.
Less Israelis were killed because in response to the hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza, Israel has missile defence systems, and because Israelis can escape to the protection of bomb shelters. Note that while this minimizes the loss of life, the ongoing rockets have caused significant psychological damage to hundreds of thousands of Israelis living “within range”. This is a hidden toll that is not measured by body counts.
So why, despite Israel’s “surgical” strikes that are aimed to take out terrorists and minimize the damage to civilians, and despite other tactics like dropping leaflets urging civilians to clear the area before a rocket launching site is hit, are so many Palestinians killed? See point 2 & 3 above – culture of death and martyrdom, and human shields.
What this highlights is that body counts are a simplistic scoring system used by the media and that glosses over important aspects of the conflict.
Peace in our time? Sadly, I don’t see how.