Monday, November 19, 2012

Defending Eliyahu Fink

Jeffery Woolf of Harvard and Bar Ilan has accused our friend Eliyahu Fink of taking a naif-like view of the ongoing war between Gaza and Israel. Rather than call for total destruction and the razing and salting of Arab villages, Rabbi Fink counseled reconciliation and suggested there might be found some Arabs who are willing to negotiate.

To the He Man Israeli Warrior, arm chair division, such a position is sacrilege. For being a hippie, Rabbi Fink was punished with an awful, public scolding, in which Jeffery Woolf rambled on like this:
There is a serious flaw in your argument, however. It lies in assuming that ultimately ‘people have the capacity to love and care for anyone.’ I assume what you mean is that if we all sat down to speak as equals and friends, that differences of opinion would be resolved and war avoided. Your sentiments are certainly representative of the way most people in the West think today. However, your sentiment (and theirs) is seriously flawed. You (and they) have fallen into the logical fallacy that my friend and colleague, Professor Richard Landes, calls ‘cognitive egocentrism.’ In other words, you project your own mentality, values and “way of seeing the world” onto others. The result is an attitude that is, albeit innocently, disrespectful and paternalist..... Muslims, such as the Hamas and their supporters (who put them in power democratically), do not fight for ‘interests.’ They fight, they struggle (‘jihad’) because they believe that it is the will of God. 
I do not have to tell you that The Will of God is Not Negotiable. 
This position is maintained both by Hamas and Fatah (a word which refers to a stage of jihad). This is the will of God. It is a principled, on its own terms fully logical and understandable, religious position. It is a position that is understandably shared by Muslims the world over who dream of the establishment of the Kingdom of God on Earth, as God Almighty willed it (whether they intend to work to actualize it, or not). Anyone who falls in the struggle is rewarded by God. It is a sublime vision that is absolutely non-negotiable.
My uncharacteristically sober reply after the jump.

Jeffery Woolf  is correct about one thing. People who have convinced themselves that they are carrying out the will of God often award themselves permission to behave abominably. For 2000 years fanatical Catholics tortured Jews on the mistaken theory that it pleased God. Nowadays, (some) settlers in Israel seek to reclaim every possible inch of West Bank land - regardless of the political consequences - because they imagine God is made glad when Jews own lots of real estate. And yes, its true: some Muslims simply will not rest until Israel is destroyed, also on the grounds that God demands it. (I do not intend to suggest the three examples of fanatical behavior I've given here are equivalent. They are not. Though it begins in the same place, Jewish fanaticism is decidabley less dangerous than other varieties.)

However, Woolf makes two very serious errors. It is on the basis of these errors that he wrongly criticizes Rabbi Eliyahu Fink.

First, he seems to think that Islam is a monolith. He views all of its adherents through the crude and primitive prism of collectivism. I have already conceded that some Muslims wish to destroy Israel. Will he concede that some Muslims might embrace a diplomatic solution? Or does he (albeit innocently, disrespectfully and paternalisticly) insist that all Arabs are in full and complete agreement with the opinions of the worst Arabs? Is he thinking about Arabs as if they were individuals or is he assuming they every Arab is a clone of the very  worst Arab he knows? Certainly, Rabbi Fink would not encourage conversation with any Arabs who fit Rabbi Woolf's description, but what about the others?

Second, Rabbi Woolf suggests that war, followed by total defeat, is the only way to disabuse fanatics of their mistaken notions. Certainly, there is some historical support for this perspective. After all, it took not one war but a whole series of wars to convince the Catholics of Europe to abandon their superstitions and prejudices. (And what a blessing for the world that this was, in the main, accomplished.) But is war the only way? I say it isn't. A racist imagines culture is a collective, and speaks of values and convictions that are inherited. But (quoting Ayn Rand) "Just as there is no such thing as a collective or racial mind, so there is no such thing as a collective or racial achievement. There are only individual minds and individual achievements -- and a culture is not the anonymous product of undifferentiated masses, but the sum of the intellectual achievements of individual men." The war on Israel is being waged by individual men, not by a monolith, and (thankfully) you can change the minds of individual MEN through conversation, education and by example. And, as you change the minds of individuals, you change a culture.

I don't say it will be easy to non-violently change Arab culture -- it took 2000 years to convince the Catholics they were wrong -- but I think Rabbi Fink is to be commended for insisting that its possible. He is correct that it starts with a conversation.

Search for more information about War, what is it good for? 

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