the middle east

April 15, 2002

In a place some call Israel and others call Palestine and so many call the Holy Land, the complexity of life and the relationships between families, between tribes, between nations and peoples, all too often takes the form of bloody battles.

Everyone seems to have passionate opinions about what should be done in the Middle East.
Here at home, we choose sides. At the dinner table, we have arguments. I know, because I had one recently at a family gathering. Everybody there was passionately defending the current actions of the Israeli government and before I knew it, I was passionately defending the Palestinians.

Now this argument wasn’t going to go anywhere. It never does in my family. And I realized that by picking a side, as though the issue was purely black and white, this argument could escalate into a small war. So instead, I backed off and we had a peaceful dinner.

Mind you, I didn’t back off because I thought I was wrong; I backed off because I knew I couldn’t be all that right and because I know the situation in Israel is just too complex for anyone to be either completely right or completely wrong. It was simply a battle of opinions, of assumptions, of suppositions and biases. In this kind of battle, the truth gets buried under the debris of ignorance, so I chose not to participate.

One cannot help but see how the place that is considered the holiest of holy lands to billions of people has historically been soaked with more blood from more wars than just about anywhere on the planet.

On the table here, I have a picture I cut out of the newspaper. It’s a picture of a little girl, very innocent and open looking, as one would expect from a child. She looks about fourteen but could be as old as eighteen. She is wearing a plaid shirt, blue jeans and a scarf over her hair. She has a delicate and pretty smile and adorable eyes. Her name is Andaleeb Taqtaqah. The caption under the picture reads, in part, “Andaleeb Taqtaqah, believed to be the bomber who struck Friday,” referring to another suicide bombing in Israel.

The truth in the Middle East is a complex thing. So, I’ve decided that until I can fully understand what led this child to perform that kind of desperate act, I don’t know from nothing.

Now, there are many who would say, “Well, the answer is obvious; she was brainwashed by extremists.” Really? How do you know that? The fact is that none of the stories about most of these suicide bombers have mentioned that. And young women acting as suicide bombers is a new phenomena. She is only the third or fourth woman known to be a suicide bomber.

Think about how much it would help to understand what is going on there, if we could just understand what motivated that little girl. How much better could we understand the human condition and, for that matter, ourselves if we could have known that little girl in life, rather than from the act of her death.

Of course, there are those who just dismiss her as being another terrorist and therefore see no need for exploration. Nice try, but it doesn’t fly. When we categorize someone, it’s a way of avoiding the search for what is true.

Even the concept of terrorism itself needs some exploration.

Remember that the very same Israelis who condemn absolutely all terrorist activities created the state of Israel through the violence of terrorism against the British occupiers. The Republic of Ireland calls men like Michael Connelly who fought for its freedom heroes, and the British called them terrorists. The British called the American patriots of our revolution terrorists. France called the Algerians who fought to liberate Algeria from French colonialism terrorists.

The U.S. has historically supported regimes that we like against terrorist activities by insurgents while supporting the terrorist activities of insurgents in wars against regimes that we oppose. It’s a tricky concept, now made all the more compelling and difficult by the assault we suffered on 9/11.

There are those who compare Palestinian fighters to the likes of Osama bin Laden. That’s easy to do if we just omit historical context. To my mind, Osama is a madman who represents only his own personal passions.
I compare someone like Osama Bin Evil to the likes of our own mad “unabomber,” Ted Kaczynski. He murdered innocents, representing nobody but his own twisted passions.

So, I suppose the question I am raising is: are there different kinds of terrorism?

We called the Viet Cong terrorists during the war in Vietnam. But when our B-52s carpet bombed whole regions of Vietnam and killed everyone and everything in the jungle, we ignored the world when it condemned our actions as terrorism.

There seems to be a theme here.

Just remember that nothing is as black or as white as we would like it to be. Reality is a whole lot more complex and instead of arguing about it, we should really try to understand it.

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