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Happy Resurrection, Unhappy Easter!
In peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace! - Essays by General Sun Tzu - Sun Tzu Bingfa (The Art of War) - State of Wu, 500 BC

18 April   |   2003   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

The Art of War is an ancient book of thirteen short chapters that was written by a Chinese army general named Sun Tzu some 2500 years ago. A brilliant general, as well as an astute student of human nature, Sun Tzu’s observations are as germane today as they were twenty-five centuries ago.

I was first introduced to Sun Tzu as a law student in one of my courses, but it came back to me again this week as I observed the dying flames of the Iraqi war. To be honest, I am still somewhat befuddled about the real motivations that drove this war. After all, it created splits within the world community - at the United Nations, the European Union and Nato. It also highlighted the cleft separating the leadership from the masses in most of the Arab world. To date, and much as I rejoice with the Iraqi people for the removal of a fearsome tyrant, I am still struggling with my own political antennae to determine the nature of this war. Was it meant to capture Saddam Hussein, rid the world of weapons of mass destruction or combat terrorism in all its nefarious forms? Regardless, and despite the ostensibly easy victory, it is clear that ‘petropolitics’ and ‘geopolitics’ superseded ‘anthropolitics’ once more in the genome of global designs and interests.

>However, let me harp back this Easter season to my central political theme. In a nutshell, I do not believe that the Iraqi ‘situation’ will in itself mark any strategic betterment of the Middle East. For that to happen, the world must at long last address seriously the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal called recently upon the United States not to ‘forego this historic opportunity of statesmanship where its leadership for peace can be long-lasting and deep-reaching.’ In a message on 6 April 2003 entitled What Will Happen After Iraq? How Will Global Terrorism be Defeated?, he wrote that ‘The imperative now for international policymakers is to offer viable change that is civilised and peaceful, and not to leave the provision of change to the extremists and the violent fundamentalists of all types.’ His message further elaborated that ‘Terrorism is an anti-human movement. It can only appeal to wanton destroyers and power-seekers, to the deeply-disturbed and the desperate. It can only be accepted by people driven into a corner or those who are utterly numb. By channelling power and self-determination to a peaceful majority through the building of civil society from the grassroots upwards, we open the way for a stable anti-terrorist society which does not depend upon military destruction to control unruly elements within its own body, because it can effectively police itself.’

This week, different Christian leaders reflected such a viewpoint in their own Easter Messages. They argued that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains the hub of many inveterate Middle Eastern problems. Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Latin-rite Roman Catholic leader in Jerusalem reminded the faithful in his Easter Message that ‘The first step to put an end to terrorism is to start with a self-examination in order to find the possible roots of evil and death in oneself, roots that allow the strong to attack the weak and to impose injustices and deprivations upon peoples.’ Referring to the continuing siege by Israel of Palestinian populations, he exhorted world leaders to found ‘a new world order that is based on justice, forgiveness, love and reconciliation.’ Bishop Dr Munib Younan of the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem also took up the same theme. His powerful and moving Easter Message, entitled Who Will Roll the Stone Away?, spoke of the sense of hopelessness let alone misery that is experienced by the Palestinian communities in the Holy Land. Reminding the faithful that the Risen Christ ‘is able to work in you to change hatred into love, animosity into neighbourliness, bitterness into trust’, he added that Christians ‘need to be brokers of building a just peace in the Middle East where Palestinians and Israelis can live in their viable states, side by side, peacefully, justly and equitably.’

The same message for reconciliation was echoed in the Pastoral Letter read out from Jerusalem by Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, to all Christians in the Middle East. The newly enthroned Archbishop said that ‘it has been so painfully clear that without peace and justice for all the peoples of the Holy Land, there is small hope of lasting reconciliation in the wider world.’ In a prophetic statement, he segued, ‘This Easter, we pray, for the sake of the whole region and the whole world, that those who hold power may know how to take the risk of giving it away for the sake of greater peace; ad that those who have no power may take the risk of stepping out of helpless resentment into something new.’ The leader primus inter pares of the Anglican communion concluded, ‘May God stir up in all of you endurance in your sufferings and courage to go on seeking renewal in justice and peace.’

In a message to a conference at Northwestern University on 8 April 2003 entitled Imagining the Other in the Middle East: Jewish and Arab / Muslim Narratives, HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal highlighted a number of perceptions in the Middle East that translate the current volatile mood of the region. He wrote:

The negative perceptions of Muslims, Arabs, and for that matter, so many other people from all religions and nationalities, derive from America’s double standards and hegemonistic tendencies, and above all, by its unbridled support for Israeli practices. Principally, they ask why Israel is allowed to do so much harm to the Palestinians with full US support without question. Why is the US so concerned with regime-change in Iraq, and not with bringing peace with justice to the Palestinians? They ask why some Palestinian resistance acts, like suicide-bombings, are called ‘terrorism’, while indiscriminate and excessive use of force by Israeli IDF and Security Forces against Palestinian civilians are justified. All of these are equally reprehensible.

Arabs and Muslims feel humiliated and despondent and devoid of the ability to redress the imbalance in US foreign policy and US public opinion, just as they feel humiliated, despondent, and unable to stop the violence against the Palestinians, which they see in part as the result of US support for Israel.

These are the main reasons for anti-American sentiment among Arabs and Muslims. These sentiments feed the despair, frustration, and anger of the downtrodden masses, among whom some turn to violence as their means to express opposition to these policies and practices. It explains extremists’ recruitment of young people to engage in indiscriminate terror-inspiring violence. And that is why what we call terrorism, they call heroism. If double standards work one way, they produce that type of response the other way.

There is no doubt that Arabs and Muslims intensely dislike, not to say hate, US foreign policy and what they see the US Administration doing to Arabs and Muslims, and what they see Israel doing to Palestinians. No amount of public relations will dispel that perception, and the war in Iraq adds to that.

Arabs and Muslims do not see America alone in that hegemonistic approach where double standards are the rule, and fairness the exception. They see American Jews, and the Israeli government of Sharon, as the prime movers of that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim crusade. The connection between the American conservative right and the pro-Israel lobby is therefore more than troubling.

It remains clear that much of the regional violence is caused by the consequences of poverty and injustice, oppression and abuse of power, anger and fear. Such a litany of despair surely explains the reason why many people contemplate going down the path of violence as an expression of their deep-seated frustrations. That frustration is first directed at Israel that grows stronger and bigger at the expense of Palestinians. It is then directed at the United States as the sole hyper-power that refuses to condemn illegal practices by Israel whilst condemning the vile practices of neighbouring Arab regimes. Finally, it is directed at their own leaders who subjugate them in different ways and with varying degrees.

Is it possible to tap into the ineffable sources of the three monotheistic religions in order to staunch this tide of violence and lead instead toward reconciliation? Can those faith leaders - be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim - gently steer their people toward a common vision that respects the humanity of the other? Is it possible to nurture democracy by building peace through justice? And can human dignity be restored? These are lofty ideals in a world adulterated by scepticism and self-interest. However, ought transcendental truth not surpass those man-made impediments and strive for a higher goal?

Yet, even that remains largely inadequate! I for one have never succeeded in depicting religion and religious leaders as magicians holding wands that simply make things happen on earth. Rather, their role is to establish the moral ground for self-examination, self-effort and self-truth that could then be grafted into the hurly-burly of the political process. After all, most global conflicts, including the Israeli-Palestinian one, are political in nature, with perhaps subsidiary religious dimensions to them. It would be dangerous in my experience to involve God in the miserable follies created by man alone!

Following Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq, the clearest way for the United States to prove its good will and good faith is to unfurl the ‘roadmap’ as a necessary preliminary step toward bringing to an end the thirty-six year occupation of Palestinian lands. And much as I go through sustained periods of cynicism about any short-term positive outcome to this conflict, I cannot help but be infected by the Christian messages of hope, forgiveness and reconciliation that are inextricably intertwined with the Resurrection. The Palestinian Christian communities celebrate those very same messages in the Holy Land this Easter, and it is high time for ‘Christian politicians’ in the USA to think carefully about the true Christian message before dismissing local Christianity as an unknowing and redundant oddness amidst their own sea of faith. Did Jesus the Christ not say, ‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her (Jn8 :7)?

In chapter V of The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes, ‘The fight is chaotic, yet one is not subject to chaos. One’s form is round, and one cannot be defeated.’ In chaotic conditions, it is true that the usual patterns constituting the orthodox world are not discernible. One order has gone, and the next has not yet arisen. Chaos thus offers continual openings to someone who can perceive its deeper order. Understanding General Sun Tzu’s timeless advice, and working for a lasting peace, will not only contribute toward a Happy Resurrection in the Holy Land, but will lay the foundations for a Happy Easter too!

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2003   |   18 April


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