Palestinians would do well to try a nonviolent strategy
By Lee Howard Hodges
March 26, 2002
I am writing in response to Lawrence Ershaghi's "Largely
a myth" which was written as a reply to my previous article "Victimology."
Mr. Ershaghi, although some of your factual data is valid, you mostly just rehashed
the same old victimization line which I discussed before.
You are correct that most nations in the Middle East were artificially created by
European colonial powers, and that this situation has exacerbated conflict. It is
also true that the Middle East was a major hot spot during the Cold War. Yet neither
of these facts explains why a chronic sense of victimization has become a staple
of the Muslim world today.
Non-Muslim black Africa was also turned into artificial states during the colonial
era. And your statement about global intervention since World War II could be applied,
with equal justice, to most other regions of the world. Look at U.S., Soviet, and
Cuban intervention in Angola, and what about Vietnam, and the U.S. aid to the Contras
in Nicaragua? Yet the victimology and intense hatred for the West today that I discussed
is not coming mainly from Southern Africa, Latin America, or Southeast Asia. It's
coming mainly from Muslim countries.
My question about Palestinian refugees was not "ignorant"; it was entirely
appropriate. Many people have been expelled from their homes. Yet not all have let
this define their existence, and found it impossible to resolve their predicament.
In 1685, Louis XIV canceled the Edict of Nantes guaranteeing freedom of worship to
French Huguenots. Hundreds of thousands had to flee to escape persecution.
They settled and prospered in the Netherlands, England, and America. These countries
did not force them to remain "refugees" living in squalid camps. At the
end of World War II, many ethnic Germans in East Prussia had to abandon homes which
their ancestors had settled in 700 years earlier. Yet they didn't stay refugees either
-- they were absorbed into Germany.
You write that "You say the Palestinians are terrorists, but you neglect to
mention the cause of this 'terrorism'." Absolute hogwash! I never said "Palestinians"
are terrorists. I said those Palestinians who commit terrorism, and who celebrate
when others do it, lose moral credibility.
Mr. Ershaghi, the blowing up of innocent children eating pizza, who never hurt a
soul in their life, is terrorism, period! It is not "terrorism,"
as you put it. Terrorism, state or individual, is the deliberate targeting of innocent
civilians to create fear and thereby achieve a political goal. To do this amounts
to being a terrorist, whether your "higher cause" is just or not. And no
one "causes" people to behave this way. It is a choice.
I noted in "Victimology"
that Israel has done terrible things to Palestinians, and there has been Jewish terrorism
as well (for example, Baruch Goldstein), but this does not lessen the culpability
of Palestinian suicide bombers who attack civilians or provide an excuse for these
I believe in an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. You are right that
Gandhi's nonviolent strategy did not, by itself, end the British occupation of India.
Yet neither did violence. The age of European colonialism was shattered by World
War II, with Britain and France no longer having the economic strength to maintain
The Palestinians would do well to try a nonviolent strategy--this would give them
moral high-ground and increase sympathy for them around the world, including the
United States, and within Israel itself. And there have been clear successes
for nonviolence--witness the victorious struggle by African-Americans in the United
States to end official racial segregation under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther
Your goal, however, is the "right of return", which no strategy,
save a conventional (not terroristic) war will ever achieve, because Israelis, rightly
or wrongly, see this as destroying their nation. And why should most Palestinians
today have a "right to return" anyhow?
You challenge, with good reason, the idea that Jews descended from the Israelites
have a right to come back to Israel. This cuts both ways. Most Palestinians today
are merely descended from those who fled or were expelled from what is now
Israel. Why do they have a right to "return" to a place they've never been?
And if they do, then why don't Jews have a right to a state of Israel?
America does not "prevent" democracy in the
Middle East. There has never been any to prevent, and there is none waiting in the
wings which America is holding back. The Middle Eastern countries America does not
support--Iran, Iraq, Libya, etc., are as dictatorial as those it does. It is not
America's job to hold back from relations with other countries in the name of fostering
a "democracy" which is not even on the horizon in most places.
In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the opposition that stands to replace the existing governments
is Islamic fundamentalism. This would be even more undemocratic than Hosni
Mubarak and the House of Saud is now. The people of the Middle East have to decide
what type of government they want, and create it for themselves.
Your diatribe about Muslims being "oppressed all over the globe" is classic
"keyhole" analysis, where only the facts are noted that support one's thesis
are noted. You incorrectly deduce that the West is pitted against Muslims from the
completely unrelated conflicts you mention (Chechnya, Palestine, Kashmir).
Why don't you mention oppression of non-Muslims by Muslims, such as the persecution
of Christians in Sudan? According to Freedom House, Sudanese Christians have at times
been forced to convert to Islam. What about the plight of the Copts of Egypt? And
what about Muslims mistreating each other, the main source of Muslims being oppressed
Saddam Hussein has killed more Muslims than Ariel Sharon. Look at Pakistan's oppression
of the Ahmadi sect, the mistreatment of the Kurds by Turkey and Iraq, and the fact
that, according to one source, more Algerians have died in terrorist attacks by Islamists
than the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War!
Mr. Ershaghi, if Hamid Algar is so disgusted with America, he can leave. I am disgusted
too; disgusted with the complete abandonment of responsibility I hear constantly.
This was what provided the basis for my first article, and this is what I'm responding
Postscript: I'd like to clarify a point in "Victimology"
in response to a readers' comment. I am aware that Iranians are mostly Muslim, but
not Arab, and that most Muslims are not Arabs. I did not intend to suggest otherwise.
I discussed Israel/Palestine, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia in "Victimology"
and in this article simply because they appear to be in the forefront of Muslim grievances
against America today, not because I believe the Arab world and the Muslim world
Lee Howard Hodges, B.A. M.A. Historical Studies, University of Maryland, Baltimore.