Friday, May 14, 2004


A Hundred Years of Despair

In reading the Jerusalem Post article The Worst Is Yet To Come, I could not but feel a deep sense of despair. A hundred years of war? Having observed the almost continual terrorist attacks on Israel over the years, my heart quakes at the prospect of such a sustained onslaught against my values and my ways of life and livelihood. After the initial panic, I started to calmly reason with what Prof. Alexander was telling me. I agree with his prognosis of the current and future state of the war. Nevertheless, I disagree with his original assumptions and his suggestions for how terrorist potential and threats may be mitigated.

The History of the State of Israel reveals something profound about where terrorists come from and where they might be headed. The Arabs in particular never have and probably never will accept the existence of Israel any day soon. One can simplify this relationship enormously by considering Israel's wars since its War of Independence. Her first war was arguably against the world's sole super power. In a sense, Israel was fighting a war front that covered the entire commonwealth since England could, if she chose to, bring the resources of the entire commonwealth to bear against Israel. For me this War of independence essentially came to an end in the Sinai-Suez campaign of 1956. The end of this campaign sees England and France on the same side as Israel. The war front has decreased dramatically. The Six Day war and The Yom Kippur wars, Israel had an active war front on its borders with Syria, Egypt and Jordan. What is key in these four wars is the fact that they were waged by nation states across internationally recognized borders. Each Israeli victory saw the abandonment of the field of battle by its enemies and the shrinking of the war front. Today, there is no war front in the traditional sense, for the front is potentially anywhere within Israel. One sees an inverse relationship between the size of the warfront and terrorism. What I have attempted to describe is not a war in traditional sense, but The War of Existence for Israel. This war is currently in its terminal stages where Israel is confronting the last remaining pockets of active resistance to its existence in the Arab world. If you can imagine Israel's history as a funnel looking down, you will see that there is an end at hand.

Every end is a beginning. Humankind today number some six billion souls. In another fifteen or less years, we will number close to ten billion. This poses a disturbing question. If all things are kept invariant, what is the probability that a minority of humankind will resort to terrorist violence to settle religious, economic. social or political friction ? Even half of one percent is a sizable population. So I agree with the professor about what history is heading towards. But only if things are kept invariant and that is impossible. The human condition is always changing. Most of the time the condition changes without the human realizing it. For instance, the internet is profoundly altering our condition and most of the time we don't even realize it. Unfortunately, not all changes are this peaceful. The Russian Revolution, The First World War and The Second World War were wars against change, a reactionary outrage committed by those who believed that they were instruments of change. They were wars against industrialization using the weapons made possible by industrialization. Changing a farmer's world view is more difficult than imagined by history. Two thousand years of western history ended in Nagasaki. If you can imagine western hemisphere's history as a funnel looking down, you will see that ground zero was Nagasaki.
Every end is a beginning.

I am a child of that new beginning. I live in a stable, peaceful and prosperous western democracy. I live in an environment where change is so furious and constant that its barely perceptible. I live in a country where I was not born in. I live in a society which believes that every woman and man is master of his or her own destiny. I live in a community shared by christian, jewish, muslim and hindu (and even a buddhist) neighbors. One would think that people would hardly have anything to complain about. Even a cursory glance at any newspaper however will tell you otherwise. Reactionary tendencies are on the rise. Anti Semetism and race crimes are on the rise. Immigrants and migrants are seen as a threat or at least a menace. These tendencies have existed before september eleventh and seem to have accelerated since.

The new funnel of history began sometime during the sixties. Its main property is the change of a society from one based on industrialization to one based on ideas. This shift would not have been possible without the ending of the last funnel of history. After the calm, the winds of change stared picking up momentum again during the sixties. Student protests, Vietnam, burning bras and flags and wars of ideology (can one have five year plans for ideas?). The redeeming aspect of this turbulent period is the fact that the civil society survived and the rule of law was upheld (President Nixon's impeachment is a illustrative example of this). Relative to other times in human history, the sixties was for all intents and purposes an extremely civilized discourse on how a society should change. Though complaints about government intervention, regulation and taxes are constant, the role of government in the economy as a proportion of a western democracy's economy is a lot less than what it used to be even twenty years ago.

Ideas will flow. It flows as goods and services. It flows as people. The Fortune Five Hundred companies have revenues greater than many poorer countries. The top ten Fortune Five Hundred have larger revenues than some larger developing countries. If you look at the Economist Big Mac Index, it basically lists the price of a Big Mac burger across the world. Movies, books and music are shared across the globe. Because of the internet, I have friends I don't even know where they are from. The storm may have begun during the sixties but its true nature was announced with a thunder clap on that fateful morning on the eleventh of september. Arab student's from half way across the world flew an airplane assembled with parts made by companies all across the globe. They slam their instrument of war into a building worked in by people from all across the world! If this isn't a war against change what is it then?

I call it the war against globalization, a war against the free flow of ideas. Most of the world is under going cataclysmic changes in culture and attitudes. A lot of people are frightened of this change because they don't know what tomorrow holds for them. This is a war against globalization made possible by globalization. There is a tendency to think that its a war which is us against them. Think again. Are you afraid for job, your pension? Are you nervous about that north african who moved in next door? Do you shun a TV channel or a newspaper because they give too much or too little coverage to issues or opinions close to your heart? Though you might dismiss them as prejudices, they are not. These are deeper currents shared by a lot of people across the world. The world is changing. No matter what lip service you pay to our affinity to change, deep down we want things to remain. Thankfully I believe ninety nine point five percent of humanity is going to sit this war out and write tedious monologues like I am doing right now. But that half of one percent means to stop this change at what ever cost.

I do not know how long its going to take this war to unfold. I doubt its going to last a hundred years. I do know that the Afghan front is closed. I do believe that al-Qaida is a spent force. But the reaction to change is still gathering strength. There is more to come, perhaps more terrible than september eleventh. I only pray that this funnel does not have to end like Nagasaki. Every end is a beginning and beginnings are good.