Posted by: Steve Coplan | November 14, 2006

So a rabbi, mullah and bishop walk into the UN…..

Unfortunately the UN’s Alliance of Civilizations report released today doesn’t supply the punchline. Instead it outlines how polarized the West and the Islamic world are, setting out to reaffirm “a paradigm of mutual respect among peoples of different cultural and religious traditions and by helping to mobilize concerted action toward this end.”

It doesn’t take too long to identify where the group stands on where most of the blame lies: “It is the invasion of certain Muslim countries by Western military forces and their continued presence in these countries, combined with the suppression of political movements in the Muslim world, that are among the reasons for violent manifestations. As evidenced throughout history and across many countries, political repression as well as the prolongation of occupation helps entrench violent resistance.”

But the report continues: “The current predicament from which much of the Muslim world suffers cannot be attributed solely to foreign interference. An internal debate between progressive and regressive forces is playing out on a range of social and political issues throughout the Muslim world as well as on interpretations of Islamic law and traditions. In simplified yet evident terms, resistance to change in several Muslim societies is at the root of their disadvantaged position relative to other societies that are advancing rapidly in the contemporary age.”

The report comes to a relatively obvious conclusion: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved as in initial step in resolving these issues. The conflict isn’t the single root cause of but has taken on symbolic value that defines the contours of the polarization, the report concludes, making at least an attempt at resolution a matter of urgency. In true UN style, the first step in reviving the peace process should be the authoring of a white paper that sets out in a rational and “level-headed” analysis of the competing claims. Here’s where the group’s noble attempt falters: it’s precisely that both sides have been unrelenting in their refusal to take a rational view of the conflict that it persists. Israeli politics continues to operate according to its own internal logic in part dictated by its system of proportional representation and in part because its history is unique. It’s simply difficult for a nation of victims to accept that they have become the oppressors.

The New York Observer published a fantastic profile of the current linchpin in Israeli politics thanks to the fragmentation afforded by proportional representation: Avigdor Lieberman. An immigrant from Moldova, Lieberman has some interesting ideas that have a certain Soviet, possibly even Stalinist, logic to them. Immigrants from the former Soviet Union are now a significant voting bloc in Israel, which Lieberman has harnessed. I happened to be living in Israel when the first wave of immigrants started to arrive. Naively assuming that my Lithuanian heritage would allow for some common ground, I soon realized how Anglo-Saxon my worldview was in the first instance and secondly, how the experience of revolution, the Second World War and Communism had shaped a sensibility that was entirely foreign to me. The capital of Moldova is now known as Chisinau since the official language is Moldovan (Romanian basically), but in Tsarist times was known as Kishinev. The brutality of the Kishinev Pogrom of 1903 was so shocking that it inspired the first wave of political Zionism in the Eastern European masses. Initially, Zionism had been led by the acculturated Jews of Western Europe with a few generations of cultural assimilation behind them.

For a good laugh, however, peruse the Fox News blog on the report, which argues that the preponderance of Muslim names, the oil for food scandal ad some questionable personnel involved with the project tarnish it beyond repair. The absence of any Israeli names as the post notes fairly on is not entirely surprising, since Israel holds the UN in as about as much regard as Fox News. What does go without remark is the participation of Andre Azoulay, adviser to the King of Morocco, probably because the Fox News people aren’t aware that Azoulay is a old Moroccan Jewish name, including a rabbinic dynasty. There is a fairly long tradition of Jewish advisers to Moroccan kings, a distant echo of the “convivienca” in Al-Andalus which produced men like Samuel ibn Nagrela.



  1. […] Noodnik: So a rabbi, mullah and bishop walk into the UN … […]

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