“An Enmity to One’s Being”: A Murder in Palestine

Put in mere prose, the event sounds so humdrum and everyday that the reader is apt to let it in through one ear, and let it out the other:

AFTER A TRIAL that lasted nearly four years, Ben Deri, a former member of Israel’s paramilitary border police force, was sentenced to nine months in jail on Wednesday for firing live ammunition through the chest of an unarmed Palestinian protester without having been ordered to do so.

But sometimes, seeing is believing, and sticks with you awhile:

People sometimes complain, justifiably, that video footage of a crime or atrocity distorts the event by truncation: you miss what preceded the footage, and what came after, to fixate unfairly on the slice in between. Harder to make that claim here. Continue reading

#SaveBasit: From Deportation to Death Sentence

A moral disaster in the making. Please share and consider signing the petition and/or making some other sort of contribution.

Students have launched an urgent campaign to save their teacher who faces the death penalty in Egypt following what human rights groups say was a sham trial to punish him for political activism. His asylum application was just denied and he was put in immigration detention two weeks ago. 

Backgrounder from northjersey.com. Backgrounder from HuffPost. From Carbonated.TV. Editorial from the Newark Star-Ledger. From Jersey City Patch.

Change.org petition, signed by PoT’s own David Riesbeck and yours truly.

I’d like to think that the prospect of an actual death sentence will get as much coverage as the hypothetical hanging that got Kevin Williamson fired from The Atlantic. But I somehow doubt it. These deportation cases have all become a dime a dozenContinue reading

Gimme Shelter: Safe Spaces and F-Bombs in Higher Ed

A former student, now an adjunct at a local college, sent me this video, asking for my opinion on the pedagogical techniques exhibited therein (ht: Robert Platt). I’m curious what the pedagogical experts out there think of it.

Guilty confession: I mostly enjoyed it. To be clear: I don’t think Finkelstein is the most pedagogically adept guy I’ve ever encountered, but there is a certain charm to his Old School confrontationalism, which strikes me as an interesting blend of Socratic dialectic, Albert Ellis-style rational-emotive-behavioral therapy, 1960s-era leftism, and the idiosyncratic crankiness of a guy who’s spent one too many semesters teaching at a community college in south Jersey.

Second guilty confession: My own teaching style sometimes veers close to this; I just tend to pull back sooner than Finkelstein does, and make sure not to take things quite as far.  Continue reading

Terrorism Justified: A Response to Vicente Medina

[This is a draft of the paper I’ll be presenting this Saturday at the Author Meets Critics session I’m organizing on Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified: The Use and Misuse of Political Violence, featuring presentations by Theresa Fanelli (Felician), Graham Parsons (West Point), and myself, with a response by Vicente Medina (Seton Hall). Comments welcome. For a link to an earlier discussion of Medina’s book at PoT, go here.]

Terrorism Justified: Comment on Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified
Author Meets Critics Session
Felician University, Rutherford, New Jersey
April 21, 2018
Irfan Khawaja
Felician University

  1. Introduction

Vicente Medina’s Terrorism Unjustified offers a comprehensive, clear, and thorough critique of terrorism. There’s a sense in which I agree with and greatly admire Medina’s argument, and a sense in which I fundamentally disagree with and reject it. In this paper, I’ll focus on the disagreement, in the hopes that in doing so, the implicit agreement will come out as well.

I begin in Section 2 by making some critical observations on Medina’s definition of “terrorism.” The definition, I suggest, pushes the reader in two different directions—a categorical rejection of terrorism, and a subtly conditional one. On the latter interpretation, terrorism can be justified, but only in situations that Medina regards as extremely implausible and unlikely. In Section 3, I offer an extended thought-experiment, verging on a fable, intended to give plausibility one such situation. In other words, the case I describe is one in which it seems (to me) justifiable to target people that Medina would regard as “innocent noncombatants,” or else to inflict foreseeable harm on them without having to meet a “reasonable doubt” criterion as to their moral status. In Sections 4 and 5, I make explicit what the fable leaves implicit. Continue reading

A War of Convenience

I’m sure this strategy has Putin and Assad cowering in fear:

America’s allies in Britain and France declared that they were prepared to act again if necessary, but made clear that they did not want to become further involved in Syria.

Translation:

We will take all necessary measures to deter our enemies…unless doing so becomes a hassle.

Right, but wouldn’t that be an invitation on Putin and Assad’s part to make it a hassle? If you don’t want “to become further involved in Syria,” wouldn’t non-involvement be the more obvious method to adopt?

We Play Our Part, and They Play Their Games

To paraphrase Bon Jovi, our Syria strikes shot through “the heart” of Syria’s chemical weapons program. “We are,” Nikki Haley tells us, “confident that we have crippled Syria’s chemical weapons program.” But

“I would say there’s still a residual element of the Syrian program that’s out there,” General McKenzie said. “I’m not going to say that they’re going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future. I suspect, however, they’ll think long and hard about it.”

Just a little FYI: the metaphor of shooting something through “the heart” means that you’ve killed it. Supernatural powers or magic aside, death is forever. So unless you’re invoking magic or the supernatural, it makes no fucking sense to say that you’ve killed something but you’re “not going to say” that it’s “going to be unable” to re-constitute itself. In that case, what you’re saying is that you’ve killed it, but it’s not dead. In which case you probably shouldn’t have claimed to have killed it. Continue reading

Rolling Blunder: Airpower Redux

From George C. Herring, America’s Longest War: The United States and Vietnam, 1950-1975, pp. 179, 180:

Rolling Thunder

The United States relied heavily on bombing. Airpower doctrine emphasized that the destruction of an enemy’s war-making capacity would force that enemy to come to terms. The limited success of strategic bombing as applied on a large scale in World War II and on a more restricted scale in Korea raised serious questions about the validity of this assumption. The conditions prevailing in Vietnam, a primitive country with few crucial targets, might have suggested even more questions. The air force and navy advanced unrealistic expectations about what airpower might accomplish, however, and clung to them long after experience had proven them unjustified. The civilian leadership accepted the military’s arguments, at least to a point, because bombing was cheaper in lives lost and therefore more palatable at home, and because it seemed to offer a quick and comparatively easy solution to a complex problem. Initiated in early 1965 as much from the lack of alternatives as from anything else, the bombing of North Vietnam was expanded over the next two years in the vain hope that it would check infiltration into the South and force North Vietnam to the conference table. …

The manner in which airpower was used in Vietnam virtually ensured that it would not achieve its objectives. Whether, as the  Joint Chiefs argued, a massive, unrestricted air war would have worked remains much in doubt. In fact, the United States had destroyed most major targets by 1967 with no demonstrable effect on the war. Nevertheless, the administration’s gradualist approach gave Hanoi time to construct an air defense system, protect its vital resources, and develop alternative modes of transportation. Gradualism in encouraged the North Vietnamese to persist despite the damage inflicted on them.

Sound familiar?

Fred Schlomka on Holocaust Remembrance Day

I’m taking the liberty of copying and pasting this (public) Facebook post by Fred Schlomka, the founder and director of Green Olive Tours in Israel/Palestine. I’ve gone on maybe five or six of Green Olive’s tours over the past few years, and have made lifelong friends on them while learning things I would never otherwise have figured out about Israel and Palestine. I’m profoundly grateful to Schlomka as well as his staff and guides for enriching the experiences I’ve had there, and admire his willingness to speak his mind on topics that so often elicit silence and evasion.  Continue reading

Hang ‘Em High: Abortion, Gaza, and the Gallows

This has now become the standard conservative line on the Kevin Williamson affair, care of Bret Stephens of The New York Times. The “you” refers to Kevin Williamson.

The case against you, as best as I can tell, rests on three charges. You think abortion is murder and tweeted — appallingly in my view — that doctors and women should perhaps be hanged for it. You believe “sex is a biological reality” and that gender should not be a choice. And you once boorishly described an African-American boy in East St. Louis, Ill., “raising his palms to his clavicles, elbows akimbo, in the universal gesture of primate territorial challenge.” …

Weighed against these charges are hundreds of thousands of words of smart, stylish and often hilarious commentary, criticism and reportage. …

Shouldn’t great prose and independent judgment count for something? Not according to your critics. We live in the age of guilt by pull-quote, abetted by a combination of lazy journalism, gullible readership, missing context, and technologies that make our every ill-considered utterance instantly accessible and utterly indelible. I jumped at your abortion comment, but for heaven’s sake, it was a tweet. When you write a whole book on the need to execute the tens of millions of American women who’ve had abortions, then I’ll worry.

We also live in an age — another one — of excommunication. This is ugly because its spirit is illiberal, and odd, because its consequences are negligible. Should The Atlantic foolishly succumb to pressure to rescind your job offer, you’ll still be widely read, presumably at National Review. If you’re really the barbarian your critics claim, you’re already through the gates.

The Atlantic did eventually rescind Williamson’s job offer, so I guess the barbarian has been ejected from the gates. Question in passing: if the consequences of the current spirit of excommunication are “negligible,” why the fuss? Continue reading