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Respect, reconciliation, and religious freedom may be key in Pakistan, but what about Iran?

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

 

 By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Two articles define the problem of the United States with respect to state-based and non-state regimes led by intense varieties of Islam. One is Iran, and the other is the Taliban-al Quaeda that spills over between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/11/world/middleeast/11assess.html?hpw http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/0209/Change-in-Pakistan-requires-respect-reconciliation-and-religious-freedom

The conundrum of Iran is compounded not only by the extremism of the present regime, but by Russian and even more Chinese opposition to serious sanctions, questions about the fragility of the Iranian leadership in the face of domestic opposition, the failure of the Obama administration to move Iran one iota despite a year of engagement, and unknowns about Israel’s patience in holding back against the threat of its destruction.

Intelligence is far from certain about the capacity of any sanctions to move the Iranians–despite their repeated denials–from intentions to create nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. There is also uncertainty about the prospect of Chinese cooperation, or the capacity of Germany to keep its companies from supplying important materials to the Iranian program. American intelligence is uncertain also about Israeli intentions, as are Israelis themselves. In what seems a credible summary of that front, the New York Times concludes its article:  “The Israelis, officials report, now seemed convinced that the Iranian government is fragile, and that the sanctions might work. They have indicated, with no promises, that they will back off for a while.

Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, who has called in recent weeks for more active American support of the protesters in Iran, returned from Israel in recent days convinced that Mr. Obama had some time. ‘I think we can get through 2010 without a military strike,’ he said. ‘But 2011 could be more dicey.'”

One can quarrel about the utility of sanctions. On one hand, they seemed to work against Saddam Hussein. There is no evidence that he was continuing to produce nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. On the other hand, the sanctions were not alone in producing that effect. The United States had shown its muscle in 1991, and Israel had earlier destroyed Saddam’s initial efforts to produce nuclear weapons.

The story of Iraq should not encourage the American administration that rhetoric by itself is enough. And if China will not cooperate with sanctions, what else is there?

A former infantry officer in the Marines, currently the head of a think-tank that aspires to build religious freedom worldwide through local partners, spent 10 days in Islamabad and Peshawar “speaking with leaders from across society, including those with direct access to the Taliban.” His conclusion: “Change in Pakistan requires respect, reconciliation, and religious freedom.”

The basic problem is that both Iran and the group of countries that has grown to include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia feature national regimes or regional factions soaked with varieties of religious extremism foreign to western experience.

Sincere believers, even those short of the extremism we associate with Islam, can be oblivious to anything other than their own inner voices.
 
In recent weeks I have been in the middle of e-mail conversations between American Protestants of different theocratic persuasions who ridicule one another due to the certainty of each that they alone understand holy texts correctly. By all signs apparent to a secular reader, those texts can only be described as amorphous, especially with respect to what they might be predicting two millennia after their composition.

With all their good intentions, how can Americans assess what it would take by way of respect, reconciliation, and religious freedom to bring Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis and others to abandon doctrines that prescribe death for non-believers?

It is far easier to describe the problems of the United States with respect to those places than to suggest solutions. Perhaps there are none. There are too many Muslims, too many of them too convinced about beliefs that involve both certainty and violence.

It is appropriate to caution against reliance on rhetoric of a kind that has been unable to convince even members of the United States Congress to abandon their own prior commitments.

Beyond that, there may be no good advice beyond warning that coming years may be dicey.

*

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

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  1. carol ann goldstein
    February 15, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Let us not forget these disturbing current occurrences in Israel today:

    1. New Israel Fund November 30, 2009

    “Don’t allow discrimination against women in Israel to become government policy

    In less than a month, the Israeli Minister of Transportation will make a decision that will either advance equality and pluralism in Israel, or set an official government policy of discrimination against women.

    At the urging of some leaders of the ultra-Orthodox community, the government-funded bus service Egged has been running public buses that require women to enter through the back door and sit in the back of the bus. Women who object have been attacked verbally and physically. The New Israel Fund family has been fighting this appalling segregation for more than two years. With the High Court forcing the Transportation Ministry to make a policy decision, the time to act is now.

    2.
    01.27.10
    ADL condemns Rabbi Shapira as extremist, urges other Jews to do likewise

    NEW YORK (Press Release) … The arrest of five students from a West Bank yeshiva on charges of torching and vandalizing a mosque in a neighboring Palestinian village, “highlights the danger of the teachings of Yeshiva head Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira,” the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said in calling on responsible Orthodox Jewish leaders to “speak out against his book as a perversion of Judaism.”

    Rabbi Shapira’s book Torat Hamelech or “The King’s Torah” claims to be a guide to Jewish law and includes passages promoting an extremist philosophy that condones killing non-Jews, including infants and children. It states that only a Jew who kills a Jew violates the commandment “Thou Shalt Not Murder.”

    Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:

    “Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira’s book is a perversion of Judaism, rejecting the morals and ethics inherent in the Jewish faith for an extremist ideology that encourages the killings of non-Jews. His teachings are anathema not only to the tenets of Judaism but to the humanitarian and democratic principles upon which the state of Israel was founded.

    “It is outrageous that several prominent rabbis have endorsed this book. The failure of religious leaders to condemn the distorted views of biblical law advocated in Torat Hamelech may have contributed to an atmosphere in which heinous attacks, such as the attack against the Palestinian mosque in Yasuf, are encouraged and condoned as being supported by biblical commandments.

    “We applaud those rabbinic scholars who have condemned the book and banned it from their schools. We call on the chief rabbis of Israel and rabbinic leaders in the Orthodox community — in the United States and throughout the world — to speak out against this text as a perversion of Judaism, cloaking itself as an authoritative interpretation of Jewish biblical law.”

    The book was co-authored by Rabbis Shapira and Yosef Elitzur of the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, where Shapira leads the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva. Ten settlers were arrested January 18 in a raid on Yitzhar by Israeli security officials.

  2. carol ann goldstein
    February 15, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    “The basic problem is that both Iran and the group of countries that has grown to include Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia feature national regimes or regional factions soaked with varieties of religious extremism foreign to western experience.” I believe this is better phrased as western ignorance.
    “With all their good intentions, how can Americans assess what it would take by way of respect, reconciliation, and religious freedom to bring Iranians, Afghans, Pakistanis and others to abandon doctrines that prescribe death for non-believers?” We must not forget that Jewish law from ancient times gave the death penalty to any Jewish person who did not obey all the Jewish laws including obeying all the laws of the Sabbath. We must also not forget that a Jewish woman who was expecting a child and not married was stoned to death. The Hebrews of the Old Testament were warriors and the Old Testament is full of war and violence; the Hebrew tribes conquered and destroyed all life in the Promised Land for those they murdered were non-believers.
    “There are too many Muslims, too many of them too convinced about beliefs that involve both certainty and violence.” I disagree.
    Muslim extremism of today is a result of European colonialism and American foreign policy since WWII.

    • Michael Ross
      February 18, 2010 at 11:53 pm

      Muslim extermism is pure and simple a baby of Muslim dictatorships that has gotten out of control and is now turning on its fathers, the Saudi’s.

      And its changing, the tide is turning, read Zakaria’s brilliant analysis in Newsweek this week.

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