"Peace" based on "self interest" is a bad idea

We’re currently in the middle of an ice storm here in Oklahoma City, and this morning, while we were watching the weather on local TV, I was forced to endure a Today show interview with Jimmy Carter.

Carter was plugging his new book, We Can Have Peace In The Holy Land, and seemed caught off guard when Meredith Viera asked him a number of uncomfortable questions about his relationship with Hamas. Here’s a partial transcript of the interview:

CARTER: … We’ve had a chance to meet two times with the leaders of Hamas, both those in Gaza and those that are – top leaders – in Damascus Syria.

VIERA: And you’ve been criticized for that, sir, because Hamas is considered a terrorist group.

CARTER: (shrugs) By some they are, and they’ve done some bad things … But Hamas has pledged to me, and publicly, that they will accept any cease fire that is negotiated between the Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Israelis, provided the cease fire terms are then submitted to the Palestinian people for approval in a referendum. So that’s a major step forward.

VIERA: But do you believe that Hamas can be trusted?

CARTER: Yes I do. I think they can, because of their own self-interest, not because they are benevolent or kind or that sort of thing, but yes I do. I think they can. And they’ve never betrayed any commitment that they’ve made to me or publicly, as a matter of fact.

A bit later, Viera and President Carter had this exchange:

VIERA: But Hamas has said that its goal is to destroy Israel. How can you involve them in a peace process when they’ve said their goal is to destroy Israel, and they don’t recognize Israel?

CARTER: I’m not here to defend Hamas, but to tell you what they have pledged to me, and publicly; that if any agreement is negotiated between Fatah leaders and Israel, that Hamas will accept the agreement if it’s submitted to the Palestinian people in a referendum. And that’s a very good step forward, and I think they will do that because of their own self interest. And Hamas complied very thoroughly with the cease-fire agreement that I had worked out for last June the nineteenth. For five months there were no rockets fired until Israel did attack Gaza again on November the fourth.

Very thoroughly? Really?

In November, Israel sent commandos into Gaza in order to destroy a cross-border underground tunnel. Israel believed (rightly, in my opinion) that Hamas was honoring the cease-fire in order to lull Israel into lowering their guard, at which time they would use the secret tunnel to launch a raid into Israel and kidnap another group of Israeli soldiers. The Israeli commando raid and subsequent tactical air strike solely targeted the tunnel and the Hamas gunmen guarding it. Hamas chose to respond with a full-out rocket and mortar assault against civilian targets in Israel. They kept up the rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli civilians until the Israeli military neutralized Hamas by invading Gaza and physically destroying their outposts.

Jimmy Carter is a fool if he believes that peace is in the best “self interest” of Hamas. Here’s why — the Palestinians, and for that matter a significant portion of the people living in the Muslim ummah, are the product of a culture that combines the worst aspects of a shame and honor culture with the ideal of communal salvation.

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The post-Reformation “Protestant work ethic” that dominated Western European and American society for over two centuries was based on the notion that a person’s lot in life reflected the security of his soul in Heaven; in other words, a hard-working, wealthy, prosperous individual was very likely to be a member of God’s elect, while misfits, losers, and criminals were castigated and pronounced eternally lost.

A similar sense of shame has settled over much of the Muslim world in the wake of its technological and economic domination by the West. Fundamentalist Muslim clerics wasted no time declaring that the miserable condition of the Muslim world was a direct result of its people being shunned by Allah due to their disobedience. And when Allah shuns a nation, the eternal fate of its inhabitants is at risk.

The Palestinian community, harassed not only by Israel but also by their supposed “brothers” in other Muslim lands has, I believe, accumulated a dangerously high level of shame — so high, in fact, that they believe that the only way to restore their honor is to precipitate the destruction of Israel in a manner that is so thorough and miraculous that supernatural powers will be credited for its success. This seems to be the only way that the Palestinians can be sure that Allah has once again blessed them with peace and prosperity.

It will never — never — be in the “self interest” of Hamas (or any other Muslim group who feels shamed and humiliated and shunned by Allah) to remain “at peace” with their sworn enemies, because “peace” only perpetuates their state of shame and humiliation. As far as they are concerned, their “self interest” is best served by engaging in jihad against those who have shamed them, either through organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah or al Qaeda, or individually as suicide “martyrs.” Such an act will at least, in their view, guarantee that their soul reaches Paradise. It’s amazing to me that Jimmy Carter doesn’t understand this. And I am dumbfounded by the fact that Carter seems to naively believe that Hamas will not try to violently alter the outcome of any kind of Palestinian referendum. Then again, he thought he could reason with the Ayatollah Khomeini because they both were men of faith.

I am not clever or learned enough to offer a clear solution to the current crisis involving Israel and the Palestinians. But I know that right now each side refuses to believe that peace is possible without the other side being completely broken down and humiliated. Israel wants security, peace through strength; the Palestinians want honor and restoration through the elimination of Israel. But that honor can be obtained in only one of two ways, either as spoils taken from a humiliated and defeated Israel, or as an act of restoration offered by fellow Arabs and Muslims. Israel cannot do this; an enemy cannot “take back” shame by offering restoration. Such offerings (i.e. peace negotiations) would be — and currently are — seen as further insults.

One method of restoring Palestinian honor involves much bloodshed; the other involves humility and self-sacrifice on the part of Palestinians and other Muslims, and it goes against the sure-fire prescription (violence) touted by radical Muslim clerics as the cure-all for the Muslim world’s problems. Is the Muslim world brave enough to defy its radical religious teachers and redefine “holy warrior” as one who offers his own security as a sacrifice in an effort to end violence, rather than one who secures his spiritual salvation by sacrificing the life of another individual? Unless a Muslim Reformation like this happens, I believe we are in for many more decades of bloody war in the Middle East.

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