In the modern world cultural relativism is the thriving standard. Cultural relativism holds that no nation better than any other. No culture is superior to any other. This leads to the concept of moral equivalency between competing systems, nations, and cultures. In their embrace of moral equivalency, modern Western relativists argue against any moral distinction between rivals. All are equally valid: the Allies vs. the Axis powers in World War II, the USA and its European allies vs. the USSR and the rest of the Communist bloc; the West and Islam; Israel and Hamas.
Relativists seem unable to recognize the difference between civilized and uncivilized behavior. They would perhaps agree that the jihadist beheading of journalist Daniel Pearl, for example, was barbaric. But from a platform of moral and cultural relativism it is impossible to judge the culture that produces such behavior.
Moral relativists argue for a moral equivalency between Hamas and Israel
In fact, it is impossible, from such a perspective, to recognize that such behavior is in fact the product of a culture.
Moral relativists argue, either forcefully or tacitly, that a moral equivalency exists between Hamas and other jihadist groups on the one hand, and Israel on the other. They are wrong. In at least six dimensions. Note the absence of moral equivalence in,
- The political realm: Israel practices democracy while Hamas exercises a ruling tyranny.
- Defense strategy: Israel uses missiles to defend her people, Hamas uses Palestinian people to defend their missiles. The Israel Defense Forces places soldiers between civilians and Hamas fighters; Hamas fighters put civilians between themselves and Israeli soldiers. A Hamas urban warfare manual describes how to use people as human shields to protect their missiles and fighters.
- Military operations: Hamas places weapons, missile and mortar launchers, and tunnel entrances in schools, hospitals, mosques, homes, and UN facilities. They do so to draw Israeli counterattacks toward innocent people and exploit the results as propaganda. Israel puts its military sites away from civilian populations.
- The religious realm: Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims are expelled from Arab lands. Israel, a Jewish state, welcomes Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, and Druses as full citizens with freedom to practice their religious convictions.
- The cultural realm: One culture celebrates life, the other, death. Osama bin Laden and other jihadists famously brag, “These [jihadist] youths love death as you love life.” Islamists are terrorists in nature and tactics. They use beheading, raping and stoning of women, and wanton execution of civilian populations to achieve their goals. Before the Israelis destroy buildings where Hamas has located military equipment they warn civilians to get away. After such attacks Israeli medical personnel treat enemy combatants. To see the reality of this Jihadist evil simply do a Google search of images: “beheading” or “ISIS ethnic cleansing.” Or see this ISIS propaganda video. [WARNING: BE PREPARED FOR GRAPHIC DEPICTIONS OF VIOLENCE.]
These images reveal the incarnation of evil in the acts of man. They are reminiscent of the images from Hitler’s death camps. This is cleansing of ethnic and religious minorities in the extreme. And what does it say about the jihadists that they take pictures of the beheadings and mass killings and use these in promotional films to attract new recruits?
- The goal: Hamas and other Islamist groups aspire to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. The goal of Israel is to live at peace with its neighbors, including Palestinians. As the vilified Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has expressed it: “If the Arabs put down their weapons today, there would be no more violence. If the Jews put down their weapons today, there would be no more Israel.”
Hamas aspires to eliminate Israel
Much could be written about each of these six dimensions of disparity, and there are more contrasts besides these. Only those who refuse to see can suggest a moral equivalence. As Samuel P. Huntington argues in his controversial book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, conflicts are rooted in religion, culture, and ideological vision. We certainly see this in the conflict between Hamas and the Jews in Israel and groups like ISIS against Christians and the Yezidis in Iraq.
– Darrow Miller
NOTE: We rarely solicit funds at Darrow Miller and Friends. However, if you have been moved by the plight of ethnic cleansing among Christians and Yezidis in Northern Iraq, and want a way to help, here are a couple of worthy avenues. My friends, Dr. George Grant and Dave Dillard, have been working in northern Iraq for some 15 years and have contacts with the church in Kurdistan. If you would like to help, see the links below. These will provide you, or your church, a way to get resources to those who are suffering. Please pass this information on to your friends. And please pray.
George Grant’s Fund for Kurdistan
Dave Dillard’s (founder of Servant Group International) Fund
Randy UtheAugust 19, 2014 - 5:02 pm
The theme of Cultural Relativism and therefore “equivalency” is a good philosophical place to try and frame the discussion between the modern violence of Israel and Hamas. To do so though is a mistake. It is a mistake for a couple of reasons: 1) it doesn’t take into account proper historical processes and therefore the reasons behind the actions of any two different groups and that dynamic; and 2) the issue isn’t necessarily a question of relativism but of specific actions by any one group and the others groups counter actions. The issue once again goes back to justification, at least partly, and absolute rights above and beyond legal/moral law and, in this case, Covenant law, moral law and international law. Let me explain further.
Those who want to justify Israel’s actions still go back to the “defense” argument, which I had already discounted in my last response. The same people want to demonize the Arab response based on culture, which I find rather strange because to me, the same culture that allows one country to systematically remove one people group in favor of their own would be equally answerable to the other culture that demands justice and becomes demonized for it. With that statement two things must be brought up. First, this argument is not in favor of the specific tactics used by Hamas or other terrorist groups. I recognize that Hamas is now made itself to be a supposedly legitimate political party, whereas the Israeli government was elected through a more democratic process. Still, the argument doesn’t settle the “legitimacy” issues of specific behaviors to make one morally right and the other morally wrong in such black and white language. Second, such specific behaviors brought up against Hamas must also be brought up against Israel in which I specifically stated and eluded to in my last response because: 1) the specific bombing of Arab lands and territories by Zionist groups in the 1930’s before Israel was even a “legitimate State”, 2) the systematic removal of Arabs from their homes that they built with their own hands in East Jerusalem & other settlements and given to Israeli Jews to live in because of two separate sets of laws for Jews and Arabs, 3) the systematic removal of land, livelihood, access to markets/water/crops and other resources by the Israeli’s, and 4) the imprisonment of Arabs by Israeli’s through walls and armed checkpoints. Those who want to use Cultural Relativism will highlight the evils of the reactions of one group and lesson the behaviors of the other in order to sidestep the argument that goes beyond Cultural relativism. My third point directly disputes Darrow’s fourth point against the “relativists”, “4.The religious realm: Christians, Jews and other non-Muslims are expelled from Arab lands. Israel, a Jewish state, welcomes Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, and Druses as full citizens with freedom to practice their religious convictions.” This statement is false as evidence shows the systematic removal of Arabs from Israeli controlled territory and two separate sets of laws for Israeli’s and Arabs. Also, the fact that there are over 1 million Palestinian Christians worldwide (primarily in the Arab states) that happily make up roughly 8-10% of the mandated Palestinian territories shows that Israel doesn’t practice equal rights for non-Jews of any persuasion. In fact, to this day, Palestinian Christians are living peacefully alongside their Muslim neighbors as many of them are actually family and have done so since the first century AD; except for the violence shown to them by Israel and, yes; made worse by Hamas. They have not been removed by the Palestinian civilians or Hamas. So, besides philosophical arguments, fact from non-fact must be sorted out.
I myself am not speaking from a Cultural Relativism argument or position. As a Christian and counter arguer in this case, I am simply using existing Covenant biblical, moral and international secular law. Each of these were already discussed. In doing so, I am not only speaking about Hamas and Israel’s current government. I am also speaking to the Zionist’s behavior in history beginning in the late 19th century and the Arab groups throughout the same time. But, in doing so, we have to frame the rationale in its larger context. The larger context goes back to what I discussed earlier. That is, morally, legally and Covenantal right and wrong behavior. Again, my main focus will be on Israel and the Zionists as these are the groups my accusations are against. Hamas and other groups will be mentioned in the midst of the reasoning.
Two important articles point to why I speak the way I do and why a claim the Israel’s position of “defense” against the Arab position of “offense” is false. The first is “The Two Causes of Terrorism” by Amy Zalman. The second is “How Do Terrorist Groups Emerge?” by David Chapot. Both of these discuss, not the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the terrorist actions, but the reason why they happen in order to better frame both sides of the discussion and move it forward in positive fashion. Zalman specifically states:
“All terrorist acts are motivated by two things:
•Social and political injustice: People choose terrorism when they are trying to right what they perceive to be a social or political or historical wrong—when they have been stripped of their land or rights, or denied these.
•The belief that violence or its threat will be effective, and usher in change. Another way of saying this is: the belief that violent means justify the ends. Many terrorists in history said sincerely that they chose violence after long deliberation, because they felt they had no choice. [i]”
It is interesting to note that the first example Zalman gives in her example of terrorist action was the Zionist’s bombing of Arabs in the 1930’s in “order to create a Jewish State”. This is interesting because it speaks to similar actions by the PLO, Hamas and others who act in similar fashion to create a Palestinian State. This also directly addresses to specific things: 1) the Zionists did what would legally be considered terrorist actions as a distinct group with or without a State, and 2) the Zionists in this particular case were acting before the Arabs who historically weren’t involved militarily action until the late 1940’s when they rejected the UN suggestion of land partition which only gave them roughly 45% of the land and Israel 55% of the land even though at that time, the Jews only made up roughly 10% of the population and owned even less percent of the land. Given those number in direct relation to today’s numbers, Zalman’s motivations for terrorist actions by Israel, in my argumentation, have actually been the cause of the formation of Hamas to begin with. Again, this dismisses the argument that Israel is only acting in defense, but instead has been acting as the aggressor, in what could be termed State sanctioned terrorist activity, even before it was a recognized State. The same accusations have been said of the U.S. State sponsored terrorism in other countries. This argument I feel has some legitimacy based on the fact that states can perform illegal activity according to UN international law regardless of their socio-political system and local laws. Such actions still need separated from the populace at large. This holds true for the US, Israel and the Palestinians. Next, Chapot gives insight on how the motivations Zalman discusses contributes to the terrorism’s reason and identity from an “antimouvement” perspective. [ii]
From this, we can see that when any group feels marginalized and has land, economy, identity and resources taken from them they will feel they have no other alternative and resort to violence as a means of communication and justification to get such things back. In the case of Israel, the Jews had this done through hundreds of years of diaspora and even more sinister acts. In the case of Hamas, it took place over 70-100+ years depending on how you calculate it. Chapot gives multiple other examples. In the case of state sanctioned “terrorism” or illegal military action, the reason may not be from actual or perceived injustice but from mere greed and/or felt superiority. Again, evidence shows that Israel has acted against its own treatise and during multiple occasions has broken multiple UN resolutions before Hamas, the PLO and others.
What does this mean? It means this is not a case of Cultural Relativism as good as such an argument tries to create a defense of one set of actions over another. Israel has in fact acted immorally and against the Abrahamic Covenant. The reason is first because like the accusation made against them in Ezekiel, Israel (noting that the modern Jews share very little ethnic relation to historical Israelites) had the chance to show blessing with the Arabs before it even became a State. It could have worked with the UN for fairer partitioning with Resolution 181 when it was clearly showing favoritism. It could have created a singular democratic state with full equal rights between Jews and Arabs. It could have chosen not to encage Arabs away from open markets, vital life resources and equal self-determination. Instead, Israel acted inwardly more for itself. It sought special privileges above the Arabs and engaged in systematic activities and policies to ensure that such a hegemonic State exists. This is not unlike what the Malays have done against the Chinese and Indians in Malaysia using Article 153 of the Malaysian Federal Constitution to make such policies “legal”. So, whether these official state policies may be argued as legal, they can be equally argued as immoral and unbiblical on the basis that every people group, created equal by God is bound by the same Covenant, whether or not they recognize it and ratify it through their response. It is especially true of ALL people of God, whether “Jew or Gentile” as stated by Paul. I would also add that Israel’s actions have not only been immoral and unbiblical, they have also been illegal as shown and stated by both the UN and Amnesty International according to the UN declaration of Human Rights and the Right of all People to Self-Determination.
It is this frame that I speak of each side of the current violence, Israel and Hamas, as under equal terms. The terms are equal legal and moral judgment as the Covenant and law operates under such a framework. So, punitive justice and judgment has to be framed and judged. It is therefore the behavior of each group that comes under this judgment. But, beyond the legal punitive aspect, I speak of the moral and Covenantal restorative and distributive judgment that Jews, especially, should know and operate under within tzedek and mishpat. Particularly by these conditions, the State of Israel has failed. Under these conditions Hamas also fails when it uses its own people as shields and targets. The larger framework shows that the State of Israel could have made different choices and acted differently over a hundred years ago and through especially 60-70+ years so that Hamas never came into existence. Is this hindsight and predicting the future? Yes, to a large degree it is, but it also should act as a lesson for Israel, Hamas and anyone else in our responses to the current crisis and how we move forward from here. Each side, between Hamas and Israel, needs to be held accountable legally and morally/ethically for their behavior. Some of it can be justified on each side, but much of it can’t.
Finally, in this case, since the equivalency argument was put for in regards to sides such as the U.S., Germany, Japan, Hamas, Israel, etc…when times of war and/or violence breaks out; the evidence still points to Israel has holding greater accountability. Chapot uses a great poem to illustrate a realistic fact, regardless of right or wrong. When injustice occurs, people will always fight for justice in both rational and irrational ways:
“C. Day-Lewis wrote the poem “The Nabara” which, in effect, eloquently touches upon the very processes we have highlighted throughout this essay. It begins as follows:
‘Freedom is more than a word…
… She is mortal, we know, and made
In the image of simple men who have no taste for carnage
But sooner kill and are killed than see that image betrayed.[iii]’”
So, we return to the fact that although Cultural Relativism is a good academic exercise, it is inadequate for the current discussion at hand. Instead, we have to continue to weigh and balance both sides of the debate in accordance with other more relevant processes. For me, it still remains legal, moral and Covenantal. The relativism response still seeks to smoke screen the other arguments. If violence is a reality of our human nature, then we must decide to behave in different ways. In this case one may argue that Israel is acting more “civilized” and Hamas “uncivilized” but the end results have shown that the behavior has been uncivilized on both sides and that State or official law/policy sanctioned hasn’t changed that fact. The end result of both sides has been carnage, but the number of Palestinians killed has been far greater than the number of Israeli’s. The rate of poverty, poor education, poor housing, imprisonment, lack of self-determinations and depravity has been far greater against Palestinians than that of Israeli’s. Israel has created laws that violate international law and has acted in ways that have violated international law. In response Hamas has also reacted similarly. These facts should not and cannot be ignored.
I. Amy Zalman, “The Two Causes of Terrism”, terrorism.about.com. (May 24th, 2014). Available electronically at: http://terrorism.about.com/od/causes/a/causes_terror.htm.
ii. David Chapot, “How Do Terrorist Groups Emerge”, E-International Relations Students (Nov. 27th, 2012). Available electronically at: http://www.e-ir.info/2012/11/27/how-do-terrorist-groups-emerge/.
iii. Robert P. Clark, The Basque Insurgents: ETA, 1952-1980, (Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), in Chapot, “How Do Terrorist Groups Emerge” (2012).
adminAugust 21, 2014 - 7:16 am
Good Morning Randy
Thanks you for the ongoing dialog. I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness of your response. As usual, there are some things which you have said that I am in agreement with; one would be the larger moral (and I would add metaphysical) context in which the discussion needs to take place. Also, I think we would both agree that because we live in a fallen world, personal sin and institutional evil are real, there is enough blame to go around. Neither side in a fight is blameless.
Other things I find lacking or in disagreement with; as an example Zalman’s argument that “all terrorist acts are motivated by two thing: social and political injustice and (I am assuming that what was meant was) that “the ends justifies the means” – just ends – a Palestinian or Jewish state – justify the unjust means – terrorism. To these motivations, I would add one more motivation, in this case: the global vision of establishing a worldwide caliphate through persuasion (Mohammad in Mecca) or through the sword (Mohammad in Medina and beyond). It is this powerful vision of a growing caliphate, by any means, that motivates the terror.
As I read your response, I thought, it would be fun to explore this further. If we had time to discusses these things over coffee for many weeks, my guess is that we would 1) be able to define more clearly our areas of agreement – concern for the poor, disenfranchised, oppressed 2) be able to hear one another’s arguments and be persuaded to move our own positions on some things, and thus expand our areas of agreement, and 3) find that in the end we have some fundamental differences that we must be willing to disagree on.
One of the areas of my deep interests is in the oppression of women around the world. The most heinous part of this is gendercide –the systematic and methodical elimination of females from our planet. There are now estimated to be 200,000,000 missing women. This is far greater than the Holocaust in Germany. I have Christian friends who share my concern for the plight of women and agree with some of what needs to be done to solve the problem. But on a fundamental level they function from monistic set of assumptions and I from a “trinitarian” set. These different assumptions lead to different analysis and solutions to the problem. We have agreed to disagree on this fundamental level, but we have respect for one another and encourage each other to work towards reducing the injustice.
I would enjoy that extended cup of coffee, and I sense you would as well. Neither one of us has the time, or should I say, I do not have the time, to respond to all the details of your comments. I am sorry for that!
Have a great day.