While it makes some people uncomfortable, the fact is that according to some readings of Islam, Israel’s existence does violate foundations of the faith both morally and theologically. Of course, it’s not the only reading of that tradition, but it’s one that can find plenty of textual support. Just as some readings of Judaism find support for treating all gentiles living in Israel as second-class citizens or justify Jews killing Jews over the return of settlements. So what? The faithful of every tradition have always found footnotes to justify their actions.
The endless debates about what is “true Islam” or “true Judaism” are arrogant exercises in self-serving theology, which “prove” that the faith says what the speaker wants every time. It’s actually as dogmatic when done to prove that the faith is about peace and love as when it is done in the name of hate and war.
In each case, we are told that the faith means one thing and that all people who depart from that one understanding are not “real Muslims” or “real Jews”. It’s a dangerous form of apologetics which keep the faithful from taking appropriate responsibility for the damage done by members of their community.
Worst of all, raising the issue of such damage is quickly branded as Islamophobic or anti-Jewish. Sometimes it may be, but often it is not. And it is those who love a faith most deeply that must critique it most seriously and listen most attentively to the critique offered by others. That doesn’t mean those who critique you are always right, but if you think they are always wrong, it’s you who probably is.
The real question is not which positions are within the tradition and which are not. The real question is how many believers stake their lives on any given position, how does their choice affect the lives of those who disagree, and are they willing to pay the price for the choices that they have made.
Israel’s stated goal, one which makes perfect sense to most people, is to lessen (forget about ending) the steady rain of rockets on Israeli civilians. But since the range of weapons flying out of Gaza has only increased in recent days, and the number of dead civilians is going up more quickly than the number of Hamas fighters killed, one wonders if this is the best way to achieve that goal.
Israel needs to assess the gap between fighting a war which seems, to me and many others, to be justified and whether or not that justified war will actually lead to its ultimate security. What alternatives might exist to this war which seems as much punitive as it is defensive. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. But they may be. And whether they are or not, needs to be asked again and again.
Hamas’ stated objective is the destruction of the State of Israel, a goal no longer shared even by most in the Arab world, witness the response of most Arab heads of state. They blame Israel for the proportionality of its response but admit that Hamas ended the cease fire and provoked this war with their endless missiles.
Does Hamas really think that Israel is going to allow itself to be destroyed in any case? It’s not going to happen. They need to ask themselves what they expect from a neighbor to whose annihilation they have committed themselves.
Each side can rehash a specific narrative which keeps it mired in the same old processes. And they can keep on killing each other–the bombs and bullets don’t really care which side is morally superior. Or, for those of us lucky enough to have the safety of thousands of miles, we can begin a new conversation based on new questions which might lead to a new and safer reality for all.
This is not about what any tradition says. Our traditions are as much mirrors as they are guides. This is, as it always is, about the desires of those following the tradition.