A View from the Eye of the Storm: Terror and Reason in the Middle East
By Haim Harari
Back in April 2004, Haim Harari - theoretical physicist and chair of the Davidson Institute of Science Education at the Weizmann Institute - gave a talk on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Middle East, and the world that was leaked to the Internet and sparked international interest. This book is an elaboration of the blunt, challenging views that Harari expressed in his talk, and it is every bit as engaging.
Disclaiming, as a scientist, any professional expertise on the issues of war, terrorism and civilization, Harari promises in his foreword to take the approach of a "proverbial taxi driver." And he does just that, evincing more passion, pith and understanding than most "learned" discourse on the subject.
Harari, who describes himself as "a few centimeters left of center" but "not suicidal," attributes the problems in our region to the fact that "the entire Muslim region itself is dysfunctional." He gives striking facts and figures on what this means: 22 Arab countries have half the GDP of California; they translate fewer books per year than Greece. Combine this with injured Muslim pride and manipulation by venal leaders, and you have the groundwork for terrorism.
Terrorists are fighting "the dirtiest war ever fought," he puts it brusquely. No matter how much Westerners, especially Europeans, deny the nature of this war and make excuses for it, Harari asserts that practices like shooting from hospitals and ambulances, or using children as human shields and bombers, put today's Islamic terrorists on a moral level, in some ways, beneath the Nazis.
The terrorists also shamelessly exploit the very democratic freedoms they aim to destroy: they beam viciously anti-Semitic Al-Manar broadcasts throughout Europe, jealously protest the "democratic right" to preach violence in mosques in Paris, London and Detroit, and make the most of lax immigration laws to infiltrate the countries they seek to undermine.
What to do? The West has to "mount an aggressive, offensive war, without any compromise, against the terrorists, their supporters and their shelters." This should include a "total international quarantine on any country harboring terrorists, financing them, dispatching them, or even tolerating them..." It should also involve revising international law, which, Harari emphasizes, was not designed to cope with the unprecedented depravity of today's terrorism.
Harari is well aware, though, that Europe is far from taking a firm stance against terror and the regimes that support it. The fact that Iran can make "demands to eliminate Israel... and still have diplomatic or commercial relations" with European and other democratic countries is a "disgrace to humanity" that still shows no sign of abating.
Apart from the particular Leftist and pacifist ills of European civilization, Harari highlights the fact that the West in general suffers from systematic Arab and Muslim misinformation, especially regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The situation is all the worse because this false information is abetted by the West's own ignorant or compliant mass media. Suicide bombers are "activists"; when Israel fights back it is blamed for "wrecking the Palestinian infrastructure"; Israel's security fence becomes the "apartheid wall" and gets more condemnation than genocide in Sudan. The upshot is that "an amazing number of educated and intelligent people have fallen victim to distortions, misconceptions and pure unadulterated lies."
But merely understanding the threat of Arab and Islamic terror and fighting it effectively, Harari asserts, will not suffice to end the crisis of a world marked by a huge and growing gap between rich and poor - a world where "approximately one billion are full participants in the knowledge revolution...; another billion are trying... to join in; and four billion are largely unaware that the revolution is taking place." He warns that "unless this can be reversed, this means trouble - big trouble."
Harari's remedy is education. Unless, in his view, the Western countries mount a major campaign to bring freedom and progress to the undeveloped regions, he foresees nothing less than the end of democracy as the poor move into the richer areas, the rich try to block them, and the poor turn to illegal immigration, crime and terror to achieve their goals. In other words, the severe problems we already have will only get worse.
Though Harari may lack a degree in Middle East studies, anyone will emerge smarter and more informed having read his book.
The writer is a Jerusalem-based translator.