Friday, August 3, 2012

David Grossman vs. Bernard Lewis. Whom do you trust more on Iran?

Israeli writer David Grossman has written an article in Ha’aretz titled On silence about the Iranian threat and Israeli reaction. Here are a few excerpts: 

As things stand, the prime minister enjoys the support of a broad coalition and is not pestered by a solid opposition. In a sense, he is functioning as an autocrat – King Bibi, as Time Magazine called him. Meaning that when fateful decisions have to be made, the Israeli’s people’s future and destiny will be subject, above all to the judgment of Netanyahu’s extreme, rigid and unbending world view.

In other words, even the many Israelis from all over the political map who do not want Israel to attack Iran – along with certain security chiefs – are now trapped, in the most fateful way, within the prime minister’s hermetic world view.

Yet Netanyahu has loyal partners in the government, people who are meant to share  in the outlook  and decision-making. Their advantage over the average citizen supposedly lies in their “superior knowledge” as they have been presented with “all the facts and considerations”. True this is how a democratic government works, but Israelis have learned from hard experience that heir leaders are not immune to serious mistakes, and that , like everyone else- and perhaps even a drop more – they are vulnerable to self deception and getting carried away with hawkish euphoria.
Certainly, an Iran armed with nuclear weapons is a real danger, not just a paranoid figment of Israeli government imagination. But even in the present situation there are other avenues, other possibilities for action or non action , and of course there is always the unequivocal American assurance that Iran will not become a nuclear power. 

Why aren’t ministers and defense officials, people who are serving here and now, not those who have completed their terms, standing up and speaking their minds?

Netanyahu’s extreme, rigid, unbending and hermetic world view?  But isn’t  David Grossman precisely describing the world he lives in?  Have we ever heard David Grossman quote Bernard Lewis about Iran?

Particular importance should be attached to the policies, and perhaps still more the attitudes, of the present rulers of Iran, who seem to be preparing for a final apocalyptic battle between the forces of God [themselves] and of the Devil [ the Great Satan--the United States].  They see this as the final struggle of the End of Time and are therefore undeterred by any level of slaughter and destruction even among their own people . "Allah will know his own" is the phase commonly used, meaning that among the multiple victims God will recognize the Muslims and give them a quick pass to heaven.

                In this context, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, namely M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) , would have no meaning.  At the End of Time, there will be general destruction  anyway.  What will matter is the final destination of the dead-- hell for the infidels, and the delights of heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement...

What does David Grossman know about the Twelvers and Shia eschatology?  How can he and so many others engage in discussions about Iran without mentioning the ideological/religious reasons that make the Iranian threat what it is? Isn’t David Grossman himself rigid, unbending and hermetic in not trying to learn more about how the Iranian mullahs think?

The whole discussion in Israel and the US about Iran is absurd. We are actually the most irrational party. Everything is being discussed except what should be discussed first, and that is the Shia eschatology that motivates the Shia faithful.  Even Ari Shavit who did a pretty good job interviewing ex generals, including Moshe Ya’alon,  refuses to interview people who know most about Iran and Islam like professor of Islam at Hebrew University Raphael Israeli.  How can a journalist of Ari Shavit’s  stature not realize  that his whole series on Iran is incomplete and therefore inaccurate if he does not give a perspective from a scholar of Islam?  

On silence. Should not ministers and defense officials be protesting that the real discussion on the nature of the Iranian regime and what motivates them is nonexistent? How can we estimate the threat if we refuse to discuss its essence? 

It boils down to whom do you trust more– Islam ignoramus David Grossman or one of the leading scholars of Islam in the West, Bernard Lewis?    

Works on Islam/Middle East
David Grossman
Bernard Lewis
The Yellow Wind [הזמן הצהוב / Ha-Zeman ha-tsahov, 1987]. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1988, ISBN 0-374-29345-7
The Origins of Ismailism (1940)
Sleeping on a Wire: Conversations with Palestinians in Israel [נוכחים נפקדים / Nokhehim Nifkadim, 1992]. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1993, ISBN 0-374-17788-0
A Handbook of Diplomatic and Political Arabic (1947)
Death as a Way of Life: Israel Ten Years after Oslo [מוות כדרך חיים / Mavet ke-derech khayyim, 2003]. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003, ISBN 0-374-10211-2
Lion’s honey : the myth of Samson [דבש אריות / Dvash arayiot, 2005]. Edinburgh; New York: Canongate, 2006, ISBN 1-84195-656-2

Istanbul and the Civilizations of the Ottoman Empire (1963)

The Cambridge History of Islam (2 vols. 1970, revised 4 vols. 1978, editor with Peter Malcolm Holt and Ann K.S. Lambton)

Islam: From the Prophet Muhammad to the capture of Constantinople (1974, editor)

History — Remembered, Recovered, Invented (1975)

Race and Color in Islam (1979)

Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire: The Functioning of a Plural Society (1982, editor with Benjamin Braude)

The Muslim Discovery of Europe (1982)

Semites and Anti-Semites (1986)

Islam from the Prophet Muhammad to the Capture of Constantinople (1987)

The Political Language of Islam (1988)

The Shaping of the Modern Middle East (1994)

Cultures in Conflict (1994)

The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years (published in U.K. as The Middle East: 2,000 Years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day) (1995)

The Future of the Middle East (1997)

The Multiple Identities of the Middle East (1998)

A Middle East Mosaic: Fragments of Life, Letters and History (2000)

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew Poems (2001)

The Muslim Discovery of Europe (2001)

Islam: The Religion and the People (2008, with Buntzie Ellis Churchill)

Faith and Power: Religion and Politics in the Middle East (2010) Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-514421-5

The End of Modern History in the Middle East (2011) Hoover Institution Press.