Did Obama navigate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without a map?

 
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By Khaled Diab

The Obama administration was reportedly unaware of the true extent of Israeli settlement activity. This reveals either a monumental level of ignorance or a post-facto attempt to justify the failure of the Kerry peace initiative.

Friday 20 July 2018

It reads almost like a political thriller. An intrepid State Department official pages through a (possibly dusty) file and discovers, in 2015, a map that would change his life forever and radically alter his outlook on the world (well, at least on the Israeli-Palestinian part of it).

The official in question was Frank Lowenstein, Barack Obama’s special envoy on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. The map he found, which helped him see “the forest for the trees”, showed not only the actual Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but also all the land that was controlled by Israel and off limits to Palestinians, according to a report in the New Yorker.

Lowenstein and his team then reportedly “did the math”, drew up a series of larger maps and calculated that Israel had gobbled up 60% of the West Bank, territory that had been earmarked for a future Palestinian state, and that the areas Israel controlled cut off Palestinian population centres from one another. The revelation apparently shocked Obama and John Kerry, then secretary of state and peace envoy.

The New Yorker article shocked me too – albeit for very different reasons. It shocked me because I could scarcely comprehend or credit that the Obama administration was unaware of what, to anyone with knowledge of the topic or who had spent some time on the ground, was very familiar terrain.

In light of his career path and his then recent recruitment as special envoy, it is conceivable that Lowenstein was unaware of these facts, although the so-called Area C of the West Bank, which is under complete Israeli control and represents 60% of the West Bank, is one of the most basic of basics of the conflict.

But the idea that the rest of the team, especially John Kerry, who had been shuttling back and forth trying to broker a deal since 2013, found any of this to be news was almost unfathomable. This is especially the case in light of the fact that the Palestinian negotiating team resigned, in November 2013, because they argued that Israel’s ongoing and accelerating settlement activity had rendered it impossible to establish a viable and contiguous Palestinian state.

Had I known back then that the Obama administration was so reportedly clueless of the extent of the Israeli settlement enterprise, I would have applied for the position of Middle East adviser. That is not because I am especially qualified, but because the Obama administration was so self-admittedly ignorant.

For example, I could have directed Lowenstein and his team not just to the single map he came across but an entire atlas and databases, produced by the UN, mapping out pretty much every conceivable aspect of the Israeli occupation and settlements project in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including settlements, restrictions and closures, access to water and land, as well as demolitions and communities at risk.

Palestinian, international and Israeli NGOs, not to mention academics and think tanks, also carry out extensive research on these issues, making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict one of the most researched in the world. For instance, Israeli NGO B’Tselem has published information on settlements for years that would have made for painful reading for Lowenstein and the rest of the team.

Statistics and reports, no matter how good, cannot capture reality quite like seeing the reality on the ground for oneself. If I had access to the Obama team, I would have simply invited them round to the apartment we used to rent in East Jerusalem.

Located on the Mount of Olives, our front terrace overlooked the breathtaking beauty of the Jordan Valley, all the way down to the Dead Sea and beyond, into Jordan. Underneath the magnificence of the natural landscape one could also trace many of the topographical features of the occupation, including settlements and outposts, the Israeli wall, the gleaming modern highways snaking between the settlements, the meandering, ill-maintained roads reserved for West Bank Palestinians, the densely populated Palestinian towns unable to access and grow into the surrounding Area C, defined variously by Israel as restricted military areas, state land or nature reserves, anything to keep them out of the reach of the Palestinians.

I would point to the nearby Palestinian town of Ezeriya, only a couple of kilometres away as the crow flies and home to what is believed to be the tomb of Lazarus, where Jesus is said to have wept before resurrecting his dead follower.

In the past, the tomb and the surrounding town were a short and pleasant hike from our apartment. However, when I lived there, owing to the wall and various movement restrictions, it required a 20km or so detour to reach it.

In fact, driving is one of the simplest ways to navigate the reality of the occupation and clearly witness just how much the road to two states has been bulldozed and obliterated, and how the so-called road map to peace leads to nowhere. In fact, even satellite navigation cannot decipher the complexity of the rapidly changing political reality on the ground, as attested to by the number of times my GPS sent me to a shuttered gate or road block, or a restricted military area.

On the road, I would have driven Lowenstein and his team to view and contrast the settlements, with Palestinian villages and towns, taken them to visit vulnerable and threatened communities in Area C, such as the recently evicted Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, or to the temporary camps set up by activists protesting the attempts to join settlements in a continuous seam.

And even if the Obama team did not have time to undertake such time-consuming field work, all they needed to do was listen to Israel’s ultranationalist, rightwing government, which made no secret of its support of the settlement enterprise and its determination to render the prospect of a Palestinian state an impossibility.

Some time before Lowenstein’s Eureka moment, Likud and Jewish Home members of the Knesset tried to push a bill through to annex Israeli settlements, thereby rendering much of Area C permanently beyond Palestinian reach. Many on the right believe the entire West Bank is and should be Israel’s. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely is a vocal member of this camp: not only does she oppose Palestinian statehood, she also urged Israeli diplomats to tell the world “this country is all ours. We didn’t come here to apologize for that.

Binyamin Netanyahu, who has been ideologically opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state for decades, vociferously opposed and vilified Yitzhak Rabin for forging the Oslo accords, which were also violently opposed by Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide bombers, and actively worked to destroy it when he was first elected prime minister in 1996. During his re-election campaign in 2015, he promised the electorate that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.

If the Obama administration was ignorant of this staggering body of publicly available evidence, it suggests a monumental level of incompetence. However, I suspect there is another explanation which makes more sense: Obama and Kerry did not possess the imagination, courage and political capital to adopt new and more effective approaches to the conflict, and, like previous administrations, they did not have the guts to admit publicly from the beginning what has been clear since the mid-1990s: that the Oslo blueprint for peace was dead in the water almost as soon as it was floated.

After all, it is easier to plead ignorance than admit to spinelessness.

—-

This article was first published by The New Arab on 11 July 2018.

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Alt-jihad – Part I: Dying to kill

 
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By Khaled Diab

In the first of a series of articles exploring the disturbing parallels between radical Islamic and White/Christian extremism, Khaled Diab examines whether far-right suicide attackers could become a phenomenon.

Friday 30 March 2018

The Austin serial bomber, Mark Conditt, a 23-year-old unemployed man, has taken the secret with him to the grave of what motivated him to carry out his deadly attacks, which sowed terror in the community. The two who were killed in the attacks were an African-American office worker and an African-American high school student, both of whom were from families connected to the civil rights movement. Among the first to be injured were an African-American and a Hispanic woman were injured.

Was Conditt motivated by racial hatred? If so, why were some of his targets apparently random, such as the tripwire bomb he placed near a road in a quiet area of Travis County, Austin, which injured two white men? Was this revenge against a prosperous community for his unemployed status? Did his conservative religious views play a role in his bombing spree and choice of targets? Was he seeking to punish what he likely regarded as a sinful and god-forsaken society?

Whatever his actual motives were, one incredibly disturbing aspect of Conditt’s attacks was his preference to blow himself up rather than be captured. This qualifies him as a ‘suicide bomber’. This will strike many Americans and Europeans as odd. In the mainstream western mind, suicide attacks are inextricably linked to Muslims, with many conservatives, from Christian pastors to populist right-wing politicians, declaring Islam to be a ‘death cult’. Just last month, Ukip’s Gerard Batten opined that: “[Islam] glorifies death. They believe in propagating their religion by killing other people and martyring themselves and going and getting their 72 virgins.”

Although it is true that nowadays the majority of suicide attacks are carried out by Muslims, usually in Muslim-majority countries, the world leaders in suicidal terrorism were once Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tigers, the Marxist guerrilla group, who transformed suicide attacks into a powerful weapon of asymmetric warfare. The Tamil Tigers constructed “the concept of martyrdom around a secular idea of individuals essentially altruistically sacrificing for the good of the local community,” according to Robert Pape, director of the Chicago Project on Suicide Terrorism.

This is not a million miles away from Japan’s Kamikaze pilots of World War II. Whether or not people like to refer to them as suicide attackers, western soldiers also have a long history of being involved in suicidal missions. What after all is more suicidal than, say, leaving your trench to run through the no-man’s land of World War I? With the almost certain death involved in some of the deadlier battles of the Great War, involvement in them was akin to a suicide mission.

Such academic comparisons aside, could suicide attacks become a weapon of non-Islamic terrorists in America and Europe?

Well, though not (yet) widespread, this is already occurring, albeit it is a phenomenon that has gone largely unremarked. Take William Atchison, the 21-year-old petrol station attendant who, in December 2017, entered Aztec High School in New Mexico, killed two pupils, injured several others, and then turned the gun on himself. Atchinson was a white supremacist who fantasised, in online gaming forums, about killing Jews. The trouble for him is that there were none around him. “Had Atchison lived in a city with a significant Jewish population, it is even possible the tragedy he caused might have taken an anti-Semitic form instead of the shape that it did,” concluded the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

A far more spectacular suicide shooting occurred last year at the Route 91 Harvest music festival, when Stephen Paddock, 64, who murdered 58 concert goers and wounded a staggering 851, before turning one of his many guns on himself. Chillingly, months of investigation have uncovered no clear motive for Paddock’s rampage. He was a germaphobe, had a gambling addiction and, though once rich, had lost a lot of his wealth in the last year of his life. He also complained of anxiety and pain.

This phenomenon has been in the making, under the radar, for many long years. In 2015, Chris Harper-Mercer, 26, killed nine at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where he was a student, later shooting himself in the head during a gunfight with police. Harper-Mercer was described as a hate-filled white supremacist, albeit an anti-religious one.

In 2012, Adam Lanza murdered his mother. Perhaps propelled by his paranoid belief that human civilisation was beyond redemption and that “the only way that it’s ever sustained is by indoctrinating each new child for years on end.” Lanza drove to one of these alleged indoctrination factories, Sandy Hook Elementary School, where he shot dead 20 young children, one for each of his young years in this world. As first responders arrived, Lanza shot himself in the head. Also in 2012, a white supremacist soldier-turned-rocker committed suicide after killing six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

Considering how so many Americans are convinced that mass shootings are not motivated by ideology, it is remarkable how many of them are carried out by men who subscribe to white supremacist, conservative Christian or racist worldviews.

Other American mass shootings in which the assailant took their own life occurred in 2007 and two in 2006, including one involving a rare female shooter. That is not including all the possible suicide by police that may have occurred.

This grizzly phenomenon stretches back to the previous millennium. Two such attacks occurred in 1991: one in which the attacker killed four faculty members at the University of Iowa and another where the killer murdered 23 at a Texas cafe. Known as the Luby’s massacre, the Texas attack was, at the time, the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Apparently driven by misogyny, George Hennard, before opening fire, screamed, “All women of Killeen and Belton are vipers,” after crashing through the window of a Luby’s cafeteria with his car.

Mad or bad?

There is a psychological link between suicidal urges and committing mass murder, according to Scott Bonn, a professor of sociology and criminology, in which “alienating social forces” lead “fatalistic individuals increasingly [to] kill others, and in many instances themselves, in catastrophic acts of rage and violence”.

Despite the differential treatment of the mainstream media and politicians towards white and Muslim mass shooters, recent research has suggested they share a great deal in common, namely a suicidal urge to kill and be killed.

And there is strong evidence that suicidal tendencies are, at least partly, determined by social factors, as first posited by the pioneering French sociologist Emile Durkheim, who classified suicides into three basic groups: egoistic, altruistic and anomic. There are certain problems with Durkheim’s ideas, namely his insistence that “a given effect must always have a single cause, and that this cause must be of the same nature as the effect,” as Robert Alun Jones of the University of Illinois points out.

Even though Durkheim’s work is too reductionist, the framework he pioneered, as Bonn suggests, is useful not only in understanding suicide but in understanding suicide attacks. It also challenges the simplistic tendency in the West to classify Muslim suicide attackers as evil and ideologically driven, while white suicide attackers are deranged, psychologically disturbed ‘lone wolfs’. Of course, ideology plays a role (after all, the vast majority of such attacks are carried out by violent salafi jihadist groups), but it is, by far, not the only factor. Looking at the social-psychological background helps contextualise how and why such (self-)destructive ideas emerge and how they find some willing recruits. In short, the mad or bad dichotomy is a false one.

Enormous social upheavals can push a minority of people, who under other circumstances may have functioned peacefully in society, over the edge. The attendant despair can cause people to develop the desire to take their own lives and/or the lives of others. The absence or dismantling of social safety nets exacerbates this problem, by depriving these individuals of the kind of emotional, community and economic support to bring them back into the fold. Many even manage to remain undetected for years as they entertain ever bloodier fantasies of murder. The breakdown of law and order, or the disintegrating of the state, creates the kind of social vacuum that facilitates and enables such behaviour. In fact, such behaviour can sometimes be a desperate cry for belonging, especially amongst vulnerable individuals who join tight-knit radical groups, which function as their surrogate family.

This helps explain why different Muslim societies show different propensities for suicide attacks. In some, they are non-existent, while in others, they, along with more conventional forms of terror attacks, occur on a regular basis. In this light, it is hardly surprising that the largest number of suicide bombings occur in Iraq and Syria, two countries where war has completely destroyed the state, made life a misery and even crushed hope for a better tomorrow.

Deathwish or higher purpose?

This highlights how, while some suicide attackers may not be suicidal and carry out their deadly actions for mostly ideological reasons, a sense of altruism in which their individual existence matters not a jot when compared with their perception of the greater good, many, many others appear to be driven by the inverse: suicidal tendencies looking for an outlet. Since almost every society regards murder, both of the self and others, as a grave sin and a crime, the potential suicider with homicidal urges needs to find a way to legitimise and express these proscribed tendencies.

This occurs fairly often in the Palestinian context, where people have collectively to contend with the Israeli occupation, Palestinian oppression and a political and social situation that seems to be in constant, perpetual and ceaseless decline. When you add addition personal difficulties on top of the collective hardships, the explosive cocktail is there for the possibility of politicised suicide-homicides.

One stark manifestation of this was the wave of uncoordinated attempted stabbings by mostly young Palestinians, quite a proportion of whom appeared to be out to commit suicide by soldier. This was particularly the case for some young Palestinian women who, in addition to the occupation and socio-economic despair, had the additional burden of a suffocating patriarchy with which to deal.

This higher level of desperation can make the line between the political and the personal vaguer in the case of women than men. This can lead some troubled women to seek a more “honourable” path to taking their own lives, according to Nadia Dabbaghh, a child and adolescent psychologist and the author of the informative and taboo-breaking study Suicide in Palestine. “Rather than bring shame or dishonour to their entire family and even their community by running away or committing suicide, these women sought escape through an act that would by and large be viewed as patriotic,” observes Dabbagh.

This also sheds light on why it appears to be that America is the only wealthy industrialised country to be suffering not only from routine mass killings, but from ones that regularly feature the suicide of the attacker. This is due not only to America’s lax gun laws and the ease with which firearms can be acquired, but also to the destruction of the social safety net, the eradication of solidarity and support mechanisms, the gaping and growing inequalities, the extremely poor or non-existent healthcare millions of Americans receive, and the emergence of tribalism and identity politics as a substitute for meaningful socio-economic and political reform.

Does this mean we are likely to witness a trend of ultra-right suicide attacks in the coming years?

I hope not but it is entirely possible, especially if radical white supremacist and Christian groups, as well as anti-government militias, choose to exploit systematically these human weapons of mass murder by actually recruiting and actively brainwashing vulnerable individuals to carry out suicide attacks.

What is far more likely to continue apace is the sharp and alarming increase in far-right violence, including terror attacks, not just in America, but also on the other side of the Atlantic, including in the UK.

When, a decade ago, I warned that America was falling prey to a Christian jihad many laughed at me. When I cautioned that the greatest terror threat facing Europe and America was from white supremacists and neo-Nazis, readers did not take me seriously.

But the emerging reality could prove worse than I feared. But when dealing with this threat, we must learn from our mishandling of Islamic extremism. We must be vigilant, not vigilante. We must seek justice, not retribution. We need to excise the demons causing these toxic ideologies, not demonise the people who fall prey to them. We must fight ideas with better ideas.

Read part II – Delusions of grandeur and persecution

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Egypt’s Christians in the cross-hairs

 
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By Khaled Diab

The bombing of St Peter’s Church in Cairo exposes the growing vulnerability of Egypt’s Christian minority and the increasing mainstreaming of extremist Islamist discourse.

21 December 2016

It is a haunting image. A grieving Egyptian woman in a headscarf wipes tears from her eyes. But this woman is not a Muslim. She is a nun and she is standing amid the debris of the pews which were blown up during the grotesque bombing of St Peter’s Church (el-Boutrosiya, in Arabic), which adjoins St Mark’s Cathedral, the seat of Egypt’s Coptic church.

The only thing which distinguishes this woman from her Muslim sisters is the cross on her breast and the fact that she kneels to pray in a slightly different way. But this seems reason enough to kill 25 people and injure scores more whose “crime” was to be in a church performing mass.

What makes this slaughter even more obscene is that it occurred on the day millions of Muslims were celebrating the birth of their prophet, Muhammad, a time when families give out special “Halawet el-Moulid” to their neighbours, regardless of their religion. Instead of offering them festive sweets, ordinary Muslims found themselves consoling their Christian neighbours.

Outside the site of the blast, angry Copts were joined by Muslim sympathisers, whom together vented their collective outrage at the possible security lapse which led to this atrocity. Some of the slogans were telling of the vulnerability Copts feel in Egypt, with chants asking whether Coptic lives were cheap.

Others made clear their sentiments that Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi should not be invited to Christmas celebrations, which the Egyptian president has made a habit of attending since he took office.

The people demand the fall of the regime,” some shouted, reflecting just how far the Coptic community has drifted from the initial euphoria many expressed when Sisi removed the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi.

Whether this fury will galvanise mass protests seems unlikely at present. “People are angry about Sisi but they can’t see an alternative,” says Wael Eskandar, an independent, pro-revolutionary journalist based in Cairo. But Egypt is a place where one must never say never.

The chants outside the church echoed a revolutionary slogan used during the 25 January 2011 uprising. In the build up to the revolution, a church in Alexandria was also bombed, in the early hours of new year’s day, as worshippers were leaving midnight mass, causing a similar death toll to the latest attack.

Then as now, the worst of Egypt also brought out its best. An act whose goal was to kill Christians and drive a wedge between mainstream society and a vulnerable minority actually brought many closer together.

Outraged at the atrocity committed against their Christian brethren, Muslims of conscience stood in solidarity with Copts, at rallies, protests and clashes with security forces. On the eve of Coptic Christmas in January 2011, Christians attending mass were joined by Muslims, many of whom formed human shields around churches.

We either live together or we die together,” was the slogan thought up for the vigils by Egyptian artist Mohamed El-Sawy.

At a memorial service for the fallen, President Sisi revealed the identity of the suicide bomber he alleged perpetrated the massacre.  A day or so later the Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility.

 

While many in Egypt have condemned the bombing, it’s also not surprising that it happened in the first place.

For years ultra-conservative preachers and conspiracy theorists – from members of the Azharite religious establishment, through TV personalities sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood to Salafis – have stoked the flames of sectarianism in Egyp. Many of them do not see Christians as marginalised. On the contrary, some are convinced that Copts are master puppeteers pulling the state’s strings. There have been even those who have gone as far as to allege that there is a secret project to “Christianise” Egypt.

The military coup that followed mass protests against the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 further encouraged sectarianism. In its immediate aftermath, dozens of churches were attacked, as some Brotherhood sympathisers saw Christians as complicit in the military takeover of the government.

Such outlandish conspiracy theories about Christians have gained credibility, as rigid religious ultra-conservatism entered the mainstream, and encouraged portrayals of Christians as agents of the West and even “foreigners”.

The government, too, has played both a passive and active role in worsening the plight of Christians. Passive in its long-time insistence that, in the name of “national unity“, sectarianism did not exist in Egypt, the land of the crescent and the cross. Passive in its failure to protect Copts and to investigate crimes committed against them.

Active in its pandering to the basest extremist prejudices, while claiming to defend Christians. “I accuse a government that seems to think that by outbidding the Islamists it will also outflank them,” wrote the prominent Egyptian journalist Hani Shukrallah, echoing Emile Zola, following the new year’s attack in 2011.

Active in the state’s institutionalised discrimination against Christians. Active in its incidents of direct persecution of Christians, such as the Maspero massacre in October 2011.

Sadly, the precarious situation of Egyptian Christians may well worsen as the economy tanks further, the state pushes on with its crackdown on all forms of dissent, Islamophobia continues its ascent in the West and violent extremism ravages the region.

But I hope that the spirit of the crescent alongside the cross prevails – for the sake of Christians, for the sake of Egypt and for the sake of humanity.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared on Al Jazeera on 14 December 2016.

 

 

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The generous of the earth in the most wretched of places

 
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By Khaled Diab

If you’re feeling dejected by the troubled times we live in, remember that human generosity lives on, even in the most wretched of places.

Najih Shaker al-Baldawi intercepted the attacker and hugged the suicide bomber tight, not out of affection for him but out of love for the strangers flocking to a local shrine.

Iraqi Najih Shaker al-Baldawi intercepted an ISIS attacker and hugged the suicide bomber tight, not out of affection for him but out of love for the strangers flocking to a local shrine.

Friday 2 September 2016

War. Mass murder. Fanaticism. Bigotry. Racism. Hatred. Environmental devastation. These are depressing times we are living through.

However, scratch beneath the surface of the headlines and beyond the escalating news cycle of violence and you can find human beauty, even in the most wretched of places, at the most wretched of times.

This was driven home to me by what seems to be a startling statistical finding. Iraqis are the most likely people in the world to help a stranger, according to the World Giving Index (WGI).

Let that sink in for a moment. This is a country that was “shocked and awed” by the US and Britain into almost total state collapse, endured years of civil war, is supposedly prey to sectarian and ethnic hatred and is at the mercy of rival militias and warlords, including the infamous and bloodthirsty Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS).

Against such a backdrop and in a world where the relative trickle of refugees into Europe is causing continent-wide panic, you would expect Iraqis to fear strangers, to suspect that a passerby in apparent need is actually part of an ambush or a ploy, to keep what little they have for themselves and their nearest and dearest.

Despite this, a full four-fifths of Iraqis report having helped a stranger in the past month. How is this possible?

Part of the reason may be cultural. Arab societies possess elaborate and nuanced social codes demanding oft-excessive generosity and hospitality to visitors and strangers. This is encapsulated in the ancient Arab proverb: “A guest is greeted like a prince, held like a captive [to your generosity] and departs like a poet [to sing your praises].”

And many is the time that I have been made to feel  like the proverbial prince by Arabs I’d never met before. In fact, the most memorable shows of spontaneous generosity from strangers I have encountered in my life were in Egypt.

But culture is only part of the story. Necessity is the mother of generosity. There is a universal human tendency to respond to need and the needy – and a sense of guilt when we do not. In places like Iraq, where the ranks of those in need are enormous, the ranks of those willing to help them also grow, though they can never keep up with the runaway demand.

Conflict- and warzones bring out both the worst in humans and the best. This, to my mind, was symbolically embodied in a single recent incident in Iraq. An ISIS suicide bomber was on his way to take the lives of many innocent worshippers in Balad.

Najih Shaker al-Baldawi intercepted the attacker and hugged the suicide bomber tight, not out of affection for him but out of love for the strangers flocking to a local shrine. By preventing the mass murderer from entering the shrine and by taking much of the initial impact of the blast, al-Baldawi committed perhaps the supreme act of generosity: he gave his life to save dozens of others.

And despite Europe’s current (partly unjustified) reputation for selfish individualism, wartime Europe was replete with stories of such heroic, self-sacrificing generosity and solidarity, from the suicidal heroics of World War I trenches to the death-defying resistance to Nazi occupation in World War II and the sheltering of fugitive Jews destined for German death-camps.

Religion also seems to play a role in generosity. When it comes to giving money, Myanmar and Thailand top the WGI. Experts attribute this to the Buddhist practice of Sangha Dana, which encourages people to make donations.

But one must not overestimate the role of religion or assume that secular societies are less giving than pious ones. In the example above, Myanmar was assumed to be the most generous country because a higher percentage of its citizens had given money over the preceding month. But we know nothing of the amounts given and how they relate to income.

So it is entirely possible that in another country where people give away large sums to charity but do so only once or twice a year, citizens would donate a large proportion of their incomes yet appear less generous on the World Giving Index. For example, research has repeatedly found Americans to be the most generous charitable donors in the world as a percentage of income, giving away around 2% of GDP.

However, this does not necessarily make America the most generous country in the world. Like in developing countries with low taxes and huge income disparities, the visible poverty all around forces wealthy people of conscience to give.

In more egalitarian societies, that need is less because of the disguised or invisible forms of collective generosity that do not appear in WGI or statistics on charitable donations. In high-taxation societies with a generous social safety net, “giving” is a legal duty, not an individual choice.

For instance, in the European Union, where such a social model is prevalent, at least nine countries spend over 30% of their gross domestic product on social protection, led by Denmark (34.6%), France (34.2%) and the Netherlands (33.3%).

In addition, although foreign aid is woefully inadequate and wealthier countries are generally reneging on their obligations, a number of countries donate significantly above the benchmark 0.7% of GDP target. These include Sweden (1.4%), the UAE (1.09%), Norway (1.05%), Luxembourg (0.93%) and the Netherlands (0.76%).

This shows how generosity comes in many shapes and sizes, from the individual to the collective. Then there are the intangible, unmeasurable aspects of generosity. A dollar given by someone poor is worth far more than a dollar given by someone wealthy. Help given at great personal risk is worth more than risk-free assistance. Assistance received when you most need it is worth far more than that which is received too late. And a fish given to feed you once is worth far less than giving you the rod or net with which you can feed yourself.

Next time you feel despondent at the selfish taking and destructiveness of the world, look around for the everyday examples of giving which may not capture headlines but do capture a spirit of generosity that may just save humanity from itself.

____

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This is the extended version of an article which first appeared on Al Jazeera on 25 August 2016.

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