Everyone Has His Reasons
More war in the Middle East, and it can only get worse.
Asked why his great film The Rules of the Game had no villains, the French director Jean Renoir said simply, Everyone has his reasons. It was a wise, humane, and tragic observation, eternally relevant.
Ive always been strongly anti-Communist, yet when I read about World War I some years ago I understood, for the first time, why many well-meaning, intelligent people from Albert Einstein to Charlie Chaplin might have reacted against it by putting their hopes in Communism. In their place, at that time, I realized uneasily, I might have done the same myself.
I hope I would have had second thoughts when the grim truth about Communism in practice came to light during the Stalin years. Many former Communists and sympathizers did, and some became strong anti-Communists. But it can be extremely hard to let go of an idea youve become attached to, even when it has betrayed your hopes.
In the same way, we should be able to understand why so many Jews in the twentieth century became attached to Zionism. It was a beautiful idea: a homeland of their own, where they could be normal at last. For many years it had my full sympathy. I regarded the state of Israel not only as the fulfillment of a Jewish dream, but as a valuable ally of the United States in the Cold War. I was willing to overlook Israels murderous 1967 attack on the USS Liberty; at the same time I recoiled from Arab terrorism.
But by 1982 I was having second thoughts for many reasons, of which Menachem Begins brutal invasion of Lebanon was only one. Id also come to see that the Arabs deserved some sympathy too. Then came revelations of Israeli spying on this country. My feeling of betrayal was profound.
Looking back, I can regard Zionism only as naive, as Communism originally was; as political dreams always are. Of all the places to found a Jewish state, the Muslim world now seems obviously the least propitious on earth.
Even so, I have never been able to regard Israel as an enemy of the United States; Ive come to see it as an ally we didnt need, because American support for it would make Israels enemies our enemies too. We should simply have heeded our forebears warnings against entangling alliances with foreign countries, not only in the Middle East, but everywhere.
Youd think two world wars would have given Americans some second thoughts about those entangling alliances, and more respect for their Founding Fathers, but today such wisdom is dismissed as isolationism an absurd misnomer for simple prudence. Its not that foreign countries are always wicked; if you condemn Israel, what are you going to say about a genuine hellhole like North Korea?
But when it comes to war, everyone has his reasons. Nowhere is that more vividly illustrated than in the Middle East, where everyone seems to have his reasons to hate everyone else, where one sides liberation is the others terrorism, and both agree only on the necessity of war.
Why the United States should dive into that boiling caldron is beyond me. In addition to the mutual enmity of Jews and Muslims, we are now bedeviled by that between Sunnis and Shiites as well. Its a deadly game in which even the (heavily armed) referees are apt to be killed. Yet we are told its not only our interest but our duty to intervene until the whole region is democratic and peaceful!
That will be the day. Everyone has not only his reasons, but also his dreams chiefly the dream of destroying his enemies. All these dreams collide in violence, which serves only to make the endless mutual hatred deeper.
And American intervention has proven worse than futile, further aggravating the situation. A generation ago, an American diplomat urged Jews and Muslims to settle their differences like Christian gentlemen. Excellent advice, if only anyone were disposed to take it.
Today our advice is to adopt democracy: Put down your guns and vote! Yes, surrender to the referees, and take the chance that your deadly enemies will come to power peacefully and then destroy you. Given that prospect, everyone has his reasons to keep on fighting.
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