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Michael Walzer Replies

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Michael Walzer Replies

I have no serious disagreements with Leo Casey or Michael Kazin. Casey’s description of religious totalitarianism as the real enemy is persuasive. I will continue to argue for the condemnation of terrorism, whoever uses it, and for a general “war” against it. But we do have to focus first on the primary users, whom he has, I think, correctly identified. Kazin’s argument for policy changes by the United States does not strike me as an argument for appeasement; I will say something about the specific case of Israel and Palestine in a moment.

Ann Snitow stops too soon; I disagree with her comments more because of what she doesn’t say than because of what she does. She wants military restraint and an “urgent quest for other means of engagement.” But she offers no description of, not even a suggestion about those other means, hardly a clue, in fact, as to what they might be. I fear she is on one of those mythical quests. I agree that it’s not, or not necessarily, “capitulation” to call for “other than military solutions,” but there is no call here for anything that resembles a solution. Our country faces real dangers, frightening dangers, and if we on the left claim to be politically serious, we have to look for ways of dealing with them. Making it impossible to train terrorists and to plan future attacks in Afghanistan is a plausible beginning. It’s not the most important thing we have to do, and maybe we are not doing it as well as we might. But what are the alternatives? Understanding the pain of the others, resisting a coercive monoculture, taking action against disparities of wealth: that is a political program of a sort, I suppose (the last two points have been central to Dissent’s politics from the beginning), but it doesn’t have anything to do with terrorism; it doesn’t come close to the strategy of prevention that we urgently need. Snitow writes as someone who can’t imagine taking responsibility for the lives of fellow citizens, but (however far we are from actual responsibility) that is exactly what we must imagine now.

James Rule seems to believe that the world’s primary problem is Israeli wickedness. Not only don’t I believe that; it doesn’t seem to me even remotely plausible (note that Rule has to redefine terrorism as coercion rather than murder even to begin his argument). But Snitow gets to peace-in-the-Middle-East in her second “tangential thought” and Kazin gets there too, at the end of his comment. So I must attempt a general response. The United States had good reasons for pressing Israelis and Palestinians toward a compromise settlement before September 11. Bill Clinton’s proposals and the agreement that seemed so close at the end of 2000 suggest clearly enough what such a settlement would look like. Resuming the process, increasing the pressure: that would constitute the “defensible” policy that I pointed to at the end of my talk. But it seems to me delusory to think that this policy would make any difference to Islamic radicals. Their goal is the end of Jewish sovereignty in what they take to be Muslim and Arab territory. I suspect that Yasir Arafat and some significant part of the PLO elite want the same thing. Still, we should try to find out. A just settlement would require roughly equal pressure on both sides; it would not constitute appeasement of bin Laden and al Qaeda. Indeed, since success would require Arab recognition of Jewish sovereignty, it would only further enrage them. So, again, this isn’t a strategy for coping with the dangers we face; the demand to “do something” about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is more likely, it seems to me, to function as an excuse for not acknowledging what those dangers really are.

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