The Quarterly DAG-3QD Peace and Justice Symposium


Dear Reader,

We are very pleased to collaborate with the Amsterdam-based Dialogue Advisory Group (DAG) to bring to you quarterly online symposia on topics of international peace and justice. The is the second in this series of symposia; the first was published about three months ago and can be seen here.

DAG is an organization which discreetly assists government, inter-government and other actors to confidentially manage national and international mediation efforts. Among their publicly known activities is DAG’s involvement in verifying the ETA ceasefire in Basque Country and the decommissioning of the weapons of INLA, a dissident Republican armed group in Northern Ireland.

DAG is directed by Ram Manikkalingam who also teaches politics at the University of Amsterdam. He advised the previous President of Sri Lanka during the peace process with the Tamil Tigers and prior to that advised the Rockefeller Foundation’s program in international peace and security.

In the DAG-3QD Peace and Justice Symposia internationally recognized figures will debate challenges in conflict resolution and human rights. One (or more) author(s) will present a thesis in the form of a short essay and then the others will present critiques of that point of view. Finally, the initial author(s) will also have an opportunity to present a rebuttal to the critiques.

The topic this time is the role of gender in situations of war and conflict.

The distinguished participants in this symposium are:

  • Rita Manchanda: Research Director of South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) and has written extensively on security and human rights issues in the region. In particular she has intellectually shaped the discourse on feminizing security. Among her many publications is the volume Women War and Peace in South Asia: beyond Victimhood to Agency which has been a pioneering study on feminist theorizing and praxis on conflict and peace building.
  • Antonia Potter Prentice: Prior to her current work on gender, peace and security as Senior Associate to the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office, Senior Advisor to the Dialogue Advisory Group and consultant for organizations including the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, the Global Network of Women Peacemakers and Terre des Hommes, she was Country Director for Oxfam GB in Indonesia, its largest programme in the SE Asia region. She initiated the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue’s work on women, gender and peacemaking and has worked for a number of NGOs, mostly in Asia, having lived in Afghanistan, America (New York), Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Switzerland (Geneva), Timor Leste, and currently Belgium (Brussels). Antonia is a Board Member of the Democratic Progress Institute and is married with three small children. She is starting out on Twitter at Antonia_pp.
  • Elisabeth Rehn: Minister Rehn has a long political career in Finland, as Member of Parliament, Minister of Defense, Minister of Equality, Presidential candidate, and also as a Member of European Parliament. Since 1995 she has been with the United Nations, as Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Former Yugoslavia, as Special Representative of the Secretary General in Bosnia & Herzegovina, and later as independent expert on Peace and Security. She is the co-author of the 1325 report for Unifem “Women War Peace” 2002, Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (PAPP) report for UNDP on the situation in Palestine 2004, and the UNHCHR report on DRC 2010. Rehn is also the Chair of the Board of Directors at the Trust Fund for Victims at the International Criminal Court, the Hague.
  • Chuck Sudetic: Writer and former journalist and analyst for the United Naitons war crimes tribunal in The Hague. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Economist, The Atlantic Monthly, and other publications. He authored Blood and Vengeance, a critically acclaimed book that captured the experiences of two Bosnian families, one Muslim Slav, one Serb, during the tumultuous century that ended with the Srebrenica massacre of 1995. He co-authored La Caccia, the memoirs of the war crimes prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte.
  • Sarah Cliffe: Special Adviser and Assistant Secretary-General for Civilian Capacities at the United Nations. Before joining the United Nations, she worked at the World Bank, covering post-conflict reconstruction, community driven development and civil service reform. She was chief of mission for the Bank’s program in Timor-Leste from 1999 to 2002; led the Bank’s Fragile and Conflict-Affected Countries Group from 2002-2007 and was Director of Operations for East Asia and the Pacific from 2007 – 2009. She was Special Representative and Director for the World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development. She holds degrees in History and Economic Development from Cambridge and Columbia Universities.

I would like to thank the participants as well as the indefatigable Amanda Beugeling of the Dialogue Advisory Group for working closely with me in organizing these symposia. The logo for the symposia has also been designed by Amanda Beugeling.

We look forward to your comments and feedback.


S. Abbas Raza

NOTE: DAG and 3QD wish to acknowledge the generous contribution of the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO, the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research) toward these symposia, as well as the support of our readers.


[Click the links below to read the essays.]

  1. Who’s that girl? Women, war, and the challenges of identity by Rita Manchanda and Antonia Potter Prentice
  2. The Necessity of Integrating Women into Peace Processes by Elisabeth Rehn
  3. Stop Bandying about Anecdotes and Loose Commentary by Chuck Sudetic
  4. Women as Actors Rather than Victims of War by Sarah Cliffe
  5. Let Us Start by Listening Seriously by Rita Manchanda and Antonia Potter Prentice





Please leave comments about any of the essays in the symposium on this post. Thank you.

Who’s that girl? Women, war, and the challenges of identity

by Rita Manchanda and Antonia Potter Prentice

It’s been another knockabout month on the frontlines of that old unwon war of attrition about equality between the sexes. On the upside we had Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard thrilling the hearts of those who abhor sexism, misogyny and hypocrisy with her magnificent, finger-pointing skewering of the Leader of the Opposition on the floor of Australia’s parliament. On the downside, first we had Pakistani schoolgirl and human rights activist Malala Yusufzai shot in the head by the Taliban; then second, back in peaceful Canada, the well-respected Human Security Report Project was telling us that they found out this year that sexual violence against women in war isn’t quite the big deal we’ve been making it out to be (although to be fair they also reminded us that domestic violence in war settings—and indeed beyond—is a serious and neglected problem; a conflict perhaps to be recognized as such all on its own).

But without getting into the whys and wherefores of the data the Human Security Report got and how they used and presented it, the three events make you realize that the mere fact of being labelled a man or woman (or a boy or a girl) remains a very incendiary business indeed, even in peacetime. The fact is, labels matter, arguably more in wartime than in peace. After all, labels are what a lot of conflicts are about. Are you Muslim or Christian? Alawite or Sunni? Hutu or Tutsi? ‘Have’ or ‘have not’? ‘With us’ or ‘against us'? But is it less risky to ask ‘and are you are a woman or a man?’ Does that descriptive make any difference to the labels that went before? Not only do women have many different labels, and where they can, a tendency to use them in many different ways, but as we shall see, they have a venerable history of using common labels, and those that denote shared values, to make constructive contributions to resolving their communities’ worst ills such as armed conflict, to the benefit of all.

The thing is, that women, like men, are not just women. The other labels they can lay claim to might be ethnic (I’m Tuareg), religious (I’m Jewish), political (I’m pro-government) or related to things they do like bearing children (I’m a mother), bearing arms (I’m a guerilla), or bearing witness (I’m a human rights worker) — frankly bearing a whole lot of things besides, though that is not the particular axe we want to grind in this piece. So what difference does it make which of those labels a woman uses, or others use of her? Does it matter which she chooses to prioritize and when? Is she even free to do that?

Violence starts putting red lines and black and white boxes around 'who we are' in ways we might not always choose, as do national projects and our choice of politics. Life hangs on the balance of such labels—ask Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, Buddhist tribals attacked in Bangladesh, or people with Kurdish or Armenian roots, or professing Alawite or Sunni faith from Syria fleeing into bordering lands. And if to that I am label is added, ‘woman’ —that female body can become the ground on which some fronts of that war is fought: the purveyor of community identity and its reproducer can be sexually tortured and stigmatised, displaced, impoverished or widowed. Or, while still a child, shot in the head on the way to school.

Read more »

The Necessity of Integrating Women into Peace Processes

by Elisabeth Rehn

Much good news is reaching us about “women making the case”, but it is also true that the opposite sometimes dominates. In which category should we put the Canadian Human Rights Report, telling us that sexual violence against women in war was not the big deal we are making it to be?

In their essay, Antonia Potter Prentice and Rita Manchandan raise the question, what then is a big deal? For me, after talking face to face with thousands of raped women and men in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Northern Uganda, Liberia, Sierra Leone, East Timor, Bosnia & Herzegovina—we have a tendency of counting this kind of problem by percentages, number of instances of sexual violence, child soldiers, refugees, IDP’s—every case is a big deal. Unfortunately, the violence continues after the war, from a tactic of war to a habit of post-conflict life. Dr. Denis Mukwege, the founder of the Panzi Hospital in Bukavu (DRC) has told me how the war changed sexual violence to a much more brutal and destructive form. He has during the history of Panzi treated close to 40,000 women, children and men who have been victims of sexual violence. Listening to him makes it clear that this is a big deal.

Sexual violence is indeed (despite its terrible influence on the society) not the only issue when making peace and building up society after a conflict. Women want inclusion, equality, and social reform, and very strongly, justice. When experienced conflict mediators are asked: What is more important, peace or justice? the answer predominantly given is peace as many lives are thereby saved. But the victims of sexual violence do find justice important. Sometimes it is the only way of building their future without fear, and for overcoming stigmatization. For them ending impunity and pursuing justice is of paramount importance.

Read more »

Stop Bandying about Anecdotes and Loose Commentary

by Chuck Sudetic


1) I am a feminist. I see myself as fortunate to have come of age in this age when significant, growing, but still-inadequate numbers of women have taken their rightful place in business and government and the professions and all other walks of life in many parts of the developed world and in some corners of underdeveloped countries.

2) Women are the species. Men have controlled too much too long. They continue to maintain a stranglehold on too many women in too many parts of the world, from the high rises of Manhattan and The Bronx to the highlands of Lesotho and the hills of Swaziland.


I feel disappointed at the essay under discussion. Perhaps I’m missing something in these words. Perhaps I demand too much from words and essays. But I consider this piece a lost opportunity, a bandying about of undeveloped anecdotes and loose commentary undisciplined by a honed argument and without enough definition even to foster engaging discussion of something concrete and urgently important.

This is unfortunate, because when it comes to the question of women and war, I see war everywhere. I see as much violence, and perhaps more, in places where “peace” reigns.

The really important work in overcoming barriers confining women is on behalf of the hundreds of millions of women for whom the barriers in question are maintained and defended with violence, and in too many instances deadly force. This, to me, translates into urgency. So I seek discussions grounded in the practical, in the question “What is to be done?” rather than on the ethereal or the academic.

There is much to be said about labels and their effects, positive (protection) and negative (exclusion), which this essay suggests but, for me, fails to explore. The practical cannot, I fear, be grasped well at this level. Because the real problem, as I see it, is in the deeper structure that produces the labels, the mysterious workings deep beneath the anthropology, the sociology, the psychology, the linguistics…. And in these disciplines, it is revealed not through the theoretical discussions, but through the minutiae of the case studies.

Read more »

Women as Actors Rather than Victims of War

by Sarah Cliffe

This essay raises a series of fascinating questions about identity and women's participation in peace-making. The focus is—rightly, I believe—on women as actors rather than victims of war.

This is not to say that we should ignore the particular impact of conflict and violence on women: in the last two decades, for example, women and children have made up close to 80 percent of refugees and those internally displaced. Women generally bear the greatest burden of coping with the effects of conflict, whether in trying to feed and care for families that have lost all their income and assets, rebuilding homes that have been destroyed, or dealing with being chased from their neighborhoods and starting a new life elsewhere. And whatever the final statistical wisdom proves to be on the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and intimidation, there is no doubt that rape and sexual humiliation of women have been used to to inflict suffering and create a climate of fear, from the conflicts in west and central africa, to authoritarian regimes in Chile and Argentina, to the Balkans, to the violence fuelled by drug monies in central America.

Activists—male and female—have done much to publicize these effects and to help women to organize to claim recognition and reparations for the harm suffered. The essay highlights however an element which is equally and perhaps even more important in considering the links between women's identity and violence—women's role as actors in peace-making and in rebuilding societies that have been torn apart by violence. It outlines clearly the “fact of life” that women do not have unique identities—they may be involved in efforts to resolve conflict as much through their political, ethnic or religious identity as through their sense of solidarity as women.

This raises an interesting question of the trade-offs between promoting participation of women in peace-making processes as a separate “women's representation”, versus promoting their participation as part of the other groupings (whether governmental, political and resistance organisations, social movements, or community representation) in which they take part, and from which part of their identity is drawn. In the end I believe—as do the authors of the essay—that this is a choice for the women in the societies concerned: they will have a stronger sense of whether they have shared interests as women which would benefit from being separately represented, or whether they feel energies should be devoted to making sure that their political, social and community groups are adequately representative of, and accountable to, the perspectives of the women that they should represent. Another way of thinking about this is through the lens of “inclusive enough” agreements, suggested by the 2011 World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development. What does “inclusive enough” mean in terms of women's representation in the political settlements that aim to end violence. On the one hand having no women engaged is clearly a red flag, as it would be for other major identity groups in the societies concerned. But HOW women are represented is probably best left to be thrashed out by the societies concerned.

Read more »

Let Us Start by Listening Seriously

by Rita Manchanda and Antonia Potter Prentice

It’s hard to write a rebuttal when one gets the strong sense that even those, like Chuck Sudetic, who claims to be so disappointed by the ideas we shared (or the way we shared them?), actually subscribe very much to the main points we were making.

Elisabeth Rehn has dedicated her professional life to this work, and a key lesson her response to our piece, and her work in general, teaches conflict mediators, and peace process support actors is to listen, listen, and then listen some more to a broad representation of people on the ground, including of course women. Listening, and acting on what is heard, and reporting back on those actions are highly validating for the person being heard, especially when their experience is normally one of disempowerment and marginalization.

Unwittingly but helpfully answering Chuck’s vociferous call for ‘more practicality’ she describes the effective and pragmatic mechanism of the Senegal Women’s Situation Room. She trenchantly reminds statisticians, policy analysts and the writers of glib op eds that each individual experience of conflict related sexual violence is a shock to the world’s conscience, and a wound to its victim’s very soul that can never be forgotten. So whether there are in reality handfuls, hundreds or thousands of such cases, each individual one stands as a horror on its own. She reminds us that for victims of these kinds of crimes of conflict, peace and justice aren’t a ‘choice’ or a ‘tension’; they are quite simply the same thing. Impunity means for them that the conflict is not over. There’s no rebutting that from our side, and we’re pretty sure that Sarah Cliffe and Chuck Sudetic feel the same way.

What she does not perhaps spell out is an insight that comes out more in Sarah Cliffe’s piece and is an important finding of the 2011 World Bank Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development to which she referred: that investing in citizen security, justice, and jobs is essential to reducing violence in societies, especially post-conflict ones, a finding which relates quite as much to women as to men. The effects of sexual violence in conflict, especially when not dealt with, lead to extreme social distortions and specific, negative socio-economic consequences for the survivor and her or his family. It’s not hard to agree that sexual violence is bad for people, bad for communities, bad for societies; but recognizing that preventing it by empowering women across the board, alongside changing attitudes, seems to be a tougher sell. We would maintain that socio-economic empowerment as is as important for women as political empowerment: with resources, comes status and choices; with status and choices come voice and power.

Chuck Sudetic is right: violence is everywhere, the cultures that make this ok have got to change, and clumsy international attempts to support local efforts to do this have got to get more nuanced. Chuck wants us to fix this now; Sarah reminds us that cultural change, attitudinal change take years to take root. We agree with him: we wish it had been fixed yesterday; but Sarah’s right, mind-set changes are incremental, and if each society is to find its way from the ‘inside out’, as it were, it must set its own pace for change – taking into account women’s views alongside men’s about the pace that fits.

Read more »

American Civil Religion in the Age of Obama: An Interview with Philip S. Gorski


Over at the Immanent Frame:

JB: This leads to an interesting question: who’s going to take up the mantle of theology? In your essay in The Post-Secular in Question, you ask, “What’s the role of sociology?” Your answer is that it could be a moral science that recovers the idea of “the good.” What would that moral sociology look like? Is there a relationship that you see between the creation of a civil religion and the creation of a sociology that’s more concerned with the good?

PG: That would certainly be a hope of mine, and it’s something that I’ve been thinking about a great deal lately, whether there’s a limited kind of moral realism that we could defend, and that we might actually be able to contribute to through social science or at least through academic reflection of some kind or another? My suspicion is that there is; I just don’t know what the scope of it is. It would have to be premised on some understanding of human flourishing—that human beings are put together biologically, neurologically, in a certain way—that they have certain kinds of capacities or propensities—that their flourishing and well-being in general involves the development and cultivation of these propensities and capacities. Of course I’m simply channeling a lot of research that’s being done in neighboring fields. There’s recent work in positive psychology, for example, which is starting to get a great deal of attention by people like Jonathan Haidt and Marty Seligman. There’s a neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics tradition that people like Martha Nussbaum and Richard Kraut have revived and defended in recent years. Even some folks like Amartya Sen have tried to make a basis for a different way of thinking about economics and development policy. So the question is, “How do you develop a theory of the human good which doesn’t become a kind of hardened dogma, a sort of a one-size-fits-all understanding of what a life well-lived is going to mean?”

Rockets & Ethics


Mike LaBossiere in The Philosopher's Magazine (image from Wikimedia commons):

In a repeat of events in 2008 (and earlier) Hamas stepped up its rocket attacks from Gaza against Israel. Israel, not surprisingly, responded with attacks of its own. In addition to the political and humanitarian concerns, this matter raises numerous ethical issues.

One issue of concern is that Hamas generally locates its launch sites close to or in civilian areas. As such, Israel runs the risk of killing civilians when it attempts to destroy the launchers. This raises the general issue of launching attacks from within a civilian population.

On the face of it, this tactic seems to be immoral. To use the obvious analogy, if I am involved in a gun fight and I grab a child to use as a human shield, I am acting wrongly. After all, I am intentionally endangering an innocent to protect myself. If the child is hurt or killed, I clearly bear some of the moral blame. While my opponent should not endanger the child, I would rather limit her options if I kept attacking her while hiding behind the child. Naturally, if I was shooting at her innocent children while using a child as a shield, I would certainly be acting very wrongly indeed.

One possible counter is that the analogy is flawed. In the child example, the child is coerced into serving as a shield. If the civilians support Hamas and freely allow themselves to be used as human shields, then Hamas would not be acting wrongly. To use an analogy, if I am in a gun fight and people volunteer to take bullets for me by acting as human shields, I would seem to be acting in a way that would be morally acceptable. As such, as long as the civilians are not coerced or kept in ignorance (that is, employed as shields by force or fraud), then it would seem that Hamas could be acting in a morally acceptable way.

There is, of course, a rather obvious concern. To go back to the gunfight analogy, suppose my fellows volunteer to serve as human shields while I shoot randomly at my opponent’s friends and family. If my opponent returns fire and hits one of my shields while trying to stop me, it would seem that my opponent would not be acting wrongly.

My ideal bookshelf

From The Guardian:

Meyer--010What made film-maker Judd Apatow want to be be funny? Or inspired novelist Stephenie Meyer to create a world of vampires? In My Ideal Bookshelf, more than 100 writers and other cultural figures were asked to share the literary journeys that helped them realise their ambitions and find success.

Stephenie Meyer

I was the reader. That was my identity in my family: I was that girl who was always in a corner reading; I read my whole life away. I skipped children's books. My dad would read to us at night, and I first began to read on my own by reading ahead in those books. I was seven when I read Little Women for the first time, and it became nearly as real to me as the rest of my life. I always identified with Jo; I was the tomboy. My big sister was Meg, the pretty one, the sweet one. We didn't have a Beth, but my younger sister was definitely Amy, the frivolous one who liked nice things. I was like Jo in every way except for her passion for writing; I was perfectly content just to read. It wasn't until much later, after I had published three books, that I went back to Little Women and realised that I had become even more like Jo. Now I was a writer, too. Of all the heroines I was invested in throughout my childhood, Jane Eyre was the one I most identified with, despite my having a happy and supportive family. I liked heroines who weren't perfectly beautiful. I liked that everyone wasn't swept away and captivated by her. Jane Eyre has this huge stubborn streak, which I have, too. I have my ideals, and I really don't diverge from them – it's probably off-putting to a lot of people. Jane is like that, too; she sticks to things even when she's uncomfortable and unhappy and making other people feel the same way. Of course, she's pushed to deeper extremes than I've ever been forced to go to, but I always felt we would see eye to eye.

More here.

Chemical “soup” clouds connection between toxins and poor health

From Nature:

From plastics to flame retardants, the ubiquitous chemicals of our daily lives have raised public health concerns like never before. Inside the Beltway, however, data-crunching scientists are often no match for industry lobbyists and corporate lawyers. The exception, no doubt, is Linda Birnbaum, the toxicologist who leads, two little-known scientific agencies, the National Institute of Environmental Health Services (NIEHS) and the National Toxicology Program (NTP).

Scientific American sat down with Birnbaum in Washington, D.C., to learn more about environmental health, toxic chemistry and the politics of chemical regulation.

How much of human disease is due to environmental exposures?
The estimates vary, and it depends on how you define environment. People often say it's about 30 percent. I think that's defining environment fairly narrowly, considering only environmental chemical exposures, but your environment includes the food you eat, the drugs you take, the psychosocial stress you're exposed to and so forth. After all, what's the difference between a drug and an environmental chemical? One you intentionally take and the other one you don't. Considering all that, I would say then the environment is much more than 30 percent. We also know—especially from studies of identical versus fraternal twins—that for many different diseases, genetics is not the whole story. Actually, I think it's time to stop asking, “Is this caused by genes or is this caused by the environment?” because in almost all cases, it's going to be both.

Why has it been so difficult to link environmental exposures to specific health consequences?
Nobody is exposed to one chemical at a time, right? I mean we live in a soup of chemicals and we live in a soup of exposures. Here, I'm having a lemonade. Well, it's not only lemon in here. I'm sure there's some sugar. There might be a preservative or something. I don't know what's in this. So think of all those things interacting, but when we test chemicals in the lab we tend to test them one at a time.

More here.

A Meta Modeling Meditation


Paul Krugman over at his blog:

I’m still thinking about the whole “America could only give workers decent living standards when it didn’t face competition” discussion. For one thing, this is an old favorite discussion of mine; the “growth and trade” literature goes back more than 60 years, but there aren’t, I think, many prominent economists working today who know much about that tradition, so I may be the last of the Mohicans or something. For another, this subject is a perfect illustration of the important of actually having a model – I’ll explain in a minute what I mean by that. And one more point: what we learn from this story is that a model may be created to answer one question, or defend a particular position, but if it’s a good model it can be used in multiple settings, and sometimes may even end up supporting a different side in the political debate.

So, on the first point: the origins of this literature go back to the immediate postwar years, when it was common to argue that US technological superiority made it impossible for Europe to compete. Yet basic trade theory says that trade depends on comparative advantage, not absolute advantage – you can gain from trade even if you’re less productive across the board, simply by concentrating on the areas in which your productivity lags least. Did the “dollar shortage” argument make any sense in that framework?

Enter John Hicks, who rephrased it not as a question about gains from trade but as a question about the effects of technological progress in your trading partners. And he laid out a rudimentary model to address that question.

Sunday Poem

Variations on the Word Love

This is a word we use to plug
holes with. It’s the right size for those warm
blanks in speech, for those red heart-
shaped vacancies on the page that look nothing
like real hearts. Add lace
and you can sell
it. We insert it also in the one empty
space on the printed form
that comes with no instructions. There are whole
magazines with not much in them
but the word love you can
rub it all over your body and you
can cook with it too. How do we know
it isn’t what goes on at the cool
debaucheries of slugs under damp
pieces of cardboard? As for the weed-
seedlings nosing their tough snouts up
among the lettuces, they shout it.
Love! Love! sing the soldiers, raising
their glittering knives in salute.

Then there’s the two
of us. This word
is far too short for us, it has only
four letters, too sparse
to fill those deep bare
vacuums between the stars
that press on us with their deafness.
It’s not love we don’t wish
to fall into, but that fear.
this word is not enough but it will
have to do. It’s a single
vowel in this metallic
silence, a mouth that says
O again and again in wonder
and pain, a breath, a finger
grip on a cliffside. You can
hold on or let go.

by Margaret Atwood

Why Israel Didn’t Win


Adam Shatz in the LRB:

The ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas in Cairo after eight days of fighting is merely a pause in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It promises to ease movement at all border crossings with the Gaza Strip, but will not lift the blockade. It requires Israel to end its assault on the Strip, and Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets at southern Israel, but it leaves Gaza as miserable as ever: according to a recent UN report, the Strip will be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020. And this is to speak only of Gaza. How easily one is made to forget that Gaza is only a part – a very brutalised part – of the ‘future Palestinian state’ that once seemed inevitable, and which now seems to exist mainly in the lullabies of Western peace processors. None of the core issues of the Israel-Palestine conflict – the Occupation, borders, water rights, repatriation and compensation of refugees – is addressed by this agreement.

The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war. In 1982, it broke its ceasefire with Arafat’s PLO and invaded Lebanon, citing the attempted assassination of its ambassador to London, even though the attack was the work of Arafat’s sworn enemy, the Iraqi agent Abu Nidal. In 1996, during a period of relative calm, it assassinated Hamas’s bomb-maker Yahya Ayyash, the ‘Engineer’, leading Hamas to strike back with a wave of suicide attacks in Israeli cities. When, a year later, Hamas proposed a thirty-year hudna, or truce, Binyamin Netanyahu dispatched a team of Mossad agents to poison the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman; under pressure from Jordan and the US, Israel was forced to provide the antidote, and Meshaal is now the head of Hamas’s political bureau – and an ally of Egypt’s new president, Mohamed Morsi.

Operation Pillar of Defence, Israel’s latest war, began just as Hamas was cobbling together an agreement for a long-term ceasefire. Its military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated only hours after he reviewed the draft proposal. Netanyahu and his defence minister, Ehud Barak, could have had a ceasefire – probably on more favourable terms – without the deaths of more than 160 Palestinians and five Israelis, but then they would have missed a chance to test their new missile defence shield, Iron Dome, whose performance was Israel’s main success in the war. They would also have missed a chance to remind the people of Gaza of their weakness in the face of Israeli military might. The destruction in Gaza was less extensive than it had been in Operation Cast Lead, but on this occasion too the aim, as Gilad Sharon, Ariel’s son, put it in theJerusalem Post, was to send out ‘a Tarzan-like cry that lets the entire jungle know in no uncertain terms just who won, and just who was defeated’.

Victory in war is not measured solely in terms of body counts, however.

My Idea of Nature


Justin E. H. Smith over at his blog:

For most of my adult life, beginning, really, in the rebellious years of adolescence, I have been against nature. This phrase, against nature, is the standard title for the English translation of J.-K. Huysmans' splendid 1884 novel, À rebours, but when I use it here, I don't mean generally perverted or out-of-whack. I mean I have cultivated a consummately urban existence, and have insisted that people who rush off to commune with the great outdoors are wasting their time. Part of this is based in a concern –about whose legitimacy I have not begun to doubt– that modern urbanites who speak of how in tune with nature they are are simply deluding themselves, that they no more succeed in bridging the nature/culture divide when they go off camping for a weekend than I do when I stay home in the city and blog. I've often suspected that typically a philosopher's idea of 'nature' consists in little more than a memory of a trip to R.E.I., or the thought of the picture of themselves kayaking that they selected for their department website. I've wanted none of that, and so have shut it out entirely.

Have I been wrong to do so? Back East, where I've always felt culturally at home but, with respect to nature, utterly against the grain (the other standard title for Huysmans' novel), I don't spend much time thinking about this question. The meteorology of the East Coast is schizophrenic and malign; and the wildlife, as Buffon already understood, is degenerate. The closest thing to mountains over there are the final fading bumps of an ancient range. The only animals are pests. Even when it's not hot it's too hot.

Dershowitz versus Gaza


Belen Fernandez close reads Alan Dershowitz, in Al Jazeera [via Doug Henwood]:

During the Israeli assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, a 34-day affair that resulted in 1,200 deaths – primarily civilian – in the targeted country, Dershowitz used his legal expertise to exonerate the Jewish state for its seemingly immoral behaviour.

In a July 2006 dispatch for the Los Angeles Times, Dershowitz offered a handy conceptual tool called the “continuum of civilianality” to explain why it was that so many purported “civilians” were perishing.

The answer, quite simply, was that some civilians just aren't that civilian-like.

Declaring the very term civilian to be “increasingly meaningless”, Dershowitz posits a far more precise taxonomy according to which two-year-olds fall on the “more innocent” side of the continuum, while south Lebanese residents who remain in south Lebanon in defiance of Israeli orders to evacuate are “complicit”.

Dershowitz's cautionary addendum – “Nor can women and children always be counted as civilians, as some organisations do” – is perhaps useful in explaining such events as the elimination in south Lebanon of 23 persons, most of them children, whose efforts to comply with evacuation orders were thwarted by the Israeli Apache helicopter that fired on their pickup truck at close range.

Whatever the Weather


Gillian Tett reviews Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don’t Understand, in the FT:

So what advice can Taleb offer? His central argument is encapsulated in the title. Until now, Taleb says, modern society has generally assumed that people, systems or institutions fell into two camps: either they were fragile (and likely to break when shocks occur) or robust (and thus able to resist shocks without being impacted at all). Taleb insists there is a third category of people, institutions and systems that are resilient in a way we have been unable to articulate: they survive shocks not because they are immovable but precisely because they do change, bending in the face of stress; adapting and learning. This is the quality that he describes as “antifragile”. (In the US the book is being published with the rather more explicit subtitle “Things that Gain from Disorder”.)

Taleb goes on to explain how this works: while nation-states tend to be fragile (because they are highly dependent on one vision of the nation), city-states tend to be antifragile (because they can adapt and learn from history). Careers that are based on one large employer can be fragile but careers that are flexible and entrepreneurial are antifragile, because they can move with changing times. Similarly, the banking system is fragile, while Silicon Valley is antifragile; governments that are highly indebted are fragile, while those (such as Sweden) which have learnt from past mistakes and refuse to assume too much debt are antifragile. And Switzerland is presented as one of the most antifragile places of all, partly because its decentralised structure allows for plenty of experimentation.

Expressed like this, Taleb’s argument about the merits of resilience – and change – might seem almost laughably simple. However, the book develops the theme on multiple levels. Some of his arguments are highly technical: he uses mathematical techniques to prove how the antifragile concept can be measured, and to demonstrate why popular statistical measures of probability are wrong.

Speaking of resilience, this piece by Ashwin Parameswaran in interesting, perhaps a bit technical.