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Wars and rumors of wars

Few things of significance “just happen.” Newton’s third law states: “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Just as there are forces in nature that generate consequences, so in life. A biblical sage said, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” With the onset of the Arab Spring and the successful prosecution of the Iraqi war, there is some, but not nearly enough, discussion of the need, means and procedures necessary to establish various forms of new democratic governments.

There is a reason for the “wars and rumors of wars” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and other Middle Eastern countries. One of the main reasons we remain embroiled at a cost of thousands of American lives and billions of dollars is due in large part to the failure of Western diplomats to comprehend the significant differences between Eastern and Western civilizations. This became evident with the fall of the Shah of Iran and the Ayatollah Khomeini-dominated government that replaced him. It will soon be, once again, evident in Libya, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq as the West rediscovers the animosity that exists between various Islamic sects and tribes. Whether pro or anti-Western, Eastern dictators have recognized this for years and simply subjugated the different groups under an iron heel.

Cultures arise as a result of the basic principles of a parent civilization. Just as the various cultures of India, China, Japan and the Middle East derived their behavior patterns from the basic philosophies of their parent, Eastern civilization, England, France, Germany, United States, et al., adhere to the basic philosophies of their parent, Western civilization. As the basic tenets of Western civilization are essentially a restatement of Judeo-Christian biblical (“religious”) values, the moral precepts of Eastern civilizations are a restatement of their religious values.

An in-depth examination of Eastern and Western civilizations is not our purpose here, but there is a basic point that is critical to any attempt at achieving a lasting peace or establishing functional democracies in the Middle East. For example, something that was quite unfamiliar to most in the West was brought dramatically to our attention in World War II when the Japanese introduced us to “Hari Kari.” Japanese soldiers, who felt that the shame of defeat was “unbearable” or “dishonorable,” employed Hari Kari, also known as “seppuku.” Rather than “lose face,” they chose to retain/restore their honor by death at their own hand. There is no moral equivalency for this in the West. Losing face holds little terror for Westerners, as our viewpoint is predicated on the Judeo-Christian perspective of forgiveness, forbearance and mercy. These are all integral parts of our cultural and intellectual processes; they are not consciously practiced, they are just there, part of who we are.

In the East (absent the basic principles of the Judeo-Christian mindset), the concepts of forgiveness, forbearance, mercy, etc., are all foreign at best. These virtues are not an integral part of their cultural paradigm. The critical point becomes, therefore, not just the loss of land or a battle, but the loss of face and/or honor. The give-and-take inherent in standard negotiations prevalent in the West has no equivalent in Middle Eastern cultures. Concessions by an enemy are interpreted as appeasement and/or weakness. No conscientious member of any Middle Eastern or Far Eastern culture can allow himself, his tribe, his family, his culture, his religion or his country to lose face. Any such insult demands vengeance, usually accompanied by bloodshed, swift if possible, but implacable. A prime example of this philosophy is the “honor killing” of women by their own family members. Husbands have killed wives, and fathers have killed daughters, whom they feel have somehow “dishonored” them.

On a larger scale, some conflicts are known as “blood feuds.” Such feuds, as between the Turks and Kurds, the Chinese and Japanese, Serbians and Bosnians, and Hindus and Muslims, including Sunnis and Shiites, have existed for centuries. The lives and deaths of the participants are inextricably bound up with the customs and traditions that have resulted in these blood feuds.

Since the concept of the blood feud, for all practical purposes, is unknown in the West, these issues, unrecognized, can constitute a grave danger to the West when it intervenes in such Middle East conflicts as Serbia/Bosnia, Iraq/Iran and various other Middle Eastern and some African countries. After a “successful intervention” in Middle Eastern conflicts (as in Iraq), the West has often simply partitioned territories, as with Europe, into East and West. The West anticipates that once these boundaries are established, peace will continue. Unfortunately for the West, externally imposed arbitrary geographical boundaries, to the Eastern mind, do not exist. “Kurdish territory” remains “Kurdish territory.”

Absent this insight, the West in general, and America in particular, can become involved in a quagmire and subsequently be hated by both sides. Any attempt to placate one side will be seen as an act of hostility by the other. For example, to pacify the Shiite Muslims is to alienate the Sunni Muslims, and this exists not only in Iraq but also throughout the entire Muslim world.

Wars and rumors of wars are the result of sharp divisions between groups each having their own set of absolutes. Ignorance of the differences between both sets of absolutes has often left the West without the means of implementing lasting conflict resolutions, since in the Western mind (perhaps unbeknownst to many) our Judeo-Christian biblical values of liberty, equality, forgiveness, live-and-let-live are the basis for, and embody, a set of absolutes that are applicable to all.

Newton teaches that actions have consequences and Sun Tzu observes, “Know your enemy … and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” Without the knowledge of how your adversary thinks and sees himself, there can be no lasting peace, but merely a perpetuation of wars and rumors of wars.