Let Us Walk in the Light of the Lord
Political science, properly understood, can be capable of seeking “the truth of existence,” of establishing order in society. The philosopher Eric Voegelin once argued that political science “is concerned with the therapy of order” but warned that, “…the intellectual debate is intensified beyond the point of analysis and argument to that of existential struggle for and against truth-a struggle that can be waged on every level of human existence, from spiritual persuasion, peitho in the Platonic sense, to psychological propaganda, to even physical attack and destruction.”
Applying Voegelin’s principles of philosophical analysis to the contemporary Palestinian/Israeli conflict is the intention of a new book from Chronicles Press, the publishing house of the paleoconservative think tank, The Rockford Institute. The book, Peace in the Promised Land: A Realist Scenario, is not apt to be reviewed by the New York Times or any of the other major media outlets. It is, however, a significant and important contribution to this agonizing question. The book aims to provide the necessary historical, philosophical, legal, and religious context in which to consider the myriad of problems that arise as a result of this conflict. However, there will likely be aspects of the book with which the reader may not concur.
Twelve essays are provided by writers with distinguished backgrounds, evident skills, and perhaps, most importantly, no discernable axe to grind. Chronicles editor, Dr. Thomas Fleming’s essay, From Abraham to Napoleon: 4,000 Year of Ethnic Conflict, presents the history of the region in his usual style that skillfully combines the academic with the avuncular. His essay establishes the book’s thesis on a firm historical foundation, which is to say Fleming destroys the myth that there is a “continuum between biblical narratives and events surrounding the creation of the modern state of Israel, 1947-48.”
In his essay, “Christian Zionism”: An Obstacle to Peace, Chronicles editor Aaron D. Wolf takes “dispensationalist” preachers, such as Pat Robertson, John Hagee, and Jerry Falwell, to task for their unconditional support for Israel. For Mr. Wolf, the dispensationalists represent one wing of an axis (along with the Israeli Likud Party, and some American neoconservatives) that inhibits efforts at establishing long-term peace because it is based on ideology or faith rather than an assessment of history and contemporary politics. He also writes that “Dispensationalists, on the other hand, begin with the assumption that God’s covenants with the Jews in the Old Testament did not anticipate or, in any real way, prefigure Christ,” which is a deviation from traditional Christian teaching, this assertion is probably a bit excessive, as there are “dispensationalist” churches that teach not only the covenants between God and the Old Testament Jews but that the Old Testament reveals Jesus Christ from Exodus to Isaiah.
Stephen B. Presser, a law professor and writer, in his essay, The Lawand the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, rejects the application of natural law to solve the problems in question. Instead, he argues for a solution through the application of “...the law of contract or bargained-for-exchange.” However, the problem with “positive law,” is that it is too easily manipulated by the servants of power, and can merely assert custom as established law, even if that custom fails to accord with a reasoned assessment of a political problem. This would leave both the Israelis and the Palestinians ultimately dissatisfied and hurtling bombs at one another.
Dr. Srdja Trifkovic’s The Impact of Islam on the Arab-Israeli Dispute is a centerpiece of the collection. Trifkovic’s primary attributes are his cogent writing, his encyclopedic knowledge of Islam, and his lucid description of Islam’s relationship with Judaism, Christianity, and nonbelievers in general.
“Thirteen centuries of Islam,” he writes, “have effectively eliminated Christianity from the land of its birth.” The Muslims conquerors of the Middle East and North Africa did not put all the Christians to the sword; rather they placed them under Sharia law and the Dhimma (contract) whereby they were required under pain of death and/or confiscation of property to submit to a poll tax (jizya) and a land tax (haraj) as long as they remained Christians. In time the Muslims were able to sap “the captives’ vitality and capacity for renewal.” Trifkovic writes, “At the current rate of decline (of the Christian population in the Holy Land) there will be no living Church in the land of Christ.”
Islam was even harder on the Jews. Trifkovic explains that after failing to convince Jewish merchants in Mecca, before the Hijra, that he was God’s messenger, Mohammad turned against them. The result would be centuries of pogroms, oppression, and slaughter for the Jewish communities and tribes from the Fertile Crescent through North Africa. In the modern era, during and following World War II, there was anti-Jewish rioting in Iraq, Libya, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen that resulted in the death of over a thousand Jews and their resultant displacement from the Arab world. “It is a relatively little known fact,” Trifkovic writes, “that the number of Jews displaced from the Arab world in the aftermath of the creation of Israel exceeds that of Palestinians expelled by the Israelis.” You’re not going to read that in the New York Times.
Modern political science has failed to successfully address the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, or rather it is the victim of a phenomenon “…that permeates our modern societies so completely that its ubiquity scarcely leaves us any room to see it at all: the prohibition of questioning.” Islam refuses to engage in philosophical debate, Allah is not a god of Logos—or reason—but rather “Will” and for some, he has called for jihad against the West, which of course, includes Israel. That fact, that leaves the politicians of the West red-faced and stammering, and ends the debate, at least among some Muslims. The Bush Administration, on the other hand, has chosen to identify the enemy as “Islamic terrorists,” or “Islamo-fascism,” while refusing to acknowledge the real possibility that the enemy is Islam itself and they too countenance no further inquiry. The administration is quick to add that our primary reason for the Iraqi incursion is the Utopian/Gnostic objective “to bring democracy to the Middle East.”
Consequently, a Voegelinian application of the principles of political science breaks down because the philosopher is unable “seek the truth of existence.” The negation of the Question, and the resultant disorder, leaves only war, perhaps war on an apocalyptic scale. The essays in Peace in thePromised Land neither address nor acknowledge this breakdown. There is an aura of excessive hope predicated on an inprobable compromise scenario. With the exception of Dr. Trifkovic’s contribution, it is a bit naïve when discussing the nature and the attributes of Islam.
Regardless of these criticisms, Peace in the Promised Land assembles the most coherent reading available on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The maps, index, and discussion of the historical record are well worth the price of the book.
Robert C. Cheeks is a writer from Lisbon, Ohio.
Posted: May 14, 2007
The Light Invisible
Volume 41, Nos. 1–2 (Fall 2001)