The illiteracy of public intellectuals and pontificators on the subject of Palestine in particular, and the Middle East in general, never ceases to amaze.
A case in point was Monday night's all Christian Q&A panel. The panel dealt with a question, among others, about Australia's Middle Eastern involvements - Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, with a questioner asking, "are we not reaping the seeds we have sown?" Well, talk about sorting the sheep from the goats!
Now you would think that a bloke who doubles as a professor of moral philosophy and director of a centre for ethics, philosophy and public affairs might have something sensible to say on the subject, right? Wrong.
The bloke in question is John Haldane, here on a visit to Australia's Catholic University of Notre Dame from Scotland's University of St Andrews. The main part of Haldane's answer to the above question ran as follows:
"I do think that there is one thing that probably needs to be understood... the deep sense of humiliation that's felt in the Arab Muslim world, going all the way back to the end of the caliphate at the end of the First World War. And it was interesting in the period when, after 9/11, I happened to be in Washington when those attacks took place and Osama bin Laden issued a statement about the shame and humiliation that our people have suffered all these years and he saw this as a kind of just retaliation. Well, that humiliation was the dismantling of this great Islamic empire, the caliphate. I think that there is a burden of shame that is felt, that plays a very major role in reactivating the sentiments of militant Islam in various parts of the world and we don't necessarily help that at times, behaving in ways that look as if or can be interpreted as sort of carrying on the business of the continuing humiliation."
Haldane was possibly referring to bin Laden's October 7, 2001 statement, The Winds of Faith:
"What America is tasting today is but a fraction of what we have tasted for decades. For over 80 years our umma has endured this humiliation and contempt. Its sons have been killed, its blood has been shed, its holy sanctuaries have been violated, all in a manner contrary to that revealed by God, without anyone listening or responding. So when God Almighty granted success to one of the vanguard groups of Islam, He opened the way for them to destroy America utterly. I pray to God almighty to lift them up to the highest Paradise. When these men retaliated on behalf of their poor, oppressed sons, their brothers and sisters in Palestine and in many of the other lands of Islam, the whole world cried out, and the hypocrites followed them." (Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, Ed. by Bruce Lawrence, 2005, p 104)
In all of bin Laden's statements which follow in Lawrence's compilation, there is only one solitary reference to the concept of the caliphate:
"So I say that, in general, our concern is that our umma unites either under the Words of the Book of God or His Prophet, and that this nation should establish the righteous caliphate of our umma, which has been prophesied by our Prophet in his authentic hadith: that the righteous caliph will return with the permission of God" (p 121)
By contrast, bin Laden's statements fairly throng with references to the injustice of Palestine.
Despite this, our eminent visitor, a Scot no less, as was Lord Balfour who issued the eponymous Declaration which created the Palestine problem, makes no reference whatever to the subject, let alone Britain's role in its creation. (Keep in mind, that but for Britain's creation of that problem almost 100 years ago we would not likely be involved militarily in the Middle East today.)
Had Haldane addressed the issue elsewhere, I wondered? Despite an exhaustive Internet search (John Haldane/ Palestine/ Israel) I could find nothing on the matter save a YouTube video of our august authority speaking to a packed & rapt house at Sydney's Notre Dame University on March 23. There he was saying pretty much the same as he said on Q&A... only worse:
"There is a sense of humiliation among many Muslims, principally among Arab Muslims, because they see themselves as the inheritors of a great tradition represented by the Ottoman Empire but going back beyond that, and then they see themselves as suffering a tremendous humiliation. This is actually analogous in a way to feelings you get in Russia because the Russians were humiliated by the West and there's a great deal of resentment..."
IOW, today's Arabs are just miffed because they're no longer top dogs a la the Ottoman sultans!
But that claptrap was as nothing compared to what followed:
"I think a very significant aspect of all of this, of course, is the whole position with regard to Israel and the perception in the Arab world that Israel has been sustained particularly by the US, and some have capitalised on that and seen it as part of this ongoing, as they see it, humiliation of the Arabic [sic] and of the Muslim world more generally. Now I think all of that is wrong, but it is part of what has to be engaged with."
IOW, Israel is not really sustained by the US (or Britain before that), it's just a deep-rooted, irrational "perception" hard-wired in the Arab mind. And, of course, the Arabs are just plain "wrong" here, but, alas, we, the West, have little choice but to deal with their mental-as-anything paranoia, right? If only we could convince them that the US has nothing to do with Israel, and that anyway Israel is the best thing that could ever have happened to them, and that...
Oh, and to return to Q&A, here's our moral philosopher pronouncing on the woes of those poor blighters, Bush and Blair:
"I would not want to be in the shoes of someone in the White House or in Downing Street who has to make these big decisions. They're not easy and I'm reluctant to criticise them."