Dymphna at Gates of Vienna is astounded at this article by the Guardian’s senior foreign correspondent, Jonathan Steele, in which he sees the recent Hamas victory as a chance for Europe to try its more nuanced approach to the Middle East conflict.
Steele is so nuanced he is practically insane. That’s not a word I ordinarily use (“insane,” that is, not “nuanced”), and of course it’s hyperbole.
But I can think of no better one to describe how out of touch this man is with reality. Either that, or he doesn’t actually believe a word he says, and merely trusts that his readership is totally out of touch with reality.
Either way, I have a question: why is this man senior foreign correspondent at a major newspaper? Surely even a leftist/liberal rag such as the Guardian could find a journalist who advances their arguments and positions with more finesse and believability than this:
If Europe, weak though its power may currently be, wants to have an independent role in the Middle East, clearly different from the manipulative US approach, it is vital to go on funding the PA regardless of the Hamas presence in government. Nor should the EU fall back on the cynical hope that Hamas will be as corrupt as Fatah, and so lose support. You cannot use European taxpayers’ money to strengthen Palestinian institutions while privately wanting reforms to fail. Hamas should be encouraged in aiming to be more honest than its predecessors.
Above all, Europe should not get hung up on the wrong issues, like armed resistance and the “war on terror”. Murdering a Palestinian politician by a long-range attack that is bound also to kill innocent civilians is morally and legally no better than a suicide bomb on a bus. Hamas’s refusal to give formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist should also not be seen by Europe as an urgent problem. History and international politics do not march in tidy simultaneous steps.
Almost every sentence in these two short paragraphs shows a naivete (at best) and a wrongheaded illogic (at worst), plus a subtext of such profound hostility to Israel and joy at the Hamas victory that it is, quite simply, stunning.
“Hamas should be encouraged in aiming to be more honest than its predecessors.” I wonder how Steele proposes to reinforce that honesty; strangely enough, he’s mum on the subject. I think the construction of the sentence is also interesting; note he writes “encouraged in aiming” to be more honest, not in actually becoming more honest. Perhaps Steele would be satisfied with the mouthing of good intentions by Hamas.
It’s clear that Steele’s main interest is in sticking it to those dreadful Americans, and in showing that Europe knows so much better how to handle these matters. Along the way, he seems to have a great respect for (and trust of) the Hamas leaders he’s interviewed.
But I was most aghast at the following sentence of Steele’s, “Murdering a Palestinian politician by a long-range attack that is bound also to kill innocent civilians is morally and legally no better than a suicide bomb on a bus.” I’ve heard such sentiments before, it’s true. But usually from commenters on a blog rather than a senior foreign correspondent of a major newspaper. If this is an example of his reasoning power, his editors should be canning him, pronto.
Interesting that Steele says “murdering a Palestinian politician,” as though the Israelis are in the habit of killing the Abbas’s or the Arafat’s of the Palestinian world. The word “terrorist” seems to stick in Steele’s craw, even when there is no doubt in the world that is what is meant. This sort of subtle use of inexact language is as pervasive as it is pernicious.
But even beyond that is the idea itself, treating all civilian deaths in a way that is devoid of context, intent, history, goal–anything but the sheer fact of a death. By that type of reasoning (and I use the word “reasoning” advisedly), an accidental traffic death is as bad as gunning someone down in cold blood, police killing a bystander with a stray bullet while pursuing a murderer would be the same as the killer him/herself, and on and on and on. Yes, the collateral damage resulting from the killing of a terrorist who purposely hides among civilians is a terrible thing, as is the purposeful blowing up of Israelis by a suicide bomber. But to say they are morally and legally equivalent is abhorrent.
I looked up Steele’s biographical details online, but could find very little. I did find a list of his articles, and perused quite a few. No surprises there; they are pretty much of a piece. Here are some representative ones, in case you’re interested: this, this, this, and this.
What goes into the making of a Jonathan Steele? The only clue I could find was this article. Take a look at it.
It turns out that Steele, although British, was a graduate student at Yale during the tumultuous 60s, and played a small part in the civil rights movement in the South. In the article, he describes his experiences as a civil rights worker at the time of the Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner murders. He clearly feared for his own life, and found the entire experience to be a formative one.
In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if Steele sees the Palestinians as the equivalent of the blacks of Mississippi whose civil rights were so long denied, and the Israelis as the southerners who despised them, although its a bit of a stretch, “The image of Price and Rainey, leering and chewing tobacco through the trial, was branded on many Americans’ minds as a symbol of ignorant racism.”
The image may have also been branded on the mind of one rather young Englishman at the time, and may have been generalized to Americans as a whole. My guess is that this is when Steele’s politics became set in stone. In fact, he hints as much:
But in the end the Freedom Summer of 1964 may have done more for the volunteers who took part in it than for the people they tried to help. Some went back into the mainstream, but with a new commitment to justice. A few became lifelong radicals. None remained untouched.
And here Steele states it even more clearly:
As a British graduate student I took part in the mock election to elect Aaron Henry as governor of Mississippi in November 1963 and again during the Summer Project of 1964 as a volunteer in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
It was an inspiring and radicalising experience.
Steele was part of an important movement for freedom in this country, and his idealism, hard work–and yes, bravery–were rewarded. The danger is when such experiences are overgeneralized and become the lens through which all later life is viewed–a lens that, with age, can become cloudy with cataracts.