Wednesday, May 19, 2021

False Dichotomies on Israel and Gaza

In his address to the nation on September 20, 2001, former President George W. Bush famously declared: "Every nation in every region now has a decision to make: Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." The first quoted sentence makes it clear that the second was not a mere rhetorical device: It was a warning for nations or regions that might have otherwise refused to cooperate when the U.S. launched its "war on terror." This is too many levels beyond mine, and, therefore, does not fit easily in my list of false dichotomies below, which are offered to avoid rhetorical traps when we engage in interfaith as well as intrafaith dialogue, although one can easily hear echos of President Bush's false dichotomy in this partial list of rhetorical devices built on false dichotomies.

False Dichotomy #1: "If you condemn the mass murder of civilians in Gaza by IDF, you must be supporting the (attempted or actual) mass murder of civilians by Hamas rockets."

Response: Your conclusion does not follow from your premise. In fact, I condemn both. 

False Dichotomy #2: "If you condemn IDF operations, then you deny Israel's right to defend itself."

Response: Your conclusion does not follow from your premise. It is coherent to assert Israel's right to defend itself but deny that a particular action is either acceptable or conducive to said self defense. In fact, I assert that this recurrent unleashing of extreme violence is neither acceptable (because of its unjustifiable result in loss of innocent life and property) nor productive (it fits Einstein's definition of insanity).

False Dichotomy #3: "If you condemn Hamas rocket attacks, then you are an accomplice in the subjugation of Palestinians."

Response: Your conclusion does not follow from your premise. In fact, I support Palestinian freedom and rights, but assert that recurrent acts of terrorism against civilians are neither acceptable (because of their unjustifiable result in loss of innocent life and property) nor productive (it fits Einstein's definition of insanity).

False Dichotomy #4: "If you cannot offer any alternative workable solutions, then you should shut up."

Response: Your conclusion does not follow from your premise. In fact, I assert that the current "strategies," if you can call them that, are extremely harmful in the sense that they make it impossible to find alternative workable solutions, regardless whether those are readily available at this time.

False Dichotomy #5a: "If you refuse to say who is more at fault, then you are supporting vigilante terrorism."

False Dichotomy #5b: "If you refuse to say who is more at fault, then you are supporting state terrorism."

False Dichotomy #5c: "If you refuse to say who is more at fault, then you are claiming moral equivalence."

Response: Your conclusion does not follow from your premise. When dealing with the sanctity of human life, we must invoke the principle of incommensurability. One murder does not justify one or many; many murders do not justify one or many; and the temporal order of murders is immaterial. 

False Dichotomy #6: "If you engage in interfaith dialogue and cooperation with others who do not at the very least condemn Israel's aggression, you undermine our efforts to highlight the issue."

Response: Your conclusion does not follow from your premise. In fact, I would argue that talking to those with whom we disagree is much more important than talking to those with whom we already agree. How else can we make progress?

Friday, May 14, 2021

A Most Difficult Eid Sermon

This is a draft of my sermon scheduled for today. It is the most difficult sermon that I have ever given, because of the circumstances -- on the one hand Eid, which should be the happiest time of the year, and on the other hand the pain, suffering and bloodshed that makes us very sad and anxious. I agonized for several days over what to say, and this is what I have settled on two hours prior to delivery:

After the liturgical opening...

May Allah accept our fasting, prayers, and good deeds during the month of Ramadan that has just ended, and may He make this Eid auspicious

"البخاري: عن أبي هريرة، قال صلعم: "للصائم فرحتان يفرحهما، إذا أفطر فرح و إذا لقي ربه فرح بصومه 

[Bukhari narrated on the authority of Abu Hurayra that the Prophet (p) said: "The fasting person has two occasions for happiness: the first when he breaks his fast, and the second when he meets his Lord"]

But is it possible for us to experience happiness when there is so much pain, suffering and bloodshed? Is it right or wrong to try? I checked the sermon that was offered earlier today in the Haram in Makkah, and it was unequivocally advocating for happiness and celebration: This is not the time to express sadness, said the preacher. I found his argument partially compelling, but need to take a slightly different approach for our situation here.

Perhaps we can find a useful analogy from the injunction to pay Zakatul Fitr, which I hope that we all paid before Eid prayers yesterday.

"الدارقطني: عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ , قَالَ: فَرَضَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلعم زَكَاةَ الْفِطْرِ , وَقَالَ: "أَغْنُوهُمْ فِي هَذَا الْيَوْمِ

[Daraqutni narrated on the authority of Ibn Umar that the Prophet (p) made Zakatul Fitr obligatory, and said "make them [the poor] have no need on that day"].

Obviously, this temporary condition that the payment of Zakatul Fitr enables does not eliminate poverty, but it offers respite for the poor. They were needy before and will be needy after, but on the day of Eid, if we have lived up to our duty, they can have no need.

Likewise, celebrating Eid does not negate our sadness or remove the reasons for this deep sadness, but it gives us a temporary (and perhaps partial) break from pain and anxiety, which we need to sustain us mentally and even physically.

It is also important from a religious standpoint, and some scholars have said obligatory, to show some measure of happiness and thankfulness that we have been able to conduct our fasting and prayers safely. Failing to do that, they argue, would constitute ungratefulness toward our Lord.

This is especially important for those who have small or even teenage children or grandchildren, whose emotional and mental development may be severely impaired if they are subjected to constantly elevated levels of stress, fear, and anxiety, and if they also lose the opportunity to enjoy a happy Eid.

We cannot hide the facts from them, because they have access to news, and they can clearly see our distressed emotional states, but we need to explain the world to them in a manner that they can understand, and which allows them to function in this world

"عن ابن عباس قال رسول الله صلعم "نحن معشر الأنبياء نخاطب الناس على قدر عقولهم

[Ibn Abbas narrated that the Prophet (p) said: "We prophets speak to people according to their level of comprehension"]

Again, this is primarily to minimize the adverse effects on their emotional and mental development: Ignoring the issues is not helpful, but obsessing over them constantly is not either 

It is also important to figure out how to explain the situation to them because we live at a time when every narrative has a counter-narrative that is echoed constantly on news and social media, targeting audiences that exclusively receive that alternative worldview. 

Our children and grandchildren will interact with people and friends who view the world and events very differently, and we must prepare them to engage only in civil discourse with those who may not only disagree with them, but who may see them perversely as part of the problem.

Dealing with this takes a level of restraint and wisdom that is normally beyond their years, but we must help them to learn it for their own mental wellbeing and to be effective members in society.

This is not to say that anger at injustice and transgression is unjustified. It merely means that we do not act on this anger. The best example for this, I believe, is the example of the Prophet (p) in the Truce of Hudaybiya: Umar was very angry that they could not perform pilgrimage as they had planned, and that the terms of the treaty favored Quraysh very hevaily. As narrated in Bukhari and Muslim, Umar asked the Prophet (p) harshly: 

ألست نبي الله؟ ألسنا على حق؟ أليسوا على باطل؟ فلم نعطى الدنية في ديننا؟

["Are you not the Prophet of Allah? Are we not right? Are they not wrong? Then why should we expect this demeaning of our religion?"]

But the Prophet (p) was patient, and told him that they will perform pilgrimage another year, and to trust his decision to sign the Truce. Umar went complaining the same to Abu Bakr, who told him also to accept the Truce of Hudaybiya that the Prophet (p) had accepted.

This is, indeed, how Allah educated his Messenger, and thus educated us as his followers:

و اصبر و ما صبرك إلا بالله و لا تحزن عليهم و لا تك في ضيق مما يمكرون. إن الله مع الذين اتقوا و الذين هم محسنون

[So persevere in patience, for your patience comes from God. And do not feel sorry for them, nor feel constrained by their stratagems. Truly, Allah is with those who are God-conscious, and those who act in the best of ways.]