Identity and Conflict



Faced with a world of violence and seemingly intractable conflict, it is tempting for an individual to view current events as part of a grand narrative of inter-civilizational antagonism which has always existed and will always continue to exist; simply as a result of human nature.  The way one views contentious and oft-emotional issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict is inevitably coloured by their view of their own identity in relation to this conflict as well as their view of the identities of the parties involved. The idea that the conflict is one between “Muslims and Jews” is one that is one that is tempting for its simplicity, and it indeed has been taken by individuals across the political spectrum as being an easy explanation to an immensely complex issue. While there are undoubtedly religious overtones to the conflict on the ground level (like many other conflicts around the world that happen to be between different communities), this explanation ignores the existence of other parties such as Palestinian Christians as well as some Arab Israelis who have served in the IDF and the Israeli government. The conflation of a political conflict, one which is not unique in history, with a cosmic religious battle is bad for all parties involved, making the possibility for eventual peaceful coexistence more remote and causing negative externalities across the world.

The bigger problem with this identity driven view of conflict is that it has for many people become one of the defining aspects of their own conception of self; the self in opposition to the other. Being a Muslim or a Jew should rightly encompass a set of morals and cultural practices which have little or nothing to do with politics let alone with passing ideologies or contemporary conflicts which are always fought for reasons more political than transcendent, regardless of what demagogues on all sides try and claim.

The resulting situation we have today is one where many Jews around the world see their own identity inextricably tied to the nation state of Israel, and many Muslims also see it as a key part of their own identity to be in opposition to this state. This is not good for Palestinians and Israelis nor Muslims and Jews, as it leads individuals to view the situation uncritically and with a degree of emotion that makes rational action and thought nearly impossible. It also inevitably feeds xenophobia and leads to the demonization of individuals in parts of the world remote from the conflict simply due to the fact that their personal identity has become identified with this brutal conflict. A conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has resultingly become one between Muslims and Jews in the minds of many people, a situation that is dangerous and also breeds apathy in that the conflict becomes viewed as inevitable “because Jews and Muslims have been around forever and thus this has been going on forever”. This ignores the shared history of peaceful coexistence Muslims and Jews have had with each other throughout history, and which they continue to have with each other in many places around the world apart from the current centre of conflict (such as North America).

Judaism and Islam, and the communities of people around the world who identify with the morals and practices of these religious are an unimpeachable part of the human family and are beyond reproach inasmuch as they  continue to reflect their true teachings and are not perverted or used as a means to attack others. The state of Israel is not unimpeachable or beyond reproach, it is a modern nation-state and it is involved in a military occupation with all the resulting human rights violations and crimes against humanity which this type of undertaking by necessity entail. However nothing about Israeli actions reflects on Jews or Judaism; identifying oneself completely with a nation-state or an ideology will inevitably lead one into this type of logical trap. There is nothing about Judaism which condones occupying, dispossessing and killing others; quite the opposite. The conflation of Judaism with Israel gives cover to those real anti-Semites who do exist and it makes the conflict more difficult to solve by clouding rational judgement. In addition, Muslims should not see it as part of their faith to attack or oppose Israel, nor to make provocative calls for its destruction. This type of uncritical and oft-hysterical rhetoric further convolutes the issue and turns it into a religious war where it is in fact a political one. This is exacerbated when crimes occurring in Muslim countries are nearly ignored but those committed by Israel are denounced regularly, a perception of hypocrisy develops which does not help the pursuit of peace and justice and leads others to logically conclude that deep seated bigotry is at play.

None of this is to suggest that one should not have a position on this issue and be vocal about their convictions, merely that it is better that it be approached as a human rights issue rather than a religious one. If people are inveighing against others only on this conflict in places such as houses of worship and religious conventions, regardless of whether religion is brought up it becomes a religious issue. Human rights issues can be solved, religious issues cannot be solved. Turning an issue into a biblical battle will ensure that it is never peacefully resolved. The degree to which the Israel-Palestine conflict has turned into a Muslim-Jewish conflict is truly tragic; for the global communities of both faiths as well as for the Israelis and Palestinians themselves. This is especially so when Muslims and Jews have had, across thousands of years before the contemporary period, a conspicuously positive relationship with each other which has now devolved into suspicion and enmity. This conflict is unique in that it has reverberations that are felt around the world. Whether we are Jewish or Muslim let us try to look at it in a new light that allows us to use our judgement and does not make it a religious duty to oppose each others identity or most closely held beliefs. Human rights is a concern not unique to any faith, giving both Palestinians and Israelis the right to live in peace and security is a duty of all believing Muslims and Jews and only in approaching the world from this perspective can there be ever be a future of peace and prosperity in the holy land and beyond. A just an equitable solution would be the most likely outcome if Muslim and Jewish communities around the world looked at Israel and Palestine as a shared problem to be resolved instead of a war between each other to be endlessly fought.

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