Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Behind the Masks

New York Times: By Thomas Friedman

...But certain habits, especially bad ones, die hard — and they can end up warping your own society as much as your enemy’s. You can see what’s happened here: If it’s O.K. to wear masks when confronting the Jews, it eventually becomes O.K. to wear masks when confronting other Palestinians. If it becomes O.K. to use suicide bombers against the Jews, it eventually becomes O.K. to use suicide bombers against other Muslims. What goes around comes around.

Beyond old habits, though, there is also some new shame. These masks are worn by fighters who not only wish to shield themselves from Israel’s gaze, but also from the gaze of their parents, friends and neighbors.

After generations of Arabs highlighting the justice and nobility of the Palestinian struggle for statehood, there was surely an element of shame that Palestinian brothers were killing brothers, throwing each other off rooftops, dragging each other from hospital beds and generally ripping apart Palestinian society in a naked power struggle. There was nothing noble about this fight, which is why, I would guess, many wanted to wear masks. The mask both protects you against shame and liberates you to kill your brothers — and their children."...

“These masks are the uniforms of the new armies of the 21st century and the new kind of violence,” which in Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza “no longer distinguishes between war against the stranger and war against members of your own society,” argued political theorist Yaron Ezrahi. “Just as this new violence doesn’t have a front, it doesn’t have a face. It doesn’t have boundaries.”

Friedman may take this metaphor over the top--and I expect he will be criticized for it--but I think there is a core point worthy of notice.

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