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Trashing of Civilizations: Identity and War in Gaza


Samuel Huntington died at a convenient moment: one of his wars is starting. Huntington was an advisor to Carter and Hubert Humphrey, from a generation of post-Victorian romantic nationalists. His work is broader and more nuanced than its readers. However, Clash of Civilizations and Who Are We are not books meant to attract nuanced readers. Nuance in both is a rationalization, not a rationale.

While Huntington warned against America imposing its order on the rest of the world, his paradigm left few other options. His late influence obscures his contributions to political realism, such as Political Order in Changing Societies, which featured perhaps the most concise discussion to its day of modernization which, despite its rationalism does not necessarily mean the rationalization of power, authority, structure, or political participation, because of the difference between modernization as a direction, and modernization as a process.

The current war between Hamas and Israel is a Huntingtonian War, in that it is based on the belief that cultural unity is essential for national hegemony, and that unlimited force is acceptable in pursuit of this goal. It is an idea that was born of the rise of the Nation-State, and which traces a vast arc for good and evil, to land in the sands of Al-Anbar, the ravines of Helmand, and the mazes of Gaza. Israeli politics is predicated on certain totems of cultural unity which must be pursued at all cost as essential to their national identity, even if these conflict with peace. They are arrayed against a people – the Palestinians – who beginning 80 years ago traded their identity as Palestinians, for their identity as the edge of militarized pan-Arabism, a movement to which they historically had not belonged.

The outgoing administration backs Israel completely, however virtually the rest of the international community has called for a halt to the attacks, which have claimed more than 230 lives, of which Hamas reports 160 are security personnel. 700 are reported wounded. For comparison 31 Israelis are listed as killed by terrorism this year through October, 12 of them soldiers or security personnel. Steve Clemons perceptively notes that this is part of Bush’s reverse hundred days to restrict Obama to Bush’s policies.

Both Israel and their antagonists are creatures of outside flows of capital and funding: the current military aid deal to Israel is 30 billion over 10 years, with as much as an additional 1 billion from private donations. Hamas is even more dependent on outside funding, including allegations that Israeli intelligence community funded Hamas to create a counter-weight to Fatah in the first place. However, it is from Iran and other states seeking a counterweight to Israel that its military moneys come.

This inflow of outside funds drives cycles of terrorism, and it drives the military instrument in Israel. As a result, while taking nothing away in terms of responsibility of the parties involved, people are dying there, because of the internal political dynamics of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other states that find financing military proxies to be convenient.

At the present moment, however, this is a game changing moment. Israel’s political coalition, faced with electoral catastrophe, decided not to wait for administration change in Washington, and is pursuing an action aimed at decapitating the political leadership of Hamas in Gaza, risking a wider asymmetrical response. The gamble is undertaken, absent an overwhelming economic response from the outside world, or a stinging military defeat, neither of which should be relied upon.

Instead of a clash of civilizations, this should be seen as a clash of economic identity, with Israel and Hamas both willing to use violence to influence economic outcomes, and other actors funding a proxy war for their own economic needs. This is a collision between what Philip Bobbitt might call a "Market-State" in Israel, and a National-pre-state in the form of Hamas.

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