Lisa Liel

Why won’t Islamists make peace?

I was talking with a friend last night, and she was incredibly frustrated at the situation in Gaza.  She was in the middle of an excellent rant about how we evacuated the Gaza Strip, throwing 9,000 innocent men, women, and children out of their homes, all for the sake of peace, and how the Palestinian Arabs, not seven months later, elected Hamas as their representives, when I cut in, shrugged, and said, “It makes perfect sense to me.”

She stopped, and with a stunned look on her face, demanded, “How does it possibly make sense?!”  So I explained it to her.

We view compromise as a positive thing, as something to strive towards, not for its own sake, but because we value non-conflict.  We dislike conflict, because it’s dangerous.  We dislike it enough that compromise, where everyone gives up a little of what they want, is preferable to a continuing conflict where we might lose everything.

But what about a culture that doesn’t see conflict as bad?  What about a culture which is absolutely convinced that it is destined to triumph?  In such a culture, why would compromise be viewed as a good thing?  Or even a rational thing?  In such a culture, compromise would simply make no sense.  And any offer of compromise by the other side could only be seen as a sign of weakness, because if the other side were really convinced that they could win, why would they compromise?

Islamists are convinced that they will win.  They believe — devoutly — that they are destined to conquer the entire world.

People in the West look at the actions of Islamists, and are faced with actions that appear to be inexplicable.  Irrational.  They react to this in different ways.

Some conclude that since an entire culture can’t be irrational, the crazy behavior must be limited to a small subset of bad actors.  That if we can remove these bad actors, or appease them, or make it worth the while of other members of the culture to suppress or replace them, they will no longer be a threat.  They often recommend raising the standard of living for Islamists, in the believe that Islamists are as shallow as they are themselves, and will jettison their deeply held beliefs in exchange for malls and cable TV.

Others conclude that the Islamists must be reacting to intolerable provocation, because otherwise, no one would act so outrageously.  They therefore blame Israel or the US — or the West in general — for causing the irrational behavior, and turn the villains into heroes of an understandable resistance.  They seem to feel that if the subjects of Islamic hatred would stop picking on the Islamists, the Islamists would be willing to live in peace and tranquility.  They often point to long periods of history where Islamic empires ruled without conflict, but they never seem to remember that the lack of conflict was entirely due to the fact that Islam had the upper hand, and that no one could resist them.

The most common, and simplest response, is apathy.  Like minimization and justification, apathy can be a form of denial.  It may be the most primitive and pernicious form, in fact.  “If I don’t relate to the problem, the problem doesn’t exist.”  At least until it’s too late.

“Denial is the earliest, most primitive, most inappropriate and ineffective of all psychological defenses used by man. When the event is potentially destructive, it is the most pernicious psychological defense, because it doesn’t permit taking appropriate action which might safeguard against the real dangers…. It is easier to deny reality, when facing it would require taking unpleasant, difficult or expensive actions.”
–Bruno Bettleheim

The minimizers and the justifiers are suffering from what psychologists call “cognitive dissonance”.  The reality is so unacceptable to them that they deny it, and seek explanations for Islamist behavior that fit better with their worldview.  What’s missing from this is an understanding that different cultures look at the world in different ways, and that as many have said, “No one is a villain in their own story.”  Islamists are behaving rationally in terms of what they believe and how they believe the world works.  It is only by recognizing this that we can understand — and predict — their actions.  It is only by recognizing this that we can respond appropriately to them.

Expecting Hamas to negotiate in good faith is irrational, because they don’t seek non-conflict.  Expecting any Islamist group to compromise is illogical, because compromise is of no use to them, believing, as they do, that they are destined to rule the world.

One of the reasons it is so hard for people to accept this is, once again, cognitive dissonance.  Because if it is the case, what can we do?  And indeed, we see the United States, the most powerful country in the world, utterly paralyzed in the face of the Islamists of ISIS.  While ISIS butchers and rapes and enslaves Christians, Yezidis, and Muslims who believe differently than they do, the US sits and does nothing.  Today, only two nations are willing to stand against the spread of Islamist violence and conquest: Israel and the Kurds.

My friend thanked me for my explanation, because things that had not made sense to her before finally did.  But I wonder how many others find the problem of Islamism, of which Hamas is only a small part, maddeningly confusing.  I hope this explanation will help.  Because there are things we can do to stem the tide of Islamism.  But not until we recognize what the problem really is.

About the Author
Lisa Liel lives in Karmiel with her family. She works as a programmer/developer, reads a lot, watches too much TV, does research in Bronze/Iron Age archaeology of the Middle East, and argues a lot on Facebook.
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