14th November 2003


From "The Economist" November 13th, 2003. The latest terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia have left at least 17 people dead, most of them Arabs from neighbouring countries.

Most of religious Islam is not a "top down" power structure, like for instance the Catholic Church.  If anything, each discipline of Islam (Sunni etc) is an oligarchy of Holy Men (Mullahs or whatever), similar to but less organized than most Protestant religious groups.  I envision it's structure as similar to the preachers in southern USA.  Those preachers acknowledge that their colleagues are men of religion, but nobody is supremo.  When I refer to a "Fundamentalist" Muslim, I refer to a Muslim who follows a Mullah or Sheik who refers primarily to the original (fundamental) teachings of the Prophet, and does not accept the moderating interpretations developed in the intervening fourteen centuries.  Mainstream Islam has a more pacific approach to cohabitation with the infidel world of the 21st century CE (Christian Era).

According to the histories, Mahommed was invited to reside in Medina by the inhabitants of that oasis because it was hoped that he could act as an arbitrator between the mutually hostile tribes there.  He was successful in attaining that objective, and he enshrined the procedures he employed as laws of Islam.  One of the laws he made was that Muslim states (tribes) are forbidden to attack other Muslim states.  Another governs revenge for a murder.  Unless agreed "blood money" is paid, only one life can be taken for a life.  Punitive damages are not permitted.

The recent attack in Arabia should therefore present religious problems for fundamentalist Muslims.  This was not an assassination of infidel Christians or Jews, but the assassination of followers of Islam from a foreign Muslim nation by Jihad warriors.  By my reading of Islam, such behaviour was specifically condemned by the prophet.  Of course I am not a Muslim, and am not qualified to argue that point, but I believe that, at the very least, fundamentalist clerics will be divided on the question.

Hence we have the potential for a turning point.  Unless fundamentalists take positive steps to disown the fundamentalist organization that supported that operation, then fundamentalist organizations as a group will lose credibility with Islam.  A cancer of uncertainty will develop.  Instead of growing, fundamentalist Islam will lose direction and wither.


Israel is building a wall, ostensibly to make it more difficult for terrorists to cross from Palestine to Israel.   This brings to mind two other walls, that in Berlin and that in China.  The Berlin wall was designed to stop emigration.  The Chinese wall was designed to keep Mongol looters out.  Both had qualified success.

We have mutual irredentists.   The Israeli government permits Israelis to return & settle anywhere in the promised land, which includes occupied Palestine.  Arafat refused to sign the peace accord hammered under the auspices of Bill Clinton because he insisted that displaced Palestinians should be allowed to settle in Israel.

The Palestinians most recent concern is that the Israelis are building a wall that is infringing on "their" side of the UN demarcation line.  The Israelis excuse is (a)
that they want to protect new settlements and (b) that geography (ease of building around mountains & rivers) is a determining factor.

The Palestinians' concern of a land grab has been supported by many nations of Europe, and even by Israel's major ally, the USA.

Perhaps it is time for the Israelis to reconsidered their position.  Many historians believe that a primary cause of the second world war as the unjust peace imposed on Germany, particularly the French seizure of the Ruhr.  The Israeli wall would be equally effective in stopping terrorists if it were built wholly on Israeli territory.  Of course a few settlers might be less secure.  However this fence will be seen as a boundary fence, and nothing makes neighbours more volatile than the unfair placement of a fence in a boundary dispute.

Like the retreat from Sinai, this is an occasion when the Israelis should bend.

To allay the main discontent, but only in a manner that will certainly produce further discontents can hardly be called successful.  Therefore the sage behaves like the holder of the left-hand tally, who stays where he is & does not go round making claims on people.  "For he who has Te is the grand almoner, he who has not Te is the grand perquisitor.  "It is heavens way, without distinction of persons, to keep the good perpetually supplied".
Tao Te Ching.