TCS Daily

My Thought Experiment

By Robert McHenry - January 5, 2007 12:00 AM

I usually avoid writing about international affairs because I am far, far from expert in the field but tend to have strong opinions nonetheless. For some folks this would be a recipe for disaster, but I am saved from suffering or causing any harm by the happy fact that I have no power or influence whatever. For this, let us all be thankful.

However, as I read about the latest episodes in the Palestinian Authority's unique form of constitutional convention (click here for just one example), a sort of thought experiment occurred to me. Now that you have been fully cautioned, I share it here with you: Suppose that by the application of some miraculous power the people of Israel were to agree to be transported instantaneously to somewhere else in the world, say, oh, New Mexico. (Assume that the people already in New Mexico are agreeable.) Then let ten years pass. What would then be the situations in New Mexico and in the place where formerly there was the state of Israel?

As for New Mexico, its population would be quadrupled to begin with and its Gross State Domestic Product tripled. After ten years, with the Israeli portion relieved of its present burden of defense spending and the cost of that wall (which they are actually building, unlike the one here, which, by the way, is in part inspired by a short fence south of San Diego that was built by - ha ha! - illegal aliens), my guess is that it would rival California in GSDP (in 2005, to give you a baseline, New Mexico tallied about 4% of the Golden State's output). It would also be a tourist (you should pardon the expression) mecca. And it would be peaceful.

And in Greater Palestine, or whatever it would be called? Do we foresee a stable regime, a flourishing economy, a happy people? Not so much. In Lesser Palestine, formerly known as Gaza, the result of being left alone to govern themselves has been chaos, featuring an impotent government and regular running gun battles in the streets between rival "political" parties. Evidence of actual governance, of civil society, of an economy, or of any real interest in having any of these, is scant to the point of invisibility. Given the deserted resources of Israel to play in, do we suppose that they would play nicer? How long would it take to wreck the industrial infrastructure left behind and turn it into primitive weapons and burned-out headquarters for a welter of gangs and minifactions? And, absent those Jews, what would they even be fighting over?

A few years ago one of Iran's leading clerics, Hashemi Rafsanjani, made a statement that he apparently thought was just awfully telling: "[T]he application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would produce minor damages in the Muslim world." What's grimly amusing is that, although Rafsanjani was apparently pointing to the geographical extent of the Muslim world, his claim works equally well as a kind of reverse Ozymandias boast: "Lo, we have not built anything worth destroying." (I distinguish here between building something and hiring something built by outsiders who know how.) And bear in mind that Iran is one of the more developed parts of the Muslim world, much more so than most of Arabia.

It is often noted that the existence of Israel has been very useful to the oligarchies of Arab and other mainly Muslim countries. They have had only to keep their populaces sufficiently aroused against the "Zionist entity" to deflect internal criticism of and opposition to their own stultifying regimes. Such criticism, if permitted to express itself freely, would surely have to include the question: What have you built?

Two more predictions arise out of my thought experiment: Ten years on, the utterly desperate chant "Death to America" would still be heard from those sad lands; and the BBC would still think it a cogent point.



Good article...
Interesting thought experiment, and very very true...we'd be lucky to get the population of Israel as immigrants here. However, i do have to disagree with one point. where you say:
"my guess is that it would rival California in GSDP (in 2005, to give you a baseline, New Mexico tallied about 4% of the Golden State's output).

Well, California has a GSDP of 1.5 Trillion, while Israel's is around 150 billion. That puts it at around 1% of California's... So to say that NM and Israels economy would together "rival" that of California is an fairly dramatic overstatement. thanks...

What a great idea!
This one's a slam dunk. They should all move to New Mexico.

Two words.... Holy Land
Yeah, not even worth thinking about.

Nice combination of articles today. One on people seeing only what they want to see in information and this.

So are you saying:

1. Islam is incompatible with a modern, tolerant, free society.
2. Muslims lead through misdirection and violence.
3. The Jewish people of Israel are superior to the Americans of New Mexico and radically superior to Muslims.

Do I have the meat of your article or is there more?
I'd just like to understand what someone could be thinking when they write a piece like this.

RE: Two words.... Holy Land
The answers to your questions are:

1. Yes
2. Yes
3. The majority of Israelis and Americans are just more civilized and realize that internal violence does not solve anything. The Palestinians destroy each other and produce nothing but more violence. Hopefully someday the Palestinians will grow up and find the path to civilized behavior.

Israel internally is a beutiful and peaceful country that would like nothing more than to be just left alone, instead they are constantly attacked and threatened by the Arabs.

Example: When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza they left behind high tech greenhouses valued at about $500,000 and tranferred these to the PA. The fine Gaza residents immediately looted and destroyed these greenhouses that would have provided an economic boost and food for the Palestinians. Nice hey?

TheOneLaw - Never harm another for benefit or pleasure and only expect the same of others.

My take away
1. Yes. Islam is not compatible with a tolerant, free society.

2. Leaders of Muslim countries use the religion for misdirection and coercion.

3. Given what the Jews, who purchased and developed the land, did in the Ottoman Empire, it could be argued that Jews in NM could make a few things happen as well.

4. Even if the Jews were magically wisked away and the state of Israel did not exisit in any Arab country, Arabs would still have a primitive, violent tribal society.

It was a typo. He meant NC, not NM.

your take.... is pretty weak
maybe you guys should preface islam with something like *radical* ? do you really think that Islam can be treated like the word Christianity (all encompassing) and be spoken of like this?
you guys obviously have in mind *one* type of *violent* Islam and assume all muslims are the same

there are christians out there just as scary as any muslim, or do you just want to keep your heads in the sand?

Speaking of pretty weak
Name on muslim-arab country that isn't embroiled in some religious and/or extremist/terrorist conflict; either external or internal.

Yeah, Islam/Muslim can be treated like Christianity as a reference. There are many Christian sects too and none are involved in the kind of vile and violent actions of many of the Islamic sects.

Yes, there are some scary Christian sects out there, but they remain only scary and worth keeping an eye on, not violently active and extremely murderous.

My suggestion
To all of you who feel this way, spend some time there.

I have been to the Middle East several times on business and pleasure.

Visit Mount Nebo in Jordan. There's a beautiful Orthodox church in nearby Madaba with some incredible mosaics. Some of the people I was with were wearing pretty obvious crosses. We had a great time.

I think you'd be surprised at how much *all* the people you are describing are the same. The Arabs on a whole are very well educated. Given the same opportunities we all want the same things.

You're just picking and choosing all the negative things from across the Muslim world and positing that the whole is the sum of these parts... and you're wrong.

Try Tripoli, Dubai, Bahrein, Casablanca, Istanbul, or Kuwait. They are modern and tolerant. The level of freeness in these places is open to debate.

accurate takes
Name one muslim country that is advancing, politically, socially, economically.

Name one major muslim leader who condemns the "radicals" as you name them.

Of the hundred or so hot spots in the world, name 5 in which muslims are not involved.

An ominous thought
"Given what the Jews, who purchased and developed the land, did in the Ottoman Empire, it could be argued that Jews in NM could make a few things happen as well."

I'm not sure I like the sound of that. If the Jews came to New Mexico, what kinds of things would they "make happen"?

name one...
how about the U.A.E.?

No Subject
didn't even Saddam renouce the radicals?
oh, but he doesn't count cause he wasnt a leader at that point
you guys are all about FUD... go edumacate yourselves

That is the best example
And that is sad. Actually Kuwait may be nearly as solid and with fewer internal terrorist and extremist problems.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have a lot of internal problems, but stay out of the regional frays, for the most part.

Jordan also does a good job all around, especially when you condiser who their neighbors are.

But none of these are willing to fully denounce terrorist actions and extremist groups. All have at least some internal problems with muslim factions, and all have had to deal with some level of extremist Muslim violence.

So again, name one that hasn't.

Still subject to the whims of a dictator
No matter how much money he puts into Dubai, if political power changes Dubai could be like Saudi.

What is the rule of law in Dubai or UAE?

Seems to me
you are the one needing the "edumacation".

Sadam paid the families of suicide bombers.
Is that renouncing radicals?

"The level of freeness in these places is open to debate."
That's the fear.

I lived in Jeddah for 3 years and worked directly with rank and file military.

Some are tolerant, some not.

But they can be easily led by the religion if someone wanted to pull their chain.

And the government is not well loved by the people.

Generalities and prejudices...
Of course, there is so much to know in human society that we need to group behaviors into general catagories of right and wrong. This is especially true when we deal with our children. One element of tribalism is the reasonable assumption that "strangers" are not to be trusted around those unable to defend themselves. So we teach our babies how to immediately recognize outsiders and we drill into them "don't talk to strangers", etc.

We really don't want the kids to be thinking too hard about whether this person or that might be dangerous. Color of skin. Clothing style. Manner of speech. We give them simple things to watch out for and we install prejudices. We also lie to them about Santa Claus.

Most people grow out of that Santa Claus business. But no one fully outgrows the biological tension regarding strangers. Prejudices are in us to stay. Religious leaders and military service instructors employ this fundamental behavior training. We compete against teams of athletes in uniforms with different colors and fans from different cities. We think of every other company in our industry as the enemy. We hate those guys. We will crush those guys.

Then we have the media. When we live out East the television makes us think that everyone in California is liable to be swallowed up by an earthquake. When you live in California earthquakes are really not much of a concern. But you think that everyone in Florida might be carried off into the sky by a Hurricane or that everyone in New England is freezing to death under mountains of snow. The truth is that terrible things do happen in the world but they are focused and intensified all out of context by the camera and "the bubble-headed-bleach-blonde who comes on at five. She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye. It's interesting when people die." (Don Henley).

Actually, there are 6 billion people in the world. Biologically and genetically we are identical. Statistically, 95% of these folks are normal, moderate and within two standard deviations off the Mean. But that other 5% (300 million people) are starting to get out there. This is a lot of people (equal to the entire population of the United States) and they can make a lot of trouble (or at least a great deal of noise).

Let's do some more math. You might agree that no more than 600,000 people worldwide are truly dangerous terrorist types. Individuals who, even given a better choice, would still want to sacrifice their own lives to make the rest of us as miserable as possible. Certainly, only 19 such guys were able to make a horrible statement in this regard. But it only takes two or three as Oklahoma City demonstrated. If all 600,000 were that crazed, then why have they not made their move, already? I'm going to say that there's maybe 600 such dangerous folks out there (at any snapshot of time) who have not yet acted. But who very probably will. Whether they are part of a movement or not. That is who we are afraid of. And they are spread out everywhere.

For you paranoid types, let's take that number up one order of magnitude to 6,000, if you like. There might be more than that who will carry signs and march in the streets chanting "Death to America!". But most of them just like a good riot, with television cameras rolling, and a wild party after the show wraps. Even most of the insurgents in Iraq now hit the deck fast when the shooting starts. And they would way rather be looking at reruns of Baywatch than the business end of an RPG.

Your 6 thousand out of 6 billion equals 0.000001 of the people. This means that .999999 of us are not the terrorists we are concerned about.

Most people don't want any such trouble. Our crazies are evenly spread throughout the world. Efforts of organize these people into terrorist movements must be detected and eliminated. But disrupting global society by accusing and persecuting entire cultures harms all of us.

They became prejudiced about us the same way we were told as children to be wary of strangers and to be good because Santa Claus (or Jesus) was always watching.

But we are doing most of the killing in this deal and they are doing most of the dying. Pretty much none of us are the bad guys they should worry about. And precious few of those we are killing are the bad people we are after. Really.

When I was a kid, the nuns had us thinking the Protestant children at the public school on the other side of the cyclone fence were all going to hell because they were not Catholics. If we even talked to them we might become contaminated by their enduring evil. And the kids born Catholic over there among them were the worst! We were taught to fear and to hate and we didn't know anything about Jews or Muslims. We were pretty much stuck with the Protestants.

One of my friends from South Carolina also had never seen any Jews growing up. He was comfortable with his prejudices regarding Blacks but he had a real problem with the Catholics when he went off to college. "I knew I hated them, but I couldn't tell which ones they were!"

We've spent $350 billion and counting...
...just to reduce Iraq to an ungovernable mess. And we've killed uncountable numbers of human beings in the process.

Is that a proportionate response?

Hardly, he funded them
Unless you are counting after we found him in his spider hole.

truely sad roy
one can't forget that roy loves socalist dictators.

How many?
"And we've killed uncountable numbers of human beings in the process."

You still think Iraq would be better living under the fear of Saddam?

At least now they have some hope that they might be able to join the free world.
Under the Baathists, they had NO hope.

But that is the liberal way is it not?

If you don't have any hope then you won't be disappointed.

'make happen'
Maybe they would build hydroponic greenhouses and rival CA for vegetable production.

Nice post
I think you're right.

There are the truly crazies... serial killers and the like.

There are the issue driven crazies... islamic terrorists, the unibomber, and Eric Rudolph.

They are everywhere in very small numbers. Picking out this group should be the goal of all of us.

Ok, here goes
1. Turkey, Tunisia, Bahrein

2. Here's a few links for condemnation:

3. Spain: Basque Separatists
Colombia: Leftist Guerillas
North Korea: Lil' Kim
Mexico: Oaxaca
Zimbabwe: Mugabe

It's a little tough because 1/5 of all humans are Muslim.

Can you name 5 where Christians are not involved?

How about 5 where whites are not involved?

How many artificial splits in humanity can we find?
How about 5 where lefties are not involved?

It takes more than a greenhouse
Oh, right. Maybe they could snap their fingers and make water appear.

Ever hear of the Rio Grande?
It runs through NM.

Someone knows who each of these guys are...
No one can tell me that the finite number of unbalanced crazies among us are unknown to their own families and the people in the towns where they grew up. If we were not all scattered out all over America and living next door to strangers some of this problem would go away.

However, as it is we let our kids, including the ones at risk of some such stupidity, interact freely with those who would use their weaknesses as weapons. If we depend on the government to keep track of this responsibility for us...the government will be ruthless about it and the government will still do a pretty poor job of it.

Absolutely 100% correct
At the risk of sounding racist (and is it?) the current Arab culture is a failure at anything but tyranny and anarchy. This is why I deflect criticism of Israel. It is not Israel that keeps the Arabs in a frenzy. Israel is merely a convienent target. Removed from the scene Arabs would turn on themselves like the fish on a wounded brethren. The solution? I do not know but I think divestiture from the mid east and then allowing them to feed upon themselves until they are full is likely the only solution. Maybe someday they will under go some sort of cultural reformation. If not then they shall ever live in violent turmoil.

to sk re your questions
I would answer yes to all your 3 questions. Especially number 1; give us an example of a country that contradicts it. But don't mention the usual example of Malaysia because they don't even have freedom of religion or speech there.

Brillian idea but......
if it really happened it would even further humiliate the arabs because they would see Isreal turn into another UN refugee camp, or like Beirut during their civil war. It would also mean a whole lot of envy in the States becaue the Israelis would get ahead without needing welfare.
Also the example re good muslim countries above is crap because none of those places have free speech, freedom of religion etc. Even in Jordan, one of the best, they still have honour killings allowed.

That's a stitch
In New Mexico that river's a puddle. They need that water for other uses. Your rio's not grande, it's pequeno.

Ever been to NM?
They use that river for many things.

Whose river did you say it was?
Yes, I've been in New Mexico. And I've found it has a regional character that's distinctively non-Israeli.

Let's go back to the original comment:

"Suppose that by the application of some miraculous power the people of Israel were to agree to be transported instantaneously to somewhere else in the world, say, oh, New Mexico. (Assume that the people already in New Mexico are agreeable.) Then let ten years pass. What would then be the situations in New Mexico and in the place where formerly there was the state of Israel?"

The river is already in use. Transplant five million Israeli Jews to a region that only holds two million people and you're going to encounter some problems. Maybe the New Mexicans are not going to start strapping on bomb vests, but they're going to express their displeasure some way or another.

distinctively non-Israeli.
What does that mean?

I have never been to Israel, but I have been to NM and lived in Tucson.

I think the weather is similar.

The local mexican culture is very family oriented, but very politically socialist with a tinge of the Spanish 'Don' system.

whow this is one for this site's trolls
Whow a Christian thinking Islam is bad, didn't see that one coming.

The western world has learnt the key is to drop religion pretty much altogether. The yanks think their still religious but only if it doesn't cost them anything, But mainly because if the bible not say what they want it to say they 1) ignore it, 2). change it, 3)Reinterpreted like only a nut ball can. There is no daylight at all between the three Abrahamic faiths when they are taken as read. All of them say there is a faith of peace and love and they are generally saying that while threatening you with violence.
6-7 years ago the moderates had the upper hand in both camps in Palestine / Israel and guess what they were sorting things out. That did not suit the red necks on either side, so the killing and the provocative acts were instigated to tear down the peace that was beginning build. Arabs have lived in that area for thousands of year in peaceful harmony no matter what they faith. Just about all the trouble has been fuelled by outsiders, Whether is was other Arab tribes, Zionist, Christians, Slavic or European conquerors the result has been the same.
Now wich one of these religions of love would this piece come from visit all the heathen: be not merciful to any wicked transgressors. Selah.
Hope you guesed right it’s in all of them.

Anyhow, the author has said it at the start he isn't an expert and it really shows.

hush the Nazi is talking again
What the hell would you know about "free speech, freedom of religion " you have show by your post's you do not believe in them. Like most nutters on the extremes you only believe in you right to these things not other people.

"6-7 years ago the moderates had the upper hand in both camps in Palestine / Israel"
Where is the evidence?

the 'ad hominum' is talking again
Forgetting the ad hominum insult, do you mean that there IS freedom of speech, rieligion, etc. in arab countries? Or do you mean it as free as the US and Israel? What happens in arab countries if you want to reounce islam and marry a christian? Also, when you say "on the extremes", do you mean that I'm an extreme libertarian? I consistently advocate for more freedoms on this site.

Not ominous at all...
unless you just have a knee-jerk fear of Jews combined with a distorted view of history.

But perhaps the words of Sheikh Yousef al-Qaradhawi, terrorist and lieutenant of bin Laden, can enlighten you on the horrors of Jewish progress: "We had the desert before our eyes but we didn't do anything with it. When they took over, they turned it into a green oasis."

Wow. What a horrid thought, eh?

Moving the Jews is a plan created by simpletons that will solve nothing. Such a victory for the forces of terrorism and extremism would have far reaching, and devastating, results. The problem was never with the location of the Jews but of the intolerance and barbaric nature of militant imperial Islam.

Apparently Roy doesn't have a problem with committing the same crimes he believes, without historical backing mind you, were committed on the Palestinians. Typical.

was a moderate? What audacious foolishness is this? Arafat was an international criminal who bilked his people for 100s of millions of dollars, while nurturing a culture of death and self-immolation. He should have hanged.

I didn't know it was already "a plan"
The thought of having five million anybodies swoop down onto a land of two million people with the intent of "transforming' it should be enough to give anyone pause.

But specifically with Israelis, there's the precedent they have set with forced relocations. If my country were invaded by a people with a recent history of ethnic cleansing I'd... I'd... probably file suit in a properly constituted court of law.

Not quite
Remember Pauled, that Jordan went to war to wipe out the PLO in 1970, resulting in the creation of the Black September movement. That's a pretty strong refusal to endorse terrorism.

So yes, in general it's true that most Islamic nations are something of a mess. So is most of Africa. Now, is that because of religion or is it because both are a post-colonial mess? Remember that a key purpose of colonial powers in Africa as well as in the Middle East was to make the new entities they created ungovernable by the indigenous population.

Interesting points
First off, I did not mean to infer that any of the nations I mentioned endorsed terrorism, in fact I was point out that they were forced to fight it and deal with it.

The 1970 mess in Jordan was internal (to begin with) and spread as they chased the Palestinians out of Jordan.

As for the reasons, I would say it is both. The post-colonial mess is made worse by the Islamic factional issues. Neither is a causation of the the other; they are independent issues that make a difficult situation even worse.

Roy loves a good thought experiment
Particularly the one where he floats the fantasy of the Israelis having "forced" the relocation of the Palestinians. Like most of his thought experiments it does not require a connection with reality.

I also like the timespan of 100 years being defined as a "swoop". Roy, you are a drama-queen.

And one minor correction:

>"If my country were invaded by a people with a recent history of ethnic cleansing I'd... I'd... probably file suit in a properly constituted court of law."

Or send your 15-year old kid into a food stand packed with explosives. Or how about shooting random missiles in the hopes of hitting some of their civilians?

An invasion is what was attempted by the Arab nations on the legal entity known as Israel. The people of Israel had a history with having ethnic cleansing being attempted on them, not with perpetrating it. Or perhaps you have read yet another (re)visionary historian who appeals to your brand of "logic"?

Quite right
on the terrorism comment. Fact is, Jordan is one of the few Islamic states that can be truly described as progressive.

On the second matter, to a certain extent,Islamic factionalism has been exacerbated by colonial decisions. As an example, I offer Syria. Originally part of the Ottoman empire, Syria fell to France's portion in 1919. It divided Syria into two parts, Syria and Lebanon. By keeping nearly all Syria's Christian population in a separate jurisdiction along with most of the coastal territory, France expected to retain Lebanon as a base for reconquest in the event of an Arab revolt. A similar situation persisted in Iraq, thanks to the British, who stitched separate Mesopotamian provinces together to form Iraq under the control of a small group appointed by them. Libya was the wholly artificial creation of Italy from two separate countries (?) Tripolitania and Cyrenica for which travel by land between them was impossible prior to the motor vehicle.

And last but certainly not least, was the deliberate fostering of Arab nationalism by Britain during WW1, only to frustrate it utterly in 1919 by giving their allies nothing from the seized territories of the Ottoman Empire.

So, I view the two forces as highly interconnected, with colonial policies having a great role in creating the factionalist mess left behind.

or perhaps he would just burn down their houses while they slept, and shoot them if they tried to flee.

I agree
But I still see it as two seperate issues; though perhaps slightly more interconnected that I tend to view it.

All of your descriptions of the partitions by colonial powers are apt and certainly created a significant portion of the mess that now exists. But the problems of Islamic factions is still, largely, a seperate issue.

Now I'm not talking the age old conflict between Sunni and Shia, nor the fact that it seems no one likes the Kurds in either Iraq or Turkey. I'm referring to the sub-factional hardliners who creat the terrorist groups and are involved in much of the violence throughout the middle-east, and beyond.

But I do agree that the "unnatural" borders created by the colonial powers helped create, to some extent, these sub-factions by forcing different groups together.

I fully agree on the repercussions of the post-WWI issue.

It becomes and interesting question
as to the degree to which the arising of fanatic sects of Islam such as Wahabbism arose out of tensions within Islamic society and the degree to which they were enhanced by first Ottoman empire suppression of various minorities and second by Western colonial intervention.

I agree with you that the ancient Sunni-Shia division is probably of less relevance than the factors we have discussed.

"But I do agree that the "unnatural" borders created by the colonial powers helped create, to some extent, these sub-factions by forcing different groups together."

Quite right. And also by taking relatively homogeneous groups and splitting off attractive territories, such as what Britain did in creating Kuwait or France did in creating Lebanon. Whole lot of gerrymandering going on, and none of it to the advantage of the indigenes.

What's truly ironic in all this is that most of the problem was created by the European powers (in terms of Western post WW1 intervention) but it's the United States which has incurred all the odium of both the present and to some degree the past by holding onto the lightning rod called Israel. Now, I don't for a minute advocate abandoning Israel. All I'm suggesting is that an undesired consequence of that necessary policy is that the United States has drawn onto it all of the anger that formerly was dispersed among a number of European nations.

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