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When Religion Refuses to Go Away

In The Paradox of Liberation, the political theorist Michael Walzer examines how secular movements for national liberation from colonial rule, after achieving success, have been challenged by movements for return to religious tradition. He focuses on three examples: Algeria, India, and Israel. In his review, Yehudah Mirsky argues that the paradox is even more profound than Walzer acknowledges:

The paradox of liberation is not just that the old ways are cherished by the people whom the liberators seek to set free; it goes deeper than that. Secularism, certainly secular revolution, is not a transparent visage of the plain sense of things. It is a chapter in the history of the pursuit of ultimacy that we in the modern world call religion. The revolution in fact must rely on the very cultural sources it seeks to overcome.

[Thus] secular Zionism was of course a revolution against the path that Jewish history had taken in millennia of exile, but it was acutely dialectical. It was no simple casting-off; rather it was a recasting, a reworking of the tradition—a reinterpretation whose shape and form came out of deep currents and recesses in the tradition itself. . . .

Zionists sought to create a new Judaism on the embers of the old. By draining the traditional religious terms of their transcendent reference, they were able to harness the rhetorical and spiritual power of religious language to their enterprise, and in so doing to argue—often persuasively—that while they were breaking with rabbinic Judaism, they were reconnecting to its original pre-exilic form in which people, faith, and land were unified. That gave them the superior claim to be Judaism’s rightful heirs. . . .

And so, [in the 1970s], . . . new generations of Religious Zionists decided to lay hold of the Zionist movement as a whole, and took the religious language that Labor Zionism had made into a functional tool for a political program and re-infused it with its classical religious meaning. . . . Not only were Religious Zionists re-enchanting the national enterprise but—precisely because of the phase of disenchantment that had gone before—the re-enchantment now had special power.

Read more at American Interest

More about: Algeria, India, Michael Walzer, Religion & Holidays, Religion and politics, Religious Zionism, Secularization, Zionism

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen