Back in the late seventies when I started university, fresh from being at art college, like other students I was confronted with Societies Day. Which ones should I join? Well I decided to join loads of them! I thought this was one of the best ways of meeting people and networking. I joined the philosophy society - and from that came my lifelong interest in philosophical questions and the love of R.G. Collingwood's take on life - and I joined the writing society, participating in their journal YES. I was also a member of the Jewish Society and the Islamic Society (at the same time!). I was neither. I am by the way a humanist who is tolerant and respects peoples beliefs as long as they do not harm anyone physically or mentally. I enjoyed both societies. I learnt a lot about the Anglo-Jewish perspective. indeed it was something that was to preoccupy me for years - I can fully appreciate what is meant by the liberal genocide model! I also learnt much from the Islamic society. I understood for example that the region is much more complex than it was then and now described. I could also find great beauty and spirituality in the Koran - though I guess I prefer the new Age synthetic religion of Sufism which corresponds to the relationship Zen has to Buddhism - at least in my eyes - the non believer! What membership of all these societies provided me with - and I am ever grateful - is the capacity for tolerance. This is why in the post 9/11 age, I find myself at odds with many of those who see the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq as a war of right or justice. For example if, as I wrote before, the United States had acted differently shortly after 9/11 - there would be far fewer lives lost, and the confidence and trust in the region would be higher. If the US did not seek to define its reaction as a "war on terrorism" but had defined it as a criminal act, then perhaps it would have reduced the deaths. With regard to extremes in religion and politics - I find it helps in all cases to take them at their word literally. Here for example, those who are waging war or terror in the name of religion or a political ideology which they believe to be true or right - well ask them. Suppose everyone in the world was to convert to your faith. Would that satisfy you? It is an interesting question. I feel a lot of those who purport to be waging war in the name of God or this or that, are really just plain greedy for territory and power. Most religions have in their history tribalism and ethocentrism - whereby one ethnic group is viewed as better than another. So, ask anyone who supports combat in the cause of religion - ask them what happens afterwards. The worse thing that could have happened to the terrorists is that they are forced to form government. The Taliban which is not really a terrorist organization, ruled large tracts of Afghanistan. But it had to cut so many deals with the many tribes. Here I would have left Afghanistan completely alone. The Taliban would not have lasted very long before the tribes took power once more. As to Iraq and Palestine - if the US and Israel were out of the equation, both countries would be quickly devoured by the neighbours. In this respect Palestine is like Greenland that is ruled by Denmark. If they were granted full autonomy, they would need immediately some other country to defend their sovereign integrity - the coast line, borders and all the natural resources. Here is the greatest irony, Palestine cannot exist without Israel - and vice versa - because if Palestine were taken out of the equation, Israel would be more vulnerable to attack. By the way, there is not much solidarity in the Arab League - there are lots of disputes and long standing hatred for one and another. Much of this turns on religion, but the real source of discontent, is territory and natural resources. That is probably why Afghanistan with its fortune underground - is still of strategic interest, long after the Cold War has finished.
You might think I am cynical - however, it is a well-known fact that the now late leader of the PLO used the London flat of an Israeli Prime Minister when he stayed there. It seems sad that leaders "at war" can discuss and dine together in a civil manner in hotels - when the peoples of their nations are locked in a senseless and ultimately pointless conflict. As I said at the beginning - I learnt to love and tolerate the views of both sides - what a tragedy that few can tolerate my position. :-)