Power vs. Moral Authority: Getting
to the Value-Roots
In an earlier reflection
(July 29, 2000), I noted that politicians appealing for
compromise were not apt to be successful in the Middle
East, where deeply held values were at stake. The reflection
may be captured by the question, whose values are to be
sacrificed (or can be sacrificed) in a just solution?
Events since that reflection have demonstrated the importance
in ethics and policy of deeply-held, historical values
and the futility of applying political skill that ignores
I have watched the news reports and analysis
for some significant treatment of the values at issue
in vain. At the risk of oversimplification, let me advance
two values-laden historical considerations that lie at
the heart of the Middle East.
First, the religion-values embodied in the
Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif, which when visited by
Ariel Sharon served as a catalyst to violence. Second,
the notions of Israel as the land promised by Yahweh to
the Jews, Israel as the site of Christ's message, and
the culmination of the monotheistic message in the Koran
The religion-values of the Temple Mount.
There are two major Muslim sites on the Temple Mount:
the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa mosque. The Dome
of the Rock covers the site of the First and Second Jewish
Temples and what many believe to be where Abraham was
called to sacrifice his son, Isaac. In Jewish belief,
this site will be the location of a Third Temple when
the Messiah comes to reign.
In Muslim belief, this is also the site
of Mohammed's nighttime ride to heaven while he apparently
slept in Mecca. Omar, a Caliph and companion of Mohammed,
captured the then-Christian city of Jerusalem and the
Temple Mount (which was used as a garbage dump) after
a two-year siege in A.D. 636, during the early expansion
of Islam. He wisely established Al-Aqsa as the site for
Muslim prayer rather than the Temple site itself. As such,
it is the third holiest site in Islam, after the Kabaa
in Mecca and the tomb of Mohammed in Medina.
Islam as the Successor to Judaism and
Christianity. The profound significance of this site
is to be found in the broader notion of Yahweh's and Allah's
commands to the Jews and Muslims, specifically. Israel,
historically, is the promised land of the Jews. Also historically,
they were driven out of the promised land by the Romans,
who also destroyed the Second Temple in AD 70.
Some five hundred years later, the Archangel
Gabriel relayed to Mohammed that he, Mohammed, was the
seal of the line of Prophets that began with Abraham and
included Moses and Jesus. Islam was to correct the errors
of Judaism and Christianity and proselytize and administer
the correct message of the monotheistic God, Allah. Indeed,
in its earliest practices, Muslims prayed not in the of
Mecca, as they do now, but toward Jerusalem.
Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of Eastern European
descent converted to Judaism) did not begin to return
to the Holy Land in numbers until the 20th century. Following
the horror of the Holocaust, Palestine was partitioned
by the United Nations to provide a homeland for the Jews,
and Israel declared its independence in 1948.
The Middle East Dilemma. That the
United Nations had the power to impose a solution
in a region is undeniable. That it was done against the
wishes of the majority of people who resided in the area
is also undeniable. The state of Israel exists. The people
who see themselves as displaced Palestinians exist. These
are the protagonists.
There is probably no greater example of
the difference between political power and moral authority
than the creation of the state of Israel.
As a Native American, I have a feel for
the Palestinian cause for the creation of the United States
was at the expense of my people. Also, I have a feel for
the desire of people to return to their roots. Here too,
it was ultimately an issue of political power over moral
authority, though there was frequently an appeal to "manifest
destiny." Indeed a United States Supreme Court decision
in favor of my people, the Cherokee, was expressly ignored
by the U.S. government leading to our trail of tears in
the early 1800s.
The creation of the United States is not
apt to be reversed any time soon. Certainly not by the
Native Americans alone. At what point, then, does power
and the passage of time trump values and sense of history?
When does a people acquiesce in its loss of identity without
losing its sense of self? At point does the passage of
time turn an ethical problem or
dilemma into an ethical condition.
Until these historical value-facts are addressed,
a solution based largely on compromise is highly unlikely.
Until then, the question remains, whose values are to
be sacrificed (or can be sacrificed) in a just solution?
Kenneth W. Johnson
Comments or suggestions