If you’re feeling confused about the significance, roots and ramifications of the violence now racking the Middle East, read this brief, piercing essay by NYU professor Noah Feldman.

Noah Feldman in the N.Y. Times:

… The catch for Israel is that, taken too far, the strategy of making all Palestinians and all Lebanese pay for the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah may well backfire. Destroying the economic prosperity that had begun to return to Lebanon is likely to generate fresh hatred of Israel, and Palestinians under the gun have in recent years tended to become more radicalized, not less. Provided that democratic institutions in Palestine and Lebanon remain intact, the long-term success of Israel’s campaign will probably depend on how the Palestinian and Lebanese electorates evaluate all that has happened. They will be doing so against the backdrop of deeply conflicted feelings: Hamas and Hezbollah may have sparked this round of fighting, but the bombs raining down on their cities and the soldiers in their bases still come from Israel, and no one likes to be bombed.

Democracy means that you cannot blame someone else for troubles caused by your own government. That is a comparatively new lesson in the region, and whether it is learned or not will determine the prospects for democracy itself there. But dodging missiles and running from tanks is not the ideal circumstance for rational reflection on the nature of self-rule. As in Iraq, what is especially risky and worrisome about democratization through destabilization is that it comes accompanied not by peace but by the sword. In this dangerous environment, the costs of democracy ? the weakness of government, the uncertainty, the violence ? can be felt everywhere. The benefits of democracy, though, are barely palpable.



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