The Complexity Trap

In discussions around recent events in Israel/Palestine, as with the issue generally, there’s a common narrative about complexity. The situation is complex, nuanced, ‘both sides’… blah blah blah.

The history of the region certainly is complex (although I imagine every region is complex when you look into it). This, however, is the only area where we’re always reminded it’s so complex we can’t take a firm position. China has a rich history spanning millennia, and that’s never used as a reason to shut up and step back on commenting about the Uyghurs, is it? I’ve never seen anyone appealing to the complexity of the Middle East go on to outline any of it – to actually provide any of that nuanced context which we need before we can dare to conclude anything.

This appeal to information isn’t being used to clarify anything. Or explain anything. It’s instead an anti-information. There’s no suggestion of ‘here is the specific knowledge you lack, which could clarify this’, as would be expected in a normal discussion. Instead, it’s a bizarre claim that the whole thing is basically unknowable.

As James Butler put it:

[Edward] Said argues that Western writers frequently mystify the ME by suggesting its politics are so arcane, conducted among people so alien and different from us, only a tiny group of professional experts can possibly comprehend them at all. It is a means of political demobilisation.

As Michael Brooks explained so well, the situation is not very complex at all. The reality of the asymmetry between Israel and Palestine is so blunt that it’s laughable (and rather sick) to pretend otherwise. One side is an ethnostate doing settler-colonialism with advanced military hardware, backed by the most powerful states on Earth, and just attacked Al Aqsa during Ramadan. The other is an occupied people, with the right to armed resistance, using glorified fireworks which have a kill rate well below 1%.

What in the history of the region justifies the time white phosphorus was used? Eh? Grow up. I don’t know the history going back centuries. I can’t list the top ten exports or name all the political factions. I don’t need to know all that to see things that are blindingly obvious. That most of the people harping on complexity don’t know that stuff either, but simply don’t want their comfortable fence-sitting disturbed. That attacking places of worship is wrong. That if any of us lived in Gaza, we wouldn’t want to accept the abuse.

It’s impossible to make a reasonable argument that Israel is acting in a way we would ever accept if it was done to us. People are hesitant to even try, which is why they resort to hand-wringing about complexity instead. There’s nothing behind it. There’s no knowledge hiding there, only deliberate ignorance. Don’t let this foolish trap blind your moral clarity.

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