Looking for Answers

E-mail Father Jonathan

July 21, 2006

My in-box filled up quickly in response to my latest post on the violence in the Middle East. Whenever I write on issues of this prominence, I know the interpretations of my words will be incredibly diverse. We are so accustomed to labeling people, putting people in boxes, and jumping to conclusions about what they might really mean, that we often fail to examine carefully what has actually been said and base our critiques accordingly.

You will see in the e-mails below, some of you are convinced I am a “liberal,” while others are equally concerned with my “neo-conservative” leanings. Regular readers of this blog know I don’t fit well into either of the two camps. I try to base my analysis on ethical principles that don’t always fit nicely into partisan platforms.

I hope these messages and my responses to them encourage all of you to continue to look for answers to the very complicated situation in the Middle East.

Dear Father Jonathan,

Thank you for your recent piece titled, Opportunistic Killers. I read it with interest, but also with some trepidation that you would lambaste Israel for the civilians the Israelis are killing as they attempt to cripple Hezbollah.

The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians is a crime against humanity, and the Islamic extremists and their sponsors in Syria and Iran are guilty of that sin, many times over. In contrast, the inadvertent killing of civilians by the Israelis is a different matter. They are targeting the terrorists, who in their cowardice hide among the civilians because one of their goals is to paralyze their enemies’ ability to respond because those enemies value innocent life, unlike the terrorists.


RESPONSE: David, thank you for your message, and for your kind words, some of which I didn’t post here. Your e-mail brings up several good points, but one in particular worth highlighting — the idea that my article lambasted Israel for the killing of Lebanese civilians. As you will see from other e-mails, some readers understood the exact opposite, that I was absolving Israel from any responsibility in the matter. What I said was Israel is the only party capable of measuring its actions. The terrorists do not act rationally. Israel has a responsibility to act with restraint in proper proportion to the threat and in a way that limits, to the greatest degree possible, civilian casualties.

Hello Father,

Israel has unfortunately gone far beyond "tit for tat" justice...they have murdered 300 civilians in Lebanon and have lost 30 of their citizens. It appears that Israel has a well-oiled killing machine being aimed at innocent Lebanese.

The indiscriminate bombing of civilians is a war crime...both sides should be prosecuted at the end of this madness.

Our government's continued support for Israel's unbridled massacre of Lebanese Christians and Muslims is unconscionable. These "policies" are creating new extremists every day in the Middle East. When will we learn?


RESPONSE: Nancy, your last paragraph allows me to comment on the creation of new extremists. Are the policies of Israel and the United States to blame? It is a simplistic question and invites simplistic solutions. I like to think of it in a different way. Because the hatred of terrorists is based on radical Islamic “theology,” we cannot expect a change in political policy to fix the problem in its entirety. A problem of an ideological nature must be solved ideologically. If moderate Muslims are unable to win over the hearts of Muslim youth, the plague of terrorism will continue. Look below for a comment from a Muslim women in the United States who gives an interesting perspective.

Father Jonathan,

Thank you very much for the response. I know you are very busy. Unfortunately I'm no ambassador or scholar, and I don't own any radio stations or television stations, so I can only spread my word as my fellow Muslims do — one person at a time. Nobody would love better than me to be able to have direct words for Hamas, Al Qaeda, and Hezbollah to be heard about the defamation they have caused Islam. On the other hand, Muslims throughout the world need to remember that it is God who is our judge and not the media or mankind. He knows our hearts, our faith and intentions, and those who have taken his word and his name in vain will have to answer to him. God bless you Father John, and may God bless EVERYONE in the Middle East who is suffering at this time, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine alike.


Dear Father Jonathan,

I read your article on the opportunist killers. One thing I don’t understand is the silence of the Muslim clerics that aren’t fanatics. Are there any? Why don't they speak out if they don’t agree with the messages coming out of places like Iran? Are they afraid, or does their silence speak volumes about what these people really believe?

— Frank (Buffalo, NY)

RESPONSE: Frank, what a great point! Yes, the silence is deafening. The reasons are complex. Perhaps the article I wrote titled “A Peaceful Koran” will shed some light.

Dear Father Jonathan,

Your latest blog was right on except for one thing. The world needs to demand an immediate dismantlement and withdrawal of Hezbollah: not an eventual withdrawal.

Steven (Los Angeles, CA)

RESPONSE: Steven, I wish it were so easy. I purposefully used the word “eventual” because the complete dismantlement of Hezbollah at this moment would require the destruction of Lebanon and the killing of many more thousands of innocent civilians.

Dear Fr. Jonathan,

Great post (as always), and a great analysis on the current situation with respect to the (so-called) religious influences impacting it.

For me, what complicates the situation is the rather messy political process that brought about the creation of the State of Israel, as well as the current and historic treatment of Palestinians by the Israelis (including the long-term imprisonment of those Palestinians that originally motivated Hamas and Hezbollah to take Israeli soldiers prisoners so that they could get them released).

The Islamic radicals make it easy to take an anti-Palestinian stance and to feel sympathetic towards the Israeli's cause, but the situation is more complicated than that.

The only long-lasting solution for the territory, in my opinion, would be to have a unified (democratic) country of Israeli and Palestinian people living together. Only those who are prepared to accept this and work towards this deserve any sympathy and political support.

God bless, and keep up the blogging!

— Peter (Canada)

RESPONSE: Peter, you uncover another element of the conflict. Because terrorist organizations operate through guerrilla-like warfare, countries on the defense must make very difficult decisions. The prisons the United States operates to detain enemy combatants and the Israeli prisons are prime examples. Israel knows it is detaining a mix of guilty and innocent Palestinians. It needs to continue evaluating its procedures to eliminate injustices while at the same time defending itself from people who wish to do great harm to its people.

Father Jonathan,

I want to speak to you from the depths of my heart and tell you I was very disappointed at comments I read that have come forth from the Vatican such as this one:

"The right of defense on the part of a state does not exempt it from its responsibility to respect international law, particularly regarding the safeguarding of civilian populations."


RESPONSE: Thomas, I know how confusing all of this can be, and I can tell you are a very honest person. The words you quote are from Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican’s Secretary of State. The Vatican here is not telling sovereign states how to run foreign policy, nor giving a complete analysis of the current situation, but rather laying out principles for application. It has both condemned Hezbollah’s actions and called Israel to respond in proper proportion.

Until Monday,

God bless, Father Jonathan

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