words in political discourse are used unquestioningly,
as if they represented a black or white situation,
e.g., war or no war. However, in many instances fuzzy
political notions, like war and gradations of war,
are often more appropriate and revealing.
year at a social event in London, an American diplomat
answered a question about the war on Iraq with a sneering
the war in Iraq already started (1). It
was impossible to get this gentleman to clarify his
remark, but it does suggest that some concepts used
in everyday discourse may be misleading if used as
black or white concepts instead of fuzzy ones. The
US and UK, have continually bombed Iraq for the past
ten years, imposed devastating sanctions under a UN
guise, and so on. In ordinary discourse, it is generally
understood that war in Iraq hasnt broken out
yet, but this is clearly deceptive. A more useful
interpretation is to utilize a fuzzy war classification
of the intensity of war on Iraq; during the past decade,
it may be described as a low intensity
war, and maybe ratcheting up to a medium intensity
war in recent months. The importance of this distinction
is that a low-level conflict may not register on the
political or media radar screen in the US, but it
certainly has devastating consequences in Iraq. For
this very reason activists may not react as quickly
as the situation merits to reduce the civilian suffering.
reason to utilize a fuzzy concept for war is that
policymakers themselves have moved in this direction.
As an example, former US Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright and some other well-known figures are known
to be admirers of von Clausewitz, the pseudo-scientific
Prussian war strategist, and are perhaps better known
as neo-Clausewitzians. She once stated: We are
talking about using military force, but we are not
talking about a war... I think that this is an important
distinction (2)-she has made war into a fuzzy
concept. Neo-Clausewitzians view wars in utilitarian
terms, and understand that there are gradations of
war that are dependent on technology and the possibilities
to intimidate an opponent. It is perfectly accepted
within such circles to think of war, or just enough
war, to reach their aims. The Reaganites affinity
in the 1980s for the low-intensity conflict
concept comes to mind. If policymakers think in these
fuzzy terms, then it behooves the activist community
to think in similar terms.
means for war also have become fuzzy. While in the
past sword or cannon defined the implements of war,
now other implements are wielded that fit in to the
more complex nature of modern warfare. Some measures
may not constitute weapons of war in and of themselves,
but they also have devastating effects. IMF, World
Bank or WTO policies are some of the more obscure
formal instruments that cause capital flight, serious
currency devaluations, and even famines - countries
can be brought to their knees without a shot being
fired. The armory of the Albrights or Rumsfelds of
this world is varied, containing what erstwhile may
have been considered innocuous implements.
fact that the US Congress voted to remove itself from
having a final say in the declaration of war on Iraq
is also insignificant if war is a fuzzy concept. War
is already being waged under the radar screen. Either
its current intensity is very low, or its means are
not conventional, so that to wait until Congress gives
a green light for the real fireworks to begin is immaterial
- most of the casualties will die beforehand in any
case. The only way Congress could have a meaningful
role in controlling the warmongers is if it intervened
much earlier - when not even a shot had been fired.
However, it is difficult to countenance such intervention.
Military strategists talk in terms of ladders
of escalation, and Congress may step in just
at the last step on the ladder.
as war should be viewed as a fuzzy concept, we should
view peace, the opposite side of this coin, as fuzzy
too. If the intensity of war is medium,
then one cannot expect peace to be more than at the
same level. It is simply erroneous to think that if
a few conditions change, then true peace
will break out. If we admit to using a fuzzy term
for peace, then there is an obvious follow up question:
what type of peace?
clear example of the importance of fuzzy political
discourse can be found in Israel/Palestine today.
Three Israel political parties have already openly
called for the implementation of transfer,
i.e., the obscene euphemism for the mass expulsion
or ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. Unofficially,
many more Israeli politicians approve of this, e.g.,
by attending seminars, etc., on this issue. An Israeli
academic, Prof. Illan Pappe, has stated recently that
the policy of transfer is a centrist political position
in Israel today. Activists may be lulled into downplaying
the possibility of an expulsion, i.e., a Nakba
II, perhaps because the horror of the situation
makes us want to think that it is highly improbable.
This happens to be Amnesty Internationals position
on this issue, and thus it doesnt seem to think
that a statement or position on this issue is necessary
the fuzzy version of transfer is far more
useful in assessing what is going on. Every day houses
are destroyed, neighborhoods bulldozed, people killed,
and so on. Armed with a fuzzy interpretation, one
can only conclude the policy of transfer
has already begun. It may not be at the high
levels as encountered in Kosovo, or Palestine itself
in 1948, but one could perhaps rank the current ethnic
cleansing as low to medium intensity.
Once again, this does not register in the political
discourse in the US, and the US media will not recognize
it as a major event; but for the Palestinian population
that has endured massive repression for decades, only
to see it intensified in the past two years, this
is an ongoing disaster. On January 16th the village
of Al-Daba in the Qalqilya district will be flattened
by the 60-ton American-made armored Caterpillar D-9
bulldozers (4). The inhabitants of the town will have
to endure the bitter cold in tents - if they are allowed
in. This is ethnic cleansing in slow motion, a ratcheting
up of ethnic cleansing to a medium level.
How else can one categorize such actions?
are also some nontrivial implications of the fuzzy
terminology on the political discourse within Palestine.
It is convenient to use shorthand terms to describe
the situation; sometimes this is helpful, but in the
current situation in Palestine, it is counterproductive.
The Palestinians have borrowed terms coined during
the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. One
often hears references to Israeli apartheid
measures implemented against Palestinians. For some
time Israeli planners actually toyed with apartheid
policies, but that has given way to the ethnic cleansers.
It is clear that the intent by Israelis is to create
conditions that will facilitate the mass expulsion
of the population. On the other hand, apartheid implied
a separation of people, a dependent black economy,
and that there is a certain acceptance of a demarcation
line between two societies - the Bantustans were supposed
to have boundaries. The term apartheid may be too
static for a historical condition that wasnt
as acute and serious as the situation in Palestine
today. In the current context, the borders are being
constantly redrawn by settlers and the army, and it
is perhaps better to jettison the apartheid concept
altogether in the Palestinian context - it is long
overdue. In its place, there is a need to coin a new
Palestinian-specific term like genocide in slow
motion. Whatever new term is used, it needs
to be understood as a fuzzy concept.
crimes and crimes against humanity are concepts that
also would benefit if interpreted in a fuzzy context.
The risk with waiting for crimes to occur on a massive
scale is that nothing may be done to stop horrendous
acts when done on a lower scale in the meantime. War
crimes are in fact being committed in Israel/Palestine
today - the distinction, is that they may be conducted
at a medium level. Policymakers are acutely
aware of a threshold they can get away with without
significant international scrutiny or pressure. Likewise,
the newly instituted International Criminal Court
will not institute an investigative team in this matter
because there are legal reasons why the ICC may not
have jurisdiction; it may also be because the crimes
arent thought to exceed an unspoken threshold.
There is no official UN body collecting data on Israeli
war crimes today!
danger with viewing crimes against Palestinians and
the war in Iraq as on or off conditions is that activists
will wait too long before acting on the severity of
the situation. This is perhaps an intended reason
behind the slow escalation of the measures taken against
the Palestinians. By staying below a given threshold,
which itself may be increasing, the sordid nature
of the actions taken remains outside the common political
discourse or the media. Certainly, the US regime couldnt
get away with attacking Iraq a year ago, but it has
carried out low-level operations, like throwing a
500kg concrete-filled bomb into a school.
emergence of Fuzzy Logic as a mathematical concept
has itself had an impact on philosophy and engineering
in recent times. Control engineering was revolutionized
by looking at the world in overlapping shades of gray.
On the political front, the most important implication
for us today is that fuzzy concepts of aggression
require gradual but pervasive action when facing changes
in the underlying state of the world. The alternative
is to view the world as black and white, with the
consequence that action often comes too late and is
ineffective. In other words, it is necessary to act
based on a perceived level of violence today instead
of delaying action to the point where the threat of
all-out war or genocide may render late responses
Private communication; the US diplomat wishes to
remain anonymous. He also insisted on retrieving
his business card after I asked him if I could quote
 Andrew J. Bacevich, Policing Utopia,
The Military Imperatives of Globalization,
The National Interest 56 (summer 1999) 7. There
is another useful treatise about this concept: BM
Blechman and SS Kaplan: Force Without War:
US Armed Forces as a Political Instrument;
 Discussion conducted with Donatella Rovera
in Oct. 2002, where she was asked if AI would issue
a statement about the impending threat of transfer.
On January 16, 2004 she stated: In October
2002 AI did not feel there was an imminent risk
of mass expulsion/forcible transfer. We continue
to monitor the situation and, needless to say, our
assessment is subject to change depending on developments.
There hasnt been a statement yet.
For more information on AI check: www.counterpunch.org/rooij1031.html.
 Dr. Robert Younes, Washington Report
on Middle East Affairs, Press release, Jan. 14,
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