As the Israel-Palestine conflict lurches insanely towards religious war, provoked in large part by politically motivated attempts to force a change in the status quo on the Temple Mount. there’s this very interesting interview by Orly Noy at +972 with Supreme Sharia judge of the Palestinian Authority Dr. Mahmoud al-Habash. In the interview, Al-Habash stands out as a voice of religious reason and moderation but somewhere near a tipping point on the verge of something violent and extreme. About the current and dangerous dust-up over access to the Noble Sanctuary or Temple Mount and the larger conflict over Palestine and Israel reason would entail making a sharp distinction between history, religion, and politics. You can read the interview here.
Al-Habash points out the urgent need to keep these things separate. Once we mix things up we get to a terrible place in which compromise is impossible, the ultimate logic of which is a religious war that makes no distinction between populations. He says, “I am not interested in mixing the two issues. There is a religious issue, a historic issue, and a political issue. I can have a discussion on religion with clerics alone. I cannot have a historical discussion, because I am not a historian. But we must talk about the political issue.”
I’m of mixed mind on this. Al-Habash’s point recommends itself for the pragmatism it brings to the table. History and religion complicate and exacerbate the conflict, and it makes sense to set them apart, particularly in light of recent attempts to restore old claims on the basis of liberal right (in this case, the “right” of religious Jews to pray at the Temple Mount). This logic of separation is what a political scientist or a policy wonk might recommend. On the other hand, there are limits to a compartmentalizing approach to (this) conflict in which the human elements figured by religion and history are simply shunted aside. It’s necessary but insufficient to simply say that there are two competing and irreconcilable historical and religious narratives.
At a certain point Muslims and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis will have to integrate core elements of the other narrative into their own. The complex and asymmetrical conflict over shared space and homeland would require forms of mutual recognition that allow people to see each other as opposed to simply looking through and past each other. My own view is to suggest that the way to thread the pragmatic needle presented by al-Habash is that once the political decision is made on the basis of a mutual human interest in the here and now, the broken historical and religions connections would be easier to repair in a more or less satisfactory way . While it might probably be the case that these kinds of dynamic are too circular for the kind of simple distinction-making offered by al-Habash, it’s also probably the case that he’s right. With human life hanging in the balance, the political always has to come first in real time, even as the past and the future hang always over the present like acrid smoke.