General UK Media

The Murder of Self-Awareness – Hamas’ abuse of the Palestinian People

This is a guest post by Mitnaged

It is impossible for a journalist not to have biases, but the mark of an ethical journalist is to be sufficiently aware and not to let them enter what he/she reports. If this cannot be avoided then the journalist should state those biases openly so that the reader can make up his/her mind as to the extent they influence what is written.

The Guardian’s journalists, and CiF’s anti-Israel stable in particular, appear not to notice the extent to which their biases influence what they write.  Indeed, in many cases it seems that they deliberately allow their biases to influence their work.   I have written elsewhere about cognitive dissonance, which I believe is the reason for the persistence of Jew- and Israel-hatred on CiF regardless of the objective and verifiable evidence which refutes all haters’ arguments for holding onto it.  However that article merely scratched the surface – there is much much more.

For example, another strand of this rigid and persisting hatred of Israel and its population, and often of Jews generally, might be the over identification by the haters with those who they perceive to be the underdogs, to the extent that the haters adopt the attributions of those underdogs about the causes of their distress.

The perennial belligerent self-pity of successive Palestinian governments has undoubtedly rubbed off on their people, in spite of the fact that Palestinians received in the order of $550 million for 2008 in humanitarian aid from the rest of the world (see also here and here) .  Accompanying this, and no doubt carefully stoked by Hamas’ propaganda machine or the fear of Hamas, is the exaggerated sense of entitlement we see exhibited so often by Islamists.

Hamas and Fatah before it, as well as the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, believe that they are entitled to such aid because they are who they are. There is no indication from them that they recognise that they are at least partly (some would argue mostly) responsible for the parlous state of their economy and could do much to improve it.  Worse, they seem to be incapable of realising that their current course of action – terror against Israel – not only is not working, but is making matters much, much worse for their people.

What makes such people persist in a view of the world which actually does them harm?  Part of their rigidity may well be because they cannot bear the discomfort of having to deal with cognitive dissonance caused by argument and proof that such a world view is wrong, but a good deal of it arises, I believe, from the fact that such people are stuck at the egocentrism stage of their psychological and emotional development.

Egocentrism which endures beyond early childhood may be defined both a moral limitation and a cognitive one. Morally egocentric people are fixed only on their own thoughts and needs and consistently fail to take into account for the needs and intentions of others in making their decisions about how to act.  Different from this is egocentrism as a cognitive limitation:  people with cognitive egocentrism have neurologically-based difficulty ”reading” others’ mental states and considering events from another person’s perspective.   They also lack empathy.

Toddlers and young preschoolers are egocentric because they are not developed enough and lack the cognitive resources to see the world from alternative perspectives.   However, successive Palestinian governments have exhibited both moral and cognitive egocentrism as evidenced in their decision-making and their treatment of their own people as well as the cause and effect attributions they make in public about the mess into which they have got their people.

Richard Landes highlights this handicap of the Arab/Muslim mindset.  The second link on his page is to an interview with a UN representative of the Arab League whose reply to a perfectly apposite question about why Hamas does not stop shelling southern Israel, looks at first as if it evidences the reaction to the cognitive dissonance I have referred to elsewhere, but of which he appears not to be aware. I also believe that the UN representative could resort to the excuse he gave because he is stuck in the moral and cognitive egocentrism I refer to above, and which, in an adult, is a handicap.

More recently, cognitive egocentrism has been placed within another paradigm, that of Theory of Mind. A person has a fully developed theory of mind when s/he is able to evidence at least the following:

  1. That s/he knows that she and other people have minds, ie that they have thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires, intentions, and the like.

  1. That s/he is able to understand her/his own thoughts and feelings, and infer other people’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires, and intentions from their behaviour (including what they say) with reasonable accuracy.

  1. That s/he is disposed to use this information about other people’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires, and intentions in making decisions about how to act in social contexts. In particular, s/he is able to see the world from the perspective of other people.

It may be that Islamists and their fellow travellers are developmentally stuck and lack theory of mind. This is certainly evidenced in the video excerpt above of the interview with the Arab League representative to the UN, where he assumed that his excuse for the continued shelling of southern Israel from Gaza would be accepted unquestioningly, although he is not a jihadi.

The failure to develop a theory of mind comes about from stuckness at the egocentrism phase of development. People can become stuck there because of neurological factors, such as brain injury, or because of gross abuse in their formative years.   Here one has to ask about the motivation for and the effects of programming children to accept such abuse, a state of affairs adopted wholesale by Hamas in its kindergartens and schools (see here ).

There is a growing body of evidence, which shows that emotional and other abuse can also affect the physiology of the brain and its capability to lay down the synaptic connections which will result in successful cognitive development, including the capability to move beyond the cognitive egocentrism phase.  According to Seigel, 1995 and 1996, the child’s sense of the self in interaction with others will be severely impaired in cases, for example, of familial child abuse.  For these reasons, the deepest sense of self awareness, of core consciousness, may be profoundly influenced by early experiences in infancy and childhood.   (Author’s note:  Given this and other research it is reasonable to suggest that this “deepest sense of self-awareness” – from which develops empathy and a theory of mind – are seriously compromised in those Palestinian children exposed to Hamas “death games” and cartoon videos praising martyrdom in Gaza and the West Bank,).

It is almost a given that the abusers themselves lack any theory of mind or capability for empathy and doubtless for the same reasons, otherwise they could not do what they do.   They have an instrumental approach to these children and to anyone else they believe they can use to pursue a course which, to them, is self-evidently the right one.  That being the case they have no hesitation in deliberately compromising the mental health and cognitive development of future generations of Palestinians, the better to transmit their legacy of Israel- and Jew-hatred, and, because they are unable to locate the source of the abuse to be within themselves, and they lack the self-control to prevent themselves from acting it out, they will invariably blame Israel/Jews for “forcing” them to do that.

40 replies »

  1. Excellent article Mitnaged. No question that the Palestinians are not advancing as a society. Suicide bombings led to the construction of the barrier which has cut off economic interaction between the Palestinians and Israelis, thus, Palestinian society and culture continues to plummet. Clearly this can be attributed to the failure of their leadership through the years to come to grips with a Jewish state. Their hatred is directed at Jews, and passed along generation to generation – especially by Hamas. Hamas sacrifices their own people to further the goals as was seen during Operation Cast Lead. I would say that Hamas has definitely not developed a theory of mind. They lack both moral and cognitive egocentrism.

    The situation is progressively getting worse. When a Palestinian comes along that actually tries to improve the conditions of the Palestinian people like Fayyad, he is ridiculed by supporters of the Palestinians (like Ben White). I guess we are back to your first article on cognitive dissonance……

  2. Thank you for your illuminating article Mitnaged. It reads as if these people are deliberately being denied a slice of human fulfilment. Would you say that people outside the group, such as Viva Palestina, who encourage and applaud such attitudes are guilty of facilitation of child abuse or a kind of theft of self-awareness? The latter seems to me the birthright of every human being.

  3. @TomWonacott – thank you. Palestinians are indeed not advancing as a society because they lack the sense of agency needed to do so. They are caught between their sociopathic leadership which preys on their weaknesses on the one hand and the overzealous interference of their supporters who, rather than showing the “tough love” attitude which would ultimately encourage them to take responsibility for themselves and what they do, treats them like little children who are absolved from guilt and blame for their murderous actions. I see this overzealous interference as a sort of codependency, and such codependency is rarely beneficial for the recipient of help.

    I disagree with you, however, that Hamas lacks cognitive or moral egocentrism (unless you mean that it has failed to developed a mature sense of these). I believe that in common with other fundamentalists regardless of political or religious stripe, Hamas is stuck at the developmental stage at which these first appear (at around age three – and we certainly have evidence of their “tantrums). I doubt that it ever developed the mature sort of moral egocentrism which allows it to adjust what passes for its moral compass appropriately so as adjust its own behaviour and perceive itself as a causal agent in what results from its excesses. And yes, the lack of a theory of mind is closely linked to failure to deal maturely with cognitive dissonance.

    @margie, yes, these people are the victims of the codependency of their “helpers” and, as a result, are denied the choice to pursue peaceful coexistence with their neighbour and to develop a sense of agency in their own right – which I believe to be a fundamental infringement of their human rights.

    And I certainly agree with you about the actions of Viva Palestina, which although it seems mainly to be a vehicle for the ego of Gorgeous George, is more of the sort of overzealous and interfering “helping” which deprives Palestinians of any sense of agency and efficacy, which in turn infantilises them and therefore, yes, it may be construed as a form of child abuse.

  4. Well, Mitnaged, I hope that you will eventually assemble all your outpourings and get them published in a body. They are very interesting and scholarly.

    The history of Palestine since 1918 is riddled with examples of gradual rapprochement sabotaged by a recalcitrant group which, through violence and religious propaganda, gains ground and eventually holds the upper hand. Such as Amin El-Husseini in the Mandate, Arafat after 1962 and ,now especially, Hamas.

    They all had and have fellow-travellers, blinded by their ideology and partisanship. Christopher Sykes [‘Crossroads to Israel’ 1966] expresses amazement that the erudite Christian Palestinian Arab George Antonius could have been so taken in by the Mufti as to consider him almost as “a saint”. British arabists , seduced bythe “noble savage” elements of the beduin life and the smatterings of wisdom contained therein and in bits and bobs from the Koran, allowed themselves to ignore almost everything else pertinent to the Jewish-Arab Palestine question.

    This happens elsewhere. While Stalin was butchering his people by the million there were intellectuals here adoring him as a latter-day messiah. The atrocities perpetrated by Mao were given spurious legitimacy by thousands in the west waving his ridiculous little red book. The Guardian anti-Israel writers are intelligent people swept along in the same tide of blinkered self-righteousness. I believe it stems from the British obsession of sympathising with the underdog however vicious the dog may be.

    None of this is supposed to modify what you have written, more to illuistrate it. I think an antisemitic agenda has to be seen as functioning here as well, but not universally. Where it is, we can see egocentricity enabling anti-racists to overcome the cognitive dissonance caused by their own anti-Jewish racism.

  5. Excellent article – in an interesting way it reminds me of Arthur Koestler’s dismay as he began to realize what the Communist system was really like and how it created a bubble world that existed on the plane of a horrendous reality while dressed up for propaganda purposes as a sort of liberal heaven. This was also a theme in Orwell’s Animal Farm or 1984. There seems to be a need to justify the unjustifiable by pretending that it is the opposite of what it is.

    You wrote, regarding bias and cognitive dissidence:

    The Guardian’s journalists, and CiF’s anti-Israel stable in particular, appear not to notice the extent to which their biases influence what they write. Indeed, in many cases it seems that they deliberately allow their biases to influence their work.

    Bias, cognitive dissonance, and delusion were clearly on display at the Guardian editorial level in the editorial piece One year on, we need progress in Gaza.

    In this masterpiece of cognitive dissonance, the unnamed editor at one and the same time bemoaned the fate of the hapless Palestinians and at the same time pointed out how much worse things were for Israel as a result, in the face of any objective reading of the situation after Cast Lead or the 2006 Lebanese incursion. Nothing was sacred – allegations were stated as fact, the reality of Gaza filled with goods and food smuggled through tunnels ignored, Egypt’s role in helping keeping the terrorists bottled up ignored … etc. etc.

    As we see so often on the Guardian’s website, within the space of a sentence or two, both comments condemning Israel for the destruction it brought on the Palestinians, and then a claim that actually, it was a victory for the Palestinians, which by the way, is totally reflective of Arab propaganda and the often-observed Arab ability to hold two totally opposed ideas in their minds at once without noticing the conflict between them.

    SantaMoniker, whose comments have occasionally been reposted here, had a line by line breakdown of that editorial that illustrates some of the points you make in your article with specific examples. (I must give the Guardian credit for leaving her post up, but then I wonder why an unnamed editor wrote it or was allowed to post it in the first place, and, if it is editorial policy, why no attempt was made to rebut this analysis). I’ve italicized the lines from the editorial:

    27 Dec 09, 1:36am

    Almost every sentence in the third paragraph of this editorial is wrong or misleading:

    For Israel itself, the consequences of its war on Gaza have been more difficult to assess.

    Actually, the consequences are clear and from Israel’s point of view, very satisfactory.

    Rocket fire by the Palestinian factions has finally been halted,

    That is almost correct, since there are still one or two rockets being fired into Israel every week.

    but the cost to Israel of a war that claimed almost 1,400 Gazan lives has been serious.

    No – the cost to the Gazans and Hamas in particular, which, false accounting aside, lost about 1,000 of its terrorists [had been serious]

    The use of white phosphorous against civilian targets,

    White phosphorus was not used against civilian targets but to illuminate the battle areas

    as well as other suspected breaches of humanitarian law,

    Alleged breaches made by interested parties

    have corroded the country’s moral standing even among its most robust supporters.

    As if Israel’s “robust supporters” have been so forceful in supporting it – for example, here at the Guardian

    Israeli politicians and officials have been forced to confront the fact that they risk arrest in a number of countries including, for now at least, the United Kingdom.

    since the UK has (temporarily, it would seem) allowed a group of pro-Palestinian supporters to hijack its legal system and use it against britain to declare war against another country

    The impact on Israel has been pernicious in another way. The principle of deterrence has been crucial for its defence. So its failure to dislodge Hamas from Gaza, coming so close after the disaster of its adventure in Lebanon in 2006, has seen its military diminished.

    A frequent and pathetic attempt to puff up Hamas and Hizbollah, who know only too well, as do the Arab countries in the area, that they have been delivered devastating blows that make it unlikely that they will resume their attacks any time soon. Perhaps in the future, for they are slow learners lead by people who are not quite the full deck of cards, but not for quite a while.

    Israel’s immense superiority has been demonstrated once again, and, in fact, the Guardian is at the forefront of bleating about the devastation visited on Gaza as a result of Hamas’ activities, and Lebanon as a result of Hizbollah’s.

    The result, from Israel’s point of view, is quite satisfactory – trading of 8,000 rockets against 670 pages of the Goldstone report, which is constantly and consistently being shredded by experts in international law.

  6. @AKUS, thanks for your post.

    Indeed the Guardian exhibits the fruitless way to resolve cognitive dissonance, which is typified in its articles which actually evidence the two conflicting viewpoints, and its attempt to resolve the patently nonsensical results in the typical Orwellian doublethink.

    And I remember SantaMoniker’s excellent post which provided us with an operational example of al-Grauniad’s cognitive dissonance and doublethink in action. Thank you for reproducing it here.

    @juliantheprostate thank you for your compliment. I doubt however that I shall publish my outpourings, as you call them.

    The blindness of al-Grauniad and its fellow travellers from the extreme left contributes to the Palestinian existential despair. As I wrote to Margie above, the wet and soppy sympathy for the Palestinians from the likes of the Guardian and others smacks of collusion with their desperate status rather than any realistic wish to help them out of it.

    Much of the left has not progressed beyond the foreclosed adolescent stage – some have not yet left behind their crude oedipal rage. Their anger is free-floating and wide-ranging and, as has been said before here and elsewhere, they are willing to fight to the last drop of Palestinian blood to give vent to it.

  7. Fascinating stuff, Mitnaged – although
    a) I would suggest you be very careful about generalisations re. some “Arab mindset”
    b) I’d say the egocentrism applies far more to certain CiF posters. There are no doubt some within the “Viva Palestine!” brigade who have honest intentions and genuinely believe they can make a difference. But then there are those who seize on some conflict/issue where supporting the underdog is deemed left-wing – and where proclaiming their positions serves primarily as a badge to wear on their sleeve in order to seek/win attention.

    Re. “ethical journalists”: Most people contributing to CiF are not journalists in any shape or form, of course. This applies both to Seth Freedman, Lerman, Silverstein et al and to Petra MB. Oh – and to Ben White as well.
    That said, I just saw the Guardian Editorial from Sunday – that was presumably written by a journalist, and I found it frankly ridiculous.

  8. Hmm, so if someone posts here with a view you don’t agree with they get removed. At least tidy up subsequent posts so it’s not obvious. At least at Cif they say the comment has been removed.

  9. @pretzelberg, you are splitting hairs as usual as regards CiF journalists. It matters little what we call them or how they define themselves. We know them by their fruits, and many of those are poisoned fruit from a poisonous tree.

    Have you read Tareq Heggy about the Arab mind? You should, or perhaps you might believe him to be generalising too.

  10. Thanks, Mitnaged, for your very interesting article which confirms what I have often thought – that Palestinians’ helpers are far from that.

    Your allusion to codependency on the part of the Guardianistas is also interesting. I have read that many alcoholics and drug addicts are supported, inadvertently or otherwise, by their families and friends who try and fail to save them from themselves and end up making matters very much worse because their help results in protecting the addict from the worst of his/her addiction and the responsibility of recovery.

  11. pretzelberg

    I think that using expressions like “Arab mindset” (or any other mindset) has nothing to do with generalisation. In sociology and anthropology this idea is an absolutely accepted instrument used to help to understand the actions of certain groups of people. Without entering some scholarly debate, I would like to remind you of these well known idioms like “British understatement” (not visible on CIF), “German precision”, etc.
    Google the string “national character” and you will be surprised.

  12. peterthehungarian, pretzelberg is engaging in his usual hair splitting as Mitnaged writes above. A nation’s or people’s mindset has long been a fruitful area of debate and discovery in the field of social psychology and if a great scholar like Tarek Heggy finds it an acceptable means by which to explore the Arab condition then pretzel is really in no position to argue.

    Mitnaged, thank you for your article. The title is excellent. All human beings are born with the rudiments of self-awareness and the potential to define and develop it. Repressive or abusive parenting stunts or kills it, and repressive societies throw up authoritarian governments which do not privilege creativity or critical thinking because it threatens their power base.

    Thus countries with Islamist regimes, with their emphasis on mindless submission in the name of Islam, have indeed murdered the self-awareness of their citizens. The latter need to exist in a not-knowing and unquestioning stage in order to survive.

  13. Mitnaged: How amazingly accurate is your reading of the character of those raised in Hamas’s murdered self-awareness regime.

    I have been reading an article by Sami Abdel Shafi, who lists quite correctly presumably, luxuries and commodities that Israel is not willing to supply through the blockade on Gaza and which Egypt for its own reasons will apparently not supply via its Rafiah crossing.
    Following on as if this were indeed part of the list Shafi complains:

    many in the international community have conveniently resorted to blaming Palestinians for their political divisions

    and goes on to make it clear that Israel’s disengagement policy is to blame for Palestinian politics. I read and reread this in disbelief, but that is what it said, this adult man is blaming Israel for something beyond her control as my neighbour’s little boy blamed his mother for letting it rain when he wanted to go and play in the park

  14. I’m not so sure how far psychology, which is tailored to deal with the individual, can be used to understand how societies behave. And where does culture come in? What I mean is that if we encounter a culture where the individual doesn’t count for all that much, but instead the group (e.g. clan, tribe) is what counts, then maybe psychological concepts don’t get us very far. For example, I’ve read many times that Palestinians say: it doesn’t matter when we win, it can take another hundred years, what’s important is that in the end, we will prevail (i.e. get rid of Israel as a Jewish state).
    It’s perhaps hard for a Western mindset (yes, pretzelberg!) to fathom that an individual wouldn’t care all that much about how s/he lives, if s/he believes that putting up with squalor now would allow the greatgrandchildren to move triumphantly into Tel Aviv; and no doubt there are Palestinians with a Western mindset who would rather compromise and get on with life, get the latest flat screen TV etc. But if there are enough people in a society to support a group like Hamas and its strategy of “resistance” until final victory, then this may seem pretty “sick” according to Western psychology, but within the worldview of Hamas, their supporters may make a perfectly rational and indeed reasonable choice: so you live from UNRWA handouts, make lots of children who get UNRWA healthcare and UNRWA education, and whenever an Israeli soldiers looks the wrong way at a Palestinian like you, the world press will carry the story, so you get lots of attention, and the Israelis are all the time under attack — either by your Kassams, or Goldstone, the UN etc. — so you’re doing a great job, and your life has a noble purpose. What’s wrong with that?

    And then imagine, the Palestinians got their state right now. Then what? Would they still have this special status in the media, in the UN, etc., or would they just be another Arab state, and all of a sudden be held responsible for how they govern themselves, how their economy is doing, their education, health care, crime rates etc.?

  15. @sababa, thanks for your reply.

    I have not claimed that psychology is tailored only to the individual – social psychology is not, for example – but I believe that you will agree with me that since individuals make up societies, their motivations, beliefs and behaviours may be a fruitful starting point to begin exploring.

    You mention culture, for example. Many Muslim women are encultured into subservience and I know from my work that those who are referred by mental health and other services are depressed and emotionally flattened and perceive themselves (and often are) helpless to change their lot in life. In some cases this has deleterious effects on their bonding with their children who in turn may not develop enough emotionally to have a theory of mind (please note the caveats here, incidentally). Few Muslim women by comparison are encouraged to perceive themselves as powerful and to have a sense of agency.

    As for tribe and clan, I am afraid that I disagree with you that psychological concepts are irrelevant there (as I have already said, social psychological concepts are a useful tool by which to begin at least to understand their influence on the individual, particularly at the interface between cultures).

    What is needed, I believe, is to develop another strand of psychology by which we might better understand the role of culture and clan in the lives of Muslims and Islam and Islamism at this interface between them and the wider society. However, in order to be able to do this properly rather than just to look nice, we need to call it as we see it and at times be brutally honest about what we are seeing.

    The greatest mistake of western governments has been to try to engage with Islam and Islamism from a western mindset and to assume that the same yardstick can be applied to Islamist motivation as to western. This has been the case in psychological research, too, and that has been further hampered by the oversensitivity to political correctness and multiculturalism on the part of the psychologists concerned. We are all terrified to being called islamophobic and of being pilloried by our peers.

    You rightly imply that we should be careful not to generalise, but we have to start somewhere. By being open about it when we have to generalise, we can then find out enough to be able to engage with particulars, however difficult that confrontation.

  16. sababa, I take your point about the Hamas rationale behind its muqawama but frankly I don’t care how much sense it might make to a Hamas leader snug in a bunker under a hospital or safely in another country, to continue to sacrifice Palestinians in order to wear Israel down and to lower her standing in the civilised world – some things are morally indefensible and wrong in and of themselves, regardless of culture!

    You have to wonder at the mindset of a society which throws up leaders who are willing to sacrifice children (not themselves, note) ad infinitum. Such funadmental inability to compromise certainly smacks of a sort of lunacy to me, whether it’s relevant to their culture or not, and indeed it flies in the face of human development, which is geared to life and perpetuation of the species rather than gruesome death whilst killing others.

  17. sababa – imagine if the Palestinians got their state, and some of their citizens continued firing rockets into Israel.

    Would the world then accept israeli retaliation? After all, that is how the world expects nations to respond to attacks on their territory and citizens. Or would Israel once again be the only country in the world expected to just put up with it?

    The palestinians, in a sense have had a free ride – if one of israel nation-state neighbors attacked Israel with 8,000 rocjets, there is no doubt what the response would be, and I think in that case “the world” would accept that Israel acted justifiably.

    We may yet get to see how that plays out when the attacking state is the Palestinian state, rather than “militants”.

  18. Mitnaged

    You often write about the psychology of a nation – the Palestinians in particular. I take issue with some of your conclusions but this is not the forum to discuss this in detail.

    Your suggestion that a new psychology be developed – looking at family and clan structure and their influence on development – a starting point here is surely Freud’s superego ? Influences from both significant individuals and societies (religion too ,of course) form the id restraining superego – the interesting question here is can the superego be formed in such a way that it strengthens the id and its demands ? WE would then have to look at how the id – very self centered – can be subsumed into a collective .

    The theory of mind (ToM) – most work has been done with children under4/5 and with autistic children, You will be aware that some are trying to use ToM to understand conflict – Games Theory. Interesting stuff – but, as with all psychlogical models these are attempts at description of cognitive/emotional states and the actions emanating from them. As yet no consensus.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about. Another thought – which unique features of a society – any society – would you choose as a starting point ? Do all nations have a collective superego (if such a thing exists) – remembering that Freud postulated that the superego can prevent the ego acting in a common sense way and responding appropriately to situation.


    ps I’m not too keen on Freud – his is just any easy model to work from.

  19. Sorry Mitnaged

    Forgot this bit ! ToM describes cognitive functioning – the ability to read intent from state of mind – also connected to language . Empathy is emotional – .can be experienced by mentally disabled, slow learning children and adults.

  20. If mores are not formed in early life and mostly inherited, then I’ve yet to see a better explanation of collective, these being, cultural, societal, national psyche.

    @Leni, I’m confused. Here, you write: “You often write about the psychology of a nation – the Palestinians in particular. I take issue with some of your conclusions but this is not the forum to discuss this in detail.”

    As Mitnaged is in fact writing about this very subject on this forum, then this forum must be the correct place to explain what these issues that you have with Mitnaged’s conclusions, are. Not only do you fail to detail your disagreement, you don’t bother to offer any clue as to what it is you disagree about or why. So ??

    A thorough article making refined distinctions for we layman.

  21. Punzi – Hello

    Long submissions by commenters are seldom read! I happen to believe that this is a fruitful area of research in conflict and its resolution. however – no one theory is adequate to describe the full range of human behaviour – remember that psychological theories are only attempts to describe mental processes and behaviour and that theories change as they develope.

    First I take issue with the concept of a ‘national mind set’ – with some qualifications which I will try to address later.

    Back to ToM. There are many questions around this theory – some of which I will try to present.

    A person has a fully developed theory of mind when s/he is able to evidence at least the following:

    That s/he knows that she and other people have minds, ie that they have thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires, intentions, and the like. (Mitnaged)

    ToM – described as a cognitive abilityto understand others as intentional agents- to deduce intentions based on the ability to ‘read’ their thoughts feelings etc. In simple terms we can ‘detect’ peoples intentions – and therefore possible future actions – based upon our knowledge of their mind and language. What of deliberate deception? Once someone deceives us does this mean they will always do so? If yes then we will add deception to their mind set – this will change our response. Perhaps we are deceived into believing that that the other’s deceit is integral to their mindset – therefore we misread their next intention but modify our behaviour according to our own misunderstanding. ToM has failed us . It becomes a two way process.

    Mitnaged’s model has to admit that if this is true of Palestinians it is also true of Israelis and everyone else.

    The ToM module is described by some – based on experimentation on preschool children – as a specific cognitive ability which developes around age 3/4 – ie it is innate. This has led some to suppose that this ability fails to develope in autistic childre for neurological reasons rather than from experience or learning.


    That s/he is able to understand her/his own thoughts and feelings, and infer other people’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires, and intentions from their behaviour (including what they say) with reasonable accuracy. (Mitnaged)


    Return to deliberate deception- a common ploy in conflict and in political and military planning and execution.

    A A young childraised in secure loving surroundings would welcome an approach from a smiling adult offering chocolate. The smile (language) suggests a friendly intention. What happens to the child’s inner world when instead of the anticipated treat she recives a sharp slap to the face?

    B. Conversely what of the abused child who fears adults meeting love and understanding from an adult?

    In A the malicious intent is misread, the child is deliberately deceived – in B the friendly intent can be misinterpreted – no deceit is intended.


    That s/he is disposed to use this information about other people’s thoughts, beliefs, feelings, desires, and intentions in making decisions about how to act in social contexts. In particular, s/he is able to see the world from the perspective of other people (Mitnaged)

    Experimenters querying early ToM theory have suggested the mental simulation model as a way of further understanding others – ie to put ourselves in the shoes of others and imagine how we would feel and act if we were they. We see this model used regularly on CiF (from both sides) explaining either P or I behaviour and intention. Evidence suggests thet we are no more able to understand our own mental state than that of others. We are not talking empathy here – that comes from emotion not cognition.

    If we can see the world from the perspective of our ‘enemy’ do we want to kill him> If we understand that his perspective drives him to want to kill us then the answer is almost certainly yes. If both Israelis and Palestinians think this about the other is there any hope of a resolution? The ToM as presented here is too simple – allows for no movement from either side.

    Can we step outside our own mind set- be objective or is our judgement always biased towards our own beliefs? Do the other’s shoes pinch our already developed corns and bunions? I suggest we actually read other’s mindset through our own – thus we can set up cognitive dissonance within ourselves (in positive as well as negative situations. Some people can convince themselves that romantic feelings are reciprocated when they are not or believe, quite wrongly, that someone hates them). This leads to confusion resulting from a failure to recognise our own part in the social interaction .

    We can often deduce intention from our knowledge of someone elses thoughts or feelings, we can be right or wrong even in a one to one situation. WE try to glean intent from words – see CiF as an arena where there are often spectacular failures in this regard , one word can set off a hurricane of misperceptions.
    Rumsfeld famously predicted a ‘Walk in the park’ based upon his misunderstanding of the Iraqi ‘mind set’ . He failed to recognise a nation consists of individuals – with competing aims. aspirations , thoughts, feelings and intentions and how quickly ,amidst chaos, these can be organised into factions.

    Well Punzi – I doubt anyone will read this. As i said this is an area for discussions , questioning and dialogue rather tha a fight. I believe that social and international relations go both ways , each as much dependant upon experience . each of the other, as well as the ethos and learning experiences we all take from our own societies and cultures.
    Will get back later to say more.


  22. @Leni/Irish to a certain extent, yours is a false separation and distinction between ToM’s cognitive aspects and the development of empathy. ToM is a sort of gestalt, wherein the whole of it is greater than the sum of its parts and included in those parts is the development of empathy .

    You also miss out the vital role of socialisation or the lack of it as a sort of bridge between the two. How successfully do you think that children in Gaza are socialised in the climate of fear deliberately engendered and begun by Hamas? Parents are preoccupied with their own survival – and this has little to do with the closing of the Gaza borders – and children are handed over to Hamas-run schools to begin their education to want to die as “martyrs” while their educators stay in safety.

    Your example is flawed, too, (in the sense that it is oversimplified) when you use what you call the “mentally disabled” and those with learning difficulties as examples of capability for empathy. In fact I would be interested in how you define empathy, given what you write.

    This is a vastly complicated topic, and I have merely scratched the surface here. Inasmuch as Freudian theory tends to deal with the individual rather than societal influences, I doubt that it is useful unless it is substantially refined. Superego, for example, is developed in the individual and dictates what we might call conscience, and is therefore useful for a human being at the interface with society. A person who lacked a ToM might lack a conscience, too, since he/she might not be able to identify with the hurt caused to others.

    Matters are not helped either by the inclination towards an external locus of evaluation on the part of the Palestinians, which makes it easier for them to be swayed by their leaders and dictated to. As I have said above, they lack sense of agency because of this, and this is exacerbated by the OTT and misplaced sympathy on the part of al-Grauniad and the extreme left.

  23. Irish/Leni, I have just read what you replied to Punzi – a quick PS to my previous post:

    Whilst it is true that a lot of research into ToM is into how a lack of it can be correlated with autistic spectrum disorders, there is also research now into ToM and personality disorders, particularly in narcissism and sociopathy. Narcissists and sociopaths lack any theory of mind and, more fundamentally, they are incapable of empathy although they can charm and pretend it very well indeed.

    Taking the DSM-IV as a guide, we can see that much of Hamas’ behaviour evidences dual-diagnosis (ie malignant narcissism and sociopathy) – particularly in terms of its instrumental approach to the use of civilians to manipulate public opinion (without concern for their safety and wellbeing) and its deliberate inculcation of hatred into the very young in its schools (see Medusa’s article).

    The sociopathic aspects of Hamas’ behaviour were particularly evident in its treatment of Fatah and its singular lack of humanity when it tortured and executed Fatah members sometimes in front of their families, and in its ignominious parading of the suffering of Gilad Shalit and his family, in front of a cheering crowd of thousands, in Gaza recently.

    See also and in particular:

    “…In more severe cases, the existence of the other person’s mind and life is simply of no consequence. For the Malignant Narcissist, other people are mere props in the pageantry of their lives. A tyrant can throw someone into a shredding machine without a second thought because the victim only matters in relation to how he can support the grandiosity of the tyrant; beyond that, he is faceless, nameless, worthless. It was no accident that Saddam Hussein was surrounded by sycophants who all grew moustaches to look just like him.

    “As might be apparent from the descriptions of narcissism, the attitude of the other is extremely important (narcissists are very sensitive to slights from others and almost anything that is not supportive is felt as criticism or attack One can see how, as you move down the spectrum from the healthy narcissist who has a concern and regard for the best wishes of others, to the more pathological narcissist who is intensely needful of being aggrandized, to the malignant narcissist who demands obeisance just as he can not trust anyone to really think well of him, you are moving down a spectrum from sensitivity to paranoia.

    “Further complicating the situation is that the Narcissistic Character is extraordinarily sensitive to humiliation and equally intolerant of it. ..”

    All of which makes the sort of compromise required to live in peace with Israel especially difficult for Hamas and its fellow travellers.

  24. Mtnaged

    As you say this is a very complicated field. ToM as well as Freudian theory is based on the individual. I actually query whether either can be translated into a group or national psycho. theory.

    I have seen and discussed the thought that empathy, the experiencing of other’s pain. is increased by greater intellect and education. My experience leads me to believe that they are separate – that they often coalesce does not dtract from this. Very intelligent, cognitively rational people can be co;d as ice – not even recognise or admit suffering in others. To use a horrible analogy the so called ‘family men’ among the Nazis are examplars oif this – there have been others before and since.

    They were able to rationalise their cause as ‘right’ and therefore justifying any cruelty – it also helped them to maintain a false view of their own values. Difficult , I imagine, to admit you are a monster of cruelty and torment. Those lower down the chain – less bright perhaps, less well educated, were also able to deny any wrongdoing – many living both before and after – seemingly normal lives. We need to understand how this works.

    You claim an external locus of evaluation for the Palestinians – enabling the leader to manipulate them . How true us this oif all poulations at war?

    Let’s lok at suicide bombers. Although I would deny that all Palestinians support and laud them it is undeniably true that such actions can flourish and continue only for as long as they gain support from their community. Some supporters may celebrate the death of the enemy but the killing is not the main intention of the bombers and those who control them, their main aim is to confuse, spread fear and beget a reaction. They choose civilian innocents more often than military targets – disrupting civic life and changing habits. They are attacking not just the society and culture but also weakening and changing assumptions and a way of being. Look at the changes in US since 911 and in Israel post Intafada ii. Terrorism is psychological warfare. It also says ‘Look what we can do’ to both the population they attack and their own.

    Look at Israel’s military offensives against Gaza. Leaving out the arguments around any ‘moral equivalence’ we can ask is there a psychological equivalence? What aims are there beyond an expression of military superiority? The message is also one of fear , of a desire to alter perception and a way of being. It reassures Israelis that they will be defended by saying ‘Look what we can do’.

    The idea of a national psyche is difficult to maintain – at best we can say that the ethos which the ruling elite seeks to maintain has the support of the majority. The minority – the dissenters – are over ruled. Obviously in a totalitarian state support for the elite is simply taken for granted – certain norms are said to exist and no discussion is tolerated. Israel is an open democracy – with much internal discussion. Gaza is not Palestine – there is dissent among the Palestinians – political and religious. The separation of Gaza & WB has allowed differing psychological states to grow out of very different conditions. Single attributes – such as hope or fear do not constitute a mind set. I guess there is more hope in WB than in Gaza – but I could be wrong.

    One thing we do know. Dialogue – in the real sense of listening and trying to see the other’s view point – is the most successful way forward. Often long and slow. The aim of careful, searching dialogue is for each party to face their cognitive dissonance – to see the human in the other. To look at concepts – perhaps alien to self – and realise where they spring from.

    A slave sees a completely different scenario to that of his master yet both live in the same place and breathe the same air.

    Thanks for your reply. I’m sure this will come up again. I’m off to get ready for NY eve.

    I hope for peace in 2010 and wish the best for everyone posting here.


  25. Mitnaged

    Just seen your second reply. Can I get back later on this one?

    Just one point. Your ref. to personality disorders – does an armed conflict situation enable such people to rise to positions of power and drag others into supporting them rather than producing more of them ? normally such people are either marginalised – at the lowest level of their disturbance they are recognised and avoided as trouble makers , the advice we give isto not allow them to monopolise or direct dialogue but to talk them down from their angry reaction of feelings oif revenge. Their desire is to be the centre of attraction.

    The worst of them become the serial killers etc while some – not personally violent – oft become politicians directing others to violence or other anti social behaviour.

    Bye for now.


  26. Your first reply Leni/Irish:

    Yes, but both can be used albeit cautiously, to try to gain understanding of how societies work.

    I believe you are extrapolating too readily from what I have said about Palestinians’ external locus of evaluation onto all nations at war. Most democracies continue to question whether the wars they are fighting are just ones – see West’s reaction to Iraq and Afghanistan – mainly because they have begun at least by thinking for themselves. (I suppose that I should exclude from that last statement the various factions in the “We are all Hamas now” brigade, who probably haven’t had an original thought since they were in school – but their behaviour is I believe more as a reaction to cognitive dissonance than anything else).

    Islam requires complete submission from its adherents and Hamas is ideally placed to lead Palestinians, being authoritarian and very ready to source all its infamous rationale from the Koran itself. Muslims are forbidden to question the Koran or its representatives on earth in Gaza – Hamas. Any who do are disposed of. Far better, they might reason, to let someone else pull their strings.

    You know as well as I that the rationale IDF’s actions cannot be compared with those of Hamas. You also know that Israeli soldiers regularly question what they perceive to be extreme behaviour on Israel’s part. That, Irish, is not evidence enough for me of equivalence between them and Hamas et al in the matter of external locus of evaluation.

    I disagree that the idea of a national psyche is difficult to maintain – and I say that you should read Tarek Heggy’s excellent work about why the Arab/Muslim nations are so mired in despondency from which they cannot lift themselves.

    Of course dialogue is important, but it takes two to dialogue does it not? Where, apart from the woefully biased media, have you ever heard of Hamas being willing to dialogue with Israel in a meaningful fashion which at least accepts her right to exist?

    I am not clear exactly what point you are trying to make in your second post about personality disorders.

    I really don’t have the time to spend to explain in depth, but personality disorders are (again) immensely complicated.

    Happy new year to one and all,


  27. So, Leni, “not all” Palestinians laud or applaud suicide terror.

    That may indeed be true, but enough of them do so to allow their children to be indoctrinated into wanting to do it:

    Read Medusa’s article again.



    When was the last time you heard from a Palestinian who:

    (a) placed the responsibility for the continuing warfare appropriately where it belongs (ie was willing to admit that suicide terror is not likely to achieve peace);

    (b) refused to let his children be brought up in hatred and to want to be human bombs while his leaders lived in safety and comfort?

    Palestinians bystand, Leni, which constitutes passive support for terror. They are kept in emotional slavery and bought off with blood money to pay for their families’ deaths.

    When you come across a Palestinian who speaks out against suicide terror and in favour of peace, do, please let us all know.

  28. Mitnaged

    I note your gentle approach when you discuss points with Irish. I find a lot of it irritating and off topic at times you might expect… but you engage without rancour.. addressing points raised. I wish you the best for next year.


    “If mores are not formed in early life ”

    No disrespect but it helps if the surrounding mores making machine was well oiled and well shod.You make it seem like we all drank from the same well. …or mixed the same metaphors! :)You keep well best of luck for next year.


    You are a gifted and quite wonderful poster. To be able to argue so well without venom is something I could not do. You force people to a higher consciousness and bring out the humanity and caring in others.

    This is the best thread I have seen on CIFwatch.

  29. @ saladin – thank you and the very same to you. I try to model my response attitude on that of Petra Marqardt-Bigman to below the line comments to her articles. Petra keeps her cool no matter what – she is an absolute phenomenon and is respectful to everyone.

    Thanks also for your compliment about the thread.

  30. Mitnaged, thanks for your article.

    I have also read Medusa’s article about the indoctrination of Palestinian into hatred by Hamas for its own ignoble ends.

    Nowhere is this more demonstrable than at the following:

    Note the difference in response between the children of Sderot, who have been at the mercy of Hamas rocket fire for over eight years, and the children of Gaza, whose parents appear quite content to consign their education to the murderous ideology of Hamas.

    One can argue that these children cannot help themselves, that little else can be expected from children indoctrinated into hatred from so young an age. But their parents’ attitude is counterintuiitive and far from life-affirming.

  31. @Leni

    I did read your reply Leni. Statements coined with hypothesis, often unrelated were a little hard to fathom but I realised on a second reading that’s because I was expecting you to clarify what were the issues, with regard Mitnaged’s conclusions, and you decided to try and clarify your own position, instead,. which is fine. So I’ll just make one comment:

    WRT Rumsfeld, he actually said it (Iraq) would be a “cakewalk” and here is a perfect illustration of what happens when fools rush in. Rumsfeld did not fail to recognise a nation compromises different individuals, Leni, he failed to recognise the difference in terrain, cultural realities such as the placed religiopolitically driven ambitions which could, and did, change the balance of power regionally – i.e. the removal of Saddam (Sunni) and installation of a Shi’ite dominated party, some of which was actually exiled in Iran and supported when in opposition, by Iran. He failed to understand the “societal psyche.” Whilst individual aspirations maybe be similar in some aspects, in different regions, groups, societies differ in how they react to any given set of circumstances as well how they tactically go about achieving goals. This is not to say, necesarily, better or worse, but different and so, Rumsfeld et al were not only wrong, IMO, but as is generally accepted by everyone now, totally unprepared.

    He and others totally ignored the facts since they severed the link between culture, societal and regional realities etc with the individual (as per your posts – as do you) believing that we are all the same when in fact, peoples and psyches, created as they are by many different elements, are divergent. This is not to say, necesarily better or worse, but different, diverse.

    Happy new year to you too, Leni.


    Firstly…. you old smoothie!

    To your post:

    “No disrespect but it helps if the surrounding mores making machine was well oiled and well shod.You make it seem like we all drank from the same well. …or mixed the same metaphors! :)You keep well best of luck for next year.”

    Well, no offence taken…. Saladin!!! but I’m not sure why you decided that I inferred “we all drink from the same well” – When I actually make the opposite point. But I know you take any opportunity to “speak with me,” I know you want to make up with me. I’m giving it some thought:) While I do, I hope you’ll stay off metaphors and slogans and as above, actually try to enter into respectful dialogue and then that the powers that be, will let you stay. Happy new year.

    @Mitnaged – good article, nice thread. Thx.

  32. Punzi, shalom!

    Happy New Year to you.

    The continuation of the I/P conflict, to my mind, is dependent upon both sides’ tendency – although very much less on the Israeli side – to entrench themselves behind an “either/or” false dichotomy as regards settlement.

    This comes from and feeds into the sort of dichotomous thinking so beloved of Islamists who take care to sabotage every attempt by their people to rise above and look beyond their pitiable quality of life, deliberately exacerbated by Hamas and Abbas in turn. Hamas and Abbas are authoritarian which means that they tend to narrow their options and cannot cope with being disagreed with, since it not only threatens their power base (and so it should) but their very sense of self.

    So clueless are many of their mindless supporters about the genesis of the conflict and the psychological warfare waged by successive Palestinian governments against their own people as well as against Israel, that Palestinians’ lived experience under Hamas becomes accepted as being true and principally caused by Israel, rather than being perceived as a carefully engineered artefact of Hamas rule, deliberately designed to undermine Israel, even at the cost of its people’s lives and welfare.

    An “either/or” philosophy cannot be a precursor to peace. Successive Palestinian governments/dictatorships have shown themselves to be incapable of compromise. In this they are textbook examples of Tarek Heggy’s “Arab mind.” Being thus incapable, they are also unable to avail themselves (even for the sake of their people and their children) of the potential for richness and development that can come from a “both/and” philosophy which has to be a vital prerequisite for peaceful coexistence.

    So entrenched are they that even to contemplate this approach is very threatening. but by failing to grasp it they murdering their children’s and their own future.

  33. Shalom, @Mitnaged

    One of the features which looms large ala ciffetes is the bupkes about “Greater Israel” when little or no attention (or probably, knowledge of) the position taken by the opposite camp, the Pan Arabists – who are since being over taken by the Islamists. Either way, neither strand intended to tolerate the Jewish State, both espousing to push us into the sea.
    In the Arab camp, in between deciding how best to destroy Israel, it was the Sheikhdoms utilising the Islamists against the nationalists – then as now it was difficult for Israel to decide who to talk to or what about.

    WRT Abbas/Fatah, absolutely. In regard to terror, never mind internal Arab politicking being a constant set back to any negotiations, the PLO (or user friendly, PA if you prefer) have been no better than the Hamas or other Islamists. Personally, I don’t mind much who we talk to, since the Palestinians can elect any political/ideological process they prefer, that’s their choice – but centrally, any negotiations with Israel have to contain the intention to advance a permanent peace. It isn’t worth Israel turning up to talk about a hudna in exchange for their wish list. So in that sense, it is either this or that, it’s Peace or War, either low level or all out.
    I agree the ball has been and still is very much in the Arab court. So far, we have had only a cold peace with some Arab countries, of which has never touched on the ongoing anti Israel, anti Jewish embargos and propaganda which manifests in much of the Arab and wider, Muslim media.

    I also seriously doubt that a permanent peace resolution can be found by sitting down with the Palestinian factions in isolation since, i.e. Syria, Persia utilising the Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel’s arch.
    Syria have been offered direct peace talks but as yet, insist in Turkey playing mediator ?? Post Iraq, we’re seeing a realignment i.e. Turkey, Syria, Iran with Saudi as usual playing all sides including, us. So the continuum of Israel fighting on all levels on all fronts, remain. All this of course, without mentioning S. and C. Asia, from where muhajadin and assorted Jihadists are eyeing a stake in the Levant.

  34. Mitnaged

    Like Saladin I respect you and your method of discussion.
    No need to elaborate on sociopaths – personality disorders or whatever you want to call them – certainly not for my benefit. This is another very contentious field – even definitions vary.

    The social psycholgy of conflict is an area of much research and discussion.Conflict resolution also attracts much attentin – you will certainly be familiar with the work of Carl Rogers and other humanistic psychologists. It is difficult to entirely endorse any one particular ‘school’ – indee once we do this, once we think we have all the answers to human nature and motivation – proclaim ‘we have arrived’ is the day on which we stop trying to understand ourselves and others.

    My main problem with the field is that it alows people (not you) to jump at an easy definition – to claim that the ‘enemy’is pathological – sick beyond reach.

    That every society contains such people and that different sociopolitical conditions can allow them to rise to power is unarguable. The question is do certain conditions create more of these people.

    Leaving aside for the moment the arguments around the abused becoming the abuser one thing is clear – war, continuing conflict does create more people suffering from what we call PTSD – again a somewhat confused area. One component for those who were engaged in conflict is certainly guilt – an awareness that they denied their own vhuman values – many have killed others which in other more normal circumstances they would not have believed it possible for them to do. In some cases – not all – post military PTSD sufferers go on to commit serious crimes in civil society.

    Those on the receiving end of violence or abuse – the victims – suffer in different ways – be they children in S’derot or Gaza. Do they, will they go on to complete the cycle and themselves become abusers? Some may. Is it more certain that those encouraged by others to nurse feelings of revenge and hatred – those who see bombers or fallen soldiers as heros – will do so, will seek revenge and harbour hatred. I thin k yes – winding up , encouraging their fear – and thus hatred – will create violent adults imbued with it being thir duty to exact revenge.

    It is not true of all Palestinians to say that their society and religion predisposes them to violence – any more than it is true to say that all Muslims are taught to hate – some are , this is sadly true in all societies particularly in militarised one.

    Socialpsychology is an interesting field – we have to be very carefull – it is in danger of being used as a tool by the unscrupulous to manipulate populations (we call it propaganda) . As the search for uderstanding continues and knowledge developes propagandandists becomes more nuanced – claiming ‘scientific’ backing for their outlandish claims.

    The claim that ‘they’ do not understand Muslim thinking and are therefore doomed to be swamped by them is simplistic and crass – to try to use the search for understanding of our shared humanity to demonise a people is actually equally crass – it just looks , to some, better on paper.

    My above rematks also apply to those who use psychobabble to demonise the Jewish people – we are both aware of this tendency.

    Thankyou for your thoughts.



  35. Actually Leni, the Palestinian children’s suffering must in some ways be worse than the children of Sderot – although my latest news tells me that the incidence of PTSD among little children there is alarmingly high – because there can never be any sense of safety for them:

    Their parents are powerless to prevent Hamas from putting them in harm’s way

    Parents are often offered money to put their children in harm’s way (or a place in Paradise, which does them no good at all in the moment does it?)

    They are often exposed to mindless violence from Hamas and others – I am told that executions of Fatah operatives took place without thinking to shield the children from the experience;

    From my reading I believe that a vital prerequisite for a “good enough” childhood is the development in the child of a sense of basic trust, which comes from “good enough” parenting. Palestinian parents are, however, “encouraged”/forced to hand over their children’s upbringing to the murderous thugs of Hamas, whose approach to little children is an abuse of their human rights with all the attendant consequences.

    But they and others blame Israel (they would, because to acknowledge responsibility for their abuse would be more than they could handle – yes, we are back to cognitive dissonance). What’s not to understand?