Is the state of Israel its own worst enemy?

Some brief thoughts on this morning’s breaking story in the Middle East.

The late Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban famously remarked that "the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity". But it is the Israelis who never miss an opportunity to score own goals, to be their own worst enemy.

Why on earth, during a period of relative quiet in the Middle East "process" (let's be honest: it is not a "peace process"), would the Jewish state send armed Israeli commandos to attack a convoy of ships carrying aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip, and those, too, ships linked to the Turkish government, perhaps Israel's only stalwart ally in the Muslim world? (Sky News is now reporting that Israel has warned its citizens not to travel to Turkey. The end of a beautiful friendship?)

I can imagine pro-Israel lobbyists holding their heads in the hands this morning as they watch the news, wondering how they can spin their way out of this latest atrocity. Claiming, as Israel has done, that its soldiers were attacked with knives and axes will not do. Nor will unleashing the silver-tongued Mark Regev on to the airwaves as the Israelis did this morning on the Today programme, help them either. Regev has been exposed, time and again, as being economical with the truth. (On an amusing side note, if you play "Google predicts" with Regev's name, the only option that comes up in the Google search box is "Mark Regev liar".)

By the way, check out this page on the BBC website. Notice anyone's name missing from the list of international figures reacting to the Israeli attack? Yep, our new Foreign Secretary, William Hague. There seems to be radio silence from the Foreign Office. Meanwhile, according to al-Jazeera, "Turkey, Spain, Greece, Denmark and Sweden have all summoned the Israeli ambassadors in their respective countries to protest against the deadly assault."

As the Tory-supporting columnist Peter Oborne noted in his controversial Dispatches TV documentary on Britain's pro-Israel lobby, the Conservative Friends of Israel (CFI) group has a great deal of influence inside the party, and Hague himself has been subjected to pressure from it in the past. So perhaps, as the well-connected Tory blogger Iain Dale pointed out in a recent discussion show on al-Jazeera that he and I participated in, our Foreign Secretary intends to be "much more pro-Israel than his predecessor David Miliband".

Let's see . . .

UPDATE: Here is William Hague's official statement (via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website):

I deplore the loss of life during the interception of the Gaza Flotilla. Our Embassy is in urgent contact with the Israeli Government. We are asking for more information and urgent access to any UK nationals involved.

We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way, because of the risks involved. But at the same time, there is a clear need for Israel to act with restraint and in line with international obligations. It will be important to establish the facts about this incident, and especially whether enough was done to prevent deaths and injuries.

This news underlines the need to lift the restrictions on access to Gaza, in line with UNSCR 1860. The closure is unacceptable and counterproductive. There can be no better response from the international community to this tragedy than to achieve urgently a durable resolution to the Gaza crisis.

I call on the Government of Israel to open the crossings to allow unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians.

I like the line about "the loss of life", as if the people on those ships died in a natural disaster, or from heart attacks, rather than from Israeli gunfire. Notice also that Hague's first criticism is, implicitly, of the people who were killed ("We have consistently advised against attempting to access Gaza in this way...") Pathetic.

UPDATE 2: The US blogger Glenn Greenwald gives his take on the attack here. He writes:

It hardly seemed possible for Israel -- after its brutal devastation of Gaza and its ongoing blockade -- to engage in more heinous and repugnant crimes. But by attacking a flotilla in international waters carrying humanitarian aid, and slaughtering at least ten people, Israel has managed to do exactly that. If Israel's goal were to provoke as much disgust and contempt for it as possible, it's hard to imagine how it could be doing a better job.

He adds:

The one silver lining from these incidents is that the real face of Israel becomes increasingly revealed and undeniable. Not even the most intense propaganda systems can prettify a lethal military attack on ships carrying civilians and humanitarian aid to people living in some of the most wretched and tragic conditions anywhere in the world. It is crystal clear to anyone who looks what Israel has become, and the only question left is how will the rest of the world -- beginning with their American patrons -- will react.

I wouldn't have used the phrase "silver lining" but, nonetheless, he has a point.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How “cli-fi” novels humanise the science of climate change

The paradox is that the harder climate-fiction novels try, the less effective they are.

When the Paris UN Climate Change Conference begins at the end of November, the world’s leaders will review the climate framework agreed in Rio in 1992. For well over 20 years, the world has not just been thinking and talking about climate change, it has also been writing and reading about it, in blogs, newspapers, magazines – and in novels.

Climate change fiction is now a recognisable literary phenomenon replete with its own nickname: “cli-fi”. The term was coined in 2007 by Taiwan-based blogger Dan Bloom. Since then, its use has spread: it was even tweeted by Margaret Atwood in 2013:

It is not a genre in the accepted scholarly sense, since it lacks the plot formulas or stylistic conventions that tend to define genres (such as science fiction or the western). However, it does name a remarkable recent literary and publishing trend.

A 21st-century phenomenon?

Putting a number to this phenomenon depends, partly, on how one defines cli-fi. How much of a novel has to be devoted to climate change before it is considered cli-fi? Should we restrict the term to novels about man-made global warming? (If we don’t, we should remember that narratives about global climatic change are as old as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical story of the flood.) If we define cli-fi as fictional treatments of climate change caused by human activity in terms of setting, theme or plot – and accept there will be grey areas in the extent of this treatment – a conservative estimate would put the all-time number of cli-fi novels at 150 and growing. This is the figure put forward by Adam Trexler, who has worked with me to survey the development of cli-fi.

This definition also gives us a start date for cli-fi’s history. While planetary climatic change occurs in much 20th-century science fiction, it is only after growing scientific awareness of specifically man-made, carbon-induced climate change in the 1960s and 1970s that novels on this subject emerged. The first is Arthur Herzog’s Heat in 1976, followed by George Turner’s The Sun and the Summer (published in the US as Drowning Towers) in 1987.

At the turn of this century, Maggie Gee and TC Boyle were among the first mainstream authors to publish climate change novels. In this century, we can count Atwood, Michael Crichton, Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ilija Trojanow and Jeanette Winterson as major authors who have written about climate change. The past five years have given us notable examples of cli-fi by emerging authors, such as Steven Amsterdam, Edan Lepucki, Jane Rawson, Nathaniel Rich and Antti Tuomainen.

Creative challenges

Cli-fi is all the more noteworthy considering the creative challenge posed by climate change. First, there is the problem of scale – spatial and temporal. Climate change affects the entire planet and all its species – and concerns the end of this planet as we know it. Novels, by contrast, conventionally concern the actions of individual protagonists and/or, sometimes, small communities.

Added to this is the networked nature of climate change: in physical terms, the climate is a large, complex system whose effects are difficult to model. In socio-cultural terms, solutions require intergovernmental agreement – just what COP21 intends – and various top-down and bottom-up transformations. Finally, there exists the difficulty of translating scientific information, with all its predictive uncertainty, into something both accurate and interesting to the average reader.

Still, cli-fi writers have adopted a range of strategies to engage their readers. Many cli-fi novels could be classified as dystopian, post-apocalyptic or, indeed, both – depicting nightmarish societies triggered by sometimes catastrophic climate events. A future world is one effective way of narrating the planetary condition of climate change.

Some novelists are also careful to underpin their scenarios with rigorous climatic predictions and, in this way, translate science fact into a fictional setting. Kingsolver, who trained as an ecologist, is the best example of this – and Atwood and Robinson are also known for their attempts at making their speculations scientifically plausible. Also, cli-fi novels, particularly those set in the present day or very near future rather than in a dystopian future, tend to show the political or psychological dimensions of living with climate change. Readers can identify with protagonists. To some extent, the global community is represented in fictional everymen or everywomen. Or, often, it is through such characters that science is humanised and its role in combating climate change better understood.

Can cli-fi lead to change?

Could cli-fi affect how we think and act on climate change? The paradox is that the harder cli-fi tries, the less effective it is. Many writers want to inspire change, not insist on it: the line between literature and propaganda is one that most novelists respect. Literature invites us to inhabit other worlds and live other lives. Cli-fi at its best lets us travel to climate-changed worlds, to strive there alongside others and then to return armed with that experience.

In Paris, the UN will seek a global agreement on climate action for the first time in more than 20 years. There is plenty of climate change fiction out there to help provide the mental and psychological space to consider that action.

The Conversation

Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature, University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.