I have found myself lately with time on my hands, stuck in a room with nothing to do except read. I have spent some of this time trying to become informed about what drives the Palestine/Israel conflict (it is topical). This has proved to be more complicated than i originally foresaw. Everyone, it seems clear to me now, has a bias.
I realise that this post is not directly on topic for this blog but i think the problems encountered in informing ourselves are reflected in our secular struggle. The first book i read on the subject was Ilan Pappe‘s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. The title of the book captures the attention, and also sets off my internal alarm bells – there can be no doubt on which side of the fence this author sits, but can he defend his position, and how can i arm myself to know if he successfully has? Ethnic Cleansing is an emotive term with a very clear definition. The author is Jewish, raised by German Jewish parents in Israel, and served in the IDF, so i thought i would give it a try – with the hope of intellectual integrity from the author. but with a skeptical mindset. I found the book both disturbing and compelling – but how can we separate fact from agenda and bias?
I struggled, and continue to struggle, to find an account of the genesis of the conflict that aims only to inform, and not to promote a political viewpoint. It is critical to find the relevant facts, and facts can be ignored as required in order to promote and enforce already entrenched views, and a political, or ideological bias. This is a constant problem and we should be wary of it if we wish to be able to engage in an informed debate. As an atheist it is all too easy to only follow one side of the story, taking scant regard for potential bias in the sources – we all do it, i listen to lots of atheist/secular/sceptical pod-casts and probably visit the sites and read books that enforce my existing worldview – without checking for available sources. The danger, of course is that we do not inform ourselves of why the other side believes what they do – and why they do so, just as enthusiastically as ourselves.
Ideally of course, original sources should be scrutinised – and with care. It is both difficult to know what to look for and how to find it when we know. A quick trawl of the net will find all kinds of viewpoints, from a measured response, to lunatics on both sides of any debate, and Wikipedia is often less than infallible. It is an intellectual mine field out there. I think it’s a journey of discovery that must be taken if we want to seriously defend our positions on issues that matter to us. Is there a way to navigate this mine-field?