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There’s No Third Rail Like the Middle East

How should citizens outside the region handle their differences of opinion?

Illustration by The Atlantic. Source: Michael Nigro / Getty; Ronen Tivony / NurPhoto / Getty

Welcome to Up for Debate. Each week, Conor Friedersdorf rounds up timely conversations and solicits reader responses to one thought-provoking question. Later, he publishes some thoughtful replies. Sign up for the newsletter here.

Question of the Week

People all over the world are divided about the best way forward in the Middle East. As conflict devastates that region, how should citizens outside the Middle East handle their differences of opinion about the best way forward without tearing their societies apart?

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Conversations of Note

In Spiegel International, under the headline “Middle East Conflict Tests the Postwar World Order,” a piece with six bylines advances a theory of geopolitics and poses a series of questions:

In Germany, which bears “historic responsibility for the worst imaginable crime,” as Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in her UN speech in reference to the Holocaust, one misguided sentence can divide families and end friendships. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the same is true in many countries of the Muslim world. In societies and countries that are farther away from this conflict, the debates may proceed differently. But there, too, they are increasingly toxic—from Southeast Asia to Latin America, from the U.S. to Europe.

What are the consequences of this extreme polarization? What are the consequences for a possible cease-fire, armistice or—as anachronistic as it might sound—for a political solution of the Middle East conflict? What about the broader consequences for a world order which, following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks in the U.S., the financial crisis in 2008, the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is clearly decaying?

Noah Millman argues that a lot of commentary about the West’s response to events in the Middle East is premature, because Western reactions depend in part on how the war in Gaza plays out. Israel’s ability to destroy Hamas, and what doing so would require, is just the first of the uncertainties he notes:

Will Israel move in with large forces, or mostly conduct periodic raids from safer positions inside Israel? Will the campaign last weeks? Months? Years? How sustained will the bombardment continue to be, and for how long? Then: how will the United Nations and various NGOs be brought in to relieve the suffering of the Gazan people? Or will they be firmly kept out—or will they refuse to come because the situation isn’t safe enough for them to operate? Will more and more vulnerable Gazans be evacuated … or will Egypt and Israel’s other neighbors and the Gazans themselves refuse to facilitate what they see as a plot to depopulate the Strip and give Israel a freer hand?

Finally, how, more generally, will the other players in the region, hostile and non-hostile, react over time to Israel’s campaign? Will Hezbollah join the war? Will Iran? Will the American military wind up getting drawn in? What about Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia—will they make dramatic efforts to mediate and moderate the conflict … Or will they make no such overtures, and just try to insulate themselves as much as possible from the conflict? Or will they even be drawn in on Israel’s side?

Any of these scenarios—a longer war, a wider war, a war with an unclear outcome—opens up wildly different possibilities for how politics will be shaped in Europe and America in response.

Shadi Hamid cautions against treating terrorism as an irrational phenomenon and support for it as unchangeable:

Terrorism doesn’t fall from the sky. Terror is a tactic. It is a choice. Hamas’s grisly assault on Israel must be analyzed with this in mind. If we ignore this, we make it more likely that other violent organizations will take Hamas’s place even if the group is neutralized or somehow eliminated … According to one July poll, 60 to 75 percent of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank had positive views of Islamic Jihad and the Lions’ Den—groups just as or even more radical than Hamas … There are two ways to look at this. One is to say that something is inherently wrong with Palestinians—a view often expressed by both the Israeli and American right—or even that Palestinians, by supporting groups that are evil, are complicit in that evil. This perspective has dangerous implications: It means downplaying distinctions between combatants and civilians (as many Israeli officials have repeatedly done) and seeing all Palestinians as enemies to be destroyed.

The other way to interpret the survey results is to acknowledge a truth about all people: They’re complicated. In the July poll, half of Gazans agreed that “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders.” But it is possible for Palestinians to support a two-state solution that would allow Israel to exist as a Jewish state while also supporting armed attacks against and inside Israel. It’s more useful to ask how Palestinian attitudes toward violence have evolved. As the journalist Peter Beinart recently noted, at the height of the Oslo accords in 1996—when a settlement seemed possible—Palestinian support for the peace process reached 80 percent while support for violence dropped to around 20 percent. Clearly, Palestinians, like any group, are capable of supporting both violence and nonviolence, depending on the circumstances.

Physical Therapy for New Mothers

Christine Henneberg lays out the case for making PT a more frequent part of post-delivery medical care:

Pregnant women and new mothers are, in a sense, different from other hospitalized patients. Doctors tend to think of them as healthy young people undergoing a normal, natural process, one that should require serious medical intervention only occasionally. This is how my patients tend to see themselves too—and most of them do go on to live normal, if changed, lives. By this philosophy, what new mothers need isn’t intensive rehab, but a brief period (one or two days) of observation, some education about how to feed and care for their baby, and then a timely discharge home, with a single postpartum visit a few weeks later. Indeed, this laissez-faire approach is the standard of care in many U.S. hospitals.

But as the U.S. faces a surging maternal-mortality rate, with more than half of maternal deaths occurring after delivery, physicians are now in wide agreement that the standard of care needs to change. Pregnant women in the U.S. are not as young as they once were. Pregnancy and childbirth can present grave dangers—particularly when a woman already has underlying health conditions. A vaginal delivery is an intense physiological event that involves the rapid expansion and then contraction of the musculoskeletal system, along with dramatic shifts in hormones, blood volume, and heart rate. A Cesarean section is a major surgery that involves cutting through layers of skin, fascia, and muscle—and that’s if everything goes perfectly.

Rebeca Segraves, a Washington State–based doctor of physical therapy specializing in women’s health, told me she was struck early in her career by the realization that women undergoing a C-section did not receive routine postoperative PT. She was used to performing inpatient evaluations for patients recovering from relatively minor illnesses and surgeries, such as pneumonia, gallbladder removal, and prostatectomy. But after a C-section, she says, a PT evaluation “just wasn’t the culture.”

Yes, There Are Principled Supporters of Free Speech

At New York, Jonathan Chait argues that there is a reason for the “the frequency of the claim that free-speech defenders are not consistent in their values”:

Insisting that nobody really upholds a value is a way of giving yourself permission to ignore it. Brutal dictators like to say that every government violates human rights; gangsters are fond of insisting they’re no more crooked than any other powerful person.

There is a crucial difference between a specific, factually grounded charge of hypocrisy and a sweeping generalized charge of hypocrisy. The former is designed to uphold standards by shaming those who violate them. The latter is designed to undermine a standard by asserting implicitly that nobody actually cares about it.

The ubiquitous rhetorical move of insisting the “cancel-culture brigades” never criticize right-wing censorship serves that purpose. Its adherents repeat it so frequently because it plays a crucial role in their worldview in discrediting a belief system, free-speech liberalism, that poses a threat by dint of its ideological proximity. (The near enemy is always more dangerous than the far enemy.)

Provocation of the Week: You Have Two Noses

In The Atlantic, Sarah Zhang delivers a passage that forever changed how I think about my body:

The argument that humans have two noses was first put to me by Ronald Eccles, a nose expert who ran the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University, in Wales, until his retirement a few years ago. This sounds absurd, I know, but consider what your nose—or noses—looks like on the inside: Each nostril opens into its own nasal cavity, which does not connect with the other directly. They are two separate organs, as separate as your two eyes or your two ears.

And far from being a passive tube, the nose’s hidden inner anatomy is constantly changing. It’s lined with venous erectile tissue that has a “similar structure to the erectile tissue in the penis,” Eccles said, and can become engorged with blood. Infection or allergies amplify the swelling, so much so that the nasal passages become completely blocked. This swelling, not mucus, is the primary cause of a stuffy nose, which is why expelling snot never quite fixes congestion entirely …

In healthy noses, the swelling and unswelling of nasal tissue usually follows a predictable pattern called the nasal cycle. Every few hours, one side of the nose becomes partially congested while the other opens. Then they switch, going back and forth, back and forth … The idea made sense as soon as I consciously thought about it: When I’m sick, and extra swelling has turned partial congestion into complete congestion, I do tend to feel more blocked on one side than the other. Once you’re aware of the nasal cycle, you can control it—to some extent.

If you’re suffering from a cold, get the relevant details here. See you next week!

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