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The Panthers of Identity Politics

LONDON – I was in Jordan, that beautiful oasis of calm and moderation in a difficult and dangerous neighborhood, when I first heard the news about the murder of two British soldiers and a Catholic policeman by dissident republican terrorists in Northern Ireland.

We had looked out across what Christians call the Holy Land from the Jordanian hills. What struck me, thinking back to the days I once spent in Northern Ireland, was how both there and here the crucible of so much struggle, bitterness, and bloodshed is very small.  There is an intimacy about the geography of Northern Ireland, Gaza, and the West Bank that makes the violence seem all the more inexplicable and obscene.

Is this violence made inevitable by the clash of cultures, religions, and ethnicities? Is it programmed into DNA by history, language, and our different ways of meeting our spiritual yearnings?

It was my good fortune to be reading in Jordan a book called On Identity by Amin Maalouf. It is a brilliant assault on what the author, who is Lebanese, French, Arab and Christian, calls “the panthers” of identity politics. Maalouf hopes that one day he can call all of the Middle East his homeland, and that his grandson will find his book a strange memento of a time when these arguments had to be put forward.