- - Monday, March 7, 2016

Who could possibly be opposed to life being normal? In my field, psychology, “normal” is a gentle word meaning free from any mental disorder; in other words, sane.

So it seems quite mad for there to be a popular policy in Middle Eastern countries called “anti-normalization.”

Anti-normalization purports to refer to anti–normal relations with Israel, but it actually means anti-freedom and democracy, and anti-progress and prosperity for one’s own citizens. Here’s how anti-normalization played out in several places recently.

Egypt is a country struggling to achieve incremental degrees of freedom and democracy, as well as prosperity. Last week a member of the Egyptian parliament had dinner with the Israeli Ambassador to Egypt. What could be more normal than for a member of government to dine with an ambassador to that government? The two countries have diplomatic relations. Therefore the MP, Tawfik Okasha, was doing his job in the most normal fashion. Nevertheless, two-thirds of his colleagues voted to remove him from Parliament. He’s out.

That’s crazy. That’s anti-normalization.

Jordan, overwhelmed with Syrian refugees, has too many people and too few jobs. Israel and Jordan have recently increased cooperation on employing Jordanian workers to take the place of illegal immigrants in Israel. It’s a good deal for both sides. Soon job openings in the southern Israeli city of Eilat were advertised in the neighboring Jordanian city of Aqaba. The ads ran in the Jordanian newspaper Al Ghad … that’s normal. After a couple of weeks the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood newspaper published scathing criticism, including furious quotes from social media. Al Ghad was duly intimidated. It apologized and, notwithstanding both government policy and the needs of ordinary folks, will no longer accept those job ads. Score one for anti-normalization. Score zero for unemployed Jordanians who will never hear about work opportunities they desperately need.

Anti-normalization goes beyond the Middle East in the form of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement. Their anti-normalization program similarly hurts the little guy’s chances for freedom and prosperity. Its recent campaign against a SodaStream factory located in disputed territory just outside of Jerusalem forced the factory to shut down and relocate. Hundreds of Palestinian workers lost their livelihoods. Once again, the consequences of anti-normalization are anti-opportunity, anti-growth, pro human misery. How crazy is that.

The irony of anti-normalization as an ideology is that it exists at a time when nothing is normal in the Middle East. Self-destructive political choices following the trance of the Arab Spring continue to gain strength and increase cruelty throughout the region. On Friday, 4 nuns and 12 others were murdered in an attack on a nursing home in Yemen. In the Palestinian territories, hateful saber-rattling rhetoric by political and religious leaders broadcast in mass media and online incite teenagers - and weak adults - to set out on suicidal missions of murder, attacking random Jewish neighbors with knives, axes and clubs.

There’s nothing normal in the bloody, crazed chaos.

In recent years, even nature itself has not been normal. Water is always a fragile and precious resource in this desert region. However, according to the U.S. Space Agency, NASA, the latest 14 -year dry spell was the worst drought in 900 years. Water shortage was likely one of the contributing factors to the deterioration of life in Syria leading up to civil war in 2011. Fighting continues there today, though it is somewhat reduced by a fragile, partial cease-fire.

The Syrian civil war, and the evil Assad dictatorship that provoked it, is a catastrophe spilling over into Europe. A Russian expert I know, who is perhaps inclined to be suspicious after years of analyzing Soviet policy, suggested that Russia is using the Syrian refugees as a weapon against Europe. Flooding the European continent with refugees, she opined, is Putin’s retaliation for EU sanctions against Russia over its actions in the Ukraine.

If this theory of Russian strategy is correct, should we consider it normal or crazy … or crazy like a fox?

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