Peace Is Necessary
August 10, 2006, the German weekly DIE ZEIT published a public declaration
against the July war, a call for peace and fruitful exchange that underlined
the common roots of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Jewish, Muslim, Christian
and other civilizations. It was a sign of hope that proponents of peace
and understanding from diverse backgrounds, "artists, intellectuals and
cosmopolitans" from Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Sri Lanka (Ceylon),
Turkey as well as Western countries were the backers of this declaration.
The proponents of peace are not exclusively attached to the Jewish or Muslim
faith; the poet Adonis expressively refers to himself as a "poète
It is clear that the most urgent task now is to stop the war. Diagreements in theoretical and/or ideological respect thus become secondary, at the moment.
However, it can be argued that in the last analysis peace, understanding and cultural exchange cannot be based on illusions and an attitude that merely seeks to gloss over differences and real injustice.
It is certainly
correct to underscore the fact that certain social forces in the West that
pose as "political" elites and / or are economically powerful and
therefore politically influential, have deplored the "threatening" end
of an arms race carried on for decades. In the early 1990s the drive for
a "peace dividend" must have seemed like a nightmare to them. Huge profits
made by "defense" contractors were at stake. The brassheads in the armed
forces would not get ever new and more modern "hardware," they feared.
It would be stupid
to believe that the rulers and the ruled in the Middle East or South and
South East Asia are innately "better human beings"
The call for peace
published on Aug. 10 in DIE ZEIT refers to "obvious" or "transparent" respectively
"translucent" (durchsichtige) "geo-political" and "geo-economic" interests.
Of course, the undersigned cannot be more specific in a brief statement.
It may be diplomatic not to name the US as a culprit but the present Bush
administration has a clear geo-political interest to defend and expand
its stake in the region (economically and militarily). The Middle
East was and is a major supplier of energy to the West and Japan, and now
Central Asia is added as an oil source. The US was an heir to Britain in
the Middle East with the Arab peninsula as a landbridge between Europe
and South Asia and the Suez canal of strategic economic importance. Today,
while China is singled out as the next big "challenger" of US superiority
(in the economic field and in other fields), the trend of US politics is
to "encircle" China just as they once encircled Russia. And while seeking
a stronghold, and establishing US bases in Central Asia, Iran (the 'old
friend' and satrap that deserted the ranks of satraps and thus became a
'natural foe') is encircled as well.
If churches, denominations,
institutionalized forms of "faith" and "relgion" are not innocent, this
is not to say that they have not produced positive contributions to the
historically evolving cultures of the world.
The statement against the war is concerned about the war, about stopping it quickly. This is justified. It is necessary. They are not concerned about an analysis of contradictions that can only be sketchily referred to, here, as well. It must be accepted that a priority such as this is discernable. But what do the undersigned mean by "the continuation of a fruitful exchange" - between the West and the Islamic and/or Arab world, between Israel and the Palestinians, etc.? Those who signed the statement may very well have experienced such a fruitful exchange, personally, individually. But where do they see the "fruitful exchange" between the cultures referred to? The "fruitful" existed, but it was "always" or always "interwoven" with destructive and brutal "forms" of "exchange," including war, suppression, and colonialism. It was not always the "West" that was the aggressor and the oppressor. If we go far enough back into the past, we see expansive Arab "kingdoms" and an expansive Ottoman empire. The roles were switched, in modern times. Nothing to be proud of, nothing to simply gloss over.
How nice to imagine cultures that are nothing but "intellectually" and socially "rich" & "fruitful." How nice to be in love with past and present cultures, as a scholar, a writer or composer, a law expert or a theologian. And yet, the people who breathe a "culture" are children breast-fed by "their native culture," children that may enjoy intercultural exchange and "enrichment" as they become intellectually adult. And still, they are also torn apart, and embittered or even poisoned by what is questionable in "their" or in the "other" culture. Let us not forget that. No culture is innocent, just as no religion is innocent. We can discover so much that is good and important and necessary in them. But let us not close our eyes to what throws us into dependence, or suffocates our creativity. Was there ever a culture not impregnated by the injustice and inquality and oppression rampant in the respective society? If we ask ourselves and others to open our eyes and seek a more intense, rational intercultural exchange in a non-dependent, non-repressive "ambiente," under conditions that are fair and equal, free and equal (in other words), we can hardly afford either to idealize our "own" or "the other" culture. Cultures are the hotbed that breeds us and we cannot be without them. We cannot throw the cultural heritage into any dustbin of history, and start anew with a tabula rasa. But we certainly cannot take what evolved and what is, as a "given fact" that is above criticism and absolves us from any responsibility to work for "the NEW." The "new" not because it is "new" but because it is more humane, more rational, and corresponds more to the needs of the population.
It is not only alright but necessary to reject "the present violent polarization between the so-called Western and the so-called Islamic world." It is necessary to reject the US intervention in the Lebanese civil war in - wasn't it the 1950s? It is necessary to question the denial of social and political rights so many Palestinians have experienced for two generations already. It is necessary to remember the role of a German BGS general in commanding a unit of mercenaries and putting down a revolutionary attempt or coup d'etat by nationalist, Pan-Arabist army officers in Saudi Arabia in - wasn't it the 1970s? The media have rarely kept awake ourt historical memory of such interventions, in the West and the Arab world. What we remember, in view of our "short memory," is the last (i.e. Third) Gulf War. All these Gulf Wars were triggered, directly or indirectly, by the West. And we, critics in the West, critics in the Islamic and/or arab world, should not "bedevil" the West? Of course not. There is never any point in "bedeviling" anything. It obstruct rational analysis; it makes impossible rational criticism and introduces defamation as an Ersatz of analysis and resulting criticism.
As for the Arab world, it is difficult to formulate a criticism as a Westerner without appearing as arrogant. Let us therefore start out by learning from and listening to native critics from Arab and Islamic countries before coming up with our own suggestions. One thing I think can be said immediately, however. Western colonial and neo-colonialist powers have backed and propped up the most narrow-minded, particularist, anti-rational and anti-democratic political and economic "elites" that could lean on in their zone of influence. The nationalist backlash of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s was a reaction to colonialist development. The small upsurge of the left (particularly in Lebanon, Palestine, in Pakistan, Agfhanistan etc.) and - during the 1970s - rather strongly in Turkey was a reaction to ossified social structures stamped by an incapacity of so-called "elites" to play a positive role vis-à-vis such scandals as increasing slum development (housing misery), corruption, authoritarian "democracy" as well as clientilism. With the more or less heavy defeat of the left in Turkey (after the military coup d'etat), in Lebanon (certainly with Israel's intervention in Beirut and with the implantation of the Syrian army), in Jordan (after the Black September massacre), the "religious" political forces stepped in and sought to establish themselves as a representaive of the "hopeless" and "down and out", "deserted" strata of the population. This was all foreseeable. It is an indictment of both the internal inefficiencies and inequalities of the societies concerned, and of those big powers (including the US ally, the government in Tel Aviv) which intervened directly or indirectly from outside. If Western societies deserve to be denounced, Arab or Islamic societies deserve the same, though for other reasons. And still, the relationship between the West and the Arab world is that between Master and Slave, Dominator and Dominated; it lets us in no doubt where our sympathies belong.
against war is signed by citizens from many countries and of many denominations,
including the "areligieux" poet, Adonis.
For a person from the West, the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is the aspect hardest to "deal" with, if not impssible to "treat" fairly. We, in the West, are guilty. Not only because the US has used Israel as an aircraft carrier of sorts, or rather a bridgehead. But mainly because we cannot ignore the discrimination and persecution "Jews" have been subject to in the West since at least the days of Isabella of Castile. The "progroms" of Czarist Russia, the Dreyfus case in France, the denial of full citizenship in German states (but not only there) during the 19th century are all symptomatic. Then came the vast genocide carried out by the German Nazi regime in concentration camps found in many places of occupied Europe. The executions of Jewish villagers in Nai occupied Baltic states and in Nazi occupied parts of Russia. We know today that the ideology and practice of so-called anti-semitism was rampant, in its minor forms, in the West, until it reached a climax in Nazi ruled Germany. There were collaborators. In Spain, in France, in Italy. In Belgium and Holland. In Poland and the Baltic countries. In Sweden. Integrity and civil courage were rare. Countries like Switzerland and the US denied visas to many who tried to flee the sphere of influence of the Nazi rulers and their willing helpers. Top ranking allied politians by 1943 or 1944 had a fairly good knowledge of camps such as Auschwitz and what was going on, as is true of the Catholic hierarchy. Did they too wish for what the Nazis called "the final solution"? The church hierarchy did not speak out, loud and clear, did not say what it could have said. The Allied planes did not bomb the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz and other camps. Or the ovens, the fences. Why not? Did they, too, hope for a Nazi kind of answer to what was then called by some "the Jewish question" even though it was a question of racism, discrimination, lacking (real) democracy, a lack of human kindness and solidarity.
This is not to exonerate those discrimated against. Certainly a "Jewish" worker to my mind (in all my ignorance of what "Jewish" meant at the time) was above all a worker. A "Jewish" intellectual above all an intellectual. A "Jewish" businessman a businessman, a "Jewish" banker a banker. A "Jewish" revcolutionary a revolutionary. But I ask myself, Where not most so-called "Jews" in the West (whether religious or secular) above all stamped by the experience of not years, not decades, but generations and generations of persecution? Did not in the late 19th and early 20th Century a majority of them succumb to the temptation to bend over backwards and seek integration, or "assimilation" - as it was called? Were they not, by and large, almost as chauvinistically "German" or "French" during the First World War as the vast majority of their co-citizens. Were not many of them proud to have served their country as soldiers or officers "at the front"? How many of them were not harboring a feeling of European superiority, vis-à-vis colonized Africans or "Chinese coolies"? Probably, given their memories of anti-semitic prejudice and anti-semitic mob violence, "Jewish" factory owners treated their workers better than the average factory owner in their country. Trying not to be different, this care to show a social conscience made them different and exposed them to the hatred and prejudice of their peer group. Trying not to be "Jewish" (whatever this word means). they were branded as "Jewish" by the Others because of their humanity, their "social conscience" which was relevant for their entrepreneurial practice within the limits of their social role as capitalists. For the anti-semitic ideologues, "the Jews" were bankers, and the workers with a Jewish background were invisible to them up to the very moment when they were herded to the ovens. After the October Revolution, with anti-Bolshie hysteria rampant, they were "money changers" (bankers) and bolsheviks at the same time, in anti-semitic discourse. They were what any Bush would call the ethnic (?) personification of the "axis of evil." At least for the Nazis. An axis of evil, from Wall Street to Dowining Street to the Kreml. Capitalists "of the worst sort", cosmopolitans, and commies. All at the same time. And the real men and women stamped as "Jews" were like you and me. Intellectuals, dumb people, German petit.bourgeois chauvinists, factory owners, artists, musicians, occasionally a banker or a bank teller or an accountant. Introvert or extrovert. Religious or not. Funny or dull. And a lot more. And sharing a history of a "persecuted" bunch of people, discriminated against, but on what basis? For some time, their "Mosaic" religion. But many of the Spanish Jews who chose to be baptized were still burned by the Inquisition. Was ethnicity what set them apart? Race theories are funny. For an older generation of more conservative Palestinians villagers, Jews from the former USSR, with blonde or red hair and the "obscene behavior" of young girls who wear shorts, are merely "European." I wonder whether older Jewish immigrants from Morocco or Jemen shared this Palestinian view, in some respects. And whether European "Jews" were European enough to view "Jews" from the Magreb or other Islamic cultures and societies with the same disdain that Eurpeans generelly tend to show vis-à-vis "backward", "Third World" villagers. How, for instance, do young, emancipated, "no longer anti-semitic" Germans see old, traditionally dressed immigrants from Anatolian villages? With respect? As cultural equals? I doubt it.
or rather, Palestinian-Israeli conflict is indeed a sad story, touchy,
full of traps and contradictions. How did Jewish refugees from Europe who
had barely saved their skin, feel in Palestine when they encountered petit-bourgeois
Palestinian nationalists who showed their open sympathy for Hitler and
Nazi Germany? Of course, from the Arab perspective, the English were a
colonial power that blocked their political emancipation, and Nazi-Germany
was at war with Britain. They hoped for Britain's defeat; it was in their
own interest. It was an understandable but selfish and anti-human position
in view of the large-scale annihilation practice of Nazi Germany that was
becoming clear as a goal since at least 1938 and that was put in practice
since about 1941.
For one thing,
Europeans were coming to the Middle East not only after the Nazi genocide
(now known as the shoah or Holocaust). They were coming, in some numbers,
since perhaps World War I. And increasingly since the Twenties, since the
rise of Nazism, the new upsurge of anti-semitism when the ruling classes
during the world economic crisis needed a "scapegoat." They were Europeans,
socio-culturally, I say, but specific Europeans. Germans, many of them.
But Germans who now defined themselves as "Jews." Or who had suffered being
defined in that way. Defined in that way because of their real or
supposed "Jewishness" which was perhaps just a star afixed or a bureaucratic
entry in a book, an entry written by other Germans or Europeans,
co-citizens who branded them as "Jews." Or perhaps those who came to Palestine
did not need to be branded in that way. They had always felt they were
Jews. Because of their religion and/or their history of migration and flight
from persecution and/or their history of discrimination despite assimilation.
There were so many reasons, so many possibilities why one "always was"
or "slowly was transformed into" or "suddenly became or was made" A "JEW."
By and large, I personally reject Zionism as an antiquated ideological form; it's 19th century nationalism; it sets people apart, separates, is conducive to "nationalist" arrogance, nationalist blindness with regard to the human rights of Others. And this has lead, on both sides, to unnecessary hatred, and (repeatedly) to war. But I question "Arab" nationalism as well. Of course, Fanon and others showed that the counter-violence of the oppressed must not be equated with the violence of the oppressor. The "nationalism" of the FNL in Algeria helped mobilize the "masses," we learned, in the fight for emancipation; the "nationalism" of the French soldiers and their civilian supporter was instrumental in backing the colonialist aspirations of France. But I have my doubts. Did not the nationalism of the FNL serve to discipline the population after Independence Day? Did it not make some of them (many of them?) unthinking servants of a privileged, anti-democratic and corrupt "elite"? Was not "nationalism" in many Arab countries an ideological tool of the ruling stratum which is used to stabilize a questionable status-quo? Is "nationalism" not separating people irrationally, as is the case of most or all institutionalized religions?
Let us talk of
the real wounds inflicted.
Israelis today are hardly in an enviable positon. Palestinians are not. The misery of Palestinians is apparent, and so is their despair, and the resulting militancy (whether justified by "religious" or "secular," petit-bourgeois or grass roots ideologies). In Israel people suffer from a war economy, high defense spending, increasing inequality, a devastation of the rudimentary "welfare state" that had existed for a time (for Israel's citizens, not those of the occupied territories). Most of all the suffer from the clear and present danger of "suicide bombers," but also of commandos involved in armed combat against occupation forces. No safe haven, then. The stepped up war in Lebanon, on the pretext of two soldiers taken prisoner by armed Palestinian cmmandos who demand an exchange of prisoners, is only another stage in a spiralling development leader to more violence and counter-violence, more hate and grief and sadness on both sides.
The question is whether anything but a new beginning, brotherly, sisterly, in fairness and solidarity, without frontiers and nationalisms, can provide a solution. Clearly the Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza is not viable, whether within the 1967 frontier or than now redrawn de-facto by the transplanted Berlin "wall."
For Israelis, it is clear that they have "nowhere to go." We in the rest of the world must understand that, Palestinians should understand that. Perhaps individually they, as any Palestinian, may go anywhere: to China, Australia, Niger, Chile or Iceland. But in practice, for most of them, to emigrate would be difficult if not very nearly impossible. Talk of "throwing them into the sea" was never helpful, nor is the talk heard of late that "Europe should take them." Perhaps in a way, there is some truth to it. Those who committed the crime of persecution and genocide should "pay the price," Palestinians should no be asked to "pay for the sins of others." But to ask Jews in Israel to seek shelter in Europe is like asking a frequently and brutally beaten wife to seek shelter in her tormenter's apartment. From the point of view of the victims of European discrimination and Nazi German genocide, Europe for many cannot be a safe haven. It is the locus at the origin of their trauma.
And the trauma experienced or "received" lets many of them see themselves even today as victims or possible victims, as "aggressed," as "victims of aggression in their own, promised land." The phantasma of "the promised land" and the emotional situation of survivors of a vast genocidal practice of million-fold murder has resulted in a perspective that sees the weaker part (the Palestinians) as a threat, with the larger threat of imagined Arab or Islamic solidarity looming in the background. The experience of having been a victim of terrible violence has lead to an attitude of "Never again", "let us never again be a victim." "Let us hit harder than they do." "They - the aggressors." The position is, "We have been wronged, we have always been wronged. By the Romans who destroyed the temple and dispersed us; by the Muslims who made us second-class citizens and pride themselves that they have not burned us, like the Spanish; by the Spanish who subjected us to the Inquisition; by mobs in Medieval France, Germany, Poland; by Czarist Russia's mobs; by despising bourgeois peers in liberal democracies of the West; by workers and workers' movements; by Marx the 'born Jew' who derisively commented on our petty fears behind our assimilation effort while asking us to become revolutionaries and Weltbuerger, citizens of the world. Finally, the worst - the Nazi genocide (like no other - though Africans subjected to the slave trade, slavery, and colonial genocide have ood reasons to disagree [it was simply the first vast genocide by Europeans that saw Europeans as victims])." The position is, "We have taken back our house from you that we were forced to leave two-thousand years ago, we kicked you out and left you in misery in the street - And now we want to be left in peace. We're sick and tired of being threatened, and hearing your curses, of your violence and aggression. Go away. Get out of sight; if you resort to violence, we'll hit back ten times as hard. We were victims once. We have learned the lesson."
Perhaps all these words are strangely besides the point. A vast misunderstanding. The trauma, the fear that is still alive, the overreaction and the projection that makes the "aggressed" the "aggressor" - all merely phantasized by an Outsider who doesn't undestand a bit? Maybe so. I apologize. It's the old Europrean arrogance. The arrogance behind lectures rather than dialogues. How do you see it, as an Israeli in Israel? As a Palestinian? In the West Bank, in Gaza, or as a second class citizen of Israel? How do the olive trees "feel," some two hundred years old or older, that are felled by Israel's soldiers and their caterpillars?
Perhaps Nazim Hikmet was right when he likened woman and man to a tree, in a forest. It's a beautiful simile. Why can't "Arab" (or call them "Palestinian") women and men not live in the "same forest," on the same land, with "Jewish" men and women? And with those who do not give a damn and who can do without strongly asserting the one or the other, or still a different "national identity"...
The cultural heritages we are born into should be "received" and critized, and creatively "developed." Exchange, between cultures, is a good and stimulating experience when it happens under circumstances free of domination, arrogance, and cultural imperialism. For this, all of us need peace.
(Aug. 11, 2006,
welcome. If published by URBAN DEMOCRACY,
the copyright remains with the author(s).