Saturday, January 24, 2009

In Struggle and Out

Over at Alas, a Blog, Jack Stephens has a post excerpting from an interview with Juliano Mer-Khamis, a Jewish man who directs a theater company for Palestinian children in Jenin. Mr. Stephens has his own blog, The Mustard Seed, where he writes about various facets of, and resistance to, oppression from a Christian Marxist perspective. This blog has a grand total of two posts on anti-Semitism, in one of which he grates his teeth and criticizes Hamas after a particular brutal massacre in a Jerusalem school. It is "truly sad", he writes, and illustrates "the beef" he has with Hamas:
[W]hile they are a resitance [sic] force to a brutal occupation, they are also a reactionary right-wing religious organization. That being the case, they do not respect women’s rights, they will attack LGBTQI folk, and use religion as an excuse for actions just like above.

Try to keep the outrage out of your voice, Jack! Oh, and the other post has to do with Sarah Palin's pastor. Beyond that, it seems, anti-Semitism is a non-issue. Good to know.

Right now, though, the top post on his blog is entitled "Resistance and Western Domination: 'If you don’t struggle, you surrender,'" and draws heavily on the aforementioned interview with Mr. Mer-Khamis.

There were a couple things that struck me about Mr. Mer-Khamis, and how he, and Mr. Stephens, are the disheartening, and in a lot of ways quite scary, counterweights to the message of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. Much of what he writes is quite tendentious -- he loves guns, he supports guerrilla warfare, he does his part by backing the guns with "knowledge, with culture, with discourse, with free discourse, with theater, with music, with revolutionary songs as we saw in different places in the world." In a lot of ways it is really quite pathetic. But the key graf, that really gets at the problem, comes here:
There’s two ways to deal with this conflict: either you surrender or you struggle. Struggling is not something that you can discuss upon the results or make speculation how it will come out, you just struggle. Because if you don’t struggle you surrender...

When I first read this, I paused. I recognized this logic. In the words of Loki, "I've heard a rant like this before". It is the logic that led to the Gaza operation. Recall my post, what do you do when nothing else works? It seems the answer is, you struggle. You lash out. Israel's Gaza operation was, at the end of the day, motivated by this binary of "surrender or struggle". Either you resign yourself to constant rocket firing forever, or you struggle. Israel could not see another option presented to it. It interprets the global mandate as being "surrender to Hamas". Nobody will stand up for them and say, "you have a right to be here too." Instead, people deliberate if their presence is an affront to God or merely humanity, and then -- dripping with condescension and holier-than-thou attitudes -- decide that, despite their imperialist temerity to want home somewhere, yes, (some of) the Jews can stay, maybe, at Palestinian sufferance. And if Jews die as a result? It happens.
I’m joining them hand by hand, because Zionism is also my enemy, my dream is to live together, Arab, Jews, in one free democratic country and Zionism is exactly the opposite. Zionism is all about ghettoing people into walls, it is about separation, it is about ethnic racism.

This has been one of the hallmarks of the discussion we've been having over the past few weeks on Israel and Zionism. Zionism is not "all about ghettoing people into walls ... separation ... [and] ethnic racism." In some forms it has led to these things, but it is not about them. As Julie put it somewhere, if you can't understand why Jews had the Zionist impulse beyond a naked desire for power, ethnic chauvinism, and imperialism -- if you think Zionism was fundamentally "about" that -- you're not the type of person who has a role to play in reconciliation. By defining the other side as per se unjust, you make it fundamentally impossible for dialogue to proceed. If "reasonable deliberation" (as Iris Marion Young would put it) is one in which both sides approach the table with an aim towards agreement, and one simply fiats that the other side's desires are embodied by injustice (racism, terrorism, ethnocentrism, anti-Semitism), then dialogue is a dead game.

I read the words of Mr. Stephens and Mr. Mer-Khamis and I can't help but think that they really love conflict. They revel in being on a side, fighting the good fight. The glory of the struggle. They need an opponent. They need someone to lash out against. The Jews are on the other side. Their perspective, their own liberation movement -- this is not worth engaging. Trying to work with it, trying to say you are in favor of both the liberation of the Jew and the liberation of the Palestinian, is (as Jack put it elsewhere) akin to being on the side of both "the ANC" and "apartheid". Ironically, the ANC I think would have been very careful to describe itself as being both pro-African and pro-White, refusing to buy into the destructive trap of eternal "struggle" wherein these two groups are implacably opposed.

We are blessed that not all, or even most, Jews and Palestinians agree with Mr. Stephens and his compatriots. Most Jews (inside and outside of Israel) support a two-state solution. As of January of 2008, most Palestinians did too, with 53% lining up behind two states for two people, and only 15% supporting a single bi-national state (the remainder -- 32% -- support only a Palestinian state in Palestine). There are Palestinian leaders -- Dr. Abuelaish, Sari Nusseibeh -- who concur, and are working very hard to check against the rhetoric of eternal struggle put forward by Mr. Stephens (and, for that matter, his pro-Israeli counterparts, such as Avigdor Lieberman). Even if I believed that the bi-national state represented the optimal solution right now (and I don't), if the people whose lives are actually on the line want an incremental solution, then by golly I'm going to incrementalize to the best of my ability. I can't help but observe that yet another blogger with communist affiliations is so committed to the cause of the oppressed that he sees fit to ignore their expressed preferences.

But therein lies the rub: A world in which both Jews and Palestinians agree on a solution (two-states) that is different from the one he thinks is just is a world where these two groups no longer struggle, and that is a threat. Indeed, I suspect Mr. Stephens would characterize it as surrender. I'd characterize it as co-existence and mutual respect, but I'm not him. "Struggle or surrender" are the words of those who so value the struggle that they never want it to end. They love being in a state of permanent conflict, with the security that comes with having a "side", the defiant solidarity, the moral righteousness that comes from rooting out evil. They hate evil more than they love good. Victory does not come from co-existence and agreement. Victory comes when you've managed to grind the other side so far into the ground that they sue for the right to be subjugated. And liberation politics becomes merely a fight to see whose ox is gored.

In the post on his own site, Jack talks up Franz Fanon and argues that resistance to oppression means (is defined by) rejecting "the oppressor's" law, military, rules of war, morality, "etc.". We, of the West, have no right to criticize it (Do Jews? Do the Mizrachi?), for Palestinians are only expressing "approval of their resistance to Israel as they see no other way." The fact that this is self-evidently untrue, as shown by the aforementioned examples, is yet another demonstration of how Jack desperately wants to preserve this binary between violent, apocalyptic struggle, and "surrender".

That one condemnation of Hamas, so many months ago, seems quite far away, doesn't it? And the "etc." is fraught with implication, for I think part of Jack's "etc" is that resistance "means" rejection of the "oppressor's" humanity. Once they are on the other side, they are null entities. Their hopes, their dreams, their pain, their death, are washed away. And then I go back to what I wrote:
The rages of extremism simply cannot survive due accord to all the victims of conflict. It can sustain itself quite well when your side is all that matters -- when you pick a "team" to express "solidarity" with and to hell with everyone else. It cannot, it cannot, survive those who care about the lives and liberation of all people.

The rejectionist stance that Jack exemplifies is a rant we've all heard before. What does he think the more virulent forms of Zionism were but a rejection by the colonized Jew of the law, morality, and structure of their oppressors? Does he think we had a right to do that? Does he think it is consistent with respect for our mutual human dignity? No? Why not? Either because he adopts the absurd position that the Jews who promoted Zionism were not oppressed, or because they were morally obligated to not "resist oppression" in the only way that Jack considers to be meaningful. In other words, we were obliged to accept our subordinated and colonized status.

At the end of the day, Jack isn't opposed to Zionism. He thinks he is, but he clearly isn't, for if the oppressed truly have the right to throw off wholesale the logic, law, morality, and even humanity of their oppressors, then there are precisely zero grounds to critique it. He is merely picking sides: he thinks Palestinian liberation is a more worthy cause than Jewish liberation, and so he is pro-Palestine, and "in struggle" anti-Jew. His prerogative, of course, but I will be fucking damned if he gets to call that leftist.

True progressives understand that desiring liberation for any group only makes sense as part of a broader commitment to liberation for all. Otherwise, it is mere partisanship and self-interest, and that is no basis for making normative claims. Commitment to human equality means breaking the dichotomy between "struggle" and "surrender", and pursuing a third way: listening, cooperation, respect, and co-existence. Jews and Palestinians alike (and their allies) have an obligation to pursue their liberation in a way that is respectful of and makes room for the equal humanity, dignity, independence, and self-determination of the other. Anything else is dressed-up chauvinism.

To tell the Jewish people how to resist means imposing onto the entire population ones world view of “acceptable” resistance while at the same time doing nothing to actively fight against the European and Arab theocratic machine which is slaughtering the Jewish people and seeking to recreate a condition of permanent exile and subjugation. To tell the Jewish people to resist in a certain way essentially defeats the purpose of resistance as resistance is that form which the Jewish choose to fight against the absolute and utter genocidal policies of global Christiandom, Islam, and secularism. To tell the Jewish people to “resist” in a certain way that is “better” than what they are doing now is to tell them to subjugate themselves to their oppressors; it is telling them to stop resisting.

The moral superiority and bigotry that Christian, Muslim, and secular intellectuals impose on the Jewish people, as if they are in a morally better place than the otherized Jew, is an utterly appalling line of thinking rooted in Christian, Muslim, and enlightenment "liberal" hegemonic racist thought. It is the pinnacle of thought that is deeply rooted in a history of telling the other how to “cope” with imperialism; that the other should accept the “civilizing” mission of the oppressor nations; that they can’t resist the oppressor nations as it violates international “law,” “human rights,” “morality,” the “rule of warfare,” etc. This can be seen by reading the histories of the ANC to the Zulu resistance, as well as Gandhi's call for Jews to willingly submit themselves to the gas chambers.

To tell the Jewish people not to use Zionism, including occupation, barriers, and settlements, to resist is to assume they all have a unilateral way of thinking and that they fully accept everything these entities stand for as supposed to accepting certain aspects, rejecting others, being critical of some, and readjusting weak positions. It assumes their acceptance of Israel means blind adherence to all of their policies as supposed to the approval of their resistance to anti-Semitic murder as they see no other way. It assumes only the Gentile can see the intricacies while the Jew can only see absolutes as if the Jew cannot comprehend complex thought.

To tell them to not resist in a certain way is to apply the rule of the oppressor onto the oppressed, it implies subjugation to the oppressor. The rule of the oppressor is “international law” and the “rule of warfare.” What have those two concepts (let alone the many others that Gentiles use to justify obliterating the Jewish people anywhere and everywhere, and that certain intellectuals use to criticize Jews for supporting Israel) done for the Jewish people? It has led to their massacre. What has law and morality done to stop the Holocaust or the ethnic cleansing of Jews for the Arab world? Nothing, it has continued to blow hot air with no action.

There are certainly strains of that analysis I find compelling. Nonetheless, insofar as it manifests itself in blind acceptance of whatever strategy Jews use to liberate themselves from constant, murderous, brutal oppression -- no matter how unjust or illegitimate they may be, it must be rejected under any robust conception of common human dignity. Being Jewish and human means a right to resist our oppression, and being Jewish and human means an obligation to do so in morally acceptable ways that are consonant with equal humanity and the human rights of all people. Those are my obligations -- not to "struggle or surrender", but to find a way to co-exist. Jack rejects those, and in doing so betrays his fundamentally reactionary bent.


Anonymous said...

From Jack's article:

"To tell the Palestinian people not to use Hamas to resist is to assume they all have a unilateral way of thinking and that they fully accept everything Hamas stands for as supposed to accepting certain aspects, rejecting others, being critical of some, and readjusting weak positions. It assumes their acceptance of Hamas means blind adherence to all of their policies as supposed to the approval of their resistance to Israel as they see no other way. It assumes only the Westerner can see the intricacies while the Arab can only see absolutes as if the Arab cannot comprehend complex thought."

That said, he does seem to crave conflict,you're right.

Ben said...

Poor Juliano--he kissed more Palestinian ass than an underground XXX studio in Gaza, and in the end his reward is that someone shot him 5 times and killed him and got away with it. Such a shame that much like Yasser Arafat, the poor little drummer boy's dreams of a 99%-Muslim "Palestine" weren't realized when he croaked. So very much a shame.