Monday, May 13, 2019

Inartfulness is a Human Condition

One thing we're going to have to learn, as Palestinian voices finally start to become a part of mainstream American politics through figures like Rashida Tlaib, is that they are going to be imperfect. And inartful, and awkward, and sometimes wrongheaded. It is a foolish myth to think that when voices-previously-unheard emerge onto the public scene, they do so in a pristine state of innocence and insight -- perfectly clear-eyed, universalist, and humanistic in orientation. Whether this purity is taken as a descriptor (as it is on parts of the naive left) or a criterion (as it is on parts of the reactionary right), it is equally unreasonable and distorted.

The historical fact is that Palestinians did not, in any meaningful systematic capacity, want to assist Jews during the Holocaust or provide them refuge. For the most part, they were actively against it. Haj Amin Al-Husseini is an extreme figure, and his "leadership" over Palestinians can be overstated, but he's not unimportant, and he implicates genuine collaborationist attempts between Palestinians and Nazis. That history needs reckoning with.

Yet the broader historical fact is that virtually no nation or people performed well on the metric of "giving Jews refuge". Not Americans, not Brits, not Australians, and not Palestinians. If it is self-soothing pablum for Palestinians to tell themselves that they tried to give Jews refuge from the Nazis, it is little more so than the British patting themselves on the back for the kindertransport as a means of ignoring their much broader hostility to taking in Jewish refugees -- a hostility which was explicitly antisemitic in character. Everyone prefers to think of themselves as solely the part of the hero (or at least the noble victim), but part of growing up means accepting the warty parts of one's own history.

But again, this is a very human foible. Awkward attempts at historical revision to make oneself feel better, but which have the effect of minimizing or downplaying the wrongs done to others, are an ever-present feature of political life. That doesn't make them unreal, it just makes them ordinary. If you're Jewish and Zionist, think of all the times you've heard and perhaps repeated the mantra "a land without a people for a people without a land." Imagine what someone like Rashida Tlaib thinks when she hears that. It is a mantra which downplays hurt caused to another -- people who very much were also of that land. Eventually, upon encountering the narratives which inform us of how it hurts, the better among us shift to new language -- but that awkward moment of transition will always be there. And so when we hear tales of how Palestinians "gave" Jews refuge, and bristle as to the historical illiteracy of the claim, we are indeed experiencing something. The point, though, is that it is nothing different from what many others -- Palestinians (and Jews, for that matter) included -- have experienced before.

In reality, imperfection and awkwardness and partiality and belief in comforting myths that make one out to be the hero of the story is a human condition, not a specifically Palestinian one. The sooner we attribute it to being typically human rather than atypically monstrous, the better of we'll be.

1 comment:

Doc_P said...

I agree that many Republicans are twisting and deliberately misstating her words and attributing things to her that she did not say or intend. However, she misrepresented the history of the region. I think that she knows what happened (she isn't either stupid or ignorant) and deliberately lied about it. Neither she nor most of her defenders have acknowledged her errors in pushing back at the criticism. It is as if they are accepting the lie that the Arab residents of the Palestine Mandate helped and welcomed the Jews. That is whatv disturbs me almost as much as anti-Semitism being used as a weapon by non-Jews (and some of their Jewsih allies) on both the right and the left as a bludgeon. They do not actually care about the Jews.
And I don't believe her (or Omar) when they say they aren't anti-Semitic. I don't believe that of all those right wingers either, the ones both in and out of Congress