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A Dialogue on the Middle East and Other Subjects (2 of 2)

 

Ammar Abdulhamid & Eric Gans

 

AA Well, I guess due to our particular backgrounds none of us can actually claim neutrality when dealing with the issue of the Arab-Israeli struggle. Nonetheless, our mutual commitment to the use of language to defer violence already creates a bond between us that I am sure would help us forge ahead with this dialogue regardless of the touchiness of the issue involved. Having said this, let me respond to a couple of points you made in your answer to this question.

Can the Palestinians realistically be expected to sympathize or show any sign of reciprocity with the Israelis where there is nothing yet created on the ground that can give them any sense of closure? Sympathy seems to be the prerogative of the strong.

EG I understand your point here. But the whole idea of the Oslo process was that real negotiations, that is, between symmetrical partners, were possible. This has subsequently proved illusory.

Let me put the discussion on a more general level. As a reader of my Chronicles, you are aware that I have been trying to construct an ethic for our post-millennial or post-victimary era. Our problem is that the political mechanisms of liberal-democratic society are effective only between relative equals, yet the victimary approach to asymmetrical relations that worked in the past is no longer viable. In other words, we have to understand resentment and attempt to allay it, but we cannot accept it as a source of truth.

The application of this formula to the Israeli-Palestinian situation is that, indeed, the Israelis must maintain their sympathy for the Palestinians, but they cannot simply accept the Palestinians vision of reality and the demands that flow from it. Palestinians customarily describe Israel in the most violently hostile terms. Here is the beginning of a recent, typical, article in the Palestine Times: It all began more than 52 years ago when Arab nations sold Palestine to marauding Jews from Europe and America who came to the land of Milk and Honey to pillage, plunder and massacre the native inhabitants. Even Israeli revisionists critical of Zionist policy toward the Palestinians cannot engage in dialogue with this kind of language.

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No doubt it is too much for Israel to expect sympathy from the Palestinians, but we can hope for a gradual diminution of resentment. Unfortunately, having Sharon on one side and the terrorists on the other is not conducive to this process. But I do not think we should see failure as inevitable, or as irrevocable. Had Barak been more diplomatic, had Arafat been more statesmanlike, it seems to me that there was a real chance for peace. Such a chance, we must believe, will come again. Arafat has certainly been sounding pretty statesmanlike lately. This was written before the recent (December-January) Palestinian promises and attempts to crack down on terrorism. At the very least, the change in tone reflects the delegitimation of political violence since September 11, which, hopefully, can provide some common ground for both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

AA Palestinians are in many ways doing everything the Zionists did to create their state. Their violence is neither unusual nor unique. Some would argue that it is even more justified, since they are seeking to liberate part of their original homeland, most Palestinians having already accepted the right of Israel to exist. Can we blame the Palestinians for being as prone to violence as any other people in the same circumstances? I mean, personally, I do condemn violence, and I am not one of those people who condone suicide bombings for any reason. But the circumstances of the struggle, and the way the world is responding to it, are such that the Palestinians seem to be encouraged indeed to think of themselves and, hence, act as ultimate victims.

EG Tout comprendre, cest tout pardonner, and one can well understand the Palestinians frustration. But terrorism makes negotiation impossible. Whatever its crimes, Jewish terrorism before the creation of the Israeli state was limited and purposeful; it focused on discouraging the British so that they would get out, which they did. What is the focus of Palestinian terrorism? It is a mode of revenge rather than a political act. And its result is to harden Israeli positions. Sharon wouldnt be in power without the Intifada, and he wouldnt be occupying Bethlehem as I write if one of his ministers hadnt been assassinated. The only possible rational context for Palestinian terrorism is a campaign to drive the Jews out of the Middle East altogethera desire often expressed in Arab countries, as you know.

AA You said: If Israel is by its mere existence a persecutor and the Palestinian community its victim, no conversation is possible. But then, the Palestinians were indeed victimized by the creation of the State of Israel with hundreds of thousands of them getting thrown out of their homes. (Barak himself, it is said, came very close to admitting that, without endorsing the right of return, of course.) Thus, they were victimized in the ultimate sense because there is no undoing the injustice that fell upon them.

For a long time this is what the Palestinians have been unprepared to accept, but with the Oslo Accord, they proved that they have finally come to terms with that. What went wrong after that?

Let me be more clear. You refer to the assassination of Rabin in a Chronicle that came out at that time; do you think Rabin would have been able to deliver peace? As such, is the problem with the peace process related to the leaders involved? Or are we faced here with a typical Girardian situation where the people on both sides are dictating the course of action to the leaders and demanding the right sparagmos. If so, how can this situation be handled?

EG No doubt the Palestinians suffered in 1948, but you cant forget that the Arab countries invaded Israel at the outset and that history would have been very different had they accepted the original partition agreement. And of course you are aware that Israel only took over the West Bank after another invasion in 1967, and that Jordan subsequently refused to take it back.

But I dont think we should be discussing the subject on this level, where each side can cite its arguments. The fundamental problem is that, in the eyes of the Arab world, certainly until recently, and I think still today in most quarters, Israel simply has no right to exist. The Oslo accords (which followed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan and some lessening of international tension) seemed to reflect a change in this attitude. But here I return to my earlier point: if Israel has a right to exist, and the Palestinians have a right to a state, then, however disparate their power, they must be able to negotiate in symmetry. Which is to say that some signs of mutual sympathy are necessary. Im not sure if Rabin and Arafat shaking hands was quite enough, but it was a first step.

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I understand the Palestinians desire for a right of return, if only as an acknowledgement of their symmetry with their interlocutors. Perhaps there is a way of finessing that issue. Clearly Israel cant just give back its land, most of which has been greatly transformed, to those who occupied it before 1948. Nor is it very clear what a returnee would do with his property in a country utterly unlike the one he left. Perhaps some kind of compensation would be satisfactory; perhaps even the right of Israeli citizenship, although one must understand Israels fear of no longer being athe onlyJewish state. Or perhaps, as I heard at the time of the negotiations, all the Palestinians desired was an acknowledgement of their right in abstracto. Yet I cant help thinking, considering the extent of Baraks offer, that the real reason it was not accepted was not that Israel had rejected the right of return, but that, when push came to shove, the Palestinian leadershipnot to speak of the Palestinian streetjust could not bring themselves to accept the legitimate existence of Israel.

I dont know if Rabin would have been able to bring peace, but if, as I believe, there was a real chance of peace, perhaps just a little thing like that handshake on the White House lawn, coupled with Rabins great prestige in Israel, might have made the difference. I also believe that Arafat had genuine respect for Rabin and would have been far more willing to take a chance on him than on Barak, who, as I understand, never reached out to him personally.

Now well just have to wait for the latest cycle to play itself out. Perhaps if the US is successful in destroying the al-Qaeda network (which remains to be seen), the glamour and apparent usefulness of terrorism and martyrdom will diminish even in the land of milk and honey. After all, the IRA has begun disarming; the Berlin wall fell; apartheid was ended. One should never despair.

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AA How legitimate, in your opinion, is the feminist criticism of GA and the works of Girard as being too masculine? How would you respond to this criticism?

EG There have also been attempts at Girardian feminism. Since Girard is for the victim, his thought has sometimes been appropriated by practitioners of victimary thinking. This being said, and putting aside the rhetorical aspects of the feminist critique, I think the point of legitimate debate is whether culture, including language, functions primarily to defer violence or whether it is an artifact of humanitys unique family structure, a domain in which women may be considered to have taken the lead. The evident facts that womens bodies, including both primary and secondary sexual characteristics, have been modified by evolution far more than mens, and that sexual attraction was and continues to be the driving force in this processwhose adaptive function is clearly to secure masculine support for our helpless, large-brained infantsmight seem to imply some linkage between our sexual uniqueness and that other distinctive human trait which is representation.

By one account (written by a man, incidentally), the first intentional signs were ochre markings used by women to simulate menstrual blood in order to attract males. But such speculations have not persuaded me to abandon the fundamental principle that culture exists primarily, because critically, to defer violence. There is really no society, except perhaps our own, in which women have an equal part in social decisions, particularly those concerning the sacred. Either women are deemed unclean and kept away from sacred rites, or they are considered sacred and placed at the center of these ritestwo variants of the same general configuration. If women had been the originators of signs and therefore of culture, how could they have lost control of it? No doubt there have been throughout history fluctuations in the relative power of men and women, but the notion that men at some point usurped a once-maternal power is just a resentful myth.

It is not simply because men are physically stronger than women that culture has always been dominated by males, but because culture functions primarily to defer violence and violence is a male prerogativeand a male danger. A society that sends its women into battle is not going to survive through very many generations. That doesnt make women inferior to men; on the contrary, their lives are generally held more precious than mens. I can imagine a feminist of the future who, on reading that in the Titanic disaster most of the women were saved while most of the men drowned, alleges this as proof that in 1912 women held more political power than men.

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AA In one of your early Chronicles, you rejected the hypothesis that language and representation were indeed invented by mothers seeking to communicate with their infant children. The essence of your objection seems to have been that the intimacy of the mother-child relation would have stood as an obstacle in the face of disseminating any system of communication that developed between the two.

A potential counter-argument here could be that intimacy at the time did not require privacy. The mother-child relation, no matter how intimate, was not quite private, as such mimesis could have taken over and the system could have easily spread to the community.

The real point here is this: why insist that representation was strictly invented in order to defer violence? Why cant we speculate that language had evolved through some other system, but its potential for deferring violence was only discovered at a certain mimetic crisis?

EG My answer to the previous question can be applied here. As you see quite clearly, the real question is whether language and culture emerged in order to defer violence or whether this deferral is merely a collateral function.

The point of the originary hypothesis is to account not so much for the superiority of human language over that of our ape cousins as for its different mode of operation, through symbols as opposed to indexical signals. Human is to ape language more or less as the Keplerian is to the Ptolemaic planetary system: both can enunciate certain basic facts, but the latter, in contrast to the former, cannot be extended to other data without an exponential increase in complexity. Apes can no doubt communicate all sorts of things in their languages. But a language of conventional signs, even if at the start it doesnt communicate very much information, has an essentially unbounded capacity for such communication, whereas animal signal systems do not. What must be explained is why we adopted a potentially more effective system at a moment when it did not convey more information.

The originary hypothesis explains exactly how the linguistic sign differs from the signal: it is not part of an action to appropriate its referent, but a gesture of renunciation of this referent, incarnating a general interdiction that could only have arisen as a means to defer conflict. Girard presents a good deal of evidence in La violence et le sacr in support of the hypothesis that all rites are sacrificial and that sacrifice is a means of channeling and dispelling violence. Why should language, which is a minimal rite, have a different origin?

As for the mother-child relationship, when mothers teach their children to speak today, they dont invent a private or semi-private language, they teach them a simplified version of the language they speak with other adults. Language is a reciprocal exchange and the mother initiates her child into language so that he can learn to take part in this exchange. How could such an exchange have originated in the context of a fundamentally unequal relationship? Barring some radical reformulation, the idea of mother-child language origin seems to me a feminist pipe-dream rather than a serious hypothesis.

***

AA In one of your recent Chronicles you raise the issue of vulnerability and the possibility of relapse as a counter-argument to Francis Fukuyamas thesis expounded in The End of History and the Last Man. But Mr. Fukuyama himself has repeatedly asserted that he does not discount the possibility of relapse.

What he seems to be suggesting is this: in a society that, for one reason or another, failed to achieve liberal democracy, or where there occurred a relapse, aspirations will still lead the people, sooner or later, towards the fulfillment, or at least, the envisioning of liberal democracy as the system that could not be improved upon. This means that the discovery of liberal democracy marks the ideological end of history.

In Mr. Fukuyamas own words in his introduction to the 93 paperback edition of his book: While some present-day countries might fail to achieve stable liberal democracy, and others might lapse back into other, more primitive forms of rule like theocracy or military dictatorships, the ideal of liberal democracy could not be improved upon.

By arguing against Fukuyama, are you, by any chance, suggesting that the liberal democratic system can be improved upon? Or are you simply trying to keep the option open so as to safeguard the idea of liberal democracy from becoming a dogma? Or is there some other explanation?

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EG I think some of the Chronicles I have written recently make my position clearer. I admire Fukuyamas clarity and forcefulness and have often referred to him in my columns. But there is a contradiction between unilaterally declaring the end of history and describing this end as a political mode that is incompatible with any such declaration.

Fukuyama, following Kojves Hegelian fundamentalism, doesnt seem to see the difficulty of applying Hegels absolute idealism to an open-ended human temporality that continually generates new knowledge and options. The nation-state is not the final incarnation of the Weltgeist. Marx, at least, thought of the Hegelian end of history as the beginning of a new, creative world of freedom. Fukuyama, in contrast, in the only silly passage in his brilliantly prescient 1989 article, evokes the wistful sadness of seeing history come to an end and the boredom of living after history, when just the opposite should be the case. Forgetting for the moment about Bin Laden, the integration of all of humanity into the global economy would not result in a stagnant utopia but in ever more creative and unpredictable forms of interaction on every level.

But we cannot forget about Bin Laden. As I said in my Chronicles in answer to some remarks of your own, even if al-Qaeda doesnt have right now the ability to destroy the global market system, we cant just assume that next time this will still be the case. We must respect our adversaries enough to acknowledge the coherence of their worldview. The medieval society they preferwith or without Islamic lawis exactly what they would bring about if they did succeed in destroying modern civilization. This gives their destructive actions a consistency that was not the case for either right- or left-wing socialism (recalling that Nazi is short for National-Socialist). These doctrines, however cruel, claimed that, once the eggs were broken, the omelet would be superior to anything eaten before, in both the moral and the material sense: the International Soviet or the Thousand-Year Reich would be not only morally superior but more economically productive than bourgeois society. (In the Depression, such claims had a certain credibility.) The terrorists make no such promises of material prosperity.

Fukuyama is certainly right that their ideology does not express any really new ideas. But suppose they won; suppose our civilization were destroyed. Would it really be useful to say that we were still really at the end of history, but that the Idea just met with some temporary setbacks on its way to incarnation? I think that, even in the narrow sense in which Fukuyama uses the term, the end of history requires, at the very least, a consensus of all states or state-like entities. One can argue that McVeighs will always be possible within liberal democracies (I have made this case in an article called Originary Democracy and the Critique of Pure Fairness, in The Democratic Experience and Political Violence, ed. David Rapoport and Leonard Weinberg, London: Frank Cass, 2001, 308-24), but al-Qaeda is a problem for the Idea itself. Its all well and good to talk about liberal democracy and globalization, but if large parts of the less developed world cant be integrated into the global system fast enough to prevent events like September 11, then some changes must be made, the Idea must be tweaked.

To speak more concretely: at a minimum, as life in the US demonstrates more clearly each day, liberal democracy must install a much more powerful and pervasive security apparatus. And this, in turn, will necessarily restrict the liberties in which the Idea of liberal democracy consists. Liberal democracy is successful because it is maximally adaptable. But one cant simply dismiss every possible adaptation as epiphenomenal by claiming that its already implicit in the Idea of liberal democracy. This is closed, apocalyptic thinking, like Girards claim that Christ has already revealed the whole of anthropological truth. For Girard too, life in post-history is boring.

One more point. The end of history is homologous with the end of war. WWII was the last total war that civilization, and perhaps humanity itself, could survive. War between the most advanced states having always been the motor of political history, the impossibility of war brings history to an end. Throughout the Cold War, as its name implies, the possibility of war seemed to be not abolished but indefinitely suspended, so that the two world systems were expected to remain face to face indefinitely into the future. The end of the Cold War then appeared to put an end to the very Idea of war. But now we are waging a new, asymmetrical kind of war. And all of a sudden we realize that our side is vulnerablethat if we dont do things right, we could lose. If even this time of uncertainty and tension doesnt qualify as history in the eyes of our faithful Hegelian, then well just have to imitate Marx and stand him back on his feet.

AA You have touched in your responses on the September 11 terrorist attacks, but let us here address this issue in a more direct manner. In your Chronicle referred to above you introduce the concept of the talibanization of the world. What exactly do you mean by that? Do you buy into the notion that this attack represents in some way a clash of civilizations?

EG Ive tried to answer this question in my most recent Chronicles. No, I agree with you (and Fukuyama) that there is no clash of civilizations; the conflict or dialectic is taking place within global society. But the conflict is with an internal other not satisfactorily conceptualizable in Hegelian terms. Resentment is not a Hegelian category; even in the master-slave dialectic, the slave isnt resentful, he just learns while the master vegetates, and eventually, as Kojve puts it, he becomes a freed slave, a bourgeois.

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What I meant by talibanization is certainly not that the Taliban would take over the world. But if the terrorists and their friends, this time or the next, can put together enough weaponry to destroy the fabric of global civilization, the keepers of the order that would emerge in the ensuing state of nature would be gangs of armed men, the most stable and powerful of which would probably follow a rigid, transcendentally imposed ideology like that of the Taliban. As Durkheim observed, the core function of religion is ensuring social cohesion; secular society requires a much higher level of organization than religious society.

***

AA Finally, and by way of ending this second part of the interview, let me revisit the issue of the Holocaust, if only by way of registering a personal sentiment.

It is rather unfortunate that many Arabs choose to ignore this issue. I can understand the reasons behind this attitude, namely the way the Israelis and their supporters use this issue on occasions to make the world turn a blind eye to developments in the Occupied Territories.

Still, I think the issue is much too significant in the course of human history to be so ignored or, worse, to be considered as some sort of political fraud, as some conspiratorialists imply at times. On the other hand, I really fail to understand why so many people in Europe and the States seem to be so obsessed with not revising the numbers involved here. Would the tragedy be any less significant had its victims been one million rather than six? It is the nature of the tragedy and not only its scale that is significant here.

Here is one example where one people were singled out for destruction not because of any real fault of their own, but because of the internal logic of the Nazi movement and Nazi society. The reasons which the Zionist fathers give to explain the persecution of the Jews in Europe, namely their perceived isolationist tendencies and what seemed like archaic particularities, could explain (but never justify) discrimination, an ugly tendency in itself. But they could never explain something like persecution, pogroms, or a holocaust. Never. These things could never be explained by any alleged fault of the victims, or their way of life.

As such, I totally agree with you when you say that, in this case, there is no need to see both sides.

EG This is a good place for me to express my admiration for your concern for dialogue, on this as on a whole range of issues. First, a couple of details. No doubt it is impossible to determine the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust within ten or a hundred. I have seen low estimates of somewhere around five million. But there is a point at which, as Engels might have said, quantity turns into quality. Killing one million would no doubt be bad enough, but when the consensus of historians, both Jewish and non-Jewish, has settled on the figure of six million, reducing it to one million cannot but cast doubt on the basic thesis. If all these people have been exaggerating by a factor of six, then, perhaps, beyond the usual wartime brutality, nothing really happened at all. Maybe, as the revisionists say, there never were any gas chambers; the prisoners just died of overwork and disease. I wont go any farther along that path.

Im not sure what you mean by the Zionist fathers explanation of the persecution of the Jews. No doubt assimilated Jews like Herzl displayed a certain impatience with the shtetl Jew and his archaic ways, but the obsession with the Jewish question beginning in the mid-nineteenth century requires a more organic explanation. After all, if these backward tendencies were the problem, there would be no need for Zionism; one could just modernize, as most Jews have done in the US. Zionism reflects a deep despair (born in part from Herzls experience of French anti-Semitism during the Dreyfus affair) that the Jews would ever be accepted within Christian society.

The Jewish question fascinates me for many reasons. One is that few people, even few Jews, really understand modern anti-Semitismthe one thing that Tim McVeigh and Bin Laden have in common. Anti-Semitism is not garden-variety racism. We should certainly accord Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally ill, not to speak of millions of Russians, a place in our memorials of the Holocaust. But, numbers aside, in how many speeches, in how many political tracts, did the Nazis refer to these other groups? Anti-Semitism was their constant obsession, the very core of their political doctrine. I have several times had occasion to refer in my Chronicles to the American neo-Nazi novel The Turner Diariesmost recently because, at the climax of the story, the protagonist flies a nuclear-armed airplane into the Pentagon. This novel portrays the triumph of the White race over a United States run entirely by Jews, for whom Blacks and others serve as henchmen: the Jews punish disobedient Whites by handing their wives over to Blacks to rape. The Jews are vermin, but they are also the secret masters of market society, as the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zionstill reprinted, unfortunately, in the Arab worldmakes clear. Given the association of Jews with the market, it should not surprise us that the first modern anti-Semites were men of the left: Alphonse Toussenel, the author of the first major work of French anti-Semitism (Les juifs, rois de lpoque, 1844), was a socialist, a disciple of Fourier.

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The Holocaustthe greatest of human horrors, as even Chomsky affirmswas focused on the Jews. It provided the archetype for the victimary epistemology that was so spectacularly successful in the postwar era. Jew is to Nazi as: colonial to colonizer, Southern or South African Black to White, woman to man, homosexual to straight, handicapped to normally abled This process, like affirmative action, has scarcely benefited the Jews, who have gone from sub-human to Honky in a generation. The only compensation the Jews received for the Holocaust, aside from some inadequate and still largely unpaid reparations, was Israel. The British finally gave their blessing, the Soviet Union its recognition, Germany a good deal of financial assistanceand, of course, the United States its backing and continued support. During its first decades, Israel was seen (outside the Arab world) as a courageous little country fighting against huge odds. But since 1967, or at least since the Yom Kippur war in 1973, when Israels military superiority became incontestable, anti-Zionism has become the new rallying cry for the enemies of global market societyChomsky being, once more, a usefully caricatural example.

Thus, all question of blame or responsibility aside, the Jews once again find themselves at the center of the historical dialectic. It is far from fantastic to speculate that, without Israel, there would be not only no al-Qaeda, but no fundamental friction between Islam and the West; perhaps the Arab countries would even have evolved into democracies, or in any case into more vigorous economies

Some might see this revival of the Jewish question as just a historical accident, but it seems inherent in the mimetic ambiguity of the notion of the Jews as the chosen people. The Jews are in a very real sense the first nation, the first people who define themselves by something other than a territory. Whence their survival in a stateless condition for so long. Yet, again in contrast to the Gypsies, the religion they created to ensure their survival (or vice-versa) is at the core of all Western or Abrahamic religion. However many Jews have converted to either Christianity or Islam, the persistence of Judaism makes it impossible for either of its more successful rivals to declare itself the end of history in the religious sphere.

Over the past century and a half it has become increasingly clear that, however absurd it may appear to Enlightenment rationalism, the stigma of sacrificial election borne by the Jews is the central sore point of Western history. The end of history has to do with the Jews in a quite literal sense. Christians identified the conversion of the Jews with the end of this world and the coming of Gods kingdom. The Marxists wanted to void the Jewish question by abolishing religion altogether and treating the Jews as a nationalityStalins increasingly vicious anti-Semitism after WWII reflects his frustration with the failure of this policy. And for the Nazis, of course, the extermination of the Jews was the key event that would move society into post-history.

These eschatological visions are defunct. Fukuyamas is not, but it requires correction. If we take Marxs association of the Jews with capitalism not as an anti-Semitic slur but as the Hegelian assimilation of a people to an Idea, then we may interpret Fukuyamas thesis as saying that history is over, not because the Jews have been eliminated, but because they have univocally triumphed: globalism even more than liberal democracy is Jewish in its disregard for national boundaries and its insistence on the circulation of capital. But to put Fukuyamas thesis in these terms is only another way of displaying its inadequacy. The end of history cannot be defined by either the annihilation or the triumph of any people.

Today the Jewish question is concentrated in Palestine. The Palestinians did not exist as a people before the founding of the state of Israel; they were simply the Arabs living in a particular area in the Middle East, one that had been incorporated into Trans-Jordan (as it used to be called) but that could just as well have become part of Syria. The very idea of a Palestinian nation, as you suggest above, emerged in mimetic opposition to Israeli statehood. I do not mean to say that it is for that reason spurious or inauthentic. In a very real sense, all nationalism takes the Jews as its model. This was quite clear in the case of Germany, as a number of Jewish-German thinkers pointed out before 1933: the Germans, always the odd men out in Western Europe, fancied themselves the chosen people of the Aryan race.

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Israel is perceived by most Moslems as a source of rage and humiliation. Jewish exceptionalism is realized there in the most scandalous possible way, by the implantation of a Western-type society in one of the central holy places of the Umma. Historys answer to those such as Toynbee who thought that, with the founding of their own state, the Jews would become an ethnic group like every other, is that Israel merely amplifies the scandal of the chosen people to state level, obliging the Jews to affirm for the sake of their very survival the sense of superiority to other groups that they had always been accused of secretly harboring.

History would be easier without Israel, but it is only with Israel that it can achieve closure. This could have been true provided we conceived of Israel as a spirit or an lan vital working in the midst of the Nations, rather than a national state. To reduce this universal vocation to a physical entity is to thwart it. (Dimitri Avghrinos) One of Baraks proposals that I hope will one day be renewed is the agreement to share control of Jerusalem. It is certainly true that Jerusalem, whatever its significance for Moslems, is the only city sacred to the Jews; no one is asking for joint control of Mecca or Medina. But, precisely for that reason, the peaceful sharing of power in Jerusalem would be the sign of a genuine peace, even the beginning of friendship between Israelis and Palestinians, and thus between Jews and Moslems. In biblical (or Koranic) terms, this would be the reconciliation of Isaac and Ishmael, the legitimate heir and the outcast. By sharing Jerusalem, the Jews would symbolically share the chosenness that has made them the objects of millennial resentment with an Arab nation that is in a very real sense Israels own creation. However unrealistic it may sound at the moment, I think it is only through the benign example of the oldest nation serving as godfather to the newest that the phase of history dominated by war will end.

As things are going at present, this peace and friendship may be a long time in coming. Meanwhile, by way of making a beginning in the realm of ideas, I am grateful for this opportunity to converse in peace and friendship with you.

Indeed,Tout comprendre cest tout pardonner. This is the main conclusion. And on it, I fully agree with Mr. Gans.

We, as Arabs, like the rest of the world, have to understand the Jewish tragedy throughout the last two millennia (what it means to be a pariah everywhere and during all these years). We have to realize the full horror of the Shoah, so as to be able to understand what pushed the sons of such a great universal religion (the religion of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), to become, like the others, the Sons of a lesser Goda very narrow nationalism, instead of remaining a great universal religion, the Mother Semitic religion, the Mother of Christianity and the Mother of Islam. We have, at the end, to understand and admit, that our cousin Jews are humans, like we are, weak, like we are, and, as such, can be at times stupid, like we can.

It seems now, as a pragmatic solution for most of our moderate politicians, in the region and all over the world, that a Palestinian state on most of the West Bank and Gaza, living in peace with the mainly Jewish state of Israel on the remaining of Palestine, is the ideal solution for all. But, although I will not refuse it if it becomes a fact, this solution leaves me very skeptical. Because on it, will remain the causes of all our modern tragedies, that is, modern nationalism and religious fundamentalism. Because for me, although I accept it now as a fact, the creation of the Jewish state of Israel in our region, like the creation of the Muslim state of Pakistan in the Indian subcontinent, were at the time, very big human and political errors.

For me, the ideal solution (my dream) was, and remains, a more human approach that looks to the future. A democratic and secular state for its entire people, not only in Palestine (Israel), but also in our entire region. The right of return should not only be the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland, nor only the right of any Jewish believer from anywhere the world to return and live peacefully in his holy biblical land of honey and milk, but also the right of all Arab Jews to return to their countries of origin. The right of the Jews that were living in Damascus, Aleppo, Baghdad, Cairo, Casablanca, and Sanaa (where there were prosperous Jewish communities), to return to the cities where they belong and where they lived for centuries before the creation of the actual state of Israel. Andwhy not?the right of every human to live everywhere in our small world.

But now, the only thing we can do is to be more realistic. So let us cool down the ongoing situation so that to become more able to stop the growing resentment from both parties. Let us, each from his side, turn to his main internal problems, fighting so as to make his society a real civic society, where real civic people live in real civil states. And finally, so as to close the subject, let us keep our dialogue, so small it might be, open.

Thank you Ammar for such a bold and positive initiative, and thank you Mr. Gans for your openness and sincerity, and let us remain in touch. (Akram Antaki)

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