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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Guest post: Sophia on S/S, 9/11, W/M

From Sophia as a comment on this post:
What's the word for "eastophobia"?

We reflect some of the Orient's fear of the west, and exhibit a distressing ability to ignore the accomplishments of Oriental people along with a clear view of our own past.

The ironic thing about Israel, along with Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, and to some degree Morocco and the other states bordering the Med, is that they suffer from internal stress as well as external attacks precisely because they bridge East and West: they are traditional battlegrounds. Culturally they are extremely rich and complex because of this. Geostrategically they have long straddled trade routes and guarded the waters that link Europe, Africa, Western Asia, with the East.

In spite of our current difficulties, let's look to the ways we can learn from these ancient places. Modern Israel has managed to an extraordinary degree, to encompass people who come from worlds separated not only by distance, language and culture, but by time. There are Bedouin in Israel, Arab fellahin, Jews from Ethiopia, India, Russia, all over the Arab world, Iran, as well as the people of the better-known Western community. Lebanon just suffered another bomb blast today, killing an antiSyrian politician as well as several other people - again, we see a state under stress precisely because she is trying to turn to the modern world, while yet providing a bridge to the East.

I beg people, as a lifetime student of Eastern art, history and culture, not to succumb to the temptation to damn the Orient, as many, fearful of change, have damned the West.

Rather, let's keep working to learn about each other. We Jews, as a cosmopolitan people, live in the most sophisticated Western cities, yet a majority in Israel are people of the East. Are they not modern, accomplished, possessed of brilliance? Let's find people in the Arab world, people in Iran, in Pakistan, in North Africa, with whom we can share ideas, with whom we can mutually grow and find ways to save our planet. Obviously this is a challenge, especially when, as my partner just pointed out, governments are repressive and ordinary people are terrorized by extremists brandishing automatic weapons, and blowing up simple shoppers at the market. It's hard to find ways to communicate with Iraqis when the simplest pleasures, a trip to the bookstore, the weekly animal market, have been blown asunder by a terrorist's bomb.

Yet, we must keep trying.

For, much as Israel is wrongly made a target and a lynchpin, the conflicts surrounding her are similarly distractions from some painful realities: desertization, burgeoning populations, hunger, spiraling energy and food costs, environmental damage. It will take mutual cooperation to solve those problems.

M/W represent a faction of humanity, I think, who've actually made a living from the nexus of realpolitik and the commercial world: people who realize that chaos results in high energy (and other) prices, which in turn benefits elites at the expense of planet, animals and people.

Chaos like this was deliberately fomented during the British Empire, who actually referred to it as "The Great Game," enthusiastically played in the East with their Russian foes. What does it matter, after all, if a little nation or a little people is destroyed, as long as the bottom line benefits and people thousands of miles away feel more "secure"? Do some reading about Zbigniew Brzezinski and Afghanistan, or Baker and Israel and Lebanon, or study Nixon and the Brits and their behavior toward Israel during the Yom Kippur War. It's enough to chill the blood.

So: Left or Right, let's not buy into this ugly scheme. Our well-being and security are important, yes, but there are lives, valuable lives, valuable people, in the East as well. One of the most awful things in the late 20th century must be the destruction of Afghanistan, and it's led to nothing but woe - for the Afghan people, for the Russians, and now, for America too.

Meanwhile, we Jews face a daunting challenge here at home in America because elements from the Left are apparently buying into what is essentially a far right wing construct: international realism, which seeks temporary advantage by playing with nations and their peoples as though they were pawns. Worse, decades of propaganda - some Left, some Right, some Communist, some Islamist, have distorted the Arab/Israeli conflict - as "Jewish power" or "Jewish conspiracies" were distorted in the past - out of all proportion. I believe that a residue of antisemitism in the Western world is part of this, but also, there's probably a great deal of state-sponsored media and academic pressure supporting the burgeoning judenhass now becoming impossible to ignore. I just read an article on Harry's Place, a British left-yet-not-antizionist blog, which details how Iran's official propaganda wing, Press TV, is trying to persuade people in the West to engage with Islamist movements. Many of these movements are explicitly antisemitic (not "just" antizionist"). A piece on HuffPo, written by "a former Republican and FBI agent", is frighteningly antisemitic in tone: http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/Read.aspx?GUID=B1DF75F4-D152-4CC7-ADB6-D40DF0FFB3CB.

The American left has traditionally supported the underdog, yet in this mirror world, the tiny Jewish state/Jewish people, have become projected as monsters. Therefore the American left is reacting, with tender heart but apparently without benefit of education: Sabra and Shatilla continue to be seen as an Israeli crime - why? Because nobody studies the Lebanese Civil War, really studies it, especially from the standpoint of the Palestinian/Lebanese conflict, which would explain a great deal about Sabra/Shatilla and indeed the very reason why Israel was in Lebanon in the first place. Another aspect of this: the Christian Lebanese were characterized early on in the conflict as "right wing", well-off or even "fascist", and therefore undeserving of support, particularly in view of the fact that they were in conflict with the Palestinians, who have been enshrined as the uber-underdog, and whose tactics and motives therefore cannot be seriously challenged.

I'm at a loss how to combat these rushes to judgement in a world of 10 second sound bytes and bloody, distorting visuals. How can ordinary people combat powers - right or left, government or religious or political, who are deliberately focused on manipulation of fact and opinion?

Media doesn't help; it too is profit-driven and/or state-owned - or even run by religious political parties, like al Manar and al Jazeera; and can no longer be counted on for even basic objectivity, but seems to operate under the banner, "If it bleeds, it leads," and focuses on certain issues at the expense of others far more serious. For example, I saw a poster downtown yesterday, that claims some 33 million people have been displaced by war. Yet, CNN doesn't cover them. It covers OJ Simpson and devotes a hugely disproportionate amount of time to, you guessed it, the Arab-Israeli conflict - which loses proportion and context - much as "G*d's Jewish Warriors", all 5 of them, more or less, rated a full two-hour presentation by Christiane Amanpour - who characterized a New York couple as wearing diamonds yet.

Israel, one would think, is a giant, powerful monster of a state, whose people are similarly omniscient and, heaven forfend, rich!, in addition to being conspiratorial, law-breaking, frightening individuals who terrify poor little WASP power-brokers and corporate and political leaders like Charles Percy, Jimmy Carter, GHW Bush, and James Baker, not to mention Walt/Mearscheimer, who claim they are being "silenced."

I have no answers to these challenges, other than to pray that people read, study, and use their common sense. Periodically, Jews have been attacked in frenzies of bloodletting in times of famine, plague, dislocation and war. It's almost ritualistic. The very absurdity of this situation might well prove to be our salvation: surely, people will see how ridiculous this is?

Just a small point on the initial paragraphs: Far East culture, like Arab culture, also seems to be based on honor/shame but it proves that honor/shame is not inherently immoral, rather that the way Arabs choose to internalize that paradigm often is. - EoZ