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Monday, November 14, 2011

The narrative of perpetual Palestinian Arab victimhood

At a speech given in September, Shelby Steele said:

The Arab-Israeli conflict, is not really a conflict, it is a war – a war of the Arabs against the Jews. In many ways, this conflict has been a conflict between narratives. We who strongly support Israel have done a poor job in formulating a narrative which will combat the story spun by the other side. We can do better.

The Durban conferences, the request for UN recognition of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, and the general animus in the Middle East and elsewhere toward Israel and toward the Jews, what are they really about? Is the Durban conference and the claim that Israel is a racist nation really about reforming the people of Israel and curing them of their racism?

I think their real interest is to situate the Palestinian people within a narrative of victimization. This is their ulterior goal: to see themselves and to have others see them as victims of colonialism, as victims of white supremacy.

Listen to their language; it is the language of colonial oppression. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas claims that Palestinians have been occupied for 63 years. The word oppressed is constant, exploited. In this, there is a poetic truth; like poetic license, in a poetic truth a writer will bend the rules in order to be more effective.

...Focusing on the case of the Palestinians, who would they be if they were not victims of white supremacy? They would just be poor people in the Middle East. They would be backwards. They would be behind Israel in every way. So this narrative is the source of their power. It is the source of their money. Money comes from around the world. It is the source of their self-esteem. Without it, would they be able to compete with Israeli society? They would have to confront in themselves a certain inferiority with regard to Israel – as most other Arab nations would have to confront an inferiority in themselves and be responsible for it.

The idea that the problem is Israel, that the problem is the Jews, protects Palestinians from having to confront that inferiority or do anything about it or overcome it. The idea among Palestinians that they are victims means more to them than anything else. It is everything. It is the centerpiece of their very identity and it is the way they define themselves as human beings in the world. It is not an idle thing. Our facts and our reason are not going to penetrate easily that definition or make any progress.


...Freedom is a dicey thing to experience. When you come into freedom, you see yourself more accurately in the world. This is not unique to the Middle East. It was also the black American experience, when the Civil Rights bill was passed in 1964 and we came into much greater freedom. If you were a janitor in 1963 and you are still a janitor in 1965, you have all these freedoms and they are supported by the rule of law, then your actual experience of freedom is one of humiliation and one of shame. You see how far you have to go, how far behind you are, how little social capital you have with which to struggle forward. Even in freedom you see you are likely to be behind for a long time. In light of your inability to compete and your underdevelopment, freedom becomes something that you are very likely going to hate – because it carries this humiliation.

At that point formerly oppressed groups develop what I call bad faith. Bad faith is when you come into freedom, you are humiliated and you say, "Well you know the real truth is I am not free. Racism still exists. Zionism is my problem. The State of Israel is my problem. That is why I am so far behind and that is why I cannot get ahead."

You develop a culture grounded in bad faith where you insist that you are less free than you really are. Islamic extremism is the stunning example of this phenomenon. "I have to go on jihad because I am fighting for my freedom." Well you already have your freedom. You could stay home and study. You could do something constructive. But "No, I cannot do that because that makes me feel bad about myself." So I live in a world of extremism and dictators.

This is the real story of the Palestinians and of the Middle East. They will never be reached by reason until they are somehow able to get beyond bad faith, to get beyond this sort of poetic truth that they are the perennial victims of an aggressive and racist Israeli nation.

Challenging their narrative with this explanation will enable us to be more effective. Until now, we have constantly used facts and reason and have not progressed.

...The irony and the tragedy of all this is that it keeps these groups in a bubble where they never encounter or deal with the truth. This becomes a second oppression for all these groups. They have been oppressed once, now they are free and yet they create a poetic truth that then oppresses them all over again.

How are you going to have good faith if you are raised being told that the society in which you are trying to compete is against you, is racist? It is always the Palestinians who suffer, and will continue to suffer, because all of their energy is going into the avoidance of their situation rather than into being challenged by it and facing into it.
Read the whole thing.

A textbook example of this kind of thinking comes from the comment pages of todays' Al Quds al Arabi (Arabic.) In an article about the Arab League suspending Syrian membership, at Al Quds al Arabi, commenter Majid Dudin says:

The Jews stole all our land, language, and technology from us; they robbed and raped the Canaanite language and corrupted it into what is called the Hebrew language, and their technology is stolen from Europe at the hands of Jonathan Pollard and others.

How perfectly a single comment encapsulates Shelby Steele's argument! Blame everything on the Jews - to avoid being blamed for your own inadequacies and failures.

An entire culture has been raised with this kind of thinking for generations. And they are enslaved by it just as they try to enslave the rest of the world by this false and bigoted framework.

(h/t CHA)