The events of the past week have been weighing heavy on my mind. The American elections, the ‘war on terror,’ events in Iraq and the horrible images from Beit Hanoun in Gaza all had me focused on the Middle East. The things I was reading and the comments I were exchanging this week on weblogs from Israel, Jordan, Palestine and Malaysia had me asking myself where does my anger and pain come from. And after some introspection I felt there was a bit of white man’s truth that needed to be said.
The way I was brought up by my parents and the values I absorbed from my Jewish cultural and religious education helped me develop a deep sensitivity to universal justice and fairness. About twenty years ago, I was attending my wonderful sister’s law school graduation. One of the last speakers, either the dean or the guest speaker, sent those fresh young lawyers from this socially progressive university off on their future paths with a powerful three-word admonition: “Agitate, agitate, agitate.”
That those words have so vividly stuck with me over twenty years is testimony to how deep they resonated with my own intense sense of justice and fairness. And when I look at events in the Middle East, especially those involving Israel and Palestine because of my own ties to that area, that sense of justice and fairness is inflamed and enraged.
What’s really going on the Middle East?
Last night I quite coincidentally (Or maybe not. Hmm?) stumbled across a little known film on TV that I watched because I saw Marlon Brando playing the lead character. The film, Burn! was made in 1970 and is set in the mid 1800’s Caribbean. If you are not familiar with the film, let me quote a bit from Amazon dot com:
A Caribbean island in the mid-1800's. Nature has made it a paradise; man has made it a hell. Slaves on vast Portuguese sugar plantations are ready to turn their misery into rebellion - and the British are ready to provide the spark. They send agent William Walker (Marlon Brando) on a devious three-part mission: trick the slaves into revolt, grab the sugar trade for England then return the slaves to servitude. Gillo Pontecorvo, the acclaimed director of The Battle of Algiers, explores colonialism and insurrection in the searing epic Burn!
Again it hit home. Many of the major problems in the world today are the residue of Europe and America’s colonial history. In fact, in the Middle East that history is still being played out. Less than a hundred years ago, countries were artificially carved up out of the larger Middle East to suit the competing interests of the French and British. The first and second aliyahs of European Zionists, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, inevitably bore some of the traditional hallmarks of European colonialism. In 1953 an Anglo-American-assisted coup removed a well-loved democratic prime minister in Iran and replaced him with the despotic Shah.
In the 1980’s the West played Iraq against Iran and vice versa for their own interests. In late 2003, when Libya pledged to give up her weapons of mass destruction, the US then busy distributing billions in Iraqi reconstruction contracts to primarily American companies, perhaps deferred to Britain who quickly swooped in to begin signing all kinds of lucrative business deals. As I write this, many authoritarian and despotic regimes in the Middle East are being kept in power thanks to the economic, security and military assistance of the USA in particular.
All of which indicate a still flourishing colonial relationship between the West and the Middle East.
But the Middle East has never been subdued nor really let free. North America was totally subdued by the Europeans and the Americans. South America, although let free, saw her character, religion and ethnic make-up forever changed by the Europeans. Asia, India and Africa could not be subdued and eventually largely fought their way to independence while retaining their predominant character. (Not that all of those areas of the world are free of modern more subtle largely economic colonialism, especially Africa. But that’s a different weblog entry).
But it’s really only in the Middle East where in 2006 this colonial drama is still playing out to the extent that it is. The grip of colonialism still lingers there more strongly, more visibly and more violently than anywhere in the world. And for whatever reasons, the Muslim inhabitants of the Middle East have not been subdued but are rather experiencing a resurgent defiance that the West has no answer to.
These dynamics are basically no different to the ones that led to earlier mostly violent struggles for freedom like India’s from Britain, or Indonesia’s from Holland, or North Africa’s from France.
I am pretty sure that no one reading this now is thinking that the British, the Dutch or the French should have done whatever was militarily necessary to maintain their respective control of India, Indonesia or Algeria. No one reading this today is thinking that white South Africa should have perpetuated her dominance and apartheid.
So why is it so hard for us to admit that from a colonial point of view, the Arab Muslims in general, even with their ‘independent’ countries, and certainly the Palestinians have yet to been given the respect and self-determination that they so rightly deserve? And why is it so hard for us to admit that the struggles we find ourselves in have as much to do with that colonial history as with some alleged indiscriminate and blind hate that so-called ‘extreme jihadist islamofascists’ have for western democracy?
I haven't made any of this up. It's all true. So of course, when I look at current events through the looking glass of colonial practice my sense of universal justice and fairness is going to be enraged, also when it comes to Palestine. My surprise is that I seem to be in such a minority.
P.S. I shouldn’t feel compelled to add this but I do. Does this mean that I in any way to any degree condone acts of terror? NO NO NO. On the other hand, does this mean that I consider some things done by for example, America, Israel, Egypt, Saudia Arabia, etc etc state acts of terror? YES YES YES. And I condone those no less.