Monthly Archives: September 2010

what peace process?

Now that full-scale building has resumed in the West Bank, and land in East Jerusalem housing 30 Palestinian families has been handed over to Jewish settlers by the State of Israel, the “peace process” hangs in a delicate balance. Yet the very nature of such a process was created as tenuous by definition.

The Palestinian Authority has taken a stand against popular Palestinian sentiment to continue with talks despite continued land evictions, settler violence, and state terror. Now they are being set up for humiliation. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman addressed the United Nations yesterday, calling for an interim peace process that would “take a few decades” and involve a population transfer of Arab Israelis to Palestinian Authority control. These statements were not even contradicted by the Prime Minister’s office, and private sources say Netanyahu does not even necessarily disagree with such a proposal. Now Mahmoud Abbas and Barack Obama are standing like fools on stage with their hands out, while Israel brushes by as if they do not even exist.

The emotional problems are first and foremost the utter lack of confidence between the sides and issues such as Jerusalem, recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish People and refugees. Under these conditions, we should focus on coming up with a long-term intermediate agreement, something that could take a few decades. We need to raise an entire new generation that will have mutual trust and will not be influenced by incitement and extremist messages.

With this statement, Lieberman says plainly that the world must wait for a tamer, more passive Palestinian generation to emerge before a peace agreement can be worked out. Citing “emotional problems” (that sounds quite like a man shouting “hysteria!” at an enraged woman), he fails to bring up any mention of Jewish extremism – such as the celebrations marking the end of the building freeze attended by thousands in the West Bank – and whether it presents an obstacle to peace.

As for an “exchange of populated territories”, what he means is jettisoning most of the 1.4 million Palestinian citizens in Israel to become the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, without their say in the matter. In exchange for this process, which would be ridding Israel of what they call a “demographic time-bomb”, Israel would be keeping hold of their Jewish settler population in the West Bank that currently carves up the land into a hellish archipelago – and, one assumes, the military presence there to “protect” the settlers. Win-win.

We can tell who the powerful party is by noticing who sets the rules, who keeps watch over the “emotional” landscape of the peace process. Even Barack Obama, who tried his hand to halt the Israelis from resuming full-scale settlement and colonization of the West Bank, faces humiliation at the hands of the Israeli leaders who take two billion dollars a year in aid with one hand while slapping him with the other.

Unfortunately, the Palestinians are simply window dressing – like the humiliation of Joe Biden earlier in the year when he visited Israel, the real story is about the Israeli right flexing its muscles publicly while America watches, unable to stop them or even speak up in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, the Palestinians continue to be forced off their land, continue to be imprisoned, and even their Israeli-passport-holding brothers and sisters are suddenly pale as their government – to whom they pay taxes and to whom they entrust the education of their children – talks about expelling them without even consulting them first.

The Palestinians are stuck with peace talks. They understand that the way the narrative is written, they will be laid with the guilt if the peace process fails. If they simply show up, try and put on a smile and extend a hand, the Israelis will slap it away and heap shame on their heads until they can’t stand it anymore. Yet, the alternative is nearly unthinkable as anti-PA activists continue to be imprisoned and tortured, as the PA continues to stifle protests against the peace process, etc. All for a sweet slice of foreign money and a world of humiliating defeats.

Fitrah – part 2

If fitrah is defined as what keeps us in a state of equilibrium, keeps us “in the garden” so to speak, then every progressive social movement is a movement towards gaining this lost equilibrium.

A commenter asked about Part 1:

I also have to say that little ‘c’ communism cannot succeed because adherence requires us to work against our free will, no?

First of all, the existence of free will is up for debate. Scientific studies have shown that humans react to their conditions on a basis that is not conscious, therefore the decision making process we engage in as human beings is simply to refine this unconscious process. We simply engage in the process to educate ourselves. All of our decisions are the product of previous experience – where you were born, who you were raised by, what your environment can offer, what history you know, etc. Therefore, human ideas are simply the refined process of examining previous decisions and reformulating knowledge.

Yet there are differences between ideas, and we can assign moral qualities to different streams of thought. For instance, willful destruction of the planet can be seen as a morally negative act because it would annihilate life on earth – therefore, we can assume policies working for this end would be considered “evil”. Likewise, actions that would take human life or keep humans in bondage to other humans would be considered morally negative because of the sanctity of human life and personal autonomy we take for granted all too often. We can go through all sorts of examples, but one thing that is a common factor in most moral thought is that what is bad for the goose is bad for the gander – that actions that work against a just society are considered bad.

All progressive human movements seek to wrangle humanity away from evil and into line with a more natural state of being, whether this is to be described as a communist utopia or complete submission to god. Communism attempted to do this by emphasizing communal good over the good of the individual – namely by fighting capital and the social ills (racism, classism, sexism) that capital created. Citizens living under such a system were required to submit to a power greater then themselves.

In reality, any human living in a society is required to submit to greater powers, but the importance was on the individual understanding and accepting the importance of such an action. Capitalism enslaves en masse but requires both the illusion of individuality and free will to sustain itself. Humans are lured away from the community to focus on themselves. This is why marketing, advertising, political discourse, and culture in general is geared towards the individual in a capitalist society. It is such a weak structural point in the human experience that one can find women slitting open their breasts to stuff them with plastic bags of liquid instead of donating money to those less fortunate.

One could describe fitrah as a passive denial of self – namely, that humans who have no sense of self cannot exercise “free will” and must therefore submit to their natural state, that being of pre-historical existence. Most of the world religions have an acetic component. Even hedonistic Islam (as compared to the foundations of other religions) requires charity and a month of self denial to reinforce the principles of submission. Indeed, communism also requires a denial of self to be understood and implemented properly.

The root challenge of humanity is the fight between self and others. It is in our biology to procreate and secure a place for future generations. However, a counter-movement is found in the message of capital, which encourages gain at the expense of others and of future generations. As stated before, all progressive human movements have sought to bring humanity in line with the principles of fitrah, it being the key to salvation. Therefore, as the Abrahamic religions reiterate over and over, the message of progressive human development is the denial of self and desire to submit to god’s will – that being the natural way of life. Whether that is through communism, national struggles for liberation, or through religion, the common factor is the stress on the common things found in humanity’s base state – that is, desire for self preservation by encouraging the denial of self.

Palestinian aid culture

Say you’re going to Palestine and nearly everyone will vault their eyebrows at you. To most it’s a big deal, and they see flashes of media segments with stone throwing, tear gas, and bulldozers. The truth on the ground is much different. Traveling through Palestine as an international, you won’t find trouble unless you go looking for it. While difficulties due to the occupation are day-to-day realities, the kinds of oppression institutionalized here are less likely to make the 11 ‘o clock news.

Realities like checkpoints, road bypasses, dust, education, medical services, ID cards, permits, and visas are less likely to get the donors’ juices flowing. Blights like checkpoints and the wall affect people every day and for the long term. Walk through a checkpoint and tell me it wasn’t one of the most disturbing things you’ve done in your life. It won’t make the news like a clash in East Jerusalem, but it will deeply change your ideas about life in Palestine.

Political freedom is another issue, and because of the situation here it is difficult to fund grassroots initiatives without stipulating some clear baseline standards. USAID, for instance, conditions their money to those who work with, are approved by, and operate under the control of the Palestinian Authority. Organizations seeking to create broad appeal and be accessible to the entire population of Palestine will be excluded from funding.

Why is it that the Western mindset must be swayed by photos of gore and violence to commit their efforts? It’s possible one of the main reasons is that our attention span won’t commit the time necessary to understand the deeper, more complex issues that stem from conflict and post-conflict zones. When the killing is over, so is our interest. Therefore, those who want access to international support must tailor their proposals to appeal to such a soundbite mindset. Abroad, donors believe the situation is violent and are sadly ignorant to the deeper challenges.

Who is able or willing to confront the challenges of the civil society sector in such places? Can we discuss bureaucracy and corruption in such a situation?  Can we have a discussion on the horrors of pornography and its impact in such a difficult society? Can we look at the conflict through a lens of colonial theory – or must we restrict ourselves to “development” terminology to ensure funding?

Ask any Palestinian NGO what the greatest challenge facing them is, and they will immediately tell you that the dependence on foreign aid is the biggest. Organizations must have access to financial auditors, English-speakers to write reports, and must play ball with government authorities to ensure access to funds. “I used to spend three days in the field and three days in the office,” one director told me. “Now I spend almost seven days a week in the office trying to keep the money coming.”

Meanwhile, a flock of internationals descends to direct development efforts on the ground. Since they are the donors, they are able to completely tailor the development process to their own international standards, spreading western values, processes, and procedures and demanding respect for them as the gateway to foreign money. Stuck between a rock (PA) and a hard place (Int. interests), Palestinian NGOs can only lie and juggle, taking them out of the field and into the office.

Fitrah – part 1.

Fitrah ( فطرة) is an Arabic word meaning nature, disposition, instinct. The root of the word is f-T-r, forming the verbal nouns fatrun, meaning to split, cleave, rend, and fatarahu, meaning “he created it”. According to Islam, all human beings are born with fitrah, as are animals and even non-animate things. Everything has a fitrah, and this fitrah is in perfect obedience to God’s will. This is why in Islamic theology all animals, plants, and earthly objects (such as mountains) are Muslim. A human being is “born Muslim”. Since the word muslim comes from the root S-L-M, meaning to submit, something that does not have the notion of free will can do nothing but submit to its inherent nature, it’s fitrah – and by logical extension, God.

What I seek to explore is the commonalities between creation stories and the nature of evil as it relates to fitrah. All creation stories begin the same way, with a human being’s movement away from fitrah and towards “human-ness”, thereby being subjected to evil and the curse of toil. This is not simply referring to creation stories of a religious nature – though they are included. However, the picture that Chris Harman paints in his creation story included at the beginning of “A People’s History of the World” is incredibly similar to man’s fall from grace in the garden. After roaming the earth for 100,000 years and living in balance with the elements, human beings settled down and began subsistence farming. What followed was the creation of capital, a sharp spike in human population growth and development, formulation of religion, global warming, and the atom bomb.

Jordan Peterson argues that evil (a purely human phenomenon) is as a result of humanity’s distance from God – rather, their exercise of “free will” – or perhaps a lack of fitrah which causes humanity’s decline. After all, who are we to say that going to the moon is worth the kind of wholesale slaughter of innocents that pushed technological advancement along? As we stand at the 21st century, as the West mainly forgets the bloody century that birthed our current situation, the crushing of communism and the enslavement of billions under a standardization of economics, politics, culture, and means of communication under globalization, a new method of standardization must be discovered to counteract this procedure.

Communism, a method attempted mainly in the last century, took the world by storm and was the pinnacle of human achievement thus far. Billions of people rallied under the banner of communism and shot themselves into space without the same brutal methods that were required of capitalism to achieve the same end. Racism, sexism, xenophobia, and classism were addressed in a serious way. Egalitarianism in many cases was little more than a slogan – yet, it was still a goal. However, communism failed to adequately challenge Capital and as a result, failed in its initial efforts less than 100 years after the creation of the Soviet Union.

Harman’s thesis is that the creation of Capital led to the major human miseries and achievements of history. Yet, the focus on economics and Capital as the source of human misery may have been short-sighted. Perhaps we should examine how our lack of fitrah, that which set us apart from the apes of the earth, has delivered us into such a position. War, poverty, famine, global warming, and the atom bomb are symptoms of a disease. Without treating the root cause of these problems, humanity will continue to suffer the symptoms.

’tis the season for tension

It’s almost too good that Eid falls around 9/11 and Rosh Hashana, and where we have those patriots in America screaming for Blood to Water the Tree of Liberty:

It happens this way when the claws of madness swipe through the sky. In 1919 Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called it for all time, and crashingly so today, when he wrote, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”

And now in New York they are turning an empty lot of the old World Trade Center and a mosque that isn’t built and probably never will be, into national fear. Omaha fights the mosque in Manhattan! Some foamer named Jones says he burns the Koran, and he actually is treated as news. All day on television yesterday you had the aimless babbles of this Beck, who looks like he eats Bibles.

They all come with the double barrels of a Low IQ and High Color Fear let loose on cable stations and e-mail, of which yesterday you read in disbelief.

And all day yesterday, while they squalled and broke out poor Jesus at rallies to help them promote race and baseline dumbness, many could barely wait for September 11th, when they can act as owners of the place where the World Trade Center stood. Look around; they say they are victims but they appear to be just another mob trying to take us apart.

from Jimmy Breslen, Harpers

only free men can negotiate

Someone commented on my last post about how I’m so quick to cut down the status quo. The fact of the matter is that the status quo in both Israel and Palestine is unsustainable. The violence I predicted on the 27th has come to fruition and god knows who is paying who to do such attacks. A discussion at dinner last night led to some insight – are the Palestinian people too afraid to stand up and protest using populist tactics?

Indeed, they are. Mass arrests followed the attacks on settlers in the last few days. A friend of mine pointed out that to oppose the “peace talks” is a falsity in words… to oppose the farce in Washington is to oppose “peace”. No one is interested in war. The Palestinians in particular have had enough of it. Their quick run to escapism in Ramallah, in net cafes, in Bab al-Harra, has proven this. What the Palestinians are against, however, is having a group that is divested from their interests negotiating their interests. Even the Israelis, with their quick-to-revenge rhetoric, seem uninterested in the “peace talks”. What is happening in Washington is either electioneering of the most uneducated sort or some sort of set up I can’t put my finger on yet.

I don’t fear any person in Palestine and I don’t fear any Israeli soldier. I am innocent in my dealings here and free with my words. My ideas and what I represent with my passport are what they’re after. I personally have nothing to threaten them with. Even those who would kill pregnant women and run off into the night (a disgusting show  are barely a threat to the overwhelming Zionist machine, armed with the best in military technology, the height of moral supremacy, and the weight of the world powers supporting it. All I say is that what’s happening is a farce and Hamas is right when it says the Palestinians are not bound to any decisions – if there are to be any – coming out of Washington. Only free men can negotiate, and the people of Palestine are not free. They were born free, like every human, but are not free behind a 10 meter wall and no-go-zones. Gazans are Palestinians and they are not free. Those in Jerusalem who are forced to learn the occupiers language and their revisionist history in schools are not free. Even those who seek to negotiate are bound up by purse strings and petty dealings with dishonest men.

All I can hope for now is that there is no further violence, no excuse to launch another physical assault onto a people so deeply assaulted every day of their lives in ways academics articulate and children question with innocence.