This evening (July 23, 2003) brought a demonstration in New Britain against the silence of Congresswomen Nancy Johnson about the killing of US Citizen and ISM volunteer Rachel Corrie. Johnson and other of our supine officials willing to sign on to billions of our taxes going yearly to Israel to fund apartheid and violence against the native Palestinians. They lied when they told us it is for our collective interests when we all know it is for their personal interests. But the least they could do is ask for an impartial investigation into Israel’s murder of a US citizen. Later in the evening, we attended the Connecticut opening convergence for the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride (see http://www.immigrantworkersfreedomride.com/). Nearly 400 people attended. It was indeed inspiring to see a community of people of varied backgrounds standing together to fight for justice and for immigrant rights. We thought and talked about the limitations on civil liberties with the incredible powers of the so called “Patriot” act, the injustice of targeting Arabs and Muslims, profiling, and the lies of our government about why we went to war on Iraq. I reflected on the bumper sticker I saw yesterday that said “To Hell with our Enemies” superimposed on an American flag. How much do people know what isreally going on.
Fox, NBC, NY Times, WSJ, and other media imbedded in Corporate/Government amalgams (or is it now one huge mega corporation) have put us in an Orwellian world. This New World rredefined freedom to mean discrimination and exploiting of other people, redefined liberation to mean occupation and looting and killing. It redefined patriotism to mean dislike of non-whites (especially Arabs and Muslims). It redefined our interests to mean support for apartheid abnd walls around Palestinain cities and towns. How did our oil got under their sand? Why not privatize Iraq’s natural resources and spread its treasures to Hasliburton and other corporations? And what difference does it make that our president is willing to shed the blood of the non-white and the non-rich Iraqis and Americans while his associates make millions off of lucrative deals? What difference does it make that the government lied to get us into this war?
R. J. Rummel argued in volume 4 of his book “Understanding Conflict and War” that a sufficient and necessary cause of conflict is what he termed “incongruent structure of expectations.” But some expectations are indeed basic and elemental human rights recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights while others are expectations of exploitation and imperialism. Expectation of access to healthcare, equality, and food are rather elemental. The premise of conflict advocated by Rummel ignores the dynamics of human societal structure and expectations. It is one build of a Straussian models of state vs state selfish behavior. Leo Strauss (1899-1973) had significant impact on very influential politicians ranging from neo-conservatives in Washington like Richard Perle, Irving Kristol and his son William Kristol, to Likud leaders like Netanyahu and Sharon. Strauss misinterpreted Darwinian natural selection by applying it to human behavior and adding what he considers a Judeo-Christian ethic to the equation. His is a deterministic agenda where “right” as he defines it must be defended by might of state power. Liberal ideals in society are more in line with evolving human needs and concern for the good of all and not the minority in power.
Strauss’ influence on the American right has left an indelible mark on US foreign policy ranging from the Reagan era “Contract with America” to hawkish views on the clashes of civilizations. But similar philosophies exist in all societies although they may be less formalized and have no book written about them in these other societies. The differences between “might” philosophies and liberal philosophies should not be distilled to difference of determinism versus relativism. Rather, the difference is more fundamental than that. It is a difference between people whose experiences are shaped based on the issues of violence and might and those who believe that humanity can evolve through a paradigm of tolerance and coexistence. Those who attempted to straddle the two philosophies have found it difficult maintain a logical balance. A good example is to look at the declining fortunes of the so-called “Liberal Zionists.” These Zionists find it rather easy to defend Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from ethnic cleansing and home demolition, while they can not endorse the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands inside Israel. They want some semblance of equality for Palestinians with Israeli citizenship but will defend the discriminatory “Law of Return” which says any Jew, including converts, can become an automatic citizen, a “right” denied to non-Jewish people even if they are born there. This duality borders on a schizophrenic attitude that leaves many others attempting to understand this view perplexed. Finding this position untenable over the long term, many either move towards liberalism or towards the conservative agenda. Under a naked capitalist system, conservatives unencumbered by altruism or a spirit of sharing, climb to the highest level of corporate, financial, and political structure. This appears self-perpetuating as it is relatively simple to turn such financial, political, and media capital into votes and mighty armies. Looking at it from this perspective, one may get very easily discouraged. But other factors also need to be considered.
Here I must step back and explain that one can use “might” in a sense different than “power.” Might is usually built on a visible power structure with a naked manifestation of crude power directed against the “other.” Power as I define it is a more general term and power can exist without being directed in the form of armies, violence, or conflict. Power is more heterogeneous, fluid, and even can be invisible and untapped. There are various manifestations of power:
Power can refer to influence on others. Charismatic leaders have power even if they provide little material benefit to people they lead.
Power can refer to ideas and thoughts that are of such impeccable appeal to human intellect and/or emotion that they are accepted by a large number of people. Examples of this are religious texts (Holy Books) or book like Darwin’s “Origin of Species”. Religious ideas managed to spread across all continents and now give comfort and a way of life to hundreds of millions of people based on these powers.
Power can stem from realizations of commonality and common interests among diverse humans The diversity and strength of the international anti-war movement as a good example.
People who can get power and even translate it to might may not even know it. This is hidden or unrealized power. Most Arabs and Muslims in the US and around the world have little appreciation for their ability to acquire power by direct grass-root action and some organizing. Many feel fatalistic about grim realities. Many feel romantic about distant pasts or dreamy of glorious yet undefined futures. Thus, they lurk in the shadows waiting for a future that they can participate in making but choose not. Similarly, many Jews who are not supportive of Zionism and uneasy about its impact on humanity stay in the shadows. These shadows hide all the other rational Arabs and Muslims and all others who fear being exposed to the scrutiny and sometimes needed self-reflection and self-correction.
Ultimately humans make war and humans make peace. Humans do injustice and humans decide to stop the injustice and restore justice. Collective actions of whites and blacks in South Africa served as a model for non-violent transformation in this world by human actions. But even if one believes in violence as a solution, one should never believe in vengeance and hate of others as solutions. Hate of “others” may rally a few supporters but it does not build a lasting power. Fascists and Nazi ideologues used hate to build transient structures of state might. Norman Finkelstein documented in his book “The Holocaust Industry” how leading Zionists used the WWII holocaust to build hatred for others (Muslims and Arabs) and bring financial and political support of racist notions against native Palestinians The harmful words and actions of Elie Wiesel, Daniel Pipes, Charles Krauthammer, and others do have consequences. While this may bring some financial and political support, to a few, its victims are numerous and whatever gains it brings to its advocates are transitory. Inevitably it leads to a backlash and violence.
Zionism used hate to remove 70% of the native Palestinians from their lands. But they only succeeded in generating so much instability and violence including 5 wars, over 100,000 deaths, millions of refugees, and millions of hearts full of anger and pain. Hatred for others only corrupts the soul and causes lasting damage to both the hater and the hated. Notice I talk here of hatred for people not of a dislike (some call it hatred) of what rational humans can see as injustice and racism. Directing emotions at corrupt concepts and schemes rather than a group of people leaves the door open to change behaviors. Ofcourse there are individuals like Ariel Sharon and Osama Bin Laden who do a lot of damage. However, while opposing their actions unequivocally, we find no benefit in developing impotent hatred to them or their followers. Rather, we suggest concrete positive actions as the best antidote. In a room charged with negative electrons, the only neutralizing effect is of positive particles.
Rhetoric and emotions can be used to build transitory might and influence. But if we as a human species will ever outgrow violence and war and build just and equitable societies, we must start with a discipline and control directed first and foremost on those we can influence: ourselves. That unlocks also our own power to effect real positive change in society. For many it is choosing between the lasting power of love and the transient power of hate.
Ameen F. Rohani wrote once that “every human action, collective or otherwise, has in it the possibility of a creative or destructive force.” By this he meant to warn that we must constantly watch our own actions for destructive forces. The cliche of “first do no harm” is echoed in the song “in the end only kindness matters.” To me as a Palestinian, drawing the right lessons is essential so as not to repeat history’s most egregious chapters. And what worse chapters to avoid repeating than those showing the futility of racism, oppression, and hatred of the “other”. Psychologists tell us that the abused children grow to abuse their own children but this is not inevitable with proper diagnosis and treatment. The movement against US led imperialism and war in the Middle East showed us a better vision for a better world. It is a vision of people creating positive energy by transcending hatred and self-imposed chains on positive action. It is a vision of the oppressed keeping a moral high ground while striving to accelerate the change that is inevitable.
This positive energy that is hidden for most people can be translated to visible power to effect real and lasting change in human behavior and the human condition. Ultimately it is people with a good conscience who come out of the shadows and participate in changing the direction of humanity who can create a better world. Despite all the pain, positive constructive energy begins and ends in our hearts and minds. That is the ultimate courage and that is the highest form of humanity: striving in the way of righteousness with diligence and kindness.