Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Palestine and our moral bankruptcy

The tragedy in the 'siege of the hospitals' in Gaza is that the Israeli state is proving by its own actions  that it is structurally racist, thus legitimising claims by the likes of Hamas and Hizbollah.

Moreover, the conduct of the EU and the US lends credibility to those like Putin, who question the west's double standards and hypocrisy. 

The reality is that oppressed people deserve the consolation of being internationally vindicated.  The question facing the 'west' (which includes me and us) is why is Netanyahu not treated in the same way as  Milosevic and Putin?  The tragedy is that the only ones doing so (Turkey Hizbollah and Iran) are also of the same ilk.  Erdogan's treatment of the Kurds and Hizbollah's support for the murderous Assad regime come to mind immediately when sultan Erdogan and nasrallah  lambast Israel and hail Hamas as freedom fighters.  

I do not detest the west.  I am part of it. It is also shaped by our struggles for equality, democracy and freedom.  But it is also shaped by a legacy of colonialism, brutality and nationalisms, those zombies which never die and animate an assertive far right.   That is why this moral failure hurts.  

But there is another disturbing aspect of our moral bankruptcy.  We expect Palestinians to warm up to our hallow promises of a two state solution and our calls for restrain on Israel, while they are being butchered.  Our governments expect Palestinians to accept their humiliation and to distance themselves from those resisting the occupation. Since October 7, the world (myself included) had been throwing the burden of moral correctness on a vanquished and brutalised people, thus giving their oppressor a license to maim and kill. Some did worse by literally offering their unconditional support.

And while i recoil at anti semitism, even posting this comment would probably be shot down as anti semitism by some.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The burden of history

This bloody conflict in Palestine and Israel is deeply distressing, a constant rollercoaster of emotions, with events unfolding rapidly, leaving little time for reflection and processing. For me, it's not a matter of lacking understanding; in fact, it's painful because there's an overwhelming amount of information to process, which can cloud clear thinking. 

The scale and nature of Hamas's actions hit a personal chord, considering the historical context of blood libels, pogroms and the Holocaust.   No one should be targeted based solely on their identity.

I'm repulsed by an organization whose charter still references the Protocols of Zion, a 19th-century anti-Semitic forgery. However, I remind myself that there's a complex context of colonial occupation, humiliation, and dehumanization. The subsequent days characterised by the medieval siege of Gaza served as a stark reminder of this complex and terrible reality. It is also reminded me about the brutality of a rationalised bureaucratic machine.  The kind of brutality which starves, humiliates and kills while still presenting itself as civilised, democratic and sane.  

I recoil at those who simply side with Israelis because they look and live like them, while they perceive Palestinians in their reality as less than human.  There is an underlying racism among those who identify with Israel on the basis of this premise.  They are exactly the kind of people who would have hated the dirty starving jew in the ghettoes.  No wonder some on the far right feel so comfortable supporting Israel. 

As the days go by, I'm becoming increasingly exhausted by the weight of history, both past and present. History can serve as a tool for understanding, but it can also become a heavy burden, even a justification for violence and genocide.

For instance, one can argue that Israel's formation is linked to colonialism and an ethnocentric ideology, marginalizing Palestinians as a 'people without history,' similar to the treatment of other indigenous groups worldwide. Yet, many years after the Nakba, there are Israelis living in a society they created, who should not be under the constant threat of elimination and genocide. Israel is here to stay, and part of its identity is that of a 'homeland for the Jews', but hopefully not at the exclusion of Israeli Arabs and surely not as an occupying power.   

But while Israelis have their reasons to be be scared, their government's policies have turned Gaza into a  prison camp, where an entire society is confined and regularly subjected to punishment. In this sense, Gaza evokes memories of the Warsaw Ghetto. And the forced evacuation of Palestinians evokes older memories not just of the nakba but of jews expelled from their homeland in Spain. We must remember and never forget. Yes history can be odious. Yet it can serve as both an antidote and a lesson, helping us remain sensitive to the darkness that can affect both the oppressed and the oppressor.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Heinous crimes happen in a context not in your favourite narrative

The death of Pelin Kaya is a reminder of the risks posed by recklessness and machismo on our roads, something with which i am very familiar as a pedestrian who walks on a daily basis. The behaviour of the driver after hitting his victim (throwing stones at her and people in the vicinity) also comes across as another case of toxic masculinity. But while few focused on these aspects many conveniently tried to fit this case in their favourited narrative. 

For example some have blamed the driver's actions on the legalisation of weed, even if media reports suggested that he was under the influence of cocaine which is a harder and much more dangerous drug. Still it would be non sensical to blame this behaviour on cocaine, a substance which is used by thousands of recreational users who pose no risk to others. In fact the legalisation of both weed and cocaine would facilitate  information campaigns against driving under influence.  Moreover driving under the influence is symptomatic of  recklessness and complete disregard for others by a significant amount of drivers.  But the point made by those blaming weed is  political and reactionary.  It is both an attempt to blame the permissive Labour government for anything going wrong in society and to frame such events in to a discourse of conservative moral panic in the face of demands for bodily autonomy. Clerics making such arguments should be reminded that although domestic violence is often associated with alcohol abuse, wine is still a central motif of Catholic rituals.  What is wrong here is not the substance but the context and the actions of the person abusing it. 

Inevitably although the accused was brought up in Malta and has a Maltese surname, some latched at his French Arab descent. This mostly suggests a sense of frustration felt by the usual suspects who could not blame this crime on foreigners. In fact this case simply shows that heinous crimes are often committed by Maltese against foreigners. 

Even on the left some cannot resist the temptation of blaming such incident on rampant cut throat individualism characteristic of capitalist societies. In this aspect some leftists seem to share the romantic notion of a lost innocence with conservative counterparts. But socialists should be the first to recognise that we live in much more humane societies than ever before. Traditional societies were far more brutal, cruel and intolerant than the society in which we live nowadays. I am happy to live in a western liberal democratic society where there is greater equality, sexual freedom and autonomy than ever before. Socialism for me is all about ensuring that everyone can enjoy and afford these freedoms. 

But while too many people are busy using cases like this to prove preconceived prejudices,  there is always a social context in which random crimes happen. And while sheer coincidence, existential factors and irrationalities play a major part in explaining crime, even irrational thoughts and actions are grounded in wider social norms. For example our society does have a problem with a growing number of troubled and insecure males whose bullish actions pose a threat to others.  But rather than being understood as the embodiment of permissive liberalism their aggression may well be a reaction against it. In this sense toxic masculinity should be seen as being more of an attempt to reassert traditional authority than as a challenge to it.  Pornographers and pimps like Andrew Tate are perfect examples of this phenomenon.   In such a culture cars like guns are often perceived as an extension of the penis.  One may say that I am also falling in to the same trap of fitting this case in to a narrative. But this  is just one observation which probably does not explain the dynamics of the case in question.  Moreover, tradition, modernity and liberalism are also abstractions full of contradictions. So let's talk about context and possible causes but avoid fitting everything in our favourite narrative.