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Archive for May, 2018

Fourth and Concluding Part of “Dispossession, Despair, and Defiance:  Seventy Years of Occupation in Palestine” 

As I argued in the last part of this essay, there is no gainsaying the fact that anti-Semitism remains rife among most Arab communities—and indeed among Christians in many parts of the world, as the attacks on synagogues, which have increased since the time that Mr. Trump assumed high office, amply demonstrate.  Nevertheless, it is equally the case that the charge of anti-Semitism has itself become a totalitarian form of stifling dissent and an attempt to enforce complete submissiveness to the ideology of Zionism.  On the geopolitical plane, the leadership (as it is called) of the United States, has done nothing to bring about an amicable resolution, even as the United States is construed as the peace-broker between Israel and the Palestinians.  Indeed, one might well ask if the United States is even remotely the right party to position itself as an arbiter, and not only for the all too obvious reason that its staunch and nakedly partisan support for Israel, punctuated only by a few homilies on the necessity of exercising restraint and Israel’s right to protect itself in the face of the gravest provocations, makes it unfit to insert itself into the conflict as a peacemaker. We have seen this all too often, most recently of course in the carnage let loose on the border last week as Israel celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding and the Palestinians marked seventy years of the catastrophe that has befallen them: even as Israel was mowing down Palestinian youth and young men, most of them unarmed and some evidently shot in the back, the United States was applauding Israel for acting “with restraint”.

13 Falk cover

In an essay that Richard Falk wrote a few years ago at my invitation, entitled The Endless Search for a Just and Sustainable Peace: Palestine-Israel (2014), he advanced briefly an argument the implications of which, with respect to the conflict and its possible resolution, have never really been worked out.  Falk observed that the Abrahamic revelation, from which the two political theologies that inform this conflict have taken their birth, is predisposed towards violence and even an annihilationist outlook towards the other.   There is, in Regina M. Schwartz’s eloquently argued if little-known book, The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism (The University of Chicago Press, 1998), an extended treatment of this subject, though I suspect that her view that monotheistic religions have an intrinsic predisposition towards exterminationist violence will all too easily and with little thought be countered by those eager to demonstrate that religions guided by the Abrahamic revelation scarcely have a monopoly on violence.  It has, for example, become a commonplace in certain strands of thinking in India to declare that nothing in the world equals the violence perpetrated in various idioms by upper-caste Hindus against lower-caste Hindus over the course of two millennia or more.  One could, quite plausibly, also argue that there is a long-strand of nonviolent thinking available within the Christian dispensation, commencing with Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s injunctions towards nonviolent conduct in Romans and exemplified in our times by such dedicated practitioners of Christian nonviolence as A. J. Muste, Dorothy Day, the Berrigan Brothers, and the stalwarts of the Civil Rights Movement, among them the Reverends M. L. King, James M. Lawson, and Fred Shuttleworth.

SchwartzCurseOfCain

Whatever one makes of the view that the political theologies that inform the Abrahamic revelation make a peaceful resolution of the Palestine-Israel conflict an immense challenge to the ethical imagination, what is perhaps being tacitly expressed here is a serious reservation about the fitness of the United States, which evangelicals would like to have openly recognized as a land of Abrahamic revelation, to intervene in this debate. I would put it rather more strongly. The supposition that the United States, which has all too often harbored genocidal feelings towards others, and has been consistently committed, through the change of administrations over the last few decades, to the idea that it must remain the paramount global power, can now act equitably and wisely in bringing a just peace to the region must be challenged at every turn.  There is, as well, the equally profound question of whether there is anything within the national experience of the United States that allows it to consider such conflicts on a civilizational plane, not readily amenable to the nation-state framework and the rules that constitute normalized politics.Pa

Richard Falk sees, in the willingness of British government after decades of violence, arson, terrorist attacks, and a bitterness that surprised even those hardened by politics, to negotiate with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) as a political entity some precedent for discussions that might lead to a framework for an equitable peace.  Assuming this to be the case, one must nevertheless be aware that all proposed solutions to the conflict are fraught with acute hazards.  Those who are inclined to see the conflict entirely or largely through the prism of religion have displayed little sensitivity to the idea that if religion repels frequently because of its exclusiveness it just as often attracts because of its potential inclusiveness. Those who look at the conflict entirely as a political matter will not concede what is palpably true, namely that the present practice of politics precludes possibilities of a just peace.  The advocates of the two-state solution, clearly in an overwhelming majority today, must know that if such a solution becomes reality, Palestine will be little more than a Bantustan.  Some may claim that even an impoverished, debilitated, and besieged but independent Palestine would be a better option for its subjects than the apartheid which circumscribes and demeans their lives today, but any such solution cannot be viewed as anything other than a surrender to the most debased notion of politics.

Israel should not be permitted to use the rantings of the Holocaust deniers, or the more severe anti-Semitic pronouncements of its detractors, as a foil for the equally implausible argument that the Palestinians are committed to the destruction of the Jewish state.  The greater majority of the Palestinian leaders and intellectuals, as many commentators have points out, have signaled their acceptance of the pre-1967 borders of Israel provided that Israel withdraws from the territory it has occupied since the 1967 war and displays a serious willingness to address the refugee problem.  In a more ideological vein, most Palestinians are reconciled to the idea that the Zionist project, originating in a desire to establish a Jewish state on Arab lands, is a fait accompli.  However equitable a political solution—and that, too, seems to be a remote possibility—the more fundamental questions to which the conflict gives rise are those which touch upon our ability to live with others who are presented to us as radically different, even if the notion of the ‘radical’ that is at stake here is only grounded in historical contingencies.  Living with others is never easy, and is not infrequently an unhappy, even traumatic, affair; but it is certainly the most challenging and humane way to check the impulse to gravitate towards outright discrimination, ethnic cleansing, and extermination.  “We cannot choose”, Hannah Arendt has written, “with whom we cohabit the world”, but Israel appears to have signified its choice, terrifyingly so, not only by the erection of the Separation Wall, but also by imposing a draconian regime of segregationist measures that reek of apartheid.  In so doing, it behooves Israel to recognize that victory is catastrophic for the vanquisher as much as defeat is catastrophic for the vanquished.

(concluded)

See also Part III, “Settlements, Judaization, and Anti-Semitism”

Part II, “A Vastly Unequal Struggle:  Palestine, Israel, and the Disequilibrium of Power”

Part I, “Edward Said and an Exceptional Conflict”

For a Norwegian translation of this article by Lars Olden, see: http://prosciencescope.com/fjerde-og-avsluttende-delen-av-bortvising-fortvilelse-og-defiance-sytti-ar-med-okkupasjon-i-palestina/

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Part IV of “Passions of a March–and of Gun Culture

The student-initiated “March for Our Lives”, two months old to this day, has already been characterized as a novelty in the annals of American political action.  History is, of course, always being ‘made’ in the United States: in a metrics-obsessed culture, this or that phenomenon—ten dunks in a single game by LeBron James, or the single-season rushing record in a NFL game, ad infinitum—becomes ‘one for the history books’.  The “March for our Lives” has doubtless made it to the history books as the expression of a certain sentiment involving a larger number of school students than any previously recorded movement of dissent—and perhaps this is all the more ‘historical’, if one is accepting of such a worldview, in that the present age is often described as one characterized by student apathy.  It may be that the noxious and equally nauseous politics of the Trump regime and its supporters has energized student bodies into political action.

NandlalBoseGAndhiWalking

It is well to remember, however, that “the march” is not a singular thing.  The “Long March” was itself comprised of several marches; most famously, it entailed the movement by Mao and fellow comrades from Jiangxi Province to Shanxi, a distance of some 4,000 miles across mountain ranges and two dozen rivers, over a period of 370 days from October 1934 to October 1935.  The stranglehold that Chiang Kai-shek had attempted to place around the communists was broken; the march would help to seal Mao’s ascent to power.  Gandhi’s march to the sea likewise may have done more than anything else to transform him into a world-historical figure, just as Nandlal Bose’s rendition of the Gandhi of the strident walk would yield one of the most iconic images of the Mahatma.  In its wake, came the Round Table Conferences:  whatever their place in the narrative of independence, and some have critiqued the conferences as clever stratagems on the part of the colonial power that deferred Independence for another fifteen years, the British for the first time sat down to negotiate with Indians.  Numerous marches have sought to reconfigure the American landscape, none more so than the 1963 “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom”, which itself demonstrably took a page out of Gandhi’s march to Dandi.  A quarter of a million were gathered to hear some of the stalwarts of the Civil Rights movement; none present there had any anticipation of the soaring speech that King was about to deliver.  Less than a year later, the Civil Rights Act, inarguably the most transformative piece of legislation in modern American history, was passed.

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The March on Washington, 28 August 1963:  civil rights supportres carrying placards seeking equal rights, equal employment opportunities for black people, and an end to discrimination.  Photograph:  Warren Leffler.  Source:  Library of Congress.

US civil rights leader Martin Luther King,Jr. (C)

Martin Luther King, Jr. waving to supporters from the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington, 28 August 1963.  Source:  AFP/Getty Images.

The most recent “March for Our Lives” cannot be likened to any of these marches, and yet it has earned the moniker of a “march”.  Will it, in time, be similarly transformative and thus be deemed historic?  Few remember today the Million Mom March, held on Mother’s Day in 2000, when an estimated 750,000 women and men converged in Washington in support of gun-control legislation following a shooting at a Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, California.  Another 250,000 people then took part in sister marches held simultaneously around the country.  The legislation that may legitimately be described as having in part emerged from this activism, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (November, 1993), mandated federal background checks on firearm purchasers and imposed a five-day waiting period for purchases, though the latter provision was rendered obsolete by the introduction in 1998 of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  The NRA, expectedly, offered stiff resistance to the Brady bill; its defeat, at that moment, was roundly celebrated as a demonstration of the fact that dents can be made in the NRA armor.

The Brady Act, however, did nothing whatsoever to put into question “the gun culture” that occupies an immense space in the American imaginary.  The long-standing and militant Executive Vice President of the NRA, Wayne La Pierre, is scarcely the only exponent of American exceptionalism, and believes with many of his countrymen and women “in America as the greatest nation on earth”; but he is also certain that America’s greatness owes everything to the Second Amendment, and that gun owners were critically important in handing Hilary Clinton an unexpected defeat.  Clinton is far from being an enemy of the Second Amendment; much like the students who marched on Washington, she believes only in sensible gun control—though, it is necessary to state, gun control laws in most nations are far more stringent than anything that could be contemplated under the rubric of “sensible gun control” in the United States.

The NRA has absolute mastery over this domain: it defines, names, and maims its enemies, except that its enemies are merely somewhat more reasonable more human beings, and nothing like the radicals who, as the NRA claims, are determined to take America down and strip its citizens of their cherished freedoms.  Apart from all this, it should not be forgotten that the provisions of the Brady Act continued to be whittled down, and the NRA successfully and relentlessly waged battles to augment the rights of gun owners in other respects.  As the events of the last twenty-five years have amply shown, the Brady Act has been rendered toothless; one study, based on an exhaustive study of data from 1985 to 1997 at the National Center for Health Statistics, concludes that the Brady Act may have done something to reduce suicide rates among those who are 55 years or older, but that it had no impact nationally on homicide rates or even suicide rates for those under 55 (see Jens Ludwig and Philip Cook, “Homicide and Suicide Rates Associated with Implementation of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act”, Journal of the American Medical Association 284, no. 5 (2000), 585-91.

(to be continued)

See also:

Part III, The March for Our Lives:  A New Generation of Activists?

Part II, School Shootings, the Lockdown, and an Aside on Masculinity

Part I, High School Shootings:  Fragments of Americana

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Part III of The Passions of a March–and of Gun Culture

Seventeen students’ lives were taken at the Parkland school shooting and they could have, after the customary eulogies and testimonies to their lives, ended up as only as statistics.  However, the aftermath of the massacre has made the story of the Parkland school shooting somewhat unusual in contemporary American experience.  Rather than turning the gun upon himself in one final act of desperation as most shooters have done, Cruz allowed himself to be taken captive; perhaps, “his story” will be heard, though it is doubtful that anything particularly striking will emerge beyond the by-now familiar narrative of a white boy in his late teens or early twenties who routinely engaged in slurs against Muslims, black people, and Jews, sported swastikas and was drawn to neo-Nazi videos on the internet, and appears to have thought of white women who had entered into inter-racial relationships as traitors to their race.  The shooters, whether at school or elsewhere, have been, as I have pointed out previously, predominantly white; their admirers, drawn from the ranks of those who harbor a fascination for guns and are evidently advocates of racial purity, are also overwhelmingly white.  In another piece of Americana, as Cruz remains confined in prison while awaiting trial, he is being inundated with fan mail from across the country, with a few stray pieces from Europe, mostly from girls, women, and grown men.  His interlocutors include mature women who have sent Cruz photos of themselves in lingerie, as well as young women who have written him love letters or are solicitous of his welfare [Flores 2018].

More significantly, however, it is the resolve of the students of the Parkland school to bring the subject of gun control to the attention of the nation that has differentiated this shooting from many others.  Just days into the shooting, some of the school’s students had already become emissaries for a cause, appearing as spokespersons for gun control at other schools, on news channels, in town hall meetings, and at community forums.  Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas who was raised in Parkland, emerged three days after the shooting as the face of the student-led gun control movement.  At a gun control rally in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, she ended her speech with the rallying call, “We call B.S.”  Emma, like the other students, had had enough of politicians informing families of victims and traumatized students that their “thoughts and prayers” were with them.  She had heard far too many politicians piously vowing, time after time, to make the country’s schools safe from gun violence, and then unabashedly proceeding to collect donations from the NRA for their re-election campaigns.  She now knew what it meant to have to cower in fear:  on the day of the shooting, she was in the school auditorium when the alarm sounded; though she sought to make good her exit, she and other students were held in the auditorium for two hours before the police arrived and unlocked the doors.  On February 20th, Emma and other students met with state legislators in Florida at Tallahassee and watched them vote down debate on a gun control bill.  The day after, Emma let the NRA and the politicians who stand by it have an earful: “You’re either funding the killers, or you’re standing for the children.”

On March 14th, one month to the day the massacre of the innocents took place, students from across the country staged a school walkout termed “Enough!”  They would be assisted in this endeavor by some of the organizations and activists in the “Women’s March” that had descended upon Washington the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration as President on 20 January 2017.  Timed at 10 AM, students in perhaps as many as 3,000 schools quit their classrooms, while staying within the school grounds, for 17 minutes in memory of their 17 peers who were killed in Parkland and to signal their impatience with prevarication by legislators in initiating gun control measures.   But all this served as a prelude to the far more ambitious and purposeful “March for Our Lives” on March 24th, when a million students gathered in Washington, and several hundred cities across the country, to demand legislative action in Congress, and state legislative assemblies, that would put into place more stringent measures to regulate the sale of guns; some, taking a more complex political view of the matter, called attention to the gun violence that has blighted urban communities around the country and taken an especially heavy toll of African Americans, Chicanos, and even bystanders. There, again, was Emma Gonzalez, this time standing forth, mostly in heavy silence, for 6 minutes 20 seconds—as long as it took for Cruz to snuff out many lives and maim as many—before concluding her speech with a call for action before “someone else is shot.”

The day belonged not to Emma Gonzalez alone.  Seventeen-year old Edna Chavez recalled how, one evening three years ago, she heard what sounded like fireworks outside her South Los Angeles home, not realizing that her older brother had been gunned down in gang violence.  “I lost more than my brother that day,” she told the Washington crowd, “I lost my hero.”  At eleven years, fifth-grader Naomi Wadler took the podium and spoke forcefully for nearly four minutes on the disproportionate impact of gun violence upon black women.  Let us pause over her remarks: “I am here to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.”

Wadler displayed, for someone her age, remarkable poise; and she evidently has more political awareness and acuity than one encounters among most politicians.  Much more so than school shootings, it is the violence on American streets that has destroyed families, decimated entire neighborhoods, and condemned generations of black men to prison terms and lives of destitution.  Once the gunfire has died down, it is largely women—mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends—who are left to mourn, pick up the pieces of their lives, and—as they say—carry on.  America has little interest in resolving addressing gun violence:  it makes some streets unsafe, but the rigid segregation that is pervasive around the country ensures that, for the most part, this violence does not spill over into white neighborhoods.  In any case, much of white America has long been reconciled to the idea that a slight degree of discomfort can be tolerated, so long as gun violence does not begin to tear apart their own communities.  School shootings have, we may say, broken that barrier.

(to be continued)

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Part II of The Passions of a March–and of Gun Culture

Mass shootings have taken place at schools, university campuses, entertainment venues, nightclubs, churches, shopping complexes, and even army camps.  No venue is entirely safe; the gunman can strike anywhere and at any time of his choosing.  It is important to underscore the fact that the mass killer is overwhelmingly male.  Homicidal killings by women account for about 10-13% of the total in the United States, but mass shootings by women are even rarer.  Indeed, women account for less than 8% of homicides by firearms; when they do wield firearms, they seldom if ever carry assault or automatic rifles.  What passes for “research” these days will doubtless establish the fact that a majority of mass killers have been known to harbor considerable resentment towards women; among serial killers, who may be distinguished from mass killers, a considerable number in the United States have been known to target prostitutes.  One might argue that sex workers make for easier targets:  they are generally single, placed by the very nature of their work in compromising situations, and they may not be missed by family members or friends.  Their murder goes undetected for days, weeks, even months on some occasion.  We do not know what kind of funerals they receive, if any, and if mourners are present.  But this would be a benign reading of the serial killer’s fondness for sex workers as targets, since the serial killer is just as likely, and of course without any trace of irony, to see himself as an emissary of God sent to rid the world of sin and wickedness.  The sexual promiscuity of women is particularly bothersome to them.  Mass killers, for their part, are commonly described as sexually frustrated: a few, in recent killings, have even been found to hold to the view that they ought to have sexual rights to any number of women of their choosing.  Women, that is, owe them sex; or, to put it differently, the right to women is construed as their entitlement.

Though this aspect of mass shootings is infrequently mentioned in press reports, the profiles of mass killers point to the problem, which perhaps has not been adequately addressed by any civilization and remains the most potent locus of violence in the US, of masculinity.  It is not necessary, in ruminating about this matter, to entertain clichés about rifles as phallic objects, or, more persuasively, speak at length of the fondness of mass killers for heroic, military-style undertakings with assault rifles.  We are, and are not, in Dr. Strangelove universe:  our last scene need not be the cowboy astride the nuclear rocket, riding it to its climatic explosion in the enemy’s womb, but there is a ‘strange love’ that informs the mass killer’s worldview.  One of the more recent words to have insinuated its way into the English dictionary is incel, short for involuntary celibate.  The word describes the man who is celibate, but not by choice; his celibacy arises from the humiliating rejection to which he has been subjected by one or more women. It is these women who deny him the sex which he views as his unquestionable entitlement.  Incel is now more than a word, and is more akin to a movement—everything becomes a movement in the United States, for those who care to observe—with an arch priest, or a reigning philosopher.  It is not certain whether Nikolas Cruz was an incel, but the Santa Fe killer, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, appears to fall in that category.  One of his ten victims was a young 17-year old woman who, to cite media reports, “spurned” him repeatedly; according to her mother, the young woman “had four months of problems from this boy”, and “he kept making advances on her, and she repeatedly told him no.”

Survivors of shootings are always inclined to ask, ‘why me?’ The killer may strike anywhere and anyone at will:  there may be ‘signs’ that, in retrospect, that should have been noticed by parents, siblings, friends, school authorities, and others, but neither an uncanny ability to read signs nor sheer mindfulness can do anything to bring predictability to acts of terrorism.  That is one kind of arbitrariness; let me return, however, to the question of the school as a venue of mass shootings, even as the reader is urged to keep in mind that many other venues besides schools have been targeted by mass killers.  A shooting at a school has a poignancy that is all its own:  whatever the conceptions of childhood in a given culture, and howsoever traumatic childhood may have been rendered for some by warfare, street violence, or sexual abuse, some notion of the innocence of children persists across cultures.  A school, moreover, is a place of learning, and thus of growth and development; it carries with it the insignia of a sanctuary and a refuge from the storms of life.  The vulnerability of children is greater as they place their security and well-being in the hands of those who are empowered to act on their behalf.  It is for these reasons that school shootings seem particularly horrifying, even to those who have no children of their own, or who harbor no special affection for children.

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Santa Fe High School shooting, 18 May 2018. Source: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/events/santa-fe-high-school-shooting

A recent Washington Post study has established that since the school shooting on 20 April 1999 at Columbine, Ohio, where teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide, over 187,000 children have been caught in the hail of fire, or exposed to gun violence, across schools in the United States.  The study notes that shootings where there were no casualties, except to the perpetrators of violence, are excluded from the count; suicides are similarly excluded, as are shootings at schools and colleges.  According to the Post study, the shootings led to at least 130 deaths, and twice that number were injured; however, the study does not include, in its tally of those who were “exposed” to violence, a much greater number of school children who were informed by teachers that the school was going into “lockdown” since a threat had been received.  Reports of such lockdowns, when the anonymous tip of a threat turns out to be a hoax, make it to the local community newspaper, but no reasonable calculation of how students’ lives are upended can be made.

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An unannounced school lockdown drill conducted by Homeland Security, 2014.  Source: http://www.freedomsphoenix.com/News/152045-2014-03-15-homeland-security-conducts-unannounced-school-lockdown-drill.htm

On April 4th, to take one illustration, Menlo-Atherton High School, which is located in one of the country’s wealthiest districts, home to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and tycoons, went into lockdown in the late morning after Atherton police received a possible unspecified threat against the school.  A photograph of a 15-year old boy at the school brandishing a firearm was found on social media.  Students were sequestered in locked rooms and the lockdown was lifted two hours later.  This lockdown would not have come to my attention but for the fact that the daughter of someone who is very close to my family is a student at this school.  The incident did get reported in the local newspaper, though the day when such an incident does not get reported at all may not be very far into the future; indeed, had the school been located in a poor district, there is every likelihood that the school lockdown would not at all have been “news”.

 

(to be continued)

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Note:  This essay was first written in the aftermath of a shooting at a Florida high school in February 2018 and what came to be known in its wake as “the gun control marches”, and was published in the Economic and Political Weekly (Mumbai) on May 5th.  The present, slightly revised, version has been precipitated by yet another shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, on May 18, which left two teachers and eight students dead, and another seventeen students wounded. The dead will be eulogized, and their pictures will be published; promises will be made about making American schools safe for children.  The premise of my article is that ‘gun control’ is a chimera in a culture where the gun holds an exalted place and has totemic significance.  While the gun control marches should not be trivialized as the gestures of naïve if idealistic young women and men, I also cautioned in my essay that it would be far too easy to overestimate their political salience in the political culture of the United States.   The notion of Texas as one of many trigger-happy places may be horribly cliched, but the studied and deliberate refusal to even call for gun control in Santa Fe, where the young and the old alike have turned to “prayer” in an effort to seek God’s guidance at a time of grave misfortune, shows far the United States has gone in embracing gun culture as the most characteristic expression of American identity.  In the last of the four or five parts of this essay, I shall argue briefly that the weaponization of prayer is itself a manifestation of an unbridled gun culture.

 (in four or five parts)

Part I:  A High School Shooting:  Fragments of Americana

On February 14, 19-year old Nikolas Cruz walked into his former high school in Parkland, Florida just before students were about to disperse for the day.  Cruz, a school dropout, proceeded to Building 12, a three-story structure that, on a typical day, would have held 900 students and some 20-30 teachers.  Armed with a semi-automatic rifle, Cruz commenced firing and choosing targets at random; he said not a word, nor is there anything to suggest that some provocation instigated him to act.  Six minutes later, he dropped his rifle and made good his escape by merging into the body of panic-stricken students fleeing for their lives.  Having done his work for the day, Cruz descended upon two iconic American fast food restaurants to satiate his thirst and hunger.  He apparently stopped at a Subway for soda, then wound up at McDonald’s, before being spotted by a police offer who took him into custody.

The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at Parkland is a story dripping in Americana.  Other societies have had an occasional mass killer, but the high-school dropout lends a particularly American touch to the story.  The college dropout may, on that comparatively rare occasion, turn out to be the proverbial genius; but the boy who fails to complete high school almost invariably signifies trouble.  Social workers like to point out that boys, in the US, are less likely to finish school than girls, and are far more likely to engage in what is termed “risky behavior”:  such behavior—the turn to crime, petty vandalism, over-indulgence in drugs, exceedingly fraught relationships with family members—is more often than not risky to one’s own life and well-being, but may also be risky, sometimes fatally so, to others.  Cruz, like others of his ilk, seems to have had few friends but a morbid fascination for guns.  In the characteristic language of the day used to describe people in his mold, he was apparently a “depressed loner” and was increasingly drawn to extremist views.

Though African Americans are, proportionately, implicated in more crimes than white people, mass killers in American society are almost always white.  The commentators who uniformly dwell on the “loner” generally fail to probe whether white people are far more prone to loneliness than black people, or why the white male American is more likely to wind up without a “community” that might succor and sustain him.  It is no over-statement to suggest that nearly every aspect of a uniquely American narrative around “the gun”—among others, the fanatical obsessiveness with a presumed constitutional right to ownership of firearms; the lure of the hunt; the gun shows at large convention centers; the recreational shooting ranges, where American pass their time much as one might at a picnic or a basketball game; the gun retailers spread throughout the country; and the place of the gun in the winning of the West—started with white people and remains overwhelmingly part of their universe, even if the gun has now passed down into other hands to sow terror in other communities.

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Gun Show in Saratoga Springs, New York, 2012.  Photography:  Ed Burke/Courtesy of The Saratogian.  Source:  National Public Radio.

Cruz’s weapon of choice in committing mass murder was the AR-15 rifle, sometimes known as the Colt AR-15 after the name of the famous gun manufacturer that took out a patent on it in the early 1960s before it lapsed in 1977.  Colt acquired the firearm from “ArmaLite Rifle”, the company which first developed the model:  thus the “AR”, which, contrary to common understanding, does not stand for “Assault Rifle” or “Automatic Rifle”.  The New York Times has described the rifle, a slightly modified form of which was used by Omar Mateen less than two years ago to mow down dozens of people at a gay nightclub in Orlando in what was then the largest mass shooting in the US, as “simultaneously, one of [the] most beloved and most vilified rifles in the country”. Its versatility is demonstrated by the fact that, with slight alterations, the US military turned it into a fully automatic assault weapon, and civilians can likewise personalize the rifle.  The National Rifle Association has noted that the “AR” is often mistaken for “assault rifle”, and it records with pride that the only true characterization of the acronym is “America’s Rifle”.  An estimated 10-12 million of such rifles are in private circulation in the US.

AR-15

Where else, then, but in America could Cruz have walked into a school building without being accosted by any guard, calmly taken out what is practically a military-grade assault rifle from a duffel bag, cut down many lives before casually casting aside his rifle, and then put a finish to a most satisfying afternoon with a visit to a fast-food restaurant?  In some countries, the state comes after innocent people:  in the Philippines, thousands of alleged drug dealers, and often just those who have dabbled with taking drugs, have been gunned down; the country’s President has himself presided over military-style executions, and has had himself photographed on more than one occasion with an assault weapon.  In Yemen and Syria, those charged with defending the nation have strafed their own populations from the air.  In Iraq and Afghanistan, suicide bombings, one fall-out of the American war on terror, have turned every street corner and every building into a possible booby-trap.  America does not need any of this:  it has its own form of terrorism, one which sends school children hunkering behind desks and closed doors for safety and compels institutions to go into “lockdown”.  A new debased vocabulary to match this terror has come into being:  in most large offices, university campuses, and government installations, “the active shooter drill” is now mandated for employees.  America has taken out the patent on every day gun violence.  Will it own up to this patent?

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Gun Show in Florida, at Fort Lauderdale’s War Memorial Auditorium, June 2016.  Photo:  Sun Sentinel; source: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fort-lauderdale/fl-gun-show-potential-assault-rifle-ban-lauderdale-20160625-story.html

(to be continued)

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Part III of Dispossession, Despair, and Defiance:  Seventy Years of Occupation in Palestine

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Map of Israel, West Bank, and Gaza.  Source;  londonbds.org

All occupations are brutal. The greater number of the Palestinians who were expelled in 1948 were shepherded into the narrow strip called Gaza. Israel’s first occupation of Gaza, in 1956, lasted about a year before Gaza was returned to the jurisdiction of Egypt.  The 1967 war was calamitous for Arabs:  among its other consequences, Gaza was reoccupied, and Israel only disengaged with Gaza in 2005. That would pave the way, the following year, for elections and the triumph, which took Israel and the West by surprise, of Hamas. For all of the American celebration of electoral sovereignty as the greatest possible outcome for any nation, the United States could not allow that Hamas had achieved an outcome that none had countenanced and few thought possible. Gaza has since been blockaded by Israel, Egypt—which borders Gaza to the south—and the United States, and the movement of people into and out of Gaza has been severely restricted over the course of the last decade.  There are graphic accounts of the implications of the blockade, in myriad respects: unemployment among young men runs exceedingly high, and Gaza may well be described as the largest open-air prison in the world.

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A Palestinian boy ferrying animals in a cage, Gaza City, January 2009.  Photo:  Ben Curtis/AP.

I said that all occupations are brutal, but Gaza and the West Bank, divided from each other by Israeli territory, have been subjected to a regime of political regimentation and surveillance that have immensely diminished the prospects for any genuine peace.  As those involved in progressive movements around the world have often witnessed, most ‘gains’ made by progressives and activists are more frequently than not just recovery of ground lost to the state; in such circumstances, even minor concessions gained after numerous rounds of negotiations seem noteworthy.  The settlements are a case in point:  every negotiation used to end with an assurance from Israel that settlements would be curbed, but some alleged act of commissions or omission on the part of the Palestinians, or more precisely Hamas—rocket attacks on Israel, the killing of an Israeli soldier, the attempted assassination of Israeli diplomats or consular officers—led to the abrogation of the agreement; by the time another agreement was negotiated a few years later, the settlements had further encroached on Palestinian land.  Lately, with the advent of the Trump administration in the US and its avowed defense of Israel, even the pretense of curbing settlements has all but been done away with.

The West Bank has a settler-only road network: here, if one were searching for it, is clear evidence of the apartheid structure of the Jewish state.  Prime Minister Netanyahu made no effort, when he inaugurated yet another settler-only road in January 2018 that is part of a system of by-pass roads that connect Judaea and Samaria in the occupied West Bank to the rest of Israel, to disguise this blatant violation of international law.  Of criminals it can be said that they generally act in the defiance of law, and almost always under cover; but of Netanyahu it can be said that he belongs to that smaller cohort of international outlaws who are brazen in the execution of their designs in open daylight. The settlers have, then, become a veritable state unto themselves, positioning themselves as the most formidable vanguard of Zionism.  Many commentators have spoken, as well, of the Judaization of Jerusalem, and of Israel’s designation of all of Jerusalem as part of sovereign Israeli territory in defiance of international law and opinion. Now, with the recent relocation of the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which did not initiate the latest round of resistance from Palestinians who have sought unsuccessfully to breach the border even as it greatly aggravated the situation, Israel is undoubtedly feeling even more emboldened to claim all of Jerusalem as its own rightful and ancestral territory.

To speak of Israel’s appropriation of Jerusalem in its entirety, in defiance of agreements that award the Palestinians joint sovereignty over the holy city, means less than we might imagine, if only because, as a rule, the insolent abrogation of international norms has characterized Israel’s conduct for decades.  Israel acts with the assurance that it has the patronage of Western powers; and the United States, in particular, can reliably be counted upon, as a permanent member of the Security Council, to veto UN resolutions critical of Israel.  Israel tirelessly projects itself, not without success considering the unstinting support it has received from the US and its other allies since its foundation, as an oasis of democracy in a desert of dictatorships and authoritarian states.  In the more colorful language of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Israel is “a villa in the jungle.”

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The Protocols of the Wise Men of Zion.  The text was widely distributed across Europe and, of course, in the United States.

Such idolization of Israel, however, is scarcely the most egregious aspect of the problem:  not only does the US purport to be acting out of fairness, intent to demonstrate that it will not permit censure of Israel when other nations are similarly guilty, but the message is that criticisms of Israel are perforce animated by sentiments of anti-Semitism and therefore cannot be tolerated.  There is no question, of course, that anti-Semitism remains pervasive among various communities, not least Arabs and Palestinians, and Mahmoud Abbas has done his kinsmen no favors with his recent rants against Jews as the consistent targets of attack owing to their “social role related to usury and banks”. Abbas, in fact, has a long, troublesome, and inflammatory history of Holocaust denial dating back to at least his 1982 thesis where he purposed to address the secret links between Nazism and Zionism. As Gilbert Achcar, whose own critical investigations of Zionism are judicious and grounded in thoughtful scholarly work, has demonstrated, a wholly spurious and deeply offensive text such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion has long animated many people in the Arab world.  Gamer Abdel-Nasser, who led Egypt from 1956 until his death in 1970, recommended the Protocols enthusiastically in an interview given to an Indian journalist on 28 September 1958 with the observation that it proved “beyond the shadow of a doubt” that “three hundred Zionists”, all known to each other, governed “the fate of the European continent.” [See Gilbert Achcar, The Arabs and the HolocaustThe Arab-Israeli War of Narratives, trans. G. M. Goshgarian (New York:  Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt and Company, 2009), p. 206.] The Protocols make its appearance in Article 32 of Hamas’s charter, though numerous other articles—7, 15, 22, 31—are equally virulent in their expression of anti-Semitic sentiments.

(to be continued)

For a Norwegian translation of this article by Lars Olden, see http://prosciencescope.com/del-iii-av-vising-fortvilelse-og-defiance-sytti-ar-med-okkupasjon-i-palestina/

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Part II of Dispossession, Despair, and Defiance:  70 Years of the Palestinian Naqba  

The village in western Galilee where Mahmud Darwish was born was razed by Israel’s armed forces after the Jewish state came into existence and he lived, as many Palestinians have, in exile for the greater part of his life.  That displacement, occupation, and exodus is now seared into the memory of Palestinians as the nakba, ‘catastrophe’.  The Palestinians have today become the diasporic people that the Jews once were—that may be one of the more ironic elements of this convoluted narrative of displacement after displacement.  Jews in the twentieth century, facing not just another around of pogroms and anti-Semitism, but the prospect of their absolute elimination from lands where they had been often lodged in ghettoes and yet also integrated to varying degrees, resolved to ameliorate the historical conditions of their distress by dislodging the Palestinians from their ancestral homeland.  “My roots”, says Darwish, “were entrenched before the birth of time”.  But, of course, all three Abrahamic faiths claim Palestine as their ‘holy land’:  that, too, has perhaps brought the conflict into a wider public domain.  Thus, even as the conflict revolves centrally around the dialectic of displacement and home, one is compelled to probe further the meaning of home and equally of homelessness.  Now that the Jews claim to have been restored to their ancestral homeland, and have as a consequence defied the design of history which for centuries seemed to have bound their very identity to the condition of diasporic rootlessness, can we say that they are properly ‘at home’?  What is a home that is gained, some would say, at the expense of another’s home?  One may be at home and yet find that the home that one craved for repels as much as it attracts.

Mahmud Darwish

Mahmud Darwish.  Source:  https://arablit.org/2013/08/09/selected-works-on-the-5th-anniversary-of-mahmoud-darwishs-death/

Beyond all this, the conflict over Palestine disturbs even those who may be indisposed towards Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims because it presents harrowing images of the enormous disequilibrium of power between Israel and the Palestinians.  That disequilibrium of power has sharpened over the years, widening to an enormous gulf in the last two decades; but it was present at the outset, since the migration of Jews into Palestine in the 1930s, which began to alter the demographic composition of Palestine, and subsequently the very foundation of the Jewish state of Israel, were both facilitated by British arms.  Then, as now, the Palestinians were left to fend for themselves.  In the most recent round of protests, in anticipation of the 70th anniversary of the creation of Israel as well as the relocation of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem, this immense chasm between Israel and Palestinian protestors has yet again been glaringly evident.  While Israeli soldiers snuff out Palestinian lives at will, deploying the arsenal that a well-armed nation-state can draw upon, Palestinians can only respond with burning tires, sling shots, and other contrivances that suggest extraordinary ingenuity on their part as much an awareness that the odds are stacked against them.

Palestinian protesters throw stones towards Israeli policemen during clashes in the Arab east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud

Photo Credits:  Reuters/Ammar Awad.

Naturally, Israel contests any such representation of the conflict, pointing to the frequent rocket attacks against the Jewish state launched by Hamas, or even to the stalemate forced by Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, to suggest that it is not the invincible military machine that it is made out to be by its detractors around the world.  Lately, under Netanyahu, the swagger with which Israel acts has intensified, but even now, after repulsing one contingent of Palestinian demonstrators after another determined to breach the fenced border between Gaza and Israel, the claim that Israel remains forever vulnerable to attacks by Hamas or young men who have been initiated into violence not simply persists but has become the linchpin of Israeli self-aggrandizement.  After the humiliating defeat of the Americans by the rice-eating Vietnamese, a possibility that would have shocked Montesquieu and many other proponents of the idea that the world might reasonably be divided into consumers of wheat, potatoes, and rice, each set of people marked by indelible signs of manliness or effeminacy, there is certainly reason to believe that sheer technological prowess does not necessarily confer victory.  Nevertheless, as I have already argued, there is no gainsaying the fact that the conflict presents a hugely disproportionate allocation of technological resources, pitting Israel’s advanced fighter jets against the stone-throwing boys who perhaps gave the intifada its most enduring image.

If all this were not enough to lend the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians a particular poignancy, the occupation of the Palestinian territories, now having crossed the five decade mark, is nearly singular in its length, intensity, and normalization of the experience of humiliation.  Numerous political manifestos, not only those issued by the leaders of al-Qaeda, have called for the liberation of various Muslim lands now under the ‘occupation’ of the infidel, and Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia, and Chechnya have been mentioned in the same breath by those who argue that there is a global ‘war on Islam’, but there is little question that these struggles for self-determination are far from being similar.  Portions of India, not just Kashmir, are in fact among the most militarized zones in the world, and the inhabitants of the Kashmir Valley have not infrequently had to live under curfew.  The Kashmir Valley has certainly seen its share of strikes, lockdowns, ‘disappearances’, house-to-house searches, police brutality, and other forms of intimidation of common people by the state and non-state actors alike, but it is doubtful that daily life at all presents the humiliations and dangers that are now terrifyingly common in the Palestinian territories.  The distinguished scholar of Indian languages, literatures, and religions at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, David Shulman, who is also an activist in the ranks of Ta‘ayush, an Arab-Jewish Partnership, states candidly in the introduction to his chronicle of peace activism that “Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories is unacceptable, illegal, and ultimately self-destructive.  Yet I am not one of those who think that what has happened here is entirely our fault.  The ‘other side’, as it is called, is also staggering under a burden of folly and crime.  Neither side has a monopoly on right or, for that matter, wrong. There is much harshness and suffering everywhere” [Dark HopeWorking for Peace in Israel and Palestine (Chicago:  The University of Chicago Press, 2007)].

But Shulman, shaped perhaps by his reading of the Hebrew scriptures, the Koran, and myriad Indian religious texts, and recognizing that the onus lies on the stronger side to take the bolder initiatives and show the generosity without which strength is revealed to be merely brute force, is constrained to admit that over the last four decades, “destructive elements [in Israeli society] have found a haven, complete with ideological legitimation, within the settlement enterprise.” These individuals “have, in effect, unfettered freedom to terrorize the local Palestinian population; to attack, shoot, injure, sometimes kill—all in the name of the alleged sanctity of the land and of the Jews’ exclusive right to it.”  The book itself catalogues, sometimes in chilling detail, the crimes of the settlers and their state sponsors: one is not likely to forget soon the account of the rat poison scattered over Palestinian fields, with an aim all too clear:  “to kill the herds of goat and sheep, the backbone of the cave dwellers’ subsistence economy in this harsh terrain, and thus to force them off the land.”

(to be continued)

For a translation of this article into Norwegian by Lars Olden, see:  http://prosciencescope.com/del-ii-av-vising-fortvilelse-og-defiance-70-ar-av-palestinske-naqba/

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