Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Moderate Palestinian (You Know the One Who Wants to Paint Himself Blue and Kill Zionists Like Mel Gibson Does in Braveheart)




Howard Schneider writes in the Washington Post about the Palestinians' opposite poles, comparing the lives of members of the same Palestinian family, the Barakats, living two starkly different lives in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Apparently the members of the family living in the West Bank have enjoyed some remarkable economic benefits as of late in contrast to those in Gaza. It would have been nice for someone to ask the question how is it if Palestinian poverty is because of Israeli occupation that Palestinians in Gaza, completely free of Zionist occupiers, is in so much worse shape. The article is a good example of the sort of personal human interest story that, while not anti Israel in of itself, can be problematic on a large scale. It is not anti Israel to show sympathy to the plight of Palestinians. For a news agency, though, to offer a constant stream of stories devoted to putting a human face on Palestinians in marked contrast with an unwillingness to do the same for Israelis is to create a bias against Israel.

I find it fascinating the ways in which Schneider is willing to pursue his narrative of moderate west loving Palestinians. He gushes over Odai who is leaving to study film at Eastern Mediterranean University in Cyprus:

Odai hopes to study film and then return to make his contribution to Palestinian society. It has nothing to do with reconquering land, he said, but reflects an idea taking root in the West Bank -- to help put a bandage on old wounds so they can heal and give rise to something new and durable.

"The first film I'll make will be about the Palestinian cause. I'll tell the story," he said, likening his vision to the movie "Braveheart" and its tale of Scotland's rise alongside England. The Scottish leader William Wallace was not trying to destroy the English, Odai pointed out, but was attempting to carve out a place for his people on land of their own.


I love Mel Gibson's Braveheart, despite its incredible historical inaccuracies and I do not begrudge Odai for liking the movie to. But the fact that he chooses to see the Palestinian conflict through the lens of Braveheart and not say Ben Kingsley's Oscar winning portrayal of Gandhi says something contrary to our moderate peace loving narrative.

Braveheart is a wonderful example of manufactured nationalism. There was no nationalism in thirteenth century Scotland; there was no country Scotland in the modern nation-state sense. This was a feudal conflict in which Edward I (Longshanks) of England attempted to pursue a feudal claim against various Scottish noblemen. This had nothing to do with a crude desire to conquer other lands and subjugate other people. Scotland was a traditional ally of France so any attempt to strengthen their position in France required that England secure its northern border. Over the course of this complex conflict many people changed sides at various points and it had nothing to do with them loving "Scotland" or "freedom" less. I can only imagine what this teaches a teenage member of a manufactured nationality, attempting restore a state that never existed in the first place.

The nineteenth century style of nationalism of Braveheart equates itself with freedom. Considering the history of the twentieth century, with the horrors of Nazism, I would hope for just a bit skepticism to any such equation. Anyone willing to make such a point blank equation between the nation and freedom can rightfully be suspected of Fascism (the Nazis were also believers in freedom if in a Rousseauian or Hegelian vein) or at least being highly at risk of Fascism. In essence this is the sort of person in need of being put on an emergency life support drip of John Locke, John Stuart Mill and the American founding fathers. This is not the sort of person you can trust with a gun or a film camera.

The English in the movie are portrayed as brutal oppressors on par with Nazis. There is not a single positive English character in the entire film. Edward attempts to eliminate the Scottish race by allowing noblemen to take "prima nocta" the bride on her wedding night. I certainly have no great love for the thirteenth century English or for Edward. Edward I expelled the Jews from England in 1290, just before the main events of the movie. That being said, any film that attempted such a hostile reductionist and one sided treatment against a non European group would correctly be labeled as racist. I can only imagine what the reaction would be if Palestinians were portrayed like this maybe in a really over the top version of Leon Uris' Exodus.

This brings us to the sort of resistance glorified by Gibson. William Wallace does not negotiate with the English or engage in passive resistance; he bashes their heads in with a mace and chain and decapitates them with his broadsword. Wallace does not just fight the English Scotland. He sacks York and sends Edward the severed head of his nephew. Hardly what I would think of as live and let live sort of behavior.

So what are we to conclude about a Palestinian who views his situation in terms of the movie Braveheart? He sees the world largely through the lens of crude nationalism. His understanding of freedom is more in tune with Fascist totalitarianism than liberal democracy. He believes that Israelis are brutal monsters who wish to enslave his people and rape his women. As such he believes that the best way to deal with Israelis is to kill them, not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as well. With moderates such as these who needs fanatics.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

"It would have been nice for someone to ask the question how is it if Palestinian poverty is because of Israeli occupation that Palestinians in Gaza, completely free of Zionist occupiers, is in so much worse shape?"

True, Gaza isn't physically occupied, but it's under a quite strict embargo. To say that Israel doesn't have a role in Gaza's economic troubles is absurd.

"As such he believes that the best way to deal with Israelis is to kill them, not only in the West Bank and Gaza, but in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv as well. With moderates such as these who needs fanatics."

I see. Just out of curiousity, what do you think about the Irgun and their attacks against the British Empire in Europe?

Izgad said...

“True, Gaza isn't physically occupied, but it's under a quite strict embargo. To say that Israel doesn't have a role in Gaza's economic troubles is absurd.”

I certainly recognize that Israel has a negative effect on Gaza. Israel and Hamas are at war with each other. Countries at war with each other usually have a negative effect on the other’s economy. For example the Allies being at war with Nazi Germany had a negative effect on the economy of Dresden. My point here was that Israel cannot be blamed as the sole or even the main cause of the downturn in the Palestinian economy. The problem is the existence of radical groups like Hamas that prefer to see Palestinians living in poverty to recognizing and living in peace with a Jewish State of Israel in an area approximating the 1967 borders.

“Just out of curiosity, what do you think about the Irgun and their attacks against the British Empire in Europe?”

Something you should understand about my political philosophy. I have extremely low levels of tolerance for those who carry out physical acts of violence when not in uniform and not representing a sovereign state. I do not have any great love for the Irgun, though apparently members of my family served in it.

Vox Populi said...

I think you're not being fair to Odai here.

>The nineteenth century style of nationalism of Braveheart equates itself with freedom. Considering the history of the twentieth century, with the horrors of Nazism, I would hope for just a bit skepticism to any such equation.

I don't know, that really depends on your position. If you're part of an oppressed people or a minority, whose "national" identity is being suppressed then you're obviously going to associate nationalism with freedom. Just like the Zionists did. In fact, this was really how nationalism got started in a big way. Witness the Revolutions of 1848 - also known as the Spring of Nations. The Hapsburg Empire, in particular, was nearly torn apart as Hungarians, Croats, Slovenes, Poles, Czechs, etc. all tried to assert their rights and privileges as peoples. Jews often joined in these revolutions, parenthetically. It was certainly legitimate for the Croats to associate the existence of a separate Croatian state with freedom for Croats.

The problem with the Nazis isn't that they equated nationalism with freedom. It's that they equated nationalism with racial superiority and the belief that the individual must always give way to the state. Obviously, in such a situation, nationalism will not protect freedom.

To a Palestinian - this nationalism = freedom equation makes a lot of sense. Certainly, the argument that Israel is, and has, actively suppressed Palestinian nationhood carries a lot of weight with his community. Certainly, his Palestinian identity is responsible for him being a second class citizen in his country. It's perfectly legitimate for him to equate Palestinian nationhood with greater freedom.

Vox Populi said...

>I can only imagine what the reaction would be if Palestinians were portrayed like this maybe in a really over the top version of Leon Uris' Exodus.

I saw Exodus a really long time ago, so I don't remember. I did read the book, however. Not a whole lot of sympathetic Arab characters at all. I think the only one is Taha (Taba?), who although he was practically raised by the Ben-Canaan's still betrays them to the Arab/Nazi alliance because Ari wouldn't give him Jordana. In fact, the British don't get a good treatment at all. Maj. Caldwell, the Brit who is the face of British opposition Zionism, is revealed to be a garden variety anti-Semite, who thinks Hitler was right.

Izgad said...

“To a Palestinian - this nationalism = freedom equation makes a lot of sense.”

The nation-state can be a useful tool for freedom. As a non-anarchist I would even say it is a necessary ingredient. The problem becomes when one makes the blanket equation of nation = freedom. If you are operating within the liberal tradition and understand freedom as something that belongs to individuals this notion is absurd. Of course individuals can be oppressed by nations and even by their own nation. The equation, though, makes a lot of sense if you understand freedom in terms of Rousseau or the conservative Hegelians. It is at this point that my Fascism radar goes off. I understand that most people do not consider the meaning of the political terms they use. That is also a quick and easy road to Fascism.

Izgad said...

“Not a whole lot of sympathetic Arab characters at all.”

Uris certainly was not a man for nuanced characters. That being said his Arabs and British are more nuanced than Mel Gibson’s English. I grant you that it does not say a whole lot to have a more nuanced worldview than Mel Gibson.

Vox Populi said...

>The problem becomes when one makes the blanket equation of nation = freedom. If you are operating within the liberal tradition and understand freedom as something that belongs to individuals this notion is absurd.

Well, okay, but I don't think Odai is making that blanket equation. He just likes Braveheart, and specifically says it has nothing to do with reconquering land. To a kid, I would definitely see why Braveheart - or The Patriot, for that matter, would be a more satisfying take on independence movements than Gandhi, without us having to conclude that he's making that sort of nationalism = freedom equation.

Second, as you suggested, I can't think of any independence movement that didn't make healthy use of the nationalism/freedom strain - and it does not have to be ethnically based nationalism either - witness the US, Hungary in 1848, and even India - Gandhi had to struggle with Hindu nationalists, and of course Pakistan and East Pakistan. It's almost a necessary part of the equation.

You can still believe that the primary source of your freedom is your freedom as an individual and still understand that the only way that will happen is if your nation acquires freedom as well. I'm not sure Leon Pinsker and the Zionists were wrong in that regard. Certainly, it seems unlikely that the individual rights of the Palestinians will be fully realized until they have independence - although it's certainly unclear to me how much that will be helped by independence, but that's Step 2.

Izgad said...

“He just likes Braveheart, and specifically says it has nothing to do with reconquering land.”

Does Odai believe that, while fighting for a free Palestinian state, it is ok to blow up cafeterias in Tel Aviv? It would seem, if we following the Braveheart analogy, that he follows that sort of leaving Israel in peace. This is the sort of question that a responsible journalist would ask instead of taking Odai point blank as a normal college age kid that people in the west should identify with. I have no objection to the Palestinian who wants a state for himself and is willing to put on a uniform and fight Israeli soldiers for it.

“You can still believe that the primary source of your freedom is your freedom as an individual and still understand that the only way that will happen is if your nation acquires freedom as well. I'm not sure Leon Pinsker and the Zionists were wrong in that regard.”

I do not think there is any disagreement between us on this point. I am ok with non militant Zionism. The nation state is an important tool for gaining freedom as long as everyone recognizes that the nation state does not equal freedom. The only people whose nationalism I am going to trust in order to even try making peace are those who follow the liberal democratic tradition. With Hegelians you have to shoot first and ask questions later. As you can tell I like Hegel about as much as Karl Popper did.

Vox Populi said...

>Does Odai believe that, while fighting for a free Palestinian state, it is ok to blow up cafeterias in Tel Aviv? It would seem, if we following the Braveheart analogy, that he follows that sort of leaving Israel in peace.

He likes Braveheart; I don't see any reason to wonder whether he fashioned his entire political weltanschauung out of it. He's not Eric Cartman.

I don't think I ever saw Braveheart: does Mel Gibson go as far as Hamas - does he indiscriminately murder civilians?

Izgad said...

I do love that South Park episode where Cartman takes the Passion to heart and starts dressing up like Hitler and shouting the “Jews are our misfortune.”
Gibson’s Wallace does not kill straight civilians. He does kill captured enemy soldiers and enemy officials. He also murders Scottish noblemen in their beds, who are too moderate in their dealings with England. This is certainly not the Geneva accords.
I do strongly recommend Braveheart despite all my ideological problems with the film. No one does blood splattered all over the movie screen while still maintaining an artistic fig leaf like Gibson.