Things have been rather slow here on this blog lately.
It is not for want of things to say. In fact, the problem is quite the opposite. I find that I have so much to say, on so many different issues, that I can’t get around to saying anything about any one of them.
For example, as Israeli commandos were hijacking private relief ships and killing ‘dangerous’ unarmed civilians in international waters, the ever-delusion and consistently wrong Bernard Herny-Levy was babbling lyrical on Israel being the great ‘democratic’ miracle of the Middle East. Later he followed it up with a typically lame argument that was yet another brick in the facade of diminishing the actual brutality, mercilessness, illegality of what remains a singularly illegal, inhuman and unnecessary military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza. Using sops like ‘Hamas charters’ and other imagined ‘threats’, and all efforts to actually ignore the fact that it is Israel that is an occupier, its jack-boots and sophisticated weapons of warfare, on the throats of an unarmed people dispossessed and displaced for decades, Mr. Levy continues to remind us how easily one can sell ones mind, soul and limited intellect to power, popularity, ethnic and religious affiliations and simple desire for success. Lets have Tariq Ali remind us:
I want to say more, so much more, but am distracted. All I can say is…it takes no thought, no intelligence, no courage, no insight, no brilliance, nor any effort, to simply stand alongside power. It takes only laziness, cowardice, suspension of one’s critical faculties and obsequiousness. It takes Bernard Henry-Levy.
Fortunately, others more articulate were able to respond to this French clown, as the Israeli writer/journalist Gideon Levy did in a piece called In response to Bernard-Henri Levy, reminding him with his usual tact that:
…since you were here already, why didn’t you pop into Gaza, as your friend Mario Vargas Llosa did, to see with your own eyes whether there’s a blockade? The doctors in Shifa Hospital, for example, would have told you about their dead due to the non-blockade.
True, nobody is dying of hunger. Yet the Gisha organization for freedom of movement released a report this week saying Israel today allows 97 items to be brought into Gaza, compared to 4,000 before the siege. Is that not a blockade?
A large Israeli supermarket holds 10,000-15,000 items; in Paris there are surely more. Yet Gaza is allowed 97. One would expect greater understanding for gastronomic needs from a refined bon vivant such as yourself, of all people.
You mention, as though you were the IDF spokesman, that Israel permits 100-125 trucks into Gaza a day. A hundred trucks for 1.5 million people ¬ is that not a “merciless siege” as the Liberation newspaper you castigated called it?
Eighty percent of Gaza’s residents subsist on aid; 90 percent of its factories are shut down or runing below capacity. Really, Bernard-Henri, isn’t that a blockade? Shouldn’t a great intellectual like you, of all people, be expected to know that people, including Gazans, need more than bread and water?
Or that Peter Beinart was waxing lyrical about an imagined liberal Zionism of the past that now seemed to have veered off its once ‘pristine’, ‘pure’ and ‘humane’ past towards a more radical, violent and regressive nature. But what past is this that he is talking about, no one seems to want to bother to ask. Is this the past of the terrorism that was used to attack British interests in Palestine, and the terrorism used to displace over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes? Is this the liberalism that never deluded itself that it was going to have to evict the rightful residents of the land that is now called Israel to make it into a pure, exclusive, Jewish state? Is this the liberalism that was in fact a blatant, European colonial exercise that used justifications of ‘civilization’, ‘greening the desert’, ‘a land without a people…’ etc. etc. to arrive, displace, occupy and erase where others had once lived, and done so for centuries? Is this the ‘liberalism’ that used, and continues to use, the regressive, fundamentalist blather of delusions offered is spiritual texts to murder, steal and lie? Is this the liberalism that saw the Palestinians as barbarians and thought nothing of simply throwing them out? It takes Laor to remind us of the construction of the myths of liberal Zionism
To quote a review by Maz Ajl:
Earlier Zionists were not in the business of molly-coddling modern Western sensibilities. They were honest, unaware or indifferent to the fact that the archival record they left behind would be trouble. Take revisionist Vladimir Jabotinsky’s scorched forthrightness: “colonization must … proceed in defiance of the will of the native population … an external power has committed itself to creating such security conditions that the local population, however much it would have wanted to, would be unable to interfere, administratively or physically, with our colonization.” Ideology hasn’t changed much, but the West has. So Israeli new mandarins have to try to sell settler-colonialism to Western states with populations that increasingly regard Zionism’s spiritual core and physical reality as somewhere on the spectrum between mildly embarrassing and overtly revolting. It is those mandarins that anti-Zionist Israeli poet Yitzhak Laor meticulously vivisects in The Myths of Liberal Zionism.
I have so much more to say, but I can’t because I am distracted.
And about the Ahmedis – yet again murdered and killed in insane attacks on mosques. With so many now shedding tears of remorse, I can’t help but ask them where they were when the Ahmedis, under the crass and hideous political shenanigans of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto – that so-called ‘great’ democrat of the nation, labelled them ‘heretics’! We have sown the wind, and must reap the whirlwind. The anachronism of an ‘Islamic’ state – the term ‘Islamic’ being impossible to define just as the term ‘Islam’ is impossible to reduce to any ‘one’ thing given the incredible social, cultural, economic, political, historical, ethnic and class diversity of the world that is the purvey of ‘Islam – are coming home to roost not just in the horrors they bestow on the nation, but in the self-destructive murders and abuse they require all to inflict on all others. The Shias, the Agha Khanis, the Christians, the Hindus, the ‘not so religious’ – each will and has been in turn a victim of some or the other convinced that they know ‘Islam’ or have it ‘right’. We have foisted onto ourselves the impossible project – a politically uniform idea of ‘Islamic’ politics on top of what is an incredibly diverse, multifarious and varied nation. The brutalities inflicted on the nation’s constitution, the laws forced into its legislation, the cartoon-like ‘religious’ ideologies and ‘values’ gerrymandered are nothing short of criminal, irresponsible and frankly infantile. The worst minds, the most illiterate of individuals, the most backward and inexperienced of ‘religious’ ideologues, have their hands on the levers of law and legality. It is inevitable that it will fail, and that it will reduce itself to murder. I have so much more to say, but I am distracted.
Ali Sethi, ever subtle and articulate, expressed far more interesting and insightful comments on the pathologies of ‘Islamic’ nationalism and sectarian contortions of history in an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times called One Myth, Many Pakistans reminding us of the unsustainability of the so-called Two Nation theory (something I repeatedly question in my own work in India). As he states:
After the exam I would go home. Here the Two-Nation Theory fell apart. I was part-Shiite (my mother’s family), part-Sunni (my father’s family) and part-nothing (neither of my parents was sectarian). There were other things: the dark-skinned man who swabbed the floors of the house was a Christian; the jovial, foul-mouthed, red-haired old woman who visited my grandmother every few months was rumored to be an Ahmadi. (It was a small group, I had been told, that considered itself Muslim but had been outlawed by the government.)
But even more than these visible religious variations, I was more aware of things like caste and money: my mother’s family was upper caste, claiming a magical blood bond with the Prophet Muhammad, and owned large tracts of land in the countryside. My father’s relatives, however, were undisguised converts from Hinduism who had fled their villages long ago and now lived in the city, where they were always running out of money, working in government offices and selling homemade furniture and gambling (and losing) on the stock market.
The Two-Nation Theory allowed only for the simple categories of Hindu and Muslim, one for India and the other for Pakistan; it had no room for inner complications like Shiite and Sunni and Christian and Ahmadi. (I had yet to learn that more than a million Hindus still lived in Pakistan.) It also required the abolition of magical blood claims and landholdings and stock markets, so that our personalities and situations could be determined purely by our religious beliefs.
I am distracted.
The summer of 2010 sees the start of two new projects. And that is what is distracted me at the moment. I am loath to add my pointless voice into the pointless debates above. Instead I am concentrating on starting a project that will explore a city in Europe deeply and fundamentally influenced by its social, economic, political and cultural interaction and engagement with the Islamic East. And it is not Granada, Seville or any of the cities that were once actually ruled by a Muslim empire. In fact, at the height of this city’s exchange with the Islamic East, it was a deeply Christian city, well within the realm of influence of the Pope, and a launching pad for the crusades. Despite this, it maintained a near 400 year commercial and cultural exchange the influence of which can still be seen in its life, language, architecture and commerce.
I am also beginning work on a separate project on Sweden’s Muslim communities in and near the city of Stockholm. Two exciting stories, each produced in its own unique way. A change of method, a change of ‘eye’ and hopefully a change of outcomes as well. Each is in its earliest stages of research but I hope to get going fairly soon.
This does not imply the end of the India work – in fact I will be concentrating on that project through late 2010 and most of 2011. But after nearly two years on the India project I have a need to ‘look’ elsewhere to freshen the eye and the mind.
I will end by offering an apology for what may be my most ‘self centered’ post to date. Your forgiveness is asked for.