“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Not my words, but the ones of Søren Kierkegaard, and while our understanding can often only be described as backwards, he, no doubt, meant as in retrospect.
As a general rule after various events have taken place and we have gained a comfortable distance to them, we are able to take a stand and clearly show who and what do we lend our support to. In retrospect every one always loved Nelson Mandela and were against apartheid; no South African voter certainly seems to have voted for it (it still baffles me how it survived for so long with no supporters); no one supported Hitler either, and during his time there were no anti-Semitism in allied countries, and nor were there anybody who would have wanted to drop the bombs on those two unfortunate Japanese cities.
It makes sense – perhaps it is the distance in time or just the new zeitgeist; the consensus that what took place was morally wrong although perhaps at the time it was too difficult to admit and too comfortable not to.
We as a people are brave to stand up for things in history that have already happened and for which our stand has no impact on. At the time events unravelled, the jury was still out and none of us had the courage to speak out. Add Rwanda to this list. Darfur. Palestine.
Right now the independent aid ships aiming at Gaza with, at least as it has been covered in the news, humanitarian aid and activists – some of them famous and some less so – have been attacked by the Israel Defence Forces on the international waters and the death toll is, last time I checked at least fifteen people with many more injured. This is not the first time, of course, that in the conflict between Israel and Palestine the non-citizens of these specific places are targeted and in the last all out major conflict (not to undermine the ongoing activities) even the Red Cross Hospital was bombed, although allegedly this was an accident. Here, the power-relationship is such that with the ongoing support from the so called west the economy of this conflict is like Chelsea playing serious match of football against kids on the street.
A little bit of me feels bad about taking this topic up now, when the victims are foreigners when locally there has been casualties in only too generous measure. A lot of me, however, feels that regardless of the details of timing, this isn’t how it makes me look like, but about the fact that whatever the facts are, there is a problem. There is a problem now, and should we follow our human tradition we let the historians to decide what was right and wrong and then place our support accordingly, but that is not how the world works; once we know undeniably who was wrong and who was right, even if it ever should happen, we are not able to return in time and start picketing. I myself am always a bit sceptical about all the information that comes from all sides, because there are too many people who have their own agenda; how could they not, but to let this cloud our own judgement would be also wrong.
Noam Chomsky, in his Hegemony or Survival suggests that we have still two super-powers left in the world. Instead of the old cold war setting they are United States and the Public Opinion.
We are that public. We are also that market that drives the media’s behaviour. We are the voters that supposedly in democracy are being asked. It’s us. It is our inaction or increased interest in the colour of candidates tie, instead of their thoughts on Palestine that inform our occasional opportunity to impact. Don’t blame anyone else on that.
Perhaps we must rethink our role and our stance. I am not here saying what you should think or feel, but rather only that perhaps you should think something. As far as I understand the situation, it is complicated – sure – but that doesn’t justify the actions that currently taken by the state of Israel. ‘The army with a state,’ as that same Chomsky book had quoted, was built on the principles of one group of people over the other. Placing people on someone else’s place, misplacing them is not a good placement of people. And it isn’t the first occurrence of this either. Perhaps unusual book recommendation here, but you can read from Hugh Masakela’s Still Grazin’ how horribly wrong this had gone in Liberia.
Religion provides little clarity and a lot of confusion. It’s more of a tag on people. Israel is a Jewish state and Palestinians are predominantly, although not exclusively, Moslems, but perhaps it is important for us to attempt to set aside our personal religious affiliations and their perceived opposites, and view this thing outside of any religious set-up. It isn’t a match of football where you have an emotional tie with one team over another. If religion continues to be in the centre of this – and I don’t think for a moment it actually is – then the people will never see eye-to-eye. Perhaps opposing Israeli military actions against Palestinians isn’t anti-Semitism by default.
Of course many anti-Semites are jumping on the bandwagon, which then provides the supporters of the Israeli actions, if only in their own opinion, some justification for the harsh measures, but the same happens with Islamophobes as well. Here the agenda is different. These motives can be acknowledged as they pop up, but there will not be much clarity for the major concerns unless we let go of the religious definition. Just like in Belfast there is religion at play, but it isn’t the root cause, and to claim it is, is simplification of the matter, except instead simplifying, it actually complicates it to no end.
Having lived in South Africa for a few years, and following its post-apartheid struggle for a respectful society, I’ve seen many things that don’t add up; the beneficiaries of the old system seem often confident that they were its victims and also oppressed, which arguably also might have a small truth in it – they were subjected to heavy brainwashing campaigns and propaganda – but is in conflict with the other prominent claim of having participated in the struggle against it. Globally it is the same – everyone is talking about how international pressure got Mandela out of prison, but how come it took nearly 30 years if everyone always was up in arms against it? They weren’t. We weren’t. Towards the end many were, but for the first decades most of us didn’t mind even if we were aware. Now it is very fashionable to say that we were there supporting the cause and the icon, but that shouldn’t be confused with actually taking any action. And by that action, in this current situation that is happening now as I type, I mean, find out what your candidate thinks of these things, vote with your wallet when you are shopping, participate in demonstration, support media that makes sense and find out facts that you trust and make up your mind. Or don’t. But if you decide not to, remember that it is the final insult to the long suffering people when you pledge your support for their past struggles when it no longer matters.