Five bits of news and a soul-searching commentary on the state of peace activism.
- The election of Israeli and American favorite Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to president of the Palestinian authority seems be assured by the withdrawal of Marwan Barghouthi and the boycott of elections by both groups on the right and on the left. Abbas was the fellow who in 1995 “negotiated” a deal with Yossi Beilin (Israeli leader who is a war criminal) which basically abrogated human rights and international law and proposed to create a demilitarized vassal Palestinian “statelet” under the supervision of an armed to the teeth state of Israel. Another certified candidate is Dr. Ashqar who is confined to house arrest in Virginia (see http://free-ashqar.org).
- George HW Bush just awarded the highest Presidential civilian medal to: General Tommy Franks (who led the war on Iraq and Afghanistan), CIA director George Tenet (who stated that the case for WMD in Iraq is "slam dunk"), and first US viceroy in charge of occupied Iraq, neoconservative Zionist L. Paul Bremer. The three individuals selected by Bush arguably should be put on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity. They certainly helped reduce the security and national interests of the United States by the roles they played in the war on Iraq.
- In the Dheishe refugee camps Children learn some lessons as they see their homes and kindergarden destroyed: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article3398.shtml
- Soldiers are dying at a high rate in Iraq and Iraqi civilians dying at much higher rate. Yet mainstream US media and by extension the US public seem blissfully ignorant. Fighting continues in “liberated” Falluja with US soldiers and hundreds of Iraqi civilians killed in the past few days. Pictures of the carnage began to emerge (see http://dahrjamailiraq.com/gallery/view_album.php?set_albumName=album28&page=1
- Scientists are increasingly raising their voices about climatic changes and environmental deterioration around the world caused by irrespnsible human activities
These five items among many others should serve as wake-up calls to the peace movement. This movement represented by millions in the US and billions more around the world has been at a loss as to how to proceed.
I will attempt here to provide a brief analysis on why we are in this state of affairs. There were huge demonstrations around the world both against the war on Iraq and against the occupation and colonization of Palestine. Yet, it was never clear, even to those in the movement, how such vocal opposition can translate to political and economic power that can effect real change.
I think that any discourse, can succeed if it has these ingredients:
1) A theoretical underpinning articulated in saleable ways (usually articulated by intellectuals who are committed to the discourse)
2) A strategy for using this underpinning to reach out to masses and convince them that the projected discourse is useful to them and hence gather their support
3) Resources to implement such strategy (this is dependent on success of #2)
4) Flexibility and maneuverability to respond to changing circumstances while maintaining the essence of the discourse
Each of these four conditions is important to the success of any discourse. An example of this is modern political Zionism. Political Zionism posited “Jewish rights” to sovereignty not in their countries but in Palestine (a land in which a number of religions including rabbinic Judaism evolved). The conceptualization of the concept goes back to articulation including George Gawler’s book "Tranquilization of Syria and the East: Observations and Practical Suggestions, in Furtherance of the Establishment of Jewish Colonies in Palestine, the Most Sober and Sensible Remedy for the Miseries of Asiatic Turkey" " to Theodore Herzl's book “Die Judenstaat”. The strategy was developed at meeting of the World Zionist Congress and of powerful parties behind closed doors articulating how to overcome the anticipated resistance to Zionist colonization. Going to #3 was thus natural an resources poured in from all sorts of quarters. Occasionally flexibility and maneuverability were needed with creation of groups that are harder or apparently softer. Good cop/bad cop approaches were prevalent (carrots and sticks) to accomplish the goals. The goal was nothing short of transforming a predominantly Arab and Muslim country to a Jewish state. The net result was that the population of Jews in Palestine/Israel over 100 years jumped from 4% to some 55% and their control of the land jumped from 7% to 70%. Some two thirds of the native Palestinians (Christians and Muslims) were rendered refugees or displaced people.
It is time for some serious soul searching as to how those of us who purport to care about human rights and justice should proceed. Sober assessment of where we have been is important to then chart realistically and objectively where we should go. We claim to work towards the lofty and inspiring goals of liberation, freedom, and equality but in our heats we find a sadness and shackles of fear. Perhaps this is because much of what most of us do is provide occasional preliminary and inaccurate diagnosis of the illness in society and occasionally provide a topical relief for some of its symptoms. We blame Zionism, imperialism, capitalism, Islamism, and fundamentalism but shy away from the truth of looking more inward. Like any health care professional would tell you, what is needed is to understand the etiology of the disease and provide effective and proven therapies. Further, preventive medicine (like keeping a healthy diet and exercising) are important to ward off disease in the first place. If this is the case for an individual health, then certainly it is also true of the health of societies. The only difference is that there are no “doctors”; we must be the physicians: heal thy-self society.
So why can we not begin to build healthy societies immune to the diseases of greed and racism? Why can we not provide appropriate diagnostics to identify true etiology of current ills of this society and address them by treatment of their root causes rather than mild topical symptoms?
If selfishness, prejudice and tribalism are our illnesses, then why can’t we provide a positive antidote in the form of BUILDING inclusive society of people who care for each other and who care about the earth? Some of this is already done on a very small scale with intentional communities such as http://koininiapartners.org and http://www.thefarm.org/ ). Why not build an international network of such communities with the peace organizations? If we really care to have peace on earth and good will to all, then why can’t we just start doing so instead of just spouting our complaints about those who profit from war and mayhem?
I think it is relatively easy for many to stay safe in the system of oppression while providing some relief for their nagging conscience through selective and safe ways of voicing dissent. Such can materialize in the form of joining demonstrations, speaking at conferences, issuing resolutions etc. Producing and implementing a program of actual societal change is far more demanding and most seem to shy away from the responsibility. Verbal masturbation sometimes provides short-term relief but having real positive impact by building something useful or producing something tangible is both demanding and more relevant. Ultimately that hard work is what makes a real difference in the long run.
How much of what we do is really driven by old habits (many predestined for failure) and how many are novel, fresh ideas? How objective are we? Where are those among us of the caliber of Edward Said and Khalil Gibran who are able to articulate a human and a humane vision? More importantly where are those who are willing to actually act on them a la Mahatma Ghandhi? Where are the new Clarence Jordan’s of the world? (Jordan was a founder of Koinonia integrated community in 1942 in the segregated South; a community that was pivotal in the Civil Rights era and also a community that gave rise to Habitat for Humanity).
We did some great work and projects with groups like United for Peace and Justice, Palestine Right to Return Coalitions, Academics for Justice, and the aptly named Voices in the Wilderness. But judging from the voting in the last election within a system (well entrenched in the US) that gave us a choice of eveil and “lesser evil”, we must do something different. Perhaps we all need now to come out of the wilderness to reclaim the promised land found within our own hearts and minds. This is what is referred to in the New Testament as becoming “mature” (some translations mistakenly refer to it as becoming “perfect”) and what is referred to in Buddhism as achieving true bliss. Only then will we be able to finally have “true and joyful PARTICIPATION in the sorrows of this world” (another Buddhist saying).
It is time for a maturity of purpose and design but this can only start with us. It is time for us to not merely complain about the past and the present circumstances but to take matters into our own hands and build a better future. But we must start by removing the chains of “mis-education” (Chomsky), fear, and prejudice from our own minds. Our biggest chains are self-imposed. The old saying from the civil rights movement “Free your mind and your ass will follow” is analogous to the old Arabic proverb “Wala yughayur Allah ma biqawmin 7atta yughayuri ma bianfusihim” (and God does not change what becomes of people until they change what is within them).