The savior in each of us
May 5, 2010
By Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
We live in an era of psychological warfare and mass hysteria generated by mass communication that already led us to the catastrophic first and second world wars. And after the US dropped nuclear bombs on civilian cities in Japan, all gloves were off instead of people being horrified enough to forsake war all together. Over 100 major conflicts in the last 60 years costing tens of millions of lives. It is even getting worse as wars are started by a few special interest groups, a few rich media owners can push for them, and a few soldiers can execute them via remote control and pilot-less planes that butcher thousands at the push of a button. The maddening era where sanctions on Iraq were introduced to satisfy a special lobby caused the death of over a million Iraqi civilians and then a war and occupation in which a million more have been killed. Many claim a clash of religions or of ‘civilizations’ to justify these abominations when excess greed can explain it better. But humans also fail to learn the lessons of history or to reexamine our own dogmatic beliefs that allow greedy people to exploit us and take us into wars in the name of ‘nation’ or ‘religion’ or ‘ideology’. Here in Palestine, at every turn we are inundated with messages about conflicting religious and/or political beliefs; group think that seems hard to dispel.
When religion enters into it, it becomes extremely volatile. By religion, I do not mean the original teachings of the prophets, but that which has been hijacked by the greedy for profits. Mohammed and Jesus had far simpler messages of truth mostly dealing with personal behavior towards God and the needy people in society. Here in these hills of Palestine Jesus told the truth to the many different groups of people that inhabited this multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. His message of reform and logic was not directed only to the tribalistic Hebrew Judeans but to all people. Some rejected the message precisely because they could not claim it for their tribe or advance their social status using the message. He spoke plainly to both tribalistic Judeans who believed that they are better than the goyim and to the Roman officials who believed they were civilized superior democrats. He spoke to Idumeans, Jebusites, Hebrews, Ammonites, Samaritans, and others and taught that all are equal before God. He advocated a truly universal brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity. The same can be said of the original teachings of Mohammed as inspired by his God. The five Pillars of Islam are rather simple and include profession of faith, prayers, fasting, giving of alms to the needy, and pilgrimage to Mecca if possible. No more and no less. Shi’ Islam recognizes similar things and adds things like leadership of the 12 imams and Adl (justice). If one is to follow the basics of the monotheistic traditions and not all the literal (mis)interpretations, politicians would never be able to use religion in their endless wars.
Jesus prayed to get strength from his God (the father of us all) on the mount of olives in Ur-Salem (Jerusalem), the Jebusite Canaanitic town that remained a small town highly fought over by greedy people who used religion to justify conquest. He prayed in the Aramaic language, a beautiful language that predated Hebrew and Arabic (and whose alphabet gave rise to both alphabets). This language is still spoken by a Christian community in Palestine and other parts of Bilad Al-Sham. He spoke truth to entrenched power of Pharisees and Romans who are in the same kind of allegiance that Israel and the US are today. He told them that they are deluded, they are hypocrites. He did not mince words.
Those with different agendas watched as his original message spread among disenfranchised communities even during massive repression and persecution for over 300 years. Finally, unable to destroy it, and to fill an ideological vacuum, the Roman empire decided to re-brand itself as the “Holy Christian Roman Empire.” Powerful Popes were created and the story of Jesus was changed to suit an agenda that is in many aspects the opposite of what he really said (1). How else can one reconcile the idea of Jesus ‘give to God what is to God and to Rome what is to Rome’ (separation of religion from politics) with the welding of religious and political power in Europe for hundreds of years. The 'Christian' cross was thus changed from a symbol of a persecuted people of principles to a symbol for crusaders and colonizers. In parallel, the Pharisees went on to also change the ancient Hebrew religion. Rabbinical Judaism was concretized in a Talmud written 300 years after Christ and was in many ways a reaction to the success of Christianity among Jews and non-Jews alike. The Safad and Babylonian texts of Rabbinical Judaism have negative things to say about Jesus and about 'goyim' while emphasizing the notion of Jews as a “people” separate, unique, and chosen. It was an understandable(over) reaction to maintain the old ways in the face of a changing world. The history of ideas always pits conservative versus more liberal ideas. For example, we saw a retrenchment and strengthening of catholic doctrine as the more liberal Protestant traditions developed.
The new religions under the names of 'Christianity' and 'Judaism' became varied and many. Large segments of Berbers in North Africa and much of the population of Khazaria converted to the Pharisee traditions of Judaism resulting in large Ashkenazi and Sephardi “Jewish” communities (2). Beautiful cultures unfortunately destroyed in the frenzy of Zionism. Most of the rest of Europe had converted to the form of Christianity preached by Paul (himself a converted Judean) which was later adopted by the Roman empire . Other forms spread in Western Asia and North Africa. But even the Roman church split into Western and Eastern branches as the empire it was wedded to also split (Rome and Byzantium). The orthodox and the catholic branches had to then contend with the new protestant evolution. In the 7th century, the daughter religion of Islam spread, shedding many of the rituals and authority vested in Rabbis and Priests but also having to adapt to existing cultures and norms in different countries. Its success was largely due to the way in which entrenched authoritarian rulers bickered and fought among themselves ignoring the needs of the people. Millions took up Islam willingly as a liberating religion. As Europe descended into the abyss in the Middle ages, the Islamic civilization rose and prospered developing sciences, laws, forms of government, philosophy and much more. The secret to its success was the liberal traditions and openness that allowed Muslim scholars to collaborate with other scholars and to write books that question just about everything. Unlike today, reading and writing books was a key feature of our world. Islam itself was to undergo reformation and transformation becoming different sects and communities (Sunni, Shi’a, Druze, Sufi, Bahai, Alawaites etc).
Evolution of these monotheistic religions and their connections to each other should not blind us to their connections to earlier traditions. The stories of slavery and redemption, floods and revival, death and resurrection and many more are stories found in earlier pagan traditions (3). Today’s Hindu, Buddhist, Confuscian, and other traditions are all connected in similar ways (4).
So here we are today. Last week, a psychologist who lived in Israeli society for 27 years, Avigail Abarnable described it as follows: 'I think Israel is like a cult that happened to get its own country. It really is bizarre. It took a long time for me to free myself from the strange belief system I grew up with and the way I used to see the world' (5). But Zionist Jews are not the only ones living in a make-belief world of group think and thus acting in highly destructive ways (to others and to self). As noted above, this has happened before and we who followed other religious traditions were not immune. The shameful history stretches from crusaders to ‘manifest destiny’ colonization of the ‘new world’ to Afrikaners creating an apartheid regime as ‘ordained by God’. But it all starts at the individual level. How many of us are able to free our minds from self-imposed shackles? What percentage of the human population drops the beliefs that parents and a childhood education burn into malleable minds. My father’s side of the family followed the traditions of the Eastern church (Greek Orthodox). with paternalistic and hierarchical structures that are hard to reconcile with the ministry of Jesus. It was the mixed marriage in our family that thankfully gave me a bit of leeway. So I actually admire more those who do not have that and are still able to break free. This includes the Catholic Workers movement and liberation theology advocates who went back to live and work among the poor and disenfranchised people. This includes Jews who are anti- or post-Zionist who connect with fellow human beings to work for equality instead of racism. This includes the Muslims I see here every day linking hands with other human beings to resist colonial oppression in their villages (Al-Ma’sara, Al-Walaja, Bil’in, Ni’lin etc.).
In the past few days, the deluge of Orwellian news continued. Settlements continue to be built even as the US, Israel, and the Palestinian elite leaders and the media spinners claim otherwise. The apartheid wall is being built around Palestinian towns (it was deemed illegal by the International court of Justice and described as part of the illegal settlement activities). Settlers driven by the mythologies of Zionism regularly harass Palestinians and destroy agricultural lands and property. Arab rulers who long ago sold Palestine for assurances about their thrones give a green light for more negotiations that are divorced from International law and human rights. 1.5 million people (most of them refugees) get a trickle of food and supplies in their open air prison through tunnels. Israeli leaders openly brag that this inhuman act to an entire people is a collective punishment (6). By International law, this is actually defined as state terrorism and crimes against humanity. And Jerusalem remains under attack (7). Yet the International community only utters feeble voices while continuing to shield and protect the apartheid state. Europeans give funds which they know go to aid the occupation but they hope by designating it as Palestinian humanitarian aid, it would be good public relations.
And what are Palestinians doing? With very few exceptions, we are not rising to the existential challenge facing us when we know that in the 1920s and 1930s our grandparents did rise to the challenge. The cheap and easy roads are taken today. Many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) both in Palestine and abroad are now run by single individuals (usually males) who worked to drive out any serious challenge to their 'leadership' (even when those they drove out were the most productive individuals). The situation also extends to political leadership whether in the many factions or in the Palestinian ‘authority’ (both in Gaza and the West Bank). A tradition strengthened by a history of authoritarian rule and cronyism. But of course this discourse is also true of Israeli NGOs and political leaders. Corruption there is rampant and the amount of money laundered is many folds that among Palestinians. Bribes in the millions were paid just for one housing project in West Jerusalem called ‘HolyLand.’ Israeli NGOs are run by those who scare Jews around the world to keep donating so that these self-appointed “leaders” can continue their life style of 'leadership' and self-import (e.g. the racist Nadia Matar of ‘Women in Green’). Any act of hatred to Jews big or small, fake or real, is used to keep the cash flowing. The victimization cash machine never stops. Business is business.
Gilad Shalit who is a soldier in a terrorist colonial army, is described as ‘victim’, ‘kidnapped’ and ‘held illegally’ while 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners whose rights are denied daily remain nameless and faceless in Israeli and Western media. Millions were raised to support residents of ‘Sderot’ in the name of victimhood. But this Israeli town was built on the land of Najd, one of hundreds of destroyed Palestinian villages ethnically cleansed to create the ‘Jewish state’ . The individuals who shot these home-made projectiles come from a community of refugees ethnically cleansed and looking over the fence at their empty lands. They were left to rot in refugee camps and then bombed and besieged to starvation. Would you expect them to toss flowers at the usurpers?
British candidates regurgitate notions of Jewish victimization and need to support Israel to court the elite rich self-appointed British Zionists. The latter represent less than half of the British Jewish population, itself less than 0.5% of the population; there are 3% Muslims. Instead of welcoming Elie Wiesel, a racist tribalist, President Obama should receive real ethical Jews (8). Ben Gurion’s cult credo of “better feared than loved” is reaching a dead end especially since lies can no longer be covered by taking advantage of the suffering during WWII (9). The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is forcing people to rethink and reflect on how their governments were hijacked and their people’s interests were sacrificed at the altar of the new idol of Zionism. Zionists will continue to try to stoke anti-Jewish feelings (misnamed 'anti-Semitism'), chauvinism (of and against Jews or gentiles), fear, conflict, and war around the world to serve their self-perceived interests. Iran, like Iraq before it, is now in the cross hairs. But the world is finally beginning to wake-up.
Here we are 2000 years later still awaiting miracles from outside instead of believing that we can effect change as Jesus taught. The 1960s civil rights movement had a saying: ‘free your mind and your ass will follow’. Time will tell how many people (Westerners and Arabs, Christians, Muslims, or Jews) will run like scared lemmings over the cliff and into the abyss before enough people finally stand-up and free their minds. How many can speak truth to power without worrying about offending (new) Pharisees or (new) Roman authorities or worrying about material riches? As Jesus taught ‘What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?’ (Matthew 16:26). In the Qur’an it is stated: ‘God does not change what is within a people until they change what is within themselves’. The savior is not coming back on a cloud this year and the answer lies within us not with the sermons of Rabbis, Priests, or Imams. The choices are clear.
"Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing." Arundhati Roy
1)Marc Ellis terms it ‘Constantinian Christianity’ in his book ‘Out of the Ashes’ where he argues that Zionism is taking a similar detour as it tries to rebrand Judaism into colonial nationalism.
2) see Shlomo Sand, Israel deliberately forgets its history http://mondediplo.com/2008/09/07israel
3) see Hidden Histories by Basem Ra’ed, http://www.plutobooks.com/display.asp?K=9780745328300&
4) I highly recommend Cambell’s four-volume series ‘The Masks of God’ and with Bill Moyers ‘The Power of Myth’ The field of comparative mythology and comparative religion is critical to challenge religious dogma and Puritanism. 'Reading the metaphor in terms of the denotation instead of the connotation' Campbell eloquently stated about religious texts.
5) Listen To Affected Voices And We Will Have Middle East Peace http://www.countercurrents.org/lieberman030510.htm
6) The Tunnel Rats: Keeping Gaza alive http://60minutes.ninemsn.com.au/stories/1029053/the-tunnel-rats
7) Discrimination is flourishing in East Jerusalem
“You don't need judges in Jerusalem to know that a serious crime was committed against the city with the Holyland (housing development that involved bribes to officials). But corruption on the hill in West Jerusalem is nothing compared to the theft of land, identity rape, and the body of lies and criminal discrimination against 270,000 residents of the eastern part of the city. ….”
8) Examples like Ilan Pappe, author of ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’ or Mark Braverman, author of of ‘Fatal Embrace’ or Marc Ellis, author of ‘Out of the Ashes’
9) see Norman Finkelstein’s ‘The Holocaust Industry’, and Lenni Brenner's '51 Documents: history of the Nazi-Zionist collaboration'.
Final note: I was reluctant to write this essay and after it was written, I was reluctant to share it. You can see above why and why I finally did (to follow my own advise).