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Monday, July 14, 2014

Decolonizing the narrative of Palestinian cause



There is a constant traffic of comments and videos on social media, and especially from my Muslim friends, related to Palestinian issue, which seems to be motivated by two broad ideas

1) The "conflict" between Israel and Palestinians is not an ordinary  secular conflict over the land and resources, rather it is essentially driven by some preconceived divine plan. And this whole episode of violence against Palestinians is one event among many which will eventually lead to an Armageddon taking place in Middle East.

2) Secondly, and this is specifically, about Pakistan, that we have some essential role in this whole end of times episode.

Frankly, this is not a religious conflict and following are some of the reasons i find convincing enough to negate such a point of view.

a) This narrative propagating a final Armageddon contends that Jews and Muslims have always been enemy. There is no basis of friendship and peaceful existence between them. Cursory study of history would make this point of view collapse faster than a  house of cards. There has been no perennial enemity between Muslims and the Jews. Examples which are normally quoted from early Muslim history in which some Jews tribes were on the enemy side can not be generalized because we also got examples in which Jews were not on the enemy side. For examples when Caliph Omer conquered Palestine, some Jews were  exempted from the taxes for their cooperation with the Muslims (Ameer Ali's History of Saracens).  It was  a time when empire was being consolidated. Those Jewish tribes who found it beneficial to be cooperative towards Muslims were not treated as enemies, rather they were rewarded with such incentives as exemption from taxes. In subsequent history, for example during the Ottoman period, those Jews who fled persecution in Europe were welcomed in Muslim lands. As far as i know, through Muslim history there was not a single time when religious narratives were invoked to support the idea of institutionalized hatred against the Jews. The general trend has always been Jews thriving in Muslim lands be it Saracens rule in Spain or the times of Ottoman.

b) In order to understand that whether Israel and Arab conflict is a religious conflict, one needs to understand the motivation behind the creation of Israel. A modest reading of the history of  Antisemitism in Europe allows two broad historical divisions.  The first stage was religious Antisemitism in which religion was invoked to justify persecution of the Jews.One such high point came during the time of Crusades when Jews were consistently targeted for their faith. The second period broadly started from 18th century onward and can be termed as a period of cultural Antisemitism. The was the period when Europe, divided on the basis of confessional blocks such as Lutheran, Catholicism, Calvinist and radical Protestant groups such as Anabaptism, Socinianism etc gradually started giving way to the Europe divided on the basis of nationalities. Jew who was erstwhile a religiously inspired outcast now  became  an "Other" to one's nation. Every nation's history had some specific historical features that would lead to Jew being term as the Other, however, two broad trends may stand out. Jews own  Socio-cultural exclusiveness partly explain this lack of assimilation within  the fold of particular nation. However, more importantly was the fact that  Jews were historically related to commercial enterprises in larger number than rest of the communities in Europe.  Throughout
 the period of Church dominance, financial and commercial activities were discouraged by the Church. On the other hands, Jews did not face any such religious condemnation of enterprising behavior. Social stigmas essentially rooted in economic histories, with Jew being described as a  profiteering,selfish and cunning creature, were too strong enough to dismantled by the enlightenment  thinking. This was coupled with different nations experiencing different historical features that led to the  "Othering" of the Jews.

Jews who spearheaded the Zionist movement were not motivated by any religious passion. Theordor Herzl, founder of the modern Zionism was an Atheist so were people like Ben Gurion, Chaim Weizman among others who were motivated by national rather than religious ideas. Their point of view was that the Europe can never accept Jewish people as a cultural community therefore a separate homeland must be created for them. They even showed willingness at the start to accept Uganda as place to develop Jewish State but eventually forfeited the plan fearing the Jewish  masses could not be mobilized until a religious passion is induced, and for that purpose, Palestine with all its sanctity in Jewish imagination, was chosen to be the place of for future  Jewish state. Can a  movement which was spearheaded by mostly Godless people, whose only relationship with Judaism was that, they were born in Jewish families, be described as one calculated movement motivated by religious goals, and as a part of the series of events which will lead to Armageddon? Since Israel is essentially a homeland for Jewish people, it does not,  by any means,  mean that the leaders of Israel were interested in creating a State along the line of some divinely inspired preconceived plan.

 Yes, Israel has used religion  to consolidate a State but use of religious is merely  tactical. Reader may be surprised to know that Israel secret agencies even secretly  committed bombing against Jewish people in countries like Iraq to make them flee to Israel for protection. Israel is not a projection of any millennial and
 divinely inspired plan of final battle  between good and evil, its a State with some peculiar historical features, and a Herrenvolk, a kind of ethnic democracy, in which the interest of the ruling class is grounded in the fact that they speak in Jewish name and actively promote themselves a guardian and promoter of Jewish interests.

c) One of the main argument used  to support the notion of religious conflict between Jews and Arabs is the view of looking at Jews as a divinely condemned close knit community with no inter diversity in opinions and also conspiring collectively in circles within the Muslim community. This is absolutely false. There are Jews who outrightly reject Israel as anti Judaic Zionist plan. They are orthodox Jews who claim that  Torah does not allow Jews to conspire to make a State. Secondly, there are orthodox and secular Jews which are vocal in their opposition to Israel's policies within Israel. These voices normally do not make up to the mainstream media because of the  strength of Zionist influence but they do exist in significant numbers  and actively participate in pro Palestinian activism.

The issue in Israel and Palestine is essentially over land and egregious human rights violation by the State of Israel. Israel uses Judaism and historical atrocities against the Jewish people as a  justification for its schizophrenic brutal  behavior. It has and keep using religion and notions of "historical right" to colonize Palestinian people land.  Secular Jews who does not believe in Israel as millennial project normally  abstain from putting their lives in danger by settling in ever expanding settlements in Occupied Territories. Its the religious right and such fanatic Jewish groups as Gush Emunim  which State of Israel uses  for its ever increasing  settlements in Occupied Territories and which also essentially promotes the concept of  impending Armageddon, for just like fanatics within Muslims, fanatics within Jewish community also believe a historical fight between good and evil to take place in the Middle East.

In Muslim world Palestinian cause has been more or less colonized by the religious right. To describe Palestinian issue as a religious issue is not historically accurate. It does more harm to Palestinian cause than could do any good.

For example, in Pakistan, Palestinian cause is a part of national narrative. For example, religious right supported by the State has actively told people of Pakistan that Palestinian issue is a religious issue and liberation of Palestine is essentially related to the expansion and promotion of Pakistani State because its from this region forces will be unleashed to free the Holy Land. The only purpose it serves is to strengthen the State by turning people uncritical and docile nationalist. and unintentionally reinforces blind nationalism is the garb of promoting the Palestinian cause. Whereas  the truth is, States are essentially secular entities no matter how much do they use religious to promote national solidarity. They pursue their own interest instead of any holy and  millennial goal. It was Pakistan's Brigadier Zia Ul Haq (who later on became unconstitutional ruler of the State through 1977 coup) who helped Jordan in expelling Palestinians from their territory. The event is remembered as Black September in Palestinian discourse in which one estimate put the figure to approximately 25, 000 Palestinians killed. By letting Palestinian cause be an essential religious issue also play into the hands of Israel's leaders propaganda that Arabs and Muslims consider Jews perennial enemies and if we let go our extraordinary security measures " we will be thrown into Mediterranean sea." The Palestinian narrative needs to be decolonized and must be delinked from local and State promoted nationalism. Its an essentially humanitarian issue in which Muslims, Jews and people from all faiths, who believe in humanitarian causes, above than anything must join hands. We need to think beyond this "controlled' opposition to the State of Israel and its policies. Looking  from only religious right perspective strengthen the State narrative which is essentially designed to dupe people into believing that, one way or the other,  they must support their State, as the State as a historical role of being a launching pad of final resistance against the Jews. 

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