Tuesday, January 19, 2016

News to Write Home About

"Egypt Asks Israel to Keep Turkey Away From Gaza,” the headline in Haaretz announced. http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.696080 When I first read it my wife and I were still in Hawaii. I broke out laughing. It sounded like a parody straight out of ‘The Onion.’ I labored to put the headline in perspective for people who had no inkling about Gaza’s tragedy. Or about Egypt’s, Turkey’s or Israel’s fixes for that matter, each tragic in its own asinine way.

Every morning, as we walked to the Ala Moana Beach Park from our modest hotel at the edge of Waikiki for an hour’s swim and on our way back, we passed by half a dozen homeless nests, collections of rags, cardboard and plastic in which humans huddled on the sidewalk of the Ala Wai Promenade. Misshapen tarpaulin and plastic sheets strung from the side rails of the bridge to a parked shopping cart or a beat-up bicycle provided a semblance of protection from the rain and sun. The carts were full of more nest-building materials and of bags of edible or wearable goods salvaged from waste bins.

Many of the homeless were young, a surprise to me. One husky Chinese-Hawaiian old man would hold a hand sprinkler and carefully water the flowerbed he had planted along the sidewalk. He was safe enough for me to establish eye contact with him. And one emaciated elderly haole (a derogatory Hawaiian term for white person) in particular attracted my attention. But I didn’t dare look him straight in the eye. Many years ago, in Delhi, I perfected the skill of avoiding the hungry children’s gaze. I could sleep better that way. They were there but weren’t individually registered in my conscience. This ‘present absentee’ old man usually sat in his rags by the telephone pole on our side of the stoplight just before the entrance to the Ala Moana Shopping Center, once boasting to be the biggest such complex in the whole world. Almost always he held a lit cigar in his hand. In the faintest of voices he asked for change while motioning with his other hand to his mouth. An old woman with well-combed shoulder-length blond hair sat on a wheelchair or lay on the ground next to him and listened to classic music on a radio-tape gadget held close to her thin chest. More than all the other homeless on the sidewalk, these two disturbed my peace of mind.

But another seemingly unrelated matter bothered me in Hawaii: ISIS. It is the favorite theme of a good Indian friend of mine there, a brother from college days. He seems to deny me my right of understanding Islam as I know it. He assumes that ISIS is all that Islam is or ever was. The only thing I detest more than accepting such analysis is to defend ISIS. And India did suffer centuries of colonization by Moslems. Now it occurs to me that my daily double encounter with the homeless crowd at the edge of Waikiki can serve the purpose of illustrating my friend’s misconception: What if I were to report to those who know nothing about Hawaii that homelessness is the cardinal feature of Hawaii and the only thing in it worth writing home about? Both Islam and the Hawaiian Islands have more beauty and serenity than needs defending, especially by someone like me who has resisted full emersion in their magic and richness. But, believe me, the homeless phenomenon is the one thing that struck me most on this trip and violated my lasting impression of my second home’s godly beauty.

Twice we witnessed the police clearing the illicit encampments, packing everything haphazardly in cartons and make-believe luggage pieces to be carted away for storage. Those were labeled with location, date and destination in duplicates with copy sheets hung on the rails for the owners to locate their abandoned property should they so desire or dare. Both times I saw none of the regular occupants that I had come to recognize. Neither the Chinese-Hawaiian nor the hungry old white fellow and his girlfriend were to be seen on either of the two occasions. They must have their own early warning system and didn’t care for whatever alternative shelter the Honolulu Police and Social Welfare Department offered them.

I wanted to incorporate some of this in my simile of the comic Gaza news item I had read. It pre-occupied me especially since I was scheduled to speak at a book event later that day. And there was the local couple, our friends and hosts who always try to comprehend the Middle East regional issues. I knew they would ask me about the strange headline. I needed a local simile to illustrate how ridiculous it was. Right away I could see that the destitute white couple was Gaza. The figurative owner of the shopping center has to be Israel, the worst baddy of them all in every Palestinian nightmare. And I will stand for Turkey: I am a dictatorial Moslem and can afford to help but keep my distance and am satisfied with expressing my sympathy especially in my benevolent dreams. We need only an Egypt to complete the silly allegory. We need to incorporate the beach in this charade, of course. So let us say the lifeguard is Egypt. He is physically powerful but choses to serve his mightier neighbor for payment through a third party. Don’t ask me who will stand for the USA; this is getting out of hand in complexity and we haven’t even gotten to ISIS. So now that we have this much of our insane shadow-play comedy in place, let us stop right here: The lifeguard asks the owner of the shopping center to stop me from helping the homeless old couple. It almost makes sense; it certainly makes more sense than the original headline: “Egypt Asks Israel to Keep Turkey Away From Gaza.” Ha ha ha!

I nearly drowned. I finished formulating my analogy while swimming on my back. As I broke out in uncontrollable laughter I swallowed enough seawater to nearly drown. The lifeguard whistled and I lifted my hand and signaled ‘OK’ to him. No need to interfere. Let each stew in his own juice. Or, as we say in Palestine, let each pull out his thorns from his feet with his own hands.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Seething with Anger ands Fear

This article was published first on Mondoweiss website where it was widely shared and tweeted:

Seething with anger and fear
 on  21 Comments
  • Decrease Text Size
  • Increase Text Size
  • Adjust Font Size
A news item posted on Facebook from an Israeli TV station is keeping me awake this Christmas night. I have just shared a posting from the activist Jeff Halper about the Christian town of Bethlehem. I thought that his appeal for the international community to interfere to stop the madness of Israel’s occupation is strengthened by the addition of my formally Moslem voice to his formally Jewish one. I have a Hindu friend who will be happy to add his as well. Perhaps this will snowball into something meaningful.
But my feeble attempt is rendered totally insignificant by the news item causing my insomnia. The report is about real madness; vicious, murderous and ultimately state-sponsored collective insanity. And it has echoes of madness that no one denies in retrospect. And yet the Channel 10 TV reported psychosis at a settlers’ wedding party in the OPTs is, at the end, tolerated, financed and even sponsored by the very same world forces that have made pogroms an evil thing of the past and the blood libel that underlay it such an evil accusation that even thinking of it makes me shudder in shame. I will be labeled anti-Semitic and a terrorist for bringing the subject up in the new context of the crimes of the settlers and the occupation.
Yes, the thought is incoherent even to me. So let me see if I can ferret its basic elements for myself and perhaps for the reader: First here is the blood libel that watching the TV report brought to mind: European Christians in those dark times and savage locales accused the Jews in their Shtetles of abducting and murdering Christian children to use their blood in preparing the Matzoth for their holiday celebrations. Somehow the murders were believed to gladden the evil Jews in their vile celebrations. It was taken for granted that ‘their religion requires it.’ So far all of that is in the past and we all have recovered from the madness of such invented evil rumors.
Fast forward to the present with a new set of beliefs, started, fueled and maintained in the very same Western culture with daily reminders in the form of news reports: Moslems in general, Arabs among them in particular and especially Palestinian Arab Moslems, cannot go about their daily lives without murderous terror acts against the civilized world. The context in which they commit their terror is that of their daily lives but particularly to celebrate special occasions and prepare their children and youth for ascension to heaven as Shaheeds. After all, ‘their religion requires it.’ And whom can such aggressors commit their violence against but the truest representatives of Western culture in the region, Israel! Two birds with the same stone: practicing modern anti-Semitism while making up for the West’s past anti-Semitism. How else can the West pay up for its Holocaust crime against the Jews? German material compensations are not enough. It needs to pay up with sociocultural and political favors as well. 
But the picture is still incomplete and incoherent. How does the video at the base of my muddled thoughts fit with all of this? Yes, that is it; it doesn’t. That is the problem. I want to say something that is so disturbing to Western ears that I have to find someone else to say it for me. The late prof. Yeshayahu Leibowitz said it by coining the term Zio-Nazism but he was too civilized to use the expletives that come to mind. Thank God for Google! Yes, my friend Gideon Levy has said it for me. Here it is
Religious ultranationalism, which hides behind the worn-out name “religious Zionism,” … [w]ith negligible contributions to society, the economy, culture, science, literature and art; with a common denominator based mostly on messianic, religious, racist beliefs and a hatred of the other, especially the Arab; with a fictitious love of the land, isolation from the world and a folkloric religion, all wrapped in gooey kitsch; without practical vision; with a hollow spiritual leadership that bases its power on incitement to hatred and approval of bloodshed; at the focal points of violence and breeding grounds of corruption, and with insufferable arrogance this movement has exploited the vacuum, the horrible apathy that has spread in secular society, and climbed its way up to the high reaches of power.
Yes, Gideon says what I am thinking. He is sounding out the right alarm. The extremists are taking over the country. But I am still unsatisfied with the sign-off; I still search for the exact closing note that keeps ringing in my ear from within.
Judaism Israel-style has taken on the trappings of the Nazis Blut und Boden (“Blood and Soil”). But not just blood as the Nazis conceived it, that is, a form of ethnic purity and bloodlines, but actual blood. … What does this video show if not Jews seething for blood? The blood of Palestinians? What will we expect to see next? Snuff videos of Eshbal and his fellow terrorists actually stabbing Palestinian babies to death? Perhaps drinking their blood? Where does it end?
Yes, in that last line Richard Silverstein said what was on my mind. Thanks, Richard, for the clarity. Yes, they will drink blood. We have seen it all before. We saw the same religious fanatics eat the liver of their enemies. Yes, ISIS and these guys are one and the same and ‘their religion requires it.’ And, yes, the West started it all way back with the anti-Semitic pogroms. Even now it funds and arms both.
Yes I am damn upset!

- See more at: http://mondoweiss.net/2015/12/seething-with-anger#sthash.UdIlOJpO.dpuf