Media Squatters and the Middle East

I started an email discussion list called media-squatters a few years ago. It began as a way for my readers to discuss my books’ topics with me and other readers, and eventually morphed into a conversation about media, perception, and cultural narrative. (And, of course, almost anything to do with consciousness expansion and alternative cultural experimentation!)

Lately, attention has turned to the Middle East. While I’m no staunch defender of Israel or the religious Zionism that sometimes seem to (mis)direct Israeli state actions, I have been getting a little uncomfortable reading what appear to me to be somewhat anti-Semitic rationales for hating Israel and, in some cases, the Jews. I don’t think most people on either side of the debate that we watch on TV are really aware of the facts surrounding the formation of Israel, the reality of the Arabs who, refused exile in Arab nations in 1967, became Palestinians, or the real structural problem in Israeli policy-making (they are being held hostage by religious radicals).

In the middle of a heated debate about Israel’s “policies,” someone posted a bibliography on altered states of consciousness. It was so very refreshing to me. Somehow, the list of thinkers – from Burroughs and Leary to Tart and Huxley – made me reflect on the need for some new reality tunnels, fast. Here’s what I wrote back:

I’m amazed by just how refreshed I was by Jurgen’s annotated bibliography of consciousness studies, particularly amidst the Middle East thread. Altered states is what we’re looking for, indeed.

My guess as to what’s going on in the West Bank right now: the Israeli troops are probably going through every street, and every home, and taking pictures of everybody: Who lives where, who is friends with whom. It’s their way of putting people “on notice” that if someone engages in a suicide bombing, their friends and family will get creamed – beyond the point where they’ll be able to spend the PLO or Saddam’s reward money. Whether the Israelis will actually implement such a mafioso-style sequence is left to be seen.

As for the use of terms like “JudeoNazi,” by today’s well-meaning peace activists, I do understand why Israel and the Jews will be held up to a higher standard than any of the world’s other states or people. Because Jews claim to base their identity on ethics, and because most of the world still does harbor the anti-Semitic logic founded by Constantine (Jewish suffering must be maintained as an example for all people of what happens when you don’t have faith in Christ) they ‘must’ be criticized at all times. (Judaism refutes the Christian testament and the statehoods that have been based on that unifying testament).

Where I think the Jews went “wrong” was in agreeing to Statehood, at all – or at least in justifying statehood with messianic expectations. Spinoza showed brilliantly how state and religion just don’t mix. (Religious Zionists of the late 19th century seemed to forget this. Secular zionists just wanted a place to go and grow some crops and experiment with ethical socialism. Arabs came for the jobs between 1920 and 1948, as Jews – there was no Israel – purchased land from Turkish absentee landlords and turned it into farms. These Jordanian worker-immigrants were told by the Arab nations to leave before the start of 1967 war, so that they wouldn’t get killed in the announced attack. The Arabs lost the war, and then no one wanted the refugees.)

So, even if Arab nations subject their own people to worse treatment than the Israelis subject the Palestinians of the sometimes-occupied territories, the Israelis will be the ones called out on their behavior. (Take a look at the human rights abuses occurring in, say, Turkey, soon to be welcomed into the European Community, or at the state of democracy in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or Syria.) America, too, has its own appalling legacy of colonialism and repression.

For some reason, though, it feels to me as if the Jews and Israel are becoming the focus for a legacy of colonial misdeeds of which they as much a result as a cause. Statehood, itself, was imported to the Middle East by Europeans. (No Arab thought of him or herself as belonging to a “nation’ until early last century.) And now the Israelis are bearing the brunt of our collective enlightenment about the insufficiency of state logic and the fiction of national identity.

This is regrettable, but understandable. The Euopean world has hated Jews for a majority of recorded history, because they were told to by leaders who sought to develop State religions as a way of holding power in the face of increasing interaction between cultures. Maintaining a Jewish ghetto population (again, read Constantine’s Sword for the way that the Catholic church actually protected and defended the Jewish ghetto in order to keep this ‘example’ people alive) was a crucial form of racial and ideological scape-goating that allowed for early forms of State patriotism to flourish.

The result, however, was a Jewish people who faced frequent extermination at the hands of others. The traditional Jewish response was Ghandian. Except for a few very isolated instances, such as Warsaw, Jews gave in and waited for their oppressors to come to their senses.

Interestingly, now that the Jews do have a state to which they can turn for support and membership if their host nation rejects them, and now that this nation has a nuclear weapon, it really does change the situation. It was easy for the world to like the Jews after WWII, because the Jews were dependent and defenseless. Tibetans. What happens when they are independent? What happens when they decide to fight back, for once, instead of accept punishment? Widespread anti-Semitic attacks throughout Europe – who see Jews and Israel as the same things. It’s happening right now, and I think this will get worse before it gets better.

And no, the belligerent posture of Sharon, and his ill-advised (if effective) American-style forays into the regions that harbor terrorists is short-sighted.

Meanwhile, the Arab dictatorships are in a bind. Yes, they hate Israel, but they NEED Israel to remain a state. Why? So that the Palestinians and all oppressed Arab people have an enemy other than their own dictators! If the Palestinians were to succeed in their efforts to end Israel, who do you think is next? That’s why the Arab nations were in such a rush to establish “normal” relations. It maintains the “enemy.”

The Palestinians don’t yet realize how many enemies they truly have. I think even Arafat is one of them. So are the current cast of Arab dictators, who use the Palestinians as pawns in their own state-sponsored campaigns of misdirection.

Altered States, indeed. Statehood is simply an institutionalized mythology. It will either be based in the past – race – or in the future – manifest destiny of one kind or another. Neither is real.

Real and effective statehood is entirely less romantic.