A family medical emergency has stymied my plans for a book tour of the American South, beginning Thursday. I feel a great sorrow that so many people organized events for me that I won’t be able to attend; but I also feel a certain, odd sort of contentment that my life priorities are shifting. I guess that’s what becoming a husband – which will happen in late August – is all about.
So, let me first apologize for causing any disappointment. I’ve only missed one event in the past ten years, and I came up with a great substitute (Mark Frauenfelder) in that case. This one leaves people hanging. Since it’s a book tour for an ‘open source’ book, Exit Strategy, my publisher thought it might be a clever idea to have the book’s many contributors fill in for me in the towns where I was supposed to read. The idea sounds better than it is, though – the book stores have already advertised, and this would be quite the bait and switch. Still, I think it would be better than nothing. I’ll be interested to see what stores decide.
In the meantime, I have a moment free to reflect on a wide array of issues. Today, let me take a stab at the Middle East.
I’m still getting a lot of emails about earlier posts on Israel and nation states, so let me set the record straight about my “position,” such as it is. First off, I don’t believe that nation states as they are currently understood are a particularly efficient or fair form of people organizing. The ‘modern’ nation states were created in Europe as monarchies fell, and used quite forced and false notions of religion and race to unify their people under one flag. National religions were imposed on people, just as national ‘races’ were assumed. The Italians are not a race, and neither are the English.
Neither are the Jews, neither are the Palestinians, and neither are the “Arabs.” Each of these groups is an amalgamation of tribes, peoples, and nations, and in the case of Arabs in particular, were defined by Europeans very recently. (This is all pretty well figured out by Spinoza, who made the case for separation of church and state in the 1600’s.)
So, nation-states themselves were invented in Europe from the 1400’s through the 1800’s — their race-hood and national religions mere by-products of the need for unifying themes against the threat of universalism posed by a more cosmopolitan Europe. And in a reversal of this process, people who think of themselves as belonging to a ‘race’ now quest for nation-state status.
To be sure, in the current geo-political climate, a nation-state can provide some protection. In a world where Jews are exiled at best and slaughtered at worst (even when they converted), Jews have good reason to quest for a nation-state of their own. Likewise, in a world where Palestinians are cruelly oppressed (by an American-sponsored dictator) in their own nation where they actually hold a majority (Jordan), it is natural for them to yearn for a nation of their “own,” where they can live free of oppression.
But the natural “right” of a “people” to have a “nation” with its own “religion” doesn’t exist. In fact, the creation of new nations to host people who are basically hated everywhere else has turned out to be a bad strategy.
As I see it, Jews shouldn’t have retreated to Israel. It was a great short-term solution – but a long-term problem. Instead, after WWII, they should have fought for a Europe that didn’t slaughter or permit the slaughter of Jews. Going “back” to Israel actually confirms the notion that Jews weren’t really Europeans – or that the nazi problem was somehow exacerbated by the presence of Jews in Europe. Nonsense. (And superstitious claims of bringing on the messianic age by taking control of Biblical Israel deserve no place in our discussion until basic social justice is achieved.)
Likewise, the Palestinians’ problem is not with Israel, but with the United States. Interestingly enough, as I see it, the US is not in trouble for siding with Israel. No, Israel is in trouble for siding with the United States. (Israel got more early support from Russia than the US – but that’s a whole other story.)
Under Eisenhower’s watch, as the US grew more oil dependent, the US installed or supported dictators in Arab countries, who could create stability and maintain a regular flow of oil at reasonable prices. These leaders oppress their people; some of them even keep slaves. They certainly don’t share the wealth they generate from their nations’ lands with their nations’ peoples. These are states whose economies are entirely dependent on a natural resource – thus, there is no reason to educate or train the populations. The only imperative is to oppress them so they can’t figure out what’s going on, or revolt.
This is why Israel is a great target. The invention of “ancient” Arab animosity towards the Jews by propagandists is a quite deliberate effort to distract attention from what is going on. The antiSemitic reasoning they use is not Arab in origin, but Nazi. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book published by more than one nationally sponsored press in the Arab world, was written by an anti-Semitic czarist police officer, and exported to the Arabs by nazis. While there has been some enmity between arabs and jews in the past over farmlands, there is not an ancient racial division on the scale that it’s being presented, today.
The US is stuck between two conflicting interests. Israel is the only democratic nation in the region, which demands our support. The Jewish vote is also crucial to many politicians. But, as our oil baron president also recognizes, for the wealthy in the US to remain in power, we must perpetuate our needless and dangerous addiction to oil and other non-replenishable energy sources. (This is why the Bush coup was so necessary to the powers that be – to reinvent our foreign policy and environmental policy on behalf of the oil industry.) And this means keeping our dictators in place.
As I see it, the solution is not to for Israel to surrender its land to the Arabs, but for the United States to help Arab leaders turn over their countries to their own people. To do this will require that we explore the creation of economic models that will allow for the exploitation of replenishable energy sources. Strangely enough, I’ll bet that Al Gore understood all this.
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