When it comes to Palestine, peace is the whore of anybody with a hidden agenda. The Israelis have used the struggle for peace for over 60 years now as a cover for settling on lands that belong to others, the Americans have used it to cover their complete bias towards Israel, the Europeans have used it to deal with their Holocaust guilt, other Arab governments have used it to deal with their own restless populations. Even the PA and Hamas have used it to get and stay in power. Within the peace movement itself peace is mocked by peace activists that care more about the Zionist dream than about a just peace for both. Nothing is more common than a Zionist talking about peace while maintaining that the right of return is an ‘unfair’ demand. Nothing is more common than hearing those interested in peace talk about how the Palestinians need to ‘compromise’ too. As if they have still anything left to compromise.

The Palestinians are the ones that forever are paying the price of this peace game. Besides still not having any peace, they also have no land, no nationality, no decent living circumstances, no medical care, no security and no dignity. The old peace adagio ‘land for peace’ is a joke because the Israelis over the years have gotten themselves (a lot) more land and more security, while the Palestinians have less land and less security than ever. Palestinians are killed, robbed and harassed by the IDF and the settlers on a daily basis. In a complete asymmetrical conflict situation, the Palestinians have nothing left to bargain with.

With so many parties interested (though not really interested) in peace, it is difficult to navigate possible solutions and possible means to achieve those solutions. The so-called international consensus since Oslo has been a two-state solution. Carter, Clinton, Blair, Barak and Olmert, they all professed a deep belief in two states for two people. The means to achieve such a solution would be a political negotiated process. However, besides the fact that in reality a 15 year long struggle for a two state solution has only led to more land and more security for the Israelis to the extent that whatever land was set out for the Palestinians is now populated with Jews (300000 Jews in West bank and a 150000 in East Jerusalem and counting as they continue to settle both regions!!), it is unclear how even in theory a two state solution could possible produce anything even remotely fair for the Palestinians. In a conflict in which one side is completely intertwined with the world’s superpower, has most of the land already, has the nukes and other hi tech weapons, controls the propaganda war and is economically so much more prosperous than its opponent (who to be frank has nothing), it is hard to understand how a fair deal could ever be negotiated. The underlying idea of a two state solution seems to be that the Palestinians should be happy with whatever they can get and not complain any further. The fact that such a profound unfairness doesn’t seem to bother any of the abovementioned peace activists is the clearest indication that it is not peace they are concerned with but their own agenda.

Besides the two state solution there are peace activists who are promoting a one state solution or some type of binational state. The merits and fairness of such a solution are obvious, but the voices for it are scattered and unorganized. Israel itself remains pathological attached to its ethnicity as the most important criteria for citizenship. It is not clear to what degree the Palestinians would tolerate such a solution, and the peace movement itself with its jargon of peace but lack of intentions for it has not decided upon such a goal. In fact the peace movement as a collective still seems to think a two state solution is within reach.

Besides the lack of common goal of the peace movement, there is also no unity as to what should constitute the means to achieve any kind of goal. Dialogue, interfaith exchanges, political summits, backroom diplomacy, terror, civil disobedience and BDS actions, are all common practices in the peace game. The other day Faris Giacaman wrote an interesting article about the peace industry. You can find the article here: http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article10722.shtml. The author made the interesting point that a lot of effort is being wasted, a lot of money being spent on efforts that have not made a fig of difference. Giacaman argues for a focus on boycotts, sanctions and divestments as non-violent means to pressure Israel into a deal. There is a lot to be said for such a focus. Besides the fact that it originates in Palestinian Civil Society, is non-violent in nature, does not depend upon the whims of politicians but upon global grassroots efforts and solidarity, such a strategy has proven itself to be successful once before. Israel is similar to south-Africa in the sense that it wants to be part of the global community, wants to be taken serious as a democracy and is vulnerable for economic and cultural pressure. The only reason why such a campaign is not widely promoted is because the Palestinian peace movement is infiltrated by people that have their own agenda in mind rather than a just peace. There is not one solid reason why a peace activist would oppose such a strategy. And yet many do and label it anti-Semitism.

I fear for the Palestinians.  The lack of a common and clear goal, the undermining of the peace movement from within by people with their own agenda, the complete asymmetry and overwhelming bias in favor of the Israeli makes it hard to believe that anything fair will ever be achieved for them. If even a peace movement can become a peace industry and is sabotaged and fractured from within then where is the hope? What means do we as people possess to make this world a little bit more human for us all?

Israel’s conscience: The weekly column of Uri Avnery

Can Two Walk Together?

I AM not saying that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is an agent of the Mossad.Absolutely not. I don’t want to be sued for libel.

I am only saying that were he an agent of the Mossad, he would not behave any differently.

And also: If he did not exist, the Mossad would have had to invent him.

Either way, the assistance he is giving to the government of Israel is invaluable.

LET’S LOOK at last week’s scandal.

Years ago, a conference against racism was convened by the UN in Durban, South Africa. It was natural that such a forum would denounce, among others, the Israeli government for its policy towards the Palestinians – the occupation, the settlements, the wall.

But the conference was not content with this. It turned into a platform for wild incitement against the State of Israel – and only against it. No other state in the world was denounced for violating human rights – and among the denouncers were some of the most obnoxious tyrants in the world.

When preparations were made for a second “Durban Conference”, this time in Geneva, the Israeli government did everything in its power to convince at least the countries of North America and Europe to boycott it. That was not so easy. Well before the start of the conference, the US succeeded in eliminating the reference to Israel in the draft of its final document (leaving only a reference to the resolutions of the first conference), and in the end it decided to boycott the conference anyway. But the European countries agreed to attend.

The Israeli government was anticipating the conference with great apprehension. The atrocities of the Gaza War have turned public opinion in many countries against Israel. The conference could become an outlet for these emotions. The brightest minds in Jerusalem were trying to find ways to prevent this.

And then along came Ahmadinejad. Since he was the only head of state to attend, the organizers could not prevent him from speaking first. He delivered a provocative speech – not being satisfied with criticizing Israel, his words dripped with unbridled hatred. That was a welcome pretext for the European representatives to get up and walk out in an impressive pro-Israeli demonstration. The conference became ridiculous.

If the “Elders of Zion” had planned the conference, it could not have ended better as far as the Israeli government is concerned.

ALL THIS happened on Holocaust Day, when Jews in Israel and all over the world commemorate the millions of victims of the genocide.

The memory of the Holocaust unites all the Jews in the world. Every Jew knows that if the Nazis had reached him, he, too, would have gone to the death camps. We, who were then living in Palestine, knew that if the German general Erwin Rommel had broken through the British lines at El Alamein, our fate would have been that of the Warsaw Ghetto.

All Jews feel that it is their moral duty to keep the memory of the victims alive. To this profound feeling there is added a political consideration: the memory of the Holocaust causes most Jews everywhere to support the State of Israel, which defines itself as the “State of the Shoa Survivors”.

But time passes and memories fade. There is a recurrent need for a present, actual enemy, a “Second Hitler”, who arouses all the latent fears lurking in the Jewish soul. Once it was Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, the “Egyptian Tyrant”. Then Yasser Arafat played this role. Nowadays there is Hamas, but that is hardly sufficient. No way to convince anyone that Hamas could possibly annihilate Israel.

Ahmadinejad is the ideal candidate. He is a consistent Holocaust denier. He declares that the “Zionist entity” must disappear from the map. He is working on the production of a nuclear bomb. This is serious – a few nuclear bombs on Israeli population centers can indeed wipe out Israel.

So we have a “Second Hitler”, who is planning a ”Second Holocaust”. Against him, all the Jews of the world can unite. What would we do without him?

THE PUTATIVE Iranian nuclear bomb fulfills another very important role. It is serving now as an instrument for the obliteration of the Palestinian problem.

Next month Netanyahu will present himself at the White House. That might turn out to be a fateful meeting. President Barack Obama may demand a clear commitment to start a peace process that will lead towards the creation of the Palestinian state. Netanyahu will make a desperate effort to avoid this, since peace would mean the evacuation of the settlements. If he agreed to this, his coalition would fall apart.

What to do? Thank God for the Iranian bomb! It constitutes an existential threat against Israel. It is self-evident that the Israeli Prime Minister should not be bothered with bagatelles like peace with the Palestinians when the Iranian nuclear sword is dangling above his head!

Netanyahu’s predecessors also used this ploy. Whenever somebody raises the matter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and demands that our government start real negotiations, freeze the settlements, dismantle the outposts, release prisoners, end the blockade on the population of the Gaza Strip, remove the roadblocks – the Iranian bomb appears ex machina. No time to think about anything else. The bomb heads our agenda. The bomb is our agenda.

There is a lot of irony in this. Iran has never been the least bit interested in the plight of the Palestinians. Ahmadinejad, too, doesn’t give a damn. Like all other Middle East governments he uses the Palestinian cause to further his own interests. Now he wants to penetrate the Sunni Arab world in order to turn Iran into the dominant regional power. For this purpose, he raises the banner of the Palestinian resistance. But for the time being, he has only succeeded in pushing the Sunni Arab regimes into the arms of Israel.

AHMADINEJAD’S MOST enthusiastic fans sit in the Ministry of Defense in Tel-Aviv. What would they do without him?

Every year, the struggle over the defense budget breaks out anew. This year, with the economic crisis, the debate will be even more acrimonious. Little Israel maintains one of the largest and most expensive military establishments in the world. Relative to the GNP (gross national product), we easily trump the United States, not to mention Europe.

Must one ask why? Israel is surrounded by enemies who are plotting to destroy us! True, Egypt is now the most loyal collaborator of Israel, Iraq has quit the game for the time being, Syria has long since ceased to be a threat. Jordan is humble, the Palestinian Authority dances to our tune. It is hard to justify a giant defense budget for fighting little Hizbullah and tiny Hamas.

But there is Iran, thank God. And there is the fearsome Iranian bomb. Here you have an honest to God existential danger. Our Air Force declares that it is ready to take off any day – no, any minute – and eradicate all the many Iranian nuclear installations.

For that they need money, lots of money. They need the most advanced airplanes in the world, each of which costs many, many millions. They need suitable equipment for reaching the targets and fulfilling the task. That is more important than education, health or welfare. After all, the Iranian bomb will kill all of us – including the children, the sick and the underprivileged. (The tycoons may perhaps succeed in getting out in time.)

The budget will be approved, but the flyers will not fly. It is not clear whether such an attack is at all feasible. Neither is it clear if it would significantly postpone the production of the bomb. But it is clear that such an attack is not possible politically: it cannot be executed without the express confirmation of the US, and there is no chance that this will be forthcoming. The attack would almost automatically cause the closure of the Strait of Hormuz, through which all the Gulf oil is shipped. That would be catastrophic, especially during a world-wide economic crisis, when a huge rise in the price of oil can cripple the already weakened economies. No, our valiant pilots will have to content themselves with bombing residential neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip.

IT COULD be argued: if Ahmadinejad behaves like a Mossad agent, Avigdor Lieberman behaves like an agent of Iranian intelligence.

I don’t say so, God forbid. I really don’t want to be sued for libel.

But Lieberman’s behavior is indeed – how to put it – slightly bizarre.

True, for a moment he looked like a winner. After he sent Hosny Mubarak to hell, the Israeli media reported that the most important Egyptian minister had met with him, shaken his hand and invited him to Egypt. Perhaps he wanted to show him around the Aswan dam, which Lieberman once wanted to bomb. But the next day a furious Mubarak reacted by denying the story and declaring that Lieberman will not be allowed to set foot on Egyptian soil.

In the meantime, an important newspaper in Russia published an interview with Lieberman, in which he asserted that “the US will accept all our decisions.” Meaning: we rule America, Obama will do as we tell him.

Such talk will not increase Israel’s popularity in the White House, to say the least. Especially just now, after it was disclosed that the Israeli Lobby, AIPAC, has asked a congresswoman to intervene in favor of two American Jews indicted for spying for Israel. In return, AIPAC promised to get the Congresswoman appointed as chairwoman of a very important committee. How? Simple: AIPAC will tell the majority leader of the House that if she does not comply. a Jewish billionaire will stop contributing to her election fund. Not a very savory disclosure.

In brief, the Iranian Ahmadinejad and the Israeli Lieberman are Siamese twins. The one needs the other. Lieberman rides on the Iranian bomb, Ahmadinejad rides on Israeli threats.

“Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” asked the prophet Amos (3:3). The answer is: Yes, indeed. These two can very well walk hand in hand without agreeing on anything.

http://www.avnery-news.co.il/english/

A Little Red Light

April 21, 2009

To me Uri Avnery is Israel’s conscience. Voices like his are very rare. 

Uri Avnery’s Column:

 

A Little Red Light    18/04/09

PERHAPS Avigdor Lieberman is only a passing episode in the annals of the State of Israel. Perhaps the fire he is trying to ignite will flicker briefly and go out by itself. Or perhaps the police investigations into the grave corruption affair of which he is suspected will lead to his removal from the public sphere. But the opposite is also possible. Last week he promised his acolytes that the next elections would bring him to power. Perhaps Lieberman will prove to be an “Israbluff”’ (a term he himself likes to use), and be revealed, behind the frightful façade, as nothing more than a run of the mill impostor. Perhaps this Lieberman will indeed disappear, to be replaced by another, even worse Lieberman. Either way, we should candidly confront the phenomenon he represents. If one believes that his utterances sound fascist, one has to ask oneself: is there a possibility that a fascist regime might come to power in Israel? THE INITITIAL gut-feeling is a resounding NO. In Israel? In the Jewish State? After the Holocaust which Nazi fascism brought upon us? Can one even imagine that Israelis would become something like the Nazis? When Yeshayahu Leibowitz coined, many years ago, the term “Judeo-Nazis”, the entire country blew up. Even many of his admirers thought that this time the turbulent professor had gone too far. But Lieberman’s slogans do justify him in retrospect. Some would dismiss Lieberman’s achievement in the recent elections. After all, his “Israel is Our Home” party is not the first one to appear from nowhere and win an impressive 15 seats. Exactly the same number that was won by the Dash party of General Yigael Yadin in 1977 and the Shinui party of Tommy Lapid in 2003 – and both disappeared soon after without leaving a trace. But Lieberman’s voters are not like those of Yadin and Lapid, who were ordinary citizens fed up with some particular aspects of Israeli life. Many of his voters are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who look upon their “Ivett”, an immigrant from the ex-Soviet land of Moldova, as a representative of their “sector”. Although many of them brought with them from their former homeland a right-wing, anti-democratic and even racist world view, they do not pose by themselves a danger to Israeli democracy. But the additional power that turned Lieberman’s party into the third-largest faction in the new Knesset came from another sort of voter: Israeli-born youngsters, many of whom had recently taken part in the Gaza War. They voted for him because they believed that he would kick the Arab citizens out of Israel, and the Palestinians out of the entire historical country. These are not marginal people, fanatical or underprivileged, but normal youngsters who finished high-school and served in the army, who dance in the discotheques and intend to found families. If such people are voting en masse for a declared racist with a pungent fascist odor, the phenomenon cannot be ignored. FIFTY YEARS ago I wrote a book called ”The Swastika”, in which I described how the Nazis took over Germany. I was helped by my childhood memories. I was 9 years old when the Nazis came to power. I witnessed the agonies of German democracy and the first steps of the new regime before my parents, in their infinite wisdom, decided to escape and settle in Palestine. I wrote the book on the eve of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, after realizing that the young generation in Israel knew a lot about the Holocaust but next to nothing about the people who brought it about. What occupied me more than anything else was the question: how could such a monstrous party succeed in coming to power democratically in one of the most civilized countries in the world? The last chapter of my book was called “It Can Happen Here”. That was a paraphrase of the title of a book by the American writer Sinclair Lewis, “It Can’t Happen Here”, in which he described precisely how it could happen in the United States. I argued in the book that Nazism was not a specifically German disease, that in certain circumstances any country in the world could be infected by this virus – including our own state. In order to avoid this danger, one had to understand the underlying causes for the development of the disease. To the assertion that I am “obsessed” by this matter, that I see this danger lurking in every corner, I answer: not true. For years I have avoided dealing with this subject. But it is true that I carry in my head a little red light that comes on when I sense the danger. This light is now blinking. WHAT CAUSED the Nazi disease to break out in the past? Why did it break out at a certain time and not at another? Why in Germany and not in another country suffering from similar problems? The answer is that fascism is a special phenomenon, unlike any other. It is not an “extreme Right”, an extension of “nationalist” or “conservative” attitudes. Fascism is the opposite of conservatism in many ways, even though it may appear in a conservative disguise. Also, it is not a radicalization of ordinary, normal nationalism, which exists in every nation. Fascism is a unique phenomenon and has unique traits: the notion of being a “superior nation”, the denial of the humanity of other nations and national minorities, a cult of the leader, a cult of violence, disdain for democracy, an adoration of war, contempt for accepted morality. All these attributes together create the phenomenon, which has no agreed scientific definition. How did this happen? Hundreds of books have been written about it, dozens of theories have been put forward, and none of them is satisfying. In all humility I propose a theory of my own, without claiming more validity than any of the others. According to my perception, a fascist revolution breaks out when a very special personality meets with a very special national situation. ON THE personality of Adolf Hitler, too, innumerable books have been written. Every phase in his life has been examined under the microscope, each of his actions has been debated relentlessly. There are no secrets about Hitler, yet Hitler has remained an enigma. One of his most obvious traits was his pathological anti-Semitism, which went far beyond any logic. It remained with him to the very last hour of his life, when he dictated his testament and committed suicide. At the most desperate moments of his war, when his soldiers at the front were crying out for reinforcements and supplies, precious trains were diverted to transport Jews to the death camps. When the Wehrmacht was suffering from a grievous lack of practically everything, Jewish workers were taken from essential factories to be sent to their death. Many explanations for this pathological anti-Semitism have been suggested, and all of them have been debunked. Did Hitler want to take revenge on a Jew who was suspected of being his real grandfather? Did he hate the Jewish doctor who treated his beloved mother before she died? Was it a punishment for the Jewish director of the Art school who failed to recognize his genius? Did he hate the poor Jews he came across when he was homeless in Vienna? All of this has been examined and found lacking. The enigma remains. The same is true for his other personal views and attributes. How did he attain the power to hypnotize the masses? What did he have that made so many people, from all walks of life, identify with him? Whence sprang his unbridled lust for power? We don’t know. There is no full and satisfying explanation. We only know that from among the millions of Germans and Austrians who were living at that time, and the thousands who grew up in similar circumstances, there was (as far as we know) only one Hitler, a unique person. To borrow a term from biology: he was a one-time mutation. But the unique Hitler would not have become a historic personality if he had not met with Germany in unique circumstances. GERMANY AT the end of the Weimar republic has also been the subject of many books. What made the German people adopt Nazism? Historical causes, rooted in the terrible catastrophe of the Thirty-year War or even earlier events? The sense of humiliation after the defeat in World War I? The anger at the victors, who ground Germany into the dust and imposed huge indemnities? The terrible inflation of 1923, which wiped out the savings of entire classes? The Great Depression of 1929, which threw millions of decent and diligent Germans into the street? This question, too, has found no satisfying answer. Other people have also been humiliated. Other people have lost wars. The Great Depression hit dozens of countries. In the US and the UK, too, millions were laid off. Why did fascism not seize power in those countries (except in Italy, of course)? In my opinion, the fatal spark was ignited at a fateful moment when a people ready for fascism met the man with the attributes of a fascist leader. What would have happened if Adolf Hitler had been killed in a road accident in the autumn of 1932? Perhaps another Nazi leader would have come to power – but the Holocaust would not have happened, and neither, probably, World War II. His likely replacements – Gregor Strasser, who was No. 2, or Hermann Goering, the flying ace with a morphine addiction – were indeed Nazis, but neither of them was a second Hitler. They lacked his demonic personality. And what would have happened if Germany had not fallen into the depth of despair? The Western powers could have sensed the danger in time and helped in the reconstruction of the German economy and the reduction of unemployment. They could have abrogated the infamous Versailles Treaty, imposed by the victors after World War I, and allowed Germans to regain their self-respect. The German republic could have been saved, the moral leaders, of which Germany had aplenty, could have regained their leadership role. What would have happened then? Adolf Hitler, whom the widely adored President of the Reich, a Field Marshall, had contemptuously called “the Bohemian lance-corporal”, would have remained a little demagogue on the lunatic fringe. The 20th century would have looked quite different. Tens of millions of casualties of war and six million Jews would have remained alive, without ever knowing what could have happened. But Hitler did not die early and the German people were not saved from their fate. At the crucial moment they met, and a spark was struck, lighting the fuse that led to the historic explosion. SUCH A fateful meeting is not, of course, limited to fascism. It has occurred in history in other circumstances and to other persons. Winston Churchill, for example. His statues dot the British landscape, and he is considered one of the greatest British leaders of all times. Yet until the late 1930s, Churchill was a political failure. Few admired him, and even fewer liked him. Many of his colleagues detested him with all their hearts. He was considered an egomaniac, an arrogant demagogue, an erratic drunk. But in a moment of existential danger, Britons found in him their mouthpiece and the leader who took their destiny in his hands. It seemed as if during all the first 65 years of his life, Churchill had been preparing for this one moment, and as if Britain had been waiting for precisely this one man. Would history have looked different if Churchill had died the previous year of coronary thrombosis, lung cancer or cirrhosis of the liver, and Neville Chamberlain had remained in power? We now know that he and his colleagues, including the influential foreign minister, Lord Halifax, seriously considered accepting Hitler’s 1940 peace offer, based on the partition of the world between the German and the British empires. Or Lenin. If the imperial German general staff had not provided the famous sealed train to take him from Zurich to Sweden, from where he proceeded St. Petersburg, would the Bolshevik revolution, which changed the face of the 20th century, have taken place at all? True, Trotsky was in town before him, and so was Stalin. But neither of the two was a Lenin, and without Lenin it would quite possibly not have happened, and certainly not the way it did. Perhaps one could add to this list Barack Obama. A very special person, of unique origin and character, who had a fateful meeting with the American people at an important moment of their destiny, when they were suffering from two crises at once – the economic and the political one – which cast their shadow on the entire world. BACK TO US. Is the State of Israel approaching an existential crisis – moral, political, economic – that could leave it an endangered nation? Can Lieberman, or someone who could take his place, turn out to be a demonic personality like Hitler, or at least Mussolini? In our present situation there are some dangerous indications. The last war showed a further decline in our moral standards. The hatred towards Israel’s Arab minority is on the rise, and so is the hatred towards the occupied Palestinian people who are suffering a slow strangulation. In some circles, the cult of brute force is gaining strength. The democratic regime is in a never-ending crisis. The economic situation may descend into chaos, so that the masses will long for a “strongman”. And the belief that we are a “chosen people” is already deeply rooted. These indications may not necessarily lead to disaster. Absolutely not. History is full of nations in crisis that recovered and returned to normalcy. Besides the real Hitler, who rose to historic heights, there were probably hundreds of other Hitlers, no less crazy and no less talented, who ended their life as bank tellers or frustrated writers, because they did not meet a historic opportunity. I have a strong faith in the resilience of Israeli society and Israeli democracy. I believe that we have hidden strengths that will come to the fore in an hour of need. Nothing “must” happen. But anything “can” happen. And the little red light won’t stop blinking.

Uri Avnery

Website of Gush Shalom : http://www.gush-shalom.org/

Link to Avnery’s column: http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery

Uri Avnery Demonstrating at a-Ram checkpoint, 2002

 

 

 

Uri Avnery Demonstrating at a-Ram checkpoint, 2002

 a corny optical illusion (do you see it?) (a corny optical illusion, do you see it?)

The fiasco of the 2001 UN racism conference, and the fiasco in the making that is the follow up racism conference (starting in Geneva on April 20 next week) points to a fundamental difference in perspective between east and west that makes consensus on a draft, meant to provide a framework to governments and NGO’s on how to deal with racism, xenophobia, etc, nearly impossible. There are two main issues that have led countries like the US, Canada, Australia and Israel to abandon the current conference in its preparatory stage. One of them is the attempt of the Islamic world to outlaw defamation of religion, which is being interpreted by the west as an attempt to curb free speech. The second problem is a focus of the Islamic countries on Israel’s policies in its occupied territories which comes across to non-Islamic countries as an anti-Semitic singling out of Israel, which of course undermines the purpose of the conference to begin with. Both issues have led to self-righteous outrage on all sides, but especially on the side of western counties, which either withdrew from the conference or threatened to withdraw, thereby ironically reinforcing the need for such a conference. Though self-righteous anger and uttering accusations back and forth is a lot of fun, one has to look beyond them if one believes intolerance is on the rise and a global conference could help. And I happen to belief that now more than ever there is a need for such a conference. From the treatment of illegal immigrants as criminals here in the US, the problems with gay marriage, gripes in Europe towards Muslims, and anti-Semitic and anti-Christian attitudes in the Arab world, it seems that the whole world could use an extra dosage of tolerance.

 So what is the underlying problem?

 It seems to me but I could be wrong, that east-west tensions are rooted in an inability to grasp each other’s fundamentally different perspective. Not being aware of how different our outlooks on life are, we assume the other thinks likes us and therefore behaves and more importantly misbehaves like us. And we judge the other the way we judge ourselves. However, east and west do no think the same. There is a radical difference. East and west have very different opinions as to what constitutes the center of our world. For the east that center is God, for the west it is the individual. God used to be our center too, but somewhere in history’s dark recesses we lost this insight and replaced it with a completely new emphasis on the individual. Hence the rise of democracy, human rights, tattoos and rock and roll. Once the perspective shifts, it is no longer possible to go back and remember what we once knew. It is like one of thoface-black-and-white-optical-illusion1se optical illusions in which it is not possible to go back. God has not completely disappeared in the west, but the structure in which God (or the idea of God) and the individual (or the idea of the individual) coexists has changed fundamentally. Such a Copernican shift in consciousness did not occur in the Arab world. God still inhabits his old place in the center of the universe. For the Muslim God is his meaning that permeates his daily life. I do not know which perspective is better. I prefer mine. But I am sure the Muslims will say the same. However, it think it is important to keep in mind what fuels a lot of disagreements. While we want to protect the individual from being persecuted for speaking his mind, an eastern mind wants to protect God from the blasphemies of the individual. While we want to make women equal to men and outlaw headscarves because they are symbol of submission, the Muslim women might want to dedicate her scarf to God. The capitals of Europe are the battlefields on which the perspective wars are taking place. Probably the most important battlefield at the moment however is Israel, where east has been meeting west for decades now in a confrontation of titanic proportions. I believe that this might be the main reason for the ‘singling out’ of Israel by the Arab world. It is the only battlefield in which the east can make itself heard, especially on an occasion such as the racism conference, where all our best values are being discussed. While we may not be able to see the world from the perspective of the other at this moment in history, we can keep in mind that these differences exist. And that the other values his perspective the same way we value ours. This does not solve anything practically. I do not know whether girls should be allowed to wear headscarves in public schools or whether religion should be constitutionally protected. However, keeping these different perspectives in mind may prevent us from accusing each other of ill will, racism, anti-Semitism etc for nothing. Especially on a conference that is meant to out root such evils. From where I stand, and believing that individuals shouldn’t suffer racism etc, having such conferences is always better than not having them. There are too many places in the world where certain people are not tolerated. The more countries that participate in this conference the better. Especially if those countries have a bad track record themselves.

 In other words, to talk is always better than not to talk. In fact we can’t afford not to talk. A conference offers such an opportunity for dialogue. After all, these are not peace negotiations in which swaps of land are at stake. We have nothing to loose except our pride. Walking away from it is to acknowledge the defeat of all that is decent in us. It is the victory of our worst instincts over our capacity for wisdom and patience. It is allowing our ego and our pride to feel insulted, ignored and hurt at the expense of all those who really suffer because of racism, xenophobia, homophobia etc. We have to remember that besides the Individual and besides God, there is the Other for whom we created this conference. And we have to remember that the only alternative to dialogue to solve our differences is violence. And except for those few that thrive on conflict and war, nobody wants to send their sons to war.

 Ending on a good note. After the US made its decision to withdraw from the conference, the preparatory committee took out all references to the defamation of religion and Israel out of the draft paper. Susan Rice, ambassador to the UN is pushing for the US to participate. I am thinking, isn’t this exactly why we voted Obama into office? So what is he waiting for?

 

Link to the UN Dunbar Review Conference: http://www.un.org/durbanreview2009/stmt06-04-09.shtml

 Link to info about Navanethem Pillay, South African president of the conference:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Navanethem_Pillay 

  Link to optical illusions website (just for fun): http://www.newopticalillusions.com/3d-optical-illusion/two-faces-illusion/