Hate & Relativism

walking in the other's shoes

How to fight racism without promoting it? June 15, 2012

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1. No more lip service anti-racial campaigns

In a dramatic change from what the world has known only a century ago, ‘racism’ today is a derogatory term and even a cruel curse word. While in the past the Western world was proud of its cultural and biological superiority openly and expressed it in its policies addressing ‘underdeveloped’ countries and ethnic minorities within its borders, today racism is the ‘enemy’. Nevertheless, while anti-racism campaigns conquer the educational and public spheres in most countries, much less attention is given to discuss and understand what racism today means.

I don’t have the energetic and intelligence resources to seriously analyze here the manipulative nature of many governmental policies, that ‘fight’ racism as means to maintain political stability but on a deeper level they hardly want to exterminate racism. Power holders belong to the old superior groups and they need to justify exploitation of underdeveloped countries must be without expressing any racist vocabulary.

Post 9/11 suspicion towards Muslims was reinforced by stereotypes in the American public media. ‘Liberal’ stereptypers could claim that this is not a racist problem but a cultural gap and blame the evil religion of Islam for contaminating the naïve minds of young followers of Muhammad. Racism, in an alliance with fear and hate, finds way to disguise itself and reason itself in manners other than ‘biological’ difference such as different culture, lack of education or brainwash. We can even in moments of ‘sympathy’ regard our stereotyped object as a victim of a terrible cultural regime, as long as it keeps the prejudice in tact.

Power holders warn us from the evil potential of prejudice (reminding us that ‘history repeats itself’) while the rhetoric and images they use do the opposite: they keep our ‘racist muscle’ pumping, because only racist minds would support policies that exploit minorities, rather than point out at social injustice. After all, once true openness towards minorities rises, how would people accept discrimination and or remain indifferent to it?!

Sociologist Frank Furedi, in a recent article in the Australian asks how in fact is racism still such a salient phenomenon at the same time that it is so widely fought against. Furedi, focusing on Australian politics, claims that the anti-racism rhetoric allows people to interpret every behavior through the ‘prism of race’ and that today being sensitive to racism or blaming someone for being racist is a ‘risk-free enterprise’.

I am not familiar with the Australian landscape. I agree with Furedi’s analysis of the ironic result of anti-racial campaigns, yet one should be careful not to interpret his article by thinking that most ‘victims’ of racism are no more than over-sensitive subjective souls. Emotional wounds that derive from racism are a burning scar that can heal only through reconciliation, compensation and remorse.

The climate that reduces ‘racism’ into a cheap and popular concept, actually allow it to be less sincerely dealt with in domains where it is most intense. Not taking racism seriously and understanding its mechanisms (including systems that wish to maintain it) hurts both the victims and the entire society, which keeps breathing prejudicial air.

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2. Ethnic identity is not everything, yet it cannot be stripped off 

One of the problems in fighting racism is that our everlasting Orientalist approach associates modernity and development with Western ethnicities. Caucasians who wish to see themselves as tolerant often embrace features of an ethnic minority that are culturally similar to their own. By doing this, society sends a message that only individuals who strip off the unique features of their ethnic culture can be accepted as true equals. An opposite approach, that its exaggerative manifestations and can also be damaging, is cherishing specifically the most typical ethnic symbols of a minority, not acknowledging the fact individual normally represent greater complexity, rather than exhibiting a ‘cultural fossil’.

Chad, Becky andArnoldwaited in their college campus for Rose to join them for lunch at the cafeteria. Rose arrived with Said, a schoolmate who studies plastic art with her.Chad, Becky andArnoldcould not remember the last time they shared a friendly meeting with a Muslim, but they did not mind, after all, they even protested against the war inIraq.

After having a cup of coffee, Becky wanted to share her knowledge and the flexibility of her taste buds: “Said, don’t you miss eating Hummus when you are on campus? Last summer I traveled with my sister toSpain. InSevillethere was this Arab guy who made the most fantastic Hummus, and also some kind of salad with coriander.”

“It’s ok, I eat it when I visit my mom on the weekends”, replied Said.

“Common Becky, can’t you see that he is not into this oriental staff, he can probably swallow more Big Mac’s thanArnoldcan”,Chadjoked.

“I’m more into pizza”, Said clarified, hoping that this interesting discussion would soon fade away.

“Yes, pizza is more Middle Eastern, I guess you would be more used to its texture”, Becky returned to share her culinary wisdom.

“But can I ask you something?”Arnoldasked Said politely; “it seems that you are open the fact that you are gay.”

“Yes, quite.”

“Your parents know and all.”

“They know.”

“So surely you are not a typical Muslim, you probably can’t stand religion. You are just like us, so can we stop talking about tradition and just see Said as our friend?!”

It is not easy to walk between the drops of racist generalization. Most of us swim in a world of imagery that classifies and stereotypes all aspects of life. In the situation depicted above, Becky wanted to show warm heartedness and not ignore the ethnic issue, but ended up dragging Said to a corner that would not necessarily make him comfortable in this early social encounter. Chad wanted to emphasize the American common ground, assuming that an American resident would prefer hamburgers over Hummus, ignoring the possibility that tradition does not simply evaporate once one enters the jurisdiction of Uncle Sam.Arnoldtook this one step further, determining that since a Muslim is non-conservative sexually he must negate all religious and traditional motifs and basically resist his entire ethnic identity.Arnold didn’t consider that Said and his household might still strong emotional and social links to their ethnic roots.

Let us take Frank, a wealthy African American who wears a polo shirt and glasses and Tim, a rude African American who lives in the slums. For a middle class Caucasian named Eddie, the former is more easily respected and accepted as a friend. This is normal, friendship is not socioeconomic blind and there is no big problem in that. However, when Eddie suggests that Frank is an ideal role model for African Americans then he might be ‘rewarding’ him for an appearance and manners that represent Eddie’s own Caucasian culture (clearly there are varieties also in what I call here ‘Caucasian’). On the other hand, if Eddie shows extra tolerance towards rude Tim only because he is an African American from the slums, and therefore is ‘expected’ to act this way, he would basically justify stereotypes instead of promoting assimilation.

There are several keys to fight prejudice in a sincere and positive manner. First is knowing that stereotypes incubate within us and that we are not biased free. We should also remember that when we approach someone of a different ethnicity we might be more preoccupied in portraying ourselves in a tolerant way than we are interested in establishing a genuine contact.

Building a society where certain groups don’t exercise moral power over the others requires acknowledging the variety that exists within each group, not tagging individuals with certain attributes before truly becoming acquainted with them. At the same time, it is important to respect ethnic/religious identities and not try to blur them out. Unless an individual of a minority feels that the outer group does not aspire to make him or her deny this identity, one would not feel socially secure. At the same time, each individual hopes that every social encounter begins from a tabula rasa state, allowing the encounter to grow according to what one shares and expresses, rather than according to pre-determined stigmas.

Above all, we need to admit that our societies, while fighting certain symptoms of racism are not really interested in looking into racism’s eyes and understanding how it works. Understanding this mechanism inevitably requires that each soul questions itself, though happily, this introspection becomes quite simple when meaningful new interactions take place. I admit that publicists as myself should also give people some benefit of doubt and not see racism before it actually manifests.

 

Group orientation, identity, intolerance and perspective taking April 24, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — poxipa @ 2:47 pm
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Numerous academic works are conducted about group orientation and ethnic identity and how they generate prejudice, fear of the Other and social isolation. I am not ‘armed’ with the valuable academic essays here. Rather, I try to illustrate the fluid and flexible aspects of our identity on one hand, and how group-orientation fixates our opinions and limits our scope of discussion.

When referring to ‘identity’ here, I’m not discussing an absolute, deterministic value that we carry from birth to death. Our national identity, our race and gender are unchangeable aspects of our existence. However, what varies is the importance we give each element of our identity. Some of us may consider our religion as the most essential aspect of our being, others national identity, gender and even ‘specie’. Furthermore, different situations might stimulate new orientations. For example, my national identity might become more influential to me when I am abroad among people of different origins, or my gender could be more provoking once I sense I experience sex-based discrimination.

Our identities are fluidic but evidently, for most of the human race they are quite static, conservative and taken for complete granted. In our short life span, during our early years we attempt to become the pride of our parents by bringing to play our family’s value systems. Later when we set up a new generation, we naturally wish to inject our opinions and orientation into our offspring. This is what we know, this is what allows us to maintain control continue our tribal lifestyle.

The interests of our group, of our main identities direct our opinions and hopes. But our orientation doesn’t only promote disputes with competing groups and enemies, it creates a rigid stubbornness and complete misunderstandings. We might be influenced by a one-dimensional set of rhetoric that even we think that we have access to a variety of views and possibilities, in fact it is a very narrow scope that doesn’t allow us to understand the experience of the Other. Worse of all, we don’t even know that there is something we are missing, that there is something that our repertoire is not covering.

I won’t continue with the abstract definitions and provide some examples. Let us take a current hot topic in Israel; the right wing supporters in Israel recently complain that the Israeli media is too left winged, too Tel-Avivian, biased with its reports and doesn’t represent the Israeli society in a fair manner. From the right wing orientation, they are not completely wrong. It is probable that the Israeli media is more left-winged than the mainstream of the Jewish Israeli orientation. Observing this situation, the right wing supporters feel anger. It does not occur to them that perhaps the media tries to some extent (and only to a very small extent lamentably) to address not only the Jewish population but also the non-Jew population. Furthermore, the right wing cannot understand that perhaps some of the media navigators simply experience an orientation that is cosmopolitan and globalist. Anyhow, the result is frustrating: an angry right wing that wants a nationalist Jewish media, the media that manifests a Zionist agenda yet is criticized by a significant fraction of society, and Israeli Arabs, who feel that the media does not address them at all. Three dots that cannot be connected.

Everyone who traveled overseas and met new cultures, not as an instant tourist but as a true explorer, knows that intercultural encounters influence our perspective-taking and sometimes even shake our group orientations, or at least bring us to ask questions that we didn’t know that existed. An even stronger life changing event can be becoming good friends (or god forbid- romantic partners) with someone who belongs to our enemy group. Once that our enemy group contains someone who is truly close to our heart, our group orientation changes to some extent. Perhaps this makes us discount our ethnic identity and see ourselves, first and for all as – humans.

Inside our groups we tend to name ‘traitors’ very easily. When one seems to connect him or herself to an outer group, we feel fragile and threatened. We blame that person for forgetting one’s origins, disrespecting one’s ancestors, being easily influenced or instable emotionally and in extreme cases even putting one’s group in risk. Needless to say, our psychological conservativeness leads us to build a shield of stubbornness in these situations. Besides social psychology and the effect of friends and family, our societies employs numerous mechanisms that inhibits the diffusion of identities.

Our identity-orientation is a sociocultural asset that we wish to possess. It is also glasses that narrow our vision, make us stubborn and in very sensitive situations even produce violence towards our enemies or towards ‘traitors’ among our group.

This dialogue of the deaf is indeed frustrating and disturbing. On the other hand, it is exactly this – a dialogue of the deaf, whether this deafness is emotional or intellectual. While some people intentionally manipulate others’ opinions and emotions, in most cases people simple cannot see beyond their own social orientations. Understanding that this firm wall is a handicap rather than viciousness can allow us to exercise some perspective-taking and reduce the suspicion level towards the other, and even towards our friends that are more ethnically conservative than us. Once we manage to contain these different perspectives and not hasten to determine between good and evil, we could slowly slowly become precursors of a reaction where people acknowledge the potential fluidity of social orientations and respect the fact that each of us is free to determine for him/herself how to construct one’s own orientation.

 

“Hatred” / Wislawa Szymborska (trans. Walter Whipple) March 25, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — poxipa @ 5:48 pm
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Look, how constantly capable
and how well maintained
in our century: hatred.
How lightly she regards high impediments.
How easily she leaps and overtakes.

She’s not like other feelings.
She’s both older and younger than they.
She herself gives birth to causes
which awaken her to life.
If she ever dozes, it’s not an eternal sleep.
Insomnia does not sap her strength, but adds to it.

Religion or no religion,
as long as one kneels at the starting-block.
Fatherland or no fatherland,
as long as one tears off at the start.
She begins as fairness and equityt.
Then she propels herself.
Hatred. Hatred.
She veils her face with a mien
of romantic ecstasy.

Oh, the other feelings —
decrepit and sluggish.
Since when could that brotherhood
count on crowds?
Did ever empathy
urge on toward the goal?
How many clients did doubt abduct?
Only she abducts who knows her own.

Talented, intelligent, very industrious.
Do we need to say how many songs she has written.
How many pages of history she has numbered.
How many carpets of people she has spread out
over how many squares and stadiums!

Let’s not lie to ourselves:
She’s capable of creating beauty.
Wonderful is her aura on a black night.
Magnificent cloud masses at rosy dawn.
It’s difficult to deny her pathos of ruins
and her coarse humor
mightily towering above them columns.

She’s the mistress of contrast
between clatter and silence,
between red blood and white snow.
And above all she never tires of
the motif of the tidy hangman
above the defiled victim.

She’s ready for new tasks at any moment.
If she must wait she’ll wait.
She said she was blind. Blind?
She has the keen eyes of a sniper
and boldly looks into the future
–she alone.

 

Israel-loves-Iran: when love and bombs collide March 23, 2012

Social network activism is reaching new altitudes. Last week we had KONY2012 and now a new project is erupting. Before organizing a social movement or writing a certain ideology, one photo and one short message by Tel-Avivian Roni Edri has stirred up a new fashion, movement and discourse – all incorporated in the Israel-loves-Iran Facebook group.

Fear of war or sense of pacifism is one thing, but what does love have to do with it? Are we talking about real love sensed towards someone or a 1960’s motto? Does Israelis have a reason to love Iranmore than like other ethnicities? Well, it should be mentioned that even though Edri chose to use ‘love’ in this campaign, in his message he says that he doesn’t know Iranians, and that is why he has no hate towards the Iranian people. Love here is more of a default sentiment towards a stranger than true affection.

But there’s another thing about ‘love’ – it makes an impact. While for some the usage of ‘love’ here is cheap, many people feel that ‘love’ is a weapon that can contrast war. In a perfect world ‘love’ perhaps would not be the most suitable expression for this situation (isn’t ‘respect’ more appropriate?), but when trying to get attention and fight the rhetoric of politicians, ‘love’ seems to be the answer. This ’emotional’ peaceful voice is the reason that many people are showing interest in this project and that the global media is giving it voice. About 90% of the group followers are actually neither Iranians nor Israeli, a direct result of the fact that ‘love’ touches the world, while for locals the issue is much more complex.

Another inetresting feature of this campaign is that, at least at this time, it avoids politics. It does not have the pretention to argue with all the dinosaur ‘experts’, with all the wannabe ‘historians’ and all the ‘serious’ politicians, but simply says: “war is not of our interest.” In a world in which governments have the power to enforce fear and tell us commoners that we cannot argue with issues of national security which we know nothing about, Israel-loves-Iran isn’t trying to become another drop in an ocean that is diluted by political propaganda. Instead, it expresses the idea that ‘we cannot hate someone we do not know’ and that killing without hating is the ‘wisdom’ of politicians only.

This open-hearted approach touches feminine cords of existence around the world while militant masculinities still carry the prominent voice in each location, especially in politics and economy. However, the success of this project shows again how activist movements in the age of social networks can prosper in one day and how global communication can bring an amazing boost to social initiatives.

Does this mean that from now on the voice of the peaceful people will be heard and shutter nationalist and political interests? This campaign should be regarded with cautious optimism. Governments and powerful war supporters can also utilize the internet platform, creating counter campaigns or perhaps stirring up controversy and dispute within the peace-supporting groups. The fact that Israel-loves-Iran is organized by people who are rather anonymous can encourage the objectors to find some ‘dirt’ in the background of the organizers (a criminal record? perhaps evading the obligatory military service in their past?) and try to delegitimize them. Another tool would be trying to show that the organizers belong to a familiar extreme political movement and thus convince the public that there are hidden political objectives behind this campaign. Power holders master the numerous ways to slander such initiatives and convince the public that they are cunning and manipulative.

In the spirit of this blog it should be highlighted that although I do slightly lament that activism becomes instant and fashionable instead of based on a substantial social foundation, throughout the last days people in Israel did get to talk with people from Iran through the internet and vice versa. The ability to avoid prejudice and to enhance understanding is an outcome that can build bridges for years to come, regardless of whether a war will take place in the near future. The ability to reach out and improve the understanding of the other without the mediation of the poisoned media or politician is precious, and I hope that participants will maintain it even if they do experience some political arguments with their counterparts in Iran or Israel. I also hope that people who were enlightened by this campaign will expand this pattern of communication to other sensitive zones. If this trend becomes not only about the colorful pictures but also about discussing fears and anger with each other, a new profound dimension could be added.

In Israel, as well as other places on the globe, there is a feeling in the last decade that society is becoming more nationalist, isolationist and suspicious of foreign interests. When politicians, elite groups or older generations promote such tendencies, we should remember that while they lead a negative (at least in my eyes) trend, they also fear the powerful global platform of communication. The simplicity of creating a global group of 30,000 supporters within five days is exactly what nationalist are trying to ‘protect’ against. It is naive to think that groups such as Israel-loves-Iran represent more than a small fraction of society, but it is good to know that their expansion potential is almost limitless.

 

The sensitivity of animal lovers can go either way when it comes to… humans March 22, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — poxipa @ 12:15 pm
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Animal lovers, animal rights activists and vegetarians often claim that only when one has compassion towards weaker and more innocent creatures may he be a warm-hearted and socially tolerant person. As a veteran vegetarian I have no special interest in slamming this idea, yet I am glad to show some of its weaknesses.

Cynics would provide Charles Manson, Genghis Khan, Pol Pot and Hitler, to name a few vegetarians who did not really mark their CV with humanitarian acts, proving that ‘meat’ and ‘murder’ are hardly synonyms in our hypocritical world (the site Vegetarians are Evil is truly a classic). This claim is not substantial; none of us really knows what reasons led these characters to abstain from biting flesh. Furthermore, love towards animals can be manifested and sensed on many levels, not necessarily in the passion towards tofu.

Feeling sensitivity and compassion towards helpless creatures is indicative of a warm place within one’s heart and the ability to reach out, rather than dim this feeling indefinitely. If this tendency to identify with the pain of others is a motif that expands towards many domains of the animal lover’s social world, then openness and understanding of others are an inevitable outcome.

This is not always the case. People usually sense warm feelings towards animals, because they see them as pure, harmless, unthreatening and certainly not a complex being. The days of brave hunters who overcome a dangerous beast and bring upon security to the human environment are a distant memory for most of the global population. The meat industry does not try to convince us that chickens and cows are evil, and meat-lovers seldom suggest that fear or hate towards animals has to do with their burger craving. Animals are unequivocally weaker than we are, their eyes reflect innocence, or – in the worst case – dumbness.

Human social interactions are more complex and produce emotions that are not always naturally compassionate. In some cases (and only in some) people who love animals are surprisingly those who can manage to show compassion especially to inhuman creatures, as only they seem loyal/non-harming/free of interests/etc. Once the heart muscles are used to open up mainly to animals, power relationships which are salient in the human world and faces of people, who are less widely graceful than those of our furry friends, might not have a similar effect and even become a precursor of indifference. Human in pain express anger and bitterness, they scare us more easily and we might not want to see their innocent or sensitive side.

Another element which impedes the correlation between animal loving and awareness to social wrongdoings or to the pain of others is the emotional gap between what’s in front of the eyes and the things that are further away (even if they are waiting just around the corner). Something that exists within our field of vision, whether it is a wounded animal, a sick elderly person or a handicapped man tests our immediate sense of compassion.

Developing awareness towards a person suffering in another town or another continent requires not only instinctual compassion but also initiative. Our world, from media, politicians and social groups, equips us with infinite tools and reasons not to take such mental (I’m not talking here about actual activism) step.

Surely, even a person who is both open hearted and socially aware cannot know about more than a tiny fraction of the suffering taking place in our world. But I am not referring here to constant awareness through reading, travelling, etc, but rather to our ability not to develop indifference or antagonism (in case that there is a social or political clash between the victim and us) towards pain of another that we do not witness directly. (Another factor is guilt feelings, which can also lead to rejection and indifference, but this psychological twist is outside the scope of this post).

A person who is involved in helping people/animals in his/her close circle is usually regarded as a good-hearted soul by others, hence this person is not likely to be aware to the fact that while he or she are good hearted in one front, they might be closing the heart to other expressions of pain.

What is the conclusion? Unlike my other posts, here it is quite simple: Developing awareness to things we are indifferent to (and understanding why we ‘choose’ to be indifferent), not necessarily as activists, but as people who refrain from becoming emotionally numb. Another option is moving ourselves, so that more sites of controversy will enter our field of vision. Especially if we think we already possess an opinion about them…

 

What trends does KONY 2012 represent? March 13, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — poxipa @ 5:51 pm
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The KONY 2012 video is spreading like wildfire throughout social networks and is likely to become one of the stories of the year. The video introduces an ambitious activist plan for stopping and arresting Joseph Kony, leader of the East African LRA rebels’ army and a wanted war criminal. Why do I refer to this project in this blog? Unlike any other activist movement, the KONY 2012 is not only convincing us to help the KONY objective but linking this movement with the power of internet social networks, claiming that in this era new communication tools can allow us to make a change anywhere on the globe. This pretentious argument is not baseless, but demands some clarifications.

Before being petty, I must express appreciation to the KONY ambition and to people who approach the project from a warm-hearted place. That is indeed touching.

The most solid and interesting idea expressed in the KONY video is that when the public pressures the government to do something by raising the flag of justice, then even an action that the government has no security or economical interest in can suddenly become required. Responding to public pressure is a new interest. The KONY team don’t lament the rules of the political game, but rather use the public to win it. After understanding that the US government has no interest in entering Uganda, only public pressure and media campaigns managed to change that picture. It is left to see whether one day public pressure doesn’t only manage to make a government act in a place of no interest, but will even lead it to act in battles that strongly contradict its economic interests. At present even ‘justice’ has its price.

The KONY video portrays itself as the battle of the masses, but its current ‘marketing’ tool is an amazingly produced 29 min video that incorporates all the charisma and emotionality tricks of popular culture. Not all activists in the world, even Facebook and Youtube users, have means to produce such impressive propaganda.

KONY has a movie-like black and white plot as Joseph Kony is the ultimate ‘bad guy’. In 29 minutes, the video hardly talks about the background of Kony and the LRA and asks us simply to commit to the idea that he must be stopped in all cause.

I have no criticism towards this narration, but I refer to it because the weight of this propaganda isn’t addressed towards the ‘why’ but to the ‘how’. The audience joins not as creative thinkers who analyze the situation but as people who participate in the marketing platform and hold hands together in this attractive ‘community’.

What can really be learned from the KONY video? Is it a good cause wrapped with a pretentious (or manipulative) message or does it really offer a way to make the world a better place? 99% of the conflicts taking place as we speak cannot be reduced to one evil bad guy as the KONY story is. If similar techniques are to dismantle clashes in other locations, they would either a-market a bad guy and ignore complexity or b-allow greater place for dialogue and brainstorming concerning the ‘why’.

The KONY video hints that similar projects will be organized in the future after Kony is arrested and that the world can together change global leadership priorities. Except for mentioning the fact that most of the global population is still not online nor connected to FB, and hence cannot participate in such projects, the resource of time and emotions will prevent people from covering more than a small fractions of the problems that occur in the ‘invisible’ parts of the world. This format does not really create a bottom up process for changing world politics, even if it shows that rules can change in some occasions.

If this new format of activism becomes less about bad guys and good guys, people will have to become more aware of facts, details and emotions of local people and be creative not only in the propagation but also in the solutions. In some warzones there is no single evil dictator and endless arguments about right and wrong take place. Global activism that would listen, arrange dialogues between commoners of both fighting (or hating) sides and promote solutions together with the locals could be the true revolution some of us are hoping for.

The thing I likes most in the KONY video is the image of the born infant and the narration that every one of us is born pure and does not choose where to be born at. If this message is remembered, even when we look at aggressive youth, bitter adults, and enemies, then positive things will follow. I choose to hope that the audience of the KONY video will promote that message rather than simply enjoy the internet pursuit of the African warlord.

the video can be watched here

 

how to react when a peaceful gesture is replied with anger? March 12, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — poxipa @ 7:03 pm
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Two weeks ago I participated in a workshop. Young Japanese students from Keio University came up with a naive yet sweet idea: to create bondage between ethnic enemies through drawings. Their first attempt was in Israel, where they asked Israeli (Jewish) students to draw their ideal country which they would share with the Palestinians, using abstract images or more concrete ones, like drawing a school and a hospital. After this activity, the Japanese went to Al Quds University in the West Bank, where Palestinians students would add drawings over the Israeli ones, hopefully creating one colorful paradise…

The Israelis who chose to attend the first half of this activity were, needless to say, not good representatives of the Israeli political map, and started off with a very peaceful orientation. Colorful rainbows and images of people holding hands were prominent themes on our white sheets. Everything was going the right way for the hopeful Japanese youngsters…

The next afternoon, following the activity at the Al Quds University, the Japanese returned to meet us, showing us the final result. The organizer, a sweet 22 years old soul, was crying, saying she was sorry things have developed in a tragic way, and that the result was much less ‘peaceful’ than she had expected. The Palestinians students didn’t cooperate with the rainbows, but added furious images which all cry for independence from the Israeli occupation, emancipation of the Israeli army and even more aggressive reflections.

In this post I’m not focusing on the Palestinian drawings, an interesting topic by itself. It is clear (and supported by what the Japanese told us) that the Palestinian students didn’t really understand the English instructions and used the drawing sheets as a platform for anger expressions and some spontaneous depiction of emotions. Furthermore, the choice of asking the Palestinians to paint a united nation with the Jewish-Zionist counterparts, in an era when they fight and pray for independence, was quite a bad and insensitive choice by the Japanese organizers. Clearly something had to go ‘wrong’.

What I’m more interested in here is the response of the Israeli students to this supposable slap in the face, the feeling of showing a gesture towards peace and being painfully rejected. Some Israeli students blamed the propaganda of the Palestinian media and politicians for not allowing people to express peaceful emotions. Other felt despair and even said they regret drawing nice images, that if the Palestinians express their political agenda, we should have expressed our political input, showing our side of the story. The rest of the Israelis emphasized the fact that the Palestinians didn’t understand the instructions.

This Hate & Relativism blog talks about subjective feelings and therefore it promotes an open hearted approach and acknowledgment of the fact that one’s pain and anger is never objective. However, the statements by the Israeli students that ‘both sides suffer equally’ (right wing Israeli students would never have said such a thing but would probably address most blame on the other side) and therefore each side should draw peaceful images, is only half way of the adult approach here. Even without mentioning the fact that living under the occupation is more painful than living in an Israeli city and therefore the former conditions tend to induce more anger, the key in such activities is to remain open, even when it hurts. Even when you get refused. An open approach isn’t necessarily about showing warm compassion, but trying to learn the feelings of the other side.

The disadvantage of this activity was that the Israelis and the Palestinians weren’t present at the same room. However, as this activity was not a political debate, we had no real reason to justify our position and our identity, even after viewing the Palestinian drawing. We could feel angry in return, indifferent and reluctant to join future activities, but we could also try to learn something about the feelings of the other side. Yes, perhaps some drawing were meant to be provokative, but surely some of them could give us an insight about life in the West Bank.

A paramount public rhetoric would suggest that if one is overly patient and tolerant towards his enemies then later those enemies would punish his softnessm, hence we better remain suspicious. Before examining whether or not such an argument makes sense on the political-policy level, how can trying to contain and understand the feeling of the other side truly risk something? After all, being open doesn’t have to come on the expense of acknowledging our own objectives. A lot of pain is involved in such dialogue, but with time, such process could peal the aggression and lead to better communication, as most dialogue groups prove every day.

P.S. : In days when combat takes place in Gaza and south of Israel, without analyzing the blame issue (I don’t avoid politics and express my opinions in several platform, but this is not the objective of this specific blog), I recommend taking a minute to feel sadness. Sadness for the kids who cannot go to school in Israel or for the people in Gaza who fear the air-fighters flying above their heads (and who are ultimately more at risk), while letting go of the need to explain who ‘initiated’ or to convince others. There is enough time to debate and point fingers, one minute of connection to this universal sadness is on the reach of us all, with no ‘but’, with a big ‘period’.

 

 
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