Syria. Uttered in Arabic, we hear Sou-ree-ah. What is the meaning of this word today? Its utterance produces shivers, sighs, perhaps sparks of hope along with the horror. And of course fights. There is alive in the 2.0 world of print/blog media a war of words concerning Syria – is it a revolution? is it still a revolution? what about the islamists? what about Assad’s nominal anti-imperialist stances? What about resistance against American hegemony? What about American funding of the rebellion? It might be said that it does not matter so much what is said on blogs in the West about Syria, that the revolution or rebellion continues regardless of what we think about it. But there is a universal human obligation to try to understand those things to which one is connected. And a still more universal obligation to pay witness to suffering, and to those who stand up against oppression. There is something to be learned from every rebellion, every revolution, because there is a truth in the physical manifestation of standing up against injustice. Not because this standing necessarily leads to justice, but because it opens a door, a way towards justice. Because without sacrifice, there is no justice.
Doodle is an “easy scheduling” web tool that fits the needs of modern, busy, internet-connected types who don’t share schedules but need to find times to meet up for a work or social activity. Any person can create a poll that gives a group options as to when an event can take place in the future. Then, by disclosing their availability, it becomes clear what times the most people are available, so the event can be scheduled.
Doodle achieves a certain ideal in the world of today – it fits perfectly with our busy yet flexible schedules, it gathers exactly the information we need and nothing more, it’s a kind of parato-optimal market solution for your time.
However, doodle has a pernicious effect on the meaning of the events that it helps schedule. By making it on-the-fly, which means non-repetitive scheduling, so easy, we no longer need to commit to weekly repetitive patterns. Instead of a weekly group meeting, say on Wednesday at 8pm, the meeting can be planned weekly to fit at the ideal time for everyone in the group, even if such a meeting happens every week. This is the casualization of events which otherwise would have gained a weight, a gravity that comes from repeating a practice in a cycle of time. Monday choir practice, thursday PTA meeting, can you imagine the way the meanings of such events would change if they were re-scheduled every week?
Our weeks, our cycles of time take on significance by, among other things, the things we do in them repetitively. This is why a Thursday afternoon has a certain feeling to it, why we might feel obligated to socialize or “have fun” on a Friday or Saturday night, and why Monday is the unofficial start to the week – despite the fact calendars tend to imply that the week starts on Sunday. By hunting for those empty spaces, and being so good at it, doodle moves us towards a world where our schedules have less and less repetition, where we can less so count on the familiarity of our own lives.
If we need to schedule important events that occur most every week by a Doodle poll, because we can’t find time in our schedules to give the event a repetitive, weekly time, we might ask ourselves if we are too busy? Which means, are we committed to too many projects, are we involved in too many involvements? Our involvements take time, but they should also give us time, in the sense of give us meaningful time, time activity which satisfies us, which grounds us, and which gives the time around it an aura of meaning too. If our involvements are becoming schizophrenic, if we are mere task-oriented, focussed on the completion of imagined goals and therefore lose track of time as not merely a resource but also the time of our lives, who has time become? Or rather, who have we become, such that time governs us, rather than we give meaning to time.
So, when I say I won’t fill out a doodle poll, I don’t literally mean that I won’t fill out a single doodle poll for the rest of my life. But what I do mean is that I will resist the causalization of events, the last-minute-ification of what ought to be planned carefully out in advance. It may be the case that this resistance will result in losing-track of some otherwise completable tasks, but this is better than losing track of ourselves, of not taking care of our own time, of being attentive to the meaning of our time. And when we take care of our time, we take care of ourselves.
The question for liberals and radicals is a fundamentally different one. Liberals ask how can something proximate to justice be achieved, given the restrictions placed upon the situation by powerful interests? In other words, the oppressed are asked to compromise, to peacefully accept a more reasonable version of their dispossession Those who refuse are called intransigent, impractical, or even “terrorists”, while those who accept are lauded with complements like “pragmatic”, “forward looking” and the like.
Radicals, on the other hand, ask how can the circulation of power be shifted to fit the requirements of justice, or even how can it be shifted by the requirements of justice. Radicals, in other words, take justice itself to be a power, a source of motivation, a cause for sacrifice. Not merely an “ideal”, but a force that aims towards an ideal, thrusting to bring it about.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and different approaches to “solving” it, serve as a paradigmatic examples of this divergence between liberal and radical approaches. I am not, however, going to argue that liberals are those who endorse a two-state settlement, whereas radicals are those who demand a one-state resolution to the conflict. Rather, the distinction can be found in what attitude a person takes towards the Israeli government and electorate, who have since the Palestinian leadership recognized Israel continually refused to accept the principle of partitioning the land according to International Law. Liberals take the feelings of those in power to be part of the game, and demand that a compromise acceptable to both sides be found in the space between the desires and aspirations of the two parties. In such a compromise, justice is never actualized but at best approximated, and the greater compromise is always taken by the weaker party. Radicals take the feelings of those in power to be part of the problem, an obstacle to Justice and something not to be appeased but struggled against. If the oppressor feels offended by the struggle, this is not a problem for a radical, although it becomes part of the tactical landscape. Whereas, for a liberal, it is more important to change the feelings of the parties concerned, so tactics that alienate are to avoided at all costs.
This distinction over tactics, over caring for the feelings of the oppressor, truly divides liberals from radicals. Not because liberals are nicer, or because radicals are mean, but because radicals believe politics to be about the reforming of the structures of power, while liberals believe politics is about changing what those in power do with that power. Liberals don’t want Israelis to have any less power, they just want them to use it for good rather than ill. Radicals, on the other hand, see the imbalance of power as a basic cause for the reproduction fo injustice in the situation, and something to be overturned through struggle.
Part of any radical position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will very likely include support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). This is because the BDS movement has adopted a set of goals that conform to basic requirements of justice and international law, and pursues them by means of a non-violent strategy that can be adopted equally by anarchists, marxists, and pacifists. Liberals will likely reject BDS on the basis that it does not propose a solution based on the mutual compromising of aspirations between Israelis and Palestinians, pretending them to be parties with equal power in a disagreement. However, there are also radicals who might reject BDS and appeal instead to another formulation of the requirements of justice, and try to mobilize a movement on this basis. Two examples of this have been the prominent intellectual and critic of Israel Norman Finkelstein, and the International Socialists. Finkelstein has expressed concern over BDS not because he is a liberal, but because he is not convinced that its formulation of the requirements of justice can reach and motivate a broad public. The International Socialists reject BDS on the basis that it alienates the Israeli working class, and draws the delineation of the conflict along the colonial, effectively national lines, as opposed to along class lines. The International Socialists are not liberals, but they are radicals who draw the requirements of justice from a class rather than colonial analysis of the situation, and therefore disagree on the question of who is the oppressor, and therefore, whose feelings do we not need to consider when developing a politics.
It is easy to say that there ought to be unity between radicals, but radicals can be separated from each other almost as easily as they separate themselves from those who stand in the way of the requirements for justice. This is why it is so valuable for the prescriptions set by radical groups to not throw justice into conflict with power, but do so in a way that is motivating to a broad base. The BDS movement at this time is by far the largest radical Palestinian solidarity movement existing in the world today, due in no small part to the fact it has broad support from Palestinian civil society and approval from all the Palestinian political factions. There may be alternatives, but none that I know of which don’t alienate a significant portion of the Palestinian population, as well as a large portion of activists.
The question for intellectuals today is: do you want to be part of power’s self-justificatory functioning? Or, do you want justice to enter the field of power as an actor, do you want to be motivated by a social force which can turn against the realities of power, and be another actor in the field of history?
One thing that was made eminently clear during Ross’ discussion of Egypt and Iran last night was the commitment of America and Israel to economic coercion as a mechanism of achieving its foreign policy goals. With respect to Egypt, the whole imperial logic of ensuring Egypt maintains its peace treaty with Israel is based on investment and the threat of divestment if it refuses to play by Israel’s rules. It is not strictly a divestment campaign, but rather based on a combination of investment and divestment – first invest to make Egypt reliant on western Capital, and then threaten divestment if they stop playing by the rules. This is both a method to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood does not prevent a political pluralism from emerging within Egypt, as well as to ensure Israeli security. In both cases the logic is to put the Muslim Brotherhood’s own ideology in a tension with its economic needs and its responsibility as a government to bring development and stability to the Egyptian people.
In Iran the threat of western divestment is not strong enough to disuade its leaders from pursuing their own agenda, but sanctions are beginning to have an effect. Because Iran’s economy is largely dependant on oil sales the fact that sanctions have cut Iranian oil production by half and cut sales by 75% has produced a situation where the central bank is devaluing the currency by half about every two months. This is starting to create a situation of internal instability in which the leader of the revolutionary guard has openly criticized the head of the central bank, and protests in the Bazaar are calling for money to be kept in Iran rather than given to Hezbollah and Hamas. The sanctions may be successful – it is not easy for leaders to maintain their political line even if it is internally popular when the cost becomes internal economic devastation.
There is strong internal pressure in Egypt not to cow-tow to the Israelis and Americans, and strong internal pressure in Iran to continue to nuclear program. And yet, the sanctions and investment/divestment tactics may succeed in coercing these states to follow US orders. Of course, if they don’t work, America and Israel also have recourse to overwhelming military force. We should think about these dynamics when talking about building a popular BDS movement because, although there are obvious differences, some similarities exist between US/Israeli coercion and popular pressure supporting Palestinian demands. The current Palestinian leadership does not have recourse to economic pressure and sanctions to support their cause because they are not in direct control of economic and political forces in the way American and Israeli leaders are, this is why they use the political powers they have – resistance and compromise. If we build a popular movement of economic divestment, boycott, and sanctions which support Palestinian consensus demands, however, the Palestinian political forces will find themselves in a strong situation where they can demand of the Israelis all of their rights. If BDS becomes strong, then we will find ourselves in a situation where the Palestinians’ pressure against Israel is of the same kind as the contemporary US pressure against Egypt and Iran. This is important because it means we don’t have to normalize with Israelis and convince them to love us and change their minds with arguments. The only thing that will bring freedom for Palestine is force, but we make a big mistake if we think force only means the Resistance. Just as America finds economic coercion with Egypt and sanctions against Iran the most appropriate tool, BDS is a tool we need to give the Palestinians to use against the US and Israel to gain their rights.
One other thing I want to comment on is the different role of emotion and motivation between imperial and revolutionary politics – the difference between those who believe in the Palestinian cause, or any revolutionary cause, and liberals is not simply a difference in values but a different relationship with the status quo. When Dennis Ross talks about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process he is talking about resolving the conflict given the current power imbalance between the Palestinians and the Israelis. For this reason, his talks are de-politicizing, the listeners are not agents. If anything he wants his largely Israeli audience to calm down and accept a compromise with the Palestinian compromisers who are in power in Ramallah. On the other hand, when we talk about the political situation for the Palestinian people, we want to talk about the way we can be agents to transform the current power imbalance – not how to best solve the current puzzle of geo-political relations but how can we alter the status quo such that solutions which are impossible today become possible. This is motivating, this makes you part of the solution, this is about building solidarity through which you can actualize yourself as a political agent. This is about politicization, this is about having an analysis and resisting injustice and standing in solidarity with people who live in a much less stable situation than us in Canada. This is about empathy and recognizing that in situations of absolute need, people don’t have the luxury to wait for political movements that match their own political visions perfectly. And no matter what our enemies say, the lessons one learns from being politicized by this conflict give us tools of analysis and understanding and action that can be used on the side of freedom and against empires and racism all over the world.
A conversation which I think is important, and which I raised several times at this weekend’s SJP National conference is the question of our neutrality as Palestine solidarity activists with respect to the Palestinian political spectrum. From my experience doing this work I feel that I can say with confidence that as Palestinian solidarity activists, we generally are extremely fearful of appearing to take sides on any internal Palestinian political question. Continue reading
Tonight at TPFF there is a screening of “This is my land, Hebron”. If you want to watch it, (and I don’t feel bad about posting this because it’s sold out), it’s on youtube.
If you don’t know about Hebron, then watch the film. Or, pretty much any film about Hebron. They are all similar.
Hebron is important. It’s the most brutal example of the occupation of Palestine, and it’s unifying because almost everyone agrees that it’s horrible – even liberal zionists.
But I’m bored with every film about Hebron. Maybe it’s because I’ve been there three times. Maybe it’s because everything about Hebron, at least if it’s presented this way, is super-depressing. And pretty short on redemption, prospective or otherwise.
I have an idea, however, for a film about Hebron which wouldn’t be depressing, which wouldn’t be boring, and which wouldn’t present the Zionist-Palestinian conflict in the same old way. You’d need the co-operation of anti-zionist orthodox Jews, and you’d need pretty much to be a historian, and you’d need to be able to talk to Palestinians in Hebron who had a good and relatively unbiased memory of what life was like there in the 20s.
The idea would be to trace the real history of the Jews in Hebron during the Zionist colonization of palestine, primarily focussing on the 20s. I’ve written about this before, and I think it’s super-important partially because of the political need to oppose the settlers, but also because of the need for that opposition to be grounded in a genuinely anti-colonial politics, rather than a politics of fake peace and fake reconciliation. To speak honesty about the old Yishuv in Hebron, the way the zionists used money and political smarts to associate the religious community there with zionism, which precipitated the 1929 riots. And to talk about after the riots – where the reality is many Jews returned, although left again in ’36 with the great Arab revolt. These revolts and riots need to be understood in the context of colonization, as violence directed against a force which would take the people’s land and displace them. The settlers retrospectively use the anti colonial violence of 29 and 36 as a justification for the Nakba and the settlers in Hebron – but this is perverse, and people should understand that.
We should come to understand that the western model of reconciliation, which says that “both sides have committed sins”, and that peace is based on mutual forgiveness, is in reality a way for power to cover up the conquest it has undertaken and justify it retrospectively. A truly liberatory film about Hebron would need to show not simply that Hebron is a problem and the settlers are crazy, but that Hebron is the truth of the Zionist colonization of Palestine – and what is expulsion there is present everywhere, and most of all in the expulsion and dispossession of the refugees. And it would show on the basis of any moral dogma – Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or Humanist – that colonization is a political wrong, and dealing with injustice at the level of state power, conquest and borders are at least as important as an emphasis on psychological niceness, and on “peace”.
This question has been bothering me a lot lately, but then I realized it was my own colonial mindset that was getting in the way. Why should I expect Canadian indigenous groups to form a basis of unity so that supporting them isn’t so problematized by the various forms of complexity and difference between different groups? The problem is with the very category of “Canadian indigenous” – it doesn’t mean very much, primary indigenous identification in Canada is with the specific indigenous nations not with the collection of nations that were colonized by “Canada”. While many useful comparisons can be made between Canadian and Zionist colonization, it is much less useful to compare the ways Canadian indigenous groups responded to colonization politically with the way Palestinian indigenous society formed in reaction against the settler colonialism that threatened them.
There is no generic “indigenous solidarity”, there are only specific instances of indigenous solidarity. You can’t express solidarity with all indigenous struggles, because it’s possible that some of those struggles conflict with each other. What you can do is learn about the specific struggles of different indigenous nations, and try to support them in ways that advance the cause of freedom and dignity for all peoples, and which oppose the cancerous evil that is imperialism and colonization.
This doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good idea for indigenous groups to form collaborative actions and when possible a basis of unity. And it doesn’t mean that all indigenous struggles are revolutionary – if a struggle is based on the preservation of a heritage, and is not aimed at the overthrow of what is essentially imperialist about Canadian society, then it’s quite possible that this struggle simply isn’t revolutionary. In which case it makes sense to support it only on humanitarian, rather than political grounds. Political support should be directed towards those struggles which are of both real and symbolic value, struggles which point towards increasingly universal forms of instituted freedom, struggles that aim at what is rotten in the colonialist mindset.
The question I want to ask is directed towards a certain style of activism, a certain kind of organizing, a certain way of privileging demands and deciding who, given the vastness of our mixed up world, should we direct our solidarity efforts towards?
Today I had an interesting and challenging conversation with a member of the 3903 First Nations Solidarity Working Group about decolonization and indigenous solidarity. It built on an event I attended recently called “Building Indigenous Solidarity”, the notes of which I’ve promised to post online (and I will do that soon). The conversation was part of my attempt to understand the possibilities for collaboration and mutual learning between the Palestinian and Canadian first-nations solidarity movements. They may have something to learn from each other, but minimally, they disagree on a lot.
Palestinian solidarity is based on Palestinian unity. Today that unity is based on the BDS campaign and the three demands. In the past it was based on other formulations of the basic rights of Palestinians, sometimes directed towards Palestinian people as a whole, and sometimes as direct support of individual parties. PFLP, probably due to its international-marxist ideology was probably the most proliferous in terms of creating solidarity groups overseas. However, you cut it, all the groups agree that Palestinian unity is the basis of Palestinian sovereignty - the idea of a single nation, of one-person/one-vote. This idea is much older than the Palestinian revolution – it dates back at least to the rejection of the Peel commission in which Palestinians would be granted political representation only in unity with the Hashemite kingdom.
Tonight I was asked why did I become vegan? The answer I came up with is pretty good I think, and worth sharing with the internet. Continue reading