Friday, November 1, 2013

Founding amnesias and my visit to the West Bank

Listen here to my lecture from last spring on "Healing a Founding Amnesia: Toward a decent resolution of the Israel-Palestine Conflict," given for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Denver (t/t Danny Postell, Nader Hashmi), with a probing commentary about the Israeli narrative by Andrea Stanton, a scholar of mandate Palestine, and questions from the audience.


The talk provides a deeper context for the remarks I made about Founding Amnesias at Peter Beinart's presentation last week - see here, and links the Palestinian struggle to those of Native Americans - see here, here and here - and blacks.


One of many stories I tell is of Clay Carson's student Ramzi Makdisi. Clay is the editor of the Martin Luther Papers. Ramzi played the leading role in Clay's play Martin Luther King when it was performed on the West Bank.

Ramzi is from an old Jerusalem family, but has been decitizenized by the illegal Occupation, made a "permanent resident." Ramzi went to study acting in Barcelona and the state of Israel barred his return. He now lives in Barcelona. A decent regime would encourage education to enable people to make a better life for themselves but also for Israelis (keeping another people down is a full time job).

In contrast, the state of Israel does a meticulously calculated ethnic cleansing.


One of the striking questions/observations Andrea raised is about press silence about nonviolence. If protestors have forceful but decent demonstrations which create no bloodshed, the corporate press doesn't cover them.


But the publicity given to violence is of little help to a revolutionary movement. While the corporate press covers "blood," they do so to make people terrified of violent revolution and justify slaughter of many people. This is one of Barbara Deming's profound points in her essay "Revolution and Equilibrium." Consider Arab spring in Egypt where the government murdered 800 people (by government accounts, thus, actually perhaps several thousand), and compare it to the number slaughtered by the Japanese and Chaing Kai-shek governments during the much longer Chinese revolution.

Mubarak used the same political attacks - "these are American agents!" ("outside agitators"...; anti-radical or anti-communist ideology turned in an odd way - that the imperialists are the foreign controllers of the protestors...) - that he would have used had the movement been violent. His words "sanctioned" horrific (but lesser) violence.

So getting this "publicity" doesn't benefit even a mass violent revolutionary movement; that publicity makes a movement scary and discredits it and is often linked to its violent suppression (consider the publicity given to the Black Panthers in the US and the police infiltration and murder of some 60 members across the country...).

A strong nonviolent movement as in Tahrir Square will also draw such coverage. Yet a mass nonviolent movement can accomplish major things (overthrow Mubarak) much more often today than violent movements (the Chinese and Vietnamese movements are receding into the past now; the tyrannies in Eastern Europe also fell nonviolently). Further, the problem of counterrevolution (see Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon) needs to be headed off by a more thoroughgoing and daring revolutionary strategy, one which is hard, under repression, for people to figure out and organize around. But all of the problems of the future - consider Algeria or Vietnam today - are equally problems for violent movements. In fact, nonviolence makes that future less bloodthirsty - consider the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa - creates more, across great change, possibility of healing.


Israel is afraid of nonviolence, responds brutally in villages throughout the Occupied Territories and with silence to nonviolent protest. But as such protest grows, many more join it (a Palestinian spring and even an Israeli spring are possible...).


What Andrea's question suggests is that the people get no help from those in high places.

Yet in that context, after 30 year of brutal repression and long seeming silence, Arab Spring burst out.

Democracy from below is a hope.

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