Archive | Uncategorized RSS feed for this section

A Message to Blog Readers

15 Mar

 

 

I have been very frustrated with the recent drift of blog comments for several reasons:

 

–not meeting my expectations of ‘constructive conversation’;

 

–creating a false impression that this blog is devoted exclusively to Israel/

Palestine concerns, and hosting the most basic settled issues: for instance,

Whether Palestine is ‘occupied’ or not; whether the Geneva Conventions apply

to Israel’s behavior as occupier; whether the two sides are equally responsible for the failure of the Oslo diplomacy; whether the settlements are lawful and

not an obstacle to a negotiated solution; whether Hamas is entitled to represent the people of Gaza, etc., etc..

 

I do not doubt that there are those upholding Israel’s claims are sincere in their convictions. But it is utterly pointless to carry on such a dialogue. I propose a moratorium on all comments dealing with this conflict until the

end of April.

 

We have reached yet another dead end, and it is better to appreciate it than

to waste time and undermine all prospects of useful exchange of ideas. There are numerous alternative outlets for those who want to celebrate Israel as a democratic, humane, and maligned country, and many of these do not allow

critical comments past their filters.

 

 

On Progressive Democrats: Sanders v. Clinton

4 Feb

th-1 

In past years, I tried to distance myself from ‘liberals’ by describing myself as ‘progressive.’ It was admittedly a middle ground between being a liberal, which I associated with being a comforter of the established order while opting for humane policies at the margins, and being a ‘radical’ or ‘leftist,’ which struck me as terms of self-exile outside domains of relevant discourse. My basic objection to liberals and their agenda was that they swallowed ‘the system’ whole while excusing themselves by claiming the mantle of realism and moral concern. In my view, American structures of militarism and capitalism needed to be transformed in socialist directions if humanity was to have a positive future, and this is what the liberals I knew didn’t want to hear about, believing that such structural criticisms would hand the government over to Republicans by alienating the mainstream and thus be a prescription for the self-destruction of the Democratic Party, and political darkness.

 

In my lifetime there never was a progressive presidential candidate in my sense, although George McGovern came close, as did Gene McCarthy, and their political failures, were often cited as proof that the practical wisdom of the liberal position should be heeded. Whenever I acknowledged having voted for the third party candidate, Ralph Nader, in the 2000 elections, the best that I could hope for from my liberal friends was scorn, followed by the allegation of irresponsibility, pointing out that the Florida outcome would likely have gone Al Gore’s way if Nader’s name had not been on the ballot, and attracted the vote of some 90,000 wayward citizens. And so the misery of the George W. Bush years would have been avoided, and in its place the lesser misery of Gore would have been experienced.

 th

With these considerations in mind, I am startled by the amusing controversy between Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as to whether Clinton is entitled to claim the mantle of ‘progressive.’ What seems odd and unexpected is that both candidates competing for support among Democrats, avoid any reference to being a ‘liberal’ and both proudly claim to be a ‘progressive.’ Actually, when challenged, Clinton does behave like a liberal, claiming realism is on her side, and dismissing Sanders transformative proposals (on health care, college tuition, wages, tax reform) as not achievable. In contrast, she bases her appeal on a commitment to finish what Obama started and a record of getting things done. In other words, she shares the abstract language of Sanders, but when it comes down to it, her promised contributions will be limited to the margins, identifying her in ways characteristic of her long political career—as a liberal. In fairness I suppose both candidates and their minders have made linguistic calculations. In Sanders’ case it is to run away as far as possible from being called ‘a socialist’ and for Clinton it seems to be wanting to avoid the deadend boredom of being classified as ‘a liberal.’

 

If I had to associate the word liberal with a particular set of views, I would probably select Nicholas Kristof, a regular opinion page columnist for the New York Times, as exemplifying the liberal worldview. And sure enough, in a true liberal mode Kristof jumped to Clinton’s defense with a condescending pat on Barry Sander’s back along the way. Under the headline “2 Questions For Bernie Sanders” [NYT, February 4, 2016] Kristof puts forward the usual liberal ‘higher wisdom’: first, Sanders’ sweeping proposals would never get enacted in the real world of Washington politics, and secondly, nominating a self-proclaimed ‘socialist’ would alienate American voters to such an extent as virtually to assure the election of a dangerous Republican reactionary such as Ted Cruz. There is no doubt that the current makeup of Congress would block the policymaking ambitions of any Democrat who lands in the White House, whether Clinton or Sanders, but if this is the case then the election is almost as irrelevant as many young people have believed in the past, at least until Obama and now Sanders came along. This cynicism is itself dangerously simplistic as a Democrat as president at least can be counted on to do less harm.

 

No sensible person would doubt that these practical considerations are serious concerns, but they must be balanced against the deep structural deformation long associated with neoliberal capitalism and geopolitical militarism. For too long these deeper maladies of American politics have been swept under the rug in deference to the imperatives of practical politics, and Kristof never dares even entertains an assessment of why it might finally make sense to give up on the liberal option.

 

In my view, Bernie Sanders is a true progressive because he has the courage to confront structurally Wall Street America, although he can claim only the weak form of progressivism as he has yet to confront Pentagon America. Sanders contends that his movement is a call for ‘revolution’ but if that is the claim then to be fully credible it must also call into question the American Global Domination Project, involving the network of foreign bases, naval supremacy throughout the world’s oceans, nuclear modernization program, and the ambitious militarizing plans for the management of space. In the meantime, while impatient for the revolution needed in America, I greatly prefer a true progressive to a disguised liberal, and so did 84% of the young voters who backed Sanders over Clinton in Iowa.

 

OUTLOOK INDIA Interview on ‘Digital India’ & PM Narendra Modi

14 Sep

[Prefatory Note: I am posting here an interview with the magazine OUTLOOK INDIA associated with an open letter that was signed by more than 100 Indian scholars and intellectuals, as well as those such as myself with a long research and human interest in India, expressing concern about the forthcoming visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Silicon Valley to promote his vision of ‘Digital India.’ I feel strongly about these issues, especially in light of the Snowden disclosures and the general use of digital capabilities to encroach upon personal freedom and a climate of liberty in post-9/11 America. The link to the original text is <http://www.outlookindia.com/article/the-future-of-india-as-a-democratic-country-is-at-risk/295251&gt;  The quoted remark at the beginning of several questions are taken from the text of the letter, which is referred to in the interview as ‘a petition.’ FYI, the full text of the letter and a partial list of signatories is appended after the interview.]

 

 

[Editorial Preface of OUTLOOK]: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Silicon Valley later this month. But over 137 US-based academics and intellectuals have already filed a petition to the Silicon Valley Enterprises expressing concern about Modi and his ‘Digital India’ campaign. It is not surprising that Richard A. Falk is one of the petitioners. The professor emeritus of law at Princeton University, a highly respected academic, has always been an outspoken critic of governments and policies that violate human rights and civil liberties. At 84, he has authored and co-edited more than 40 books and is a well-known commentator on his own. As former UN rapporteur on Palestine, Falk is also one of the few Jews who was denied a visa by Israel for his outspoken views about Israeli atrocities and occupation of Palestinian territory. He tells Pranay Sharma why he’s a signatory to the petition against Modi.] 

Q: What is the prime concern you have against Narendra Modi’s ‘Digital India’ campaign?

I and others on the list have questions about Narendra Modi’s record on religious tolerance, freedom of religion, and freedom of expression. Some of those who signed the letter have also been subject to a campaign of harassment from Hindu nationalist followers, which raises particular worries about academic freedom. “Digital India” as an initiative has enormous potential to affect positive social change, but it simultaneously poses dangers for abuse under the Modi administration that can make use of digitalization to target members of minority communities or those who are critical of its policies. It is my impression that the Modi government has been particularly sensitive to criticism and unfriendly to critics, making our concern more credible.

Q: Does this fear stem from the individual-Narendra Modi in this case -or the proposed campaign itself?

It’s not too clear at this stage exactly what “Digital India” will become programmatically, and this is precisely why we wrote to register our concerns-to influence the course the debate will take. Most of the media treatment that I and my colleagues have seen is so far more concerned with branding the campaign rather than focusing on its substance, The plan as outlined on the Government of India website, http://deity.gov.in/sites/upload_files/dit/files/Digital%20India.pdf is appropriately ambitious, and commendably has the “empowerment of citizens” at its core. But the potential for disempowerment is also present as the gap widens between those who have access to internet technology and those in India who still lack water and electricity. I believe that some of my colleagues have reasonable grounds to worry that the planned heavy investment in digital infrastructure will widen this gap, and along with it, socio-economic disparities.. There is no present indications that the Indian government is implementing policies designed to reduce, if not eliminate, the gap. And with respect to your underlying question it is impossible to disentangle the Modi Government or Modi as a political personality from the Digital India Campaign.

Q: Are there real reasons for such apprehensions given the fact that much of the proposed programme was actually undertaken by Modi’s predecessor, Manmohan Singh? “Digital India has great potential, but under the Modi government it poses dangers for abuse.”

Some of the same concerns would have surfaced in all likelihood under any Indian government.These concerns are magnified given Modi’s record on freedom of expression leading me and my colleagues to have apprehensions about a process of digital consolidation that can lead to further breaches not only of privacy but of individual security. A realization that the previous government in India has been working toward e-governance, and that these issues are ones faced by other governments in the world does not in any way make it irrelevant to raise issues associated with Modi’s specific record. As an American, with a deep commitment to the wellbeing and positive development of India, I have joined with Indian colleagues because I have seen what digital age abuses have occurred in my own country. The Snowden disclosures should serve as a reminder that citizens of all countries need to exert unprecedented vigilance in the defense of freedom and in support of societal equity given the contemporary interface between totalizing governmental security and technological capabilities.
Modi was a three-time elected chief minister of Gujarat and in 2014 successfully won an impressive mandate to become India’s Prime Minister. How do you see the obvious support he has among a sizeable section of Indians?

The fact that a policy or programme is popular or even that the majority of people at any moment in time is in favor does not make it right or suggest the inappropriateness of constructive criticism. We have witnessed this tension between what is popular and what is right numerous times in recent history, and speaking personally, perhaps most vividly with respect to the implementation of U.S. foreign policy on a global scale. We can recall with remorse a lone American Congress woman, Barbara Lee, who held out as the sole dissenting voice against authorizing the US president to go to war against Afghanistan-a policy that the entire US Congress and the rest of the country favored at the time, but produced disastrous consequences. Modi’s support appears to rest on several factors, but he and his administration have at times disturbingly invoked Hindu nationalist rhetoric to gain the enthusiastic backing of the Hindu majority in the country raising insecurities among minorities.

Q: Do you think democratic institutions in India have been weakened or seriously threatened since Modi became the Prime Minister?

My response to this question is shaped by the opinion of Indian colleagues and trusted friends, so I will not comment too much on internal dynamics. At the same time, we are living in a borderless world, not least because of the impact of the digital dimensions of modern life, and so as concerned citizens of the world we cannot shut our eyes to threatening developments even in distant countries, while at the same time being respectful of norms of non-intervention and of rights of self-determination. From this perspective, I have come to believe that democratic institutions have been weakened under Modi’s administration. It’s true that some of these anti-democratic tendencies were already evident in the behavior of prior Indian governments, but it is also the case that the last administration brought out the “Right to Information” package of reforms that has greatly increased government transparency and empowered people to hold the Indian government accountable. It’s not clear at this point whether “Digital India” in Modi’s hands will lead to increased transparency. The background of his record as the Chief Minister of Gujarat, and the experience of his first year as Prime Minister gives rise to a legitimate concern that the future of India as a democratic country is at sufficient risk to justify a petition raising questions that need to be discussed.

Q: The petition mentions Modi’s alleged role in the Gujarat riots. But given the fact that large number of world leaders including President, Barack Obama, now engage with him, do you think these charges are still relevant? “Modi’s background as CM and his first year as PM raises concern that India’s democracy is at risk.”

Yes, they are still relevant even legally: there is currently an undecided appeal in the Gujarat judicial system that raises serious questions about whether Modi took adequate steps to control the Gujurat violence in 2002, and whether he was actively implicated in its unfolding. Whether or not this unfinished legal process produces an adverse assessment of his conduct, Modi’s speeches at the time were themselves sufficient by themselves to validate continuing worries. They were inflammatory, and made no effort to restore calm and avoid violence. Such behavior signals the reasonableness of seeking clarifications and reassuring procedures. The fact that Obama and other world leaders engage Modi diplomatically is to be expected, especially when it is considered that he is the head of the world’s largest democracy and important actor in the world economy. We have seen many examples in history in which leaders lead people in a terrible direction, and yet are treated as normal and legitimate for purposes of international relations. The legacy of George W. Bush is a painful instance of a leader who did the US and the world a great deal of harm without undermining his legitimacy. Ariel Sharon when acting on behalf of Israel committed what many regarded as crimes against humanity, but when he was democratically elected in 2000 the world dealt with him without looking back. It is up to people of conscience to look back. When wrongs are done to people whether internationally or at home they do not fade from view with the passage of time. If there is to be democracy based on the rule of law then citizens and persons of conscience must treat equals equally, whether it be the poorest citizen or the most powerful politician. We are aware that there are many in India who are critical of Modi’s policies and whose right of dissent is being challenged, and their voices silenced or intimidated. Modi may be speaking on behalf of some kind of majority in India, but that does not invalidate opposition, even strenuous opposition. One crucial test of a true democracy is whether it protects the rights of minorities, especially when in tension with governing authorities. This is so whether the tension be with political minorities, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, or sexual minorities. A democracy only flourishes when divergent voices can be freely heard without fear of an official or populist backlash.

Q: You also mention the Silicon Valley Enterprises have a code of responsibility that they should be mindful of not being violated by Modi. Could you specify what this code of responsibility is?

I do not claim any special knowledge about this code of responsibility. Silicon Valley Enterprises have a great deal of influence and wealth, perhaps now in some respects greater than that possessed by any government. The New York Times Magazine did stories recently about Chinese factories making Apple products that were run as a sweat shops. Does Apple have the right or strength to insist on at least monitoring working conditions for those who make its products? The Saipan Sweat Shop case resulted in a settlement that required several clothing manufacturers to end the most egregious forms of labor abuse. Outsourcing labor is very convenient for many corporations, and not just for Silicon Valley Enterprises, but it is a prominent feature of Silicon Valley operations. So some of the questions we have about the “Digital India” initiative involve anticipated impacts on basic labor conditions in India that are presently poor and often abusive, but that do make labor costs of doing any kind of business in India more profitable. It is important that “Digital India” evolves in tandem with the protection and advancement of fundamental rights of all workers.

Q: How successful have these Silicon Valley Enterprises been so far in safeguarding their code of conduct while dealing with various governments?

So far, voluntary codes of conduct with respect to business practices, as has been promoted within the United Nations, have elicited pledges from corporations eager to uphold their reputations but the record of compliance ranges from mixed to poor.

Q: The US in general and the Obama administration in particular, have been accused of spying and abusing personal information of individuals by leaders and people of different countries. What has been your reaction to that? 

The pursuit of reasonable levels of state security has become indistinguishable with the Orwellian state.

This is a confusing area of governmental operations, not only for the United States, but for all countries. On the one side, especially given the current agenda of security threats, all governments engage in spying and espionage. On the other side, all states criminalize these activities that target its state’s secrets. This creates a situation of ethical and political confusion, making it difficult to distinguish heroes from villains. The United States as the world’s first global state with interests and involvements throughout the planet has the most extensive, sophisticated, and intrusive system of surveillance and espionage in all of history. As mentioned, the Snowden and Wikileaks disclosures, while viewed as criminal acts in the United States, divulged such excessive abuses that the U.S. Congress took some steps to curtail some of these intelligence operations. One of the reasons to be concerned about “Digital India” or “Digital America” is that the borderline between the pursuit of reasonable levels of state security has become almost indistinguishable from the Orwellian nightmare state of permanent war and total control over people. It is up to citizens within their own country and those with concern for the future of their region and the world to insist on scrutiny of intelligence operations to avoid their encroachment on individual and group rights.My colleagues who co-signed this petition are extremely concerned about this, and some of the signatories to the letter have expertise in this area. In criticizing India, we are not saying, nor do we believe, that the US record must not be scrutinized, protested, and reformed. Modi’s visit to the US provides an occasion for some of these shared issues to be discussed in a more global forum. But a focus on the severe dangers of US practices in the collection and use of digital information should never be interpreted to mean that scrutiny should be lessened in relation to what is, or may happen under Modi’s governmental authority.

Q: Most governments in the world today are committed to fight the “menace of terrorism.” In such a scenario do you think individual privacy and their fundamental rights are bound to be curtailed?

I think the evidence to date the answer worldwide is a resounding ‘yes.’ Partly this is the nature of threats posed by non-state actors that have no territorial address making everyone everywhere a potential suspect, which seems to serve as a rationalization for the expanded intelligence activities undertaken in the name of fighting against terrorism. This challenge of identifying and removing the threat before it materializes, also creates pressure for racial and ethnic profiling that gets translated in practice into arbitrary and discriminatory treatment of minorities, especially if perceived as anti-regime minorities.

A second level of explanation is associated with technological innovations that make the collection of meta-date feasible and economical. These capabilities are also enhanced by the development of drones and various forms of robotic activity, with even greater capabilities and intrusiveness on the technological horizon.

Because this transformed security and technological atmosphere endows the state with dangerous totalizing powers, it is more important than ever that the peoples of the world uphold freedom for themselves and others. It is only through the challenges of a petition such as ours that some hope exists for establishing a dynamic balance between state and society in the digital age. It is in this spirit that I joined with my Indian and other colleagues and friends as a signatory.

 

***********************************************************************************************

Here is the full statement issued by the academicians, and a partial list of signatories:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley highlights the role of a country that has contributed much to the growth and development of Silicon Valley industries, and builds on this legacy in extending American business collaboration and partnerships with India. However Indian entrepreneurial success also brings with it key responsibilities and obligations with regard to the forms of e-governance envisioned by ‘Digital India’.

We are concerned that the project’s potential for increased transparency in bureaucratic dealings with people is threatened by its lack of safeguards about privacy of information, and thus its potential for abuse. As it stands, ‘Digital India’ seems to ignore key questions raised in India by critics concerned about the collection of personal information and the near certainty that such digital systems will be used to enhance surveillance and repress the constitutionally-protected rights of citizens. These issues are being discussed energetically in public in India and abroad. Those who live and work in Silicon Valley have a particular responsibility to demand that the government of India factor these critical concerns into its planning for digital futures.

We acknowledge that Narendra Modi, as Prime Minister of a country that has contributed much to the growth and development of Silicon Valley industries, has the right to visit the United States, and to seek American business collaboration and partnerships with India. However, as educators who pay particular attention to history, we remind Mr. Modi’s audiences of the powerful reasons for him being denied the right to enter the US from 2005-2014, for there is still an active case in Indian courts that questions his role in the Gujarat violence of 2002 when 1,000 died. Modi’s first year in office as the Prime Minister of India includes well-publicized episodes of censorship and harassment of those critical of his policies, bans and restrictions on NGOs leading to a constriction of the space of civic engagement, ongoing violations of religious freedom, and a steady impingement on the independence of the judiciary.

Under Mr Modi’s tenure as prime minister, academic freedom is also at risk: foreign scholars have been denied entry to India to attend international conferences, there has been interference with the governance of top Indian universities and academic institutions such as the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, the Indian Institutes of Technology and Nalanda University; as well as underqualified or incompetent key appointments made to the Indian Council of Historical Research, the Film and Television Institute of India, and the National Book Trust. A proposed bill to bring the Indian Institutes of Management under direct control of government is also worrisome. These alarming trends require that we, as educators, remain vigilant not only about modes of e-governance in India but about the political future of the country.

We urge those who lead Silicon Valley technology enterprises to be mindful of not violating their own codes of corporate responsibility when conducting business with a government which has, on several occasions already, demonstrated its disregard for human rights and civil liberties, as well as the autonomy of educational and cultural institutions.

Signatories

Meena Alexander, Distinguished Professor of English, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York

Arjun Appadurai, Paulette Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University

Anjali Arondekar, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, UC Santa Cruz

Fredrick Asher, Professor of Art History and South Asian Studies, University of Minnesota

Paola Bacchetta, Associate Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies University of California, Berkeley

Sarada Balagopalan, Associate Professor of Childhood Studies, Rutgers University, Camden

Radhika Balakrishnan, Prof of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University

Shahzad Bashir, Professor of Religious Studies, Stanford University

Manu Bhagavan, Professor of History and Human Rights, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, The City University of New York

Mona Bhan Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology DePauw University

Srimati Basu, Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies, University of Kentucky

Prashant Bharadwaj, Associate Professor of Economics, University of California, San Diego

Nilanjana Bhattacharjya, Faculty Fellow, Barrett Honors College, Arizona State University

Nandini Bhattacharya, Professor of English, Texas A &M University, College- Station

Tithi Bhattacharya, Associate Professor of South Asian History, Purdue University

Amit R Baishya, Assistant Professor of English, University of Oklahoma

Akeel Bilgrami, Sidney Morgenbesser Professor of Philosophy and Director, South Asian Institute, Columbia University

Purnima Bose, Associate Professor, English and International Studies, Indiana University-Bloomington

Christopher Candland, Associate Professor of Political Science, Wellesley College

Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor, Gallatin School, & Department of Media, Culture and Communication, New York University

Shefali Chandra, Associate Professor of South Asian History Washington University, St. Louis

S Charusheela, Associate Professor, School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, University of Washington, Bothell

Partha Chatterjee, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Columbia University

Indrani Chatterjee Professor of History and South Asian Studies, University of Texas, Austin

Swati Chattopadhyay Professor History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara

Marty Chen, School of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School and Affiliated Professor, Harvard Graduate School of Design

Rohit Chopra, Associate Professor of Communication, Santa Clara University

Elora Chowdhury Associate Professor & Chair, Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Massachusetts, Boston

E Valentine Daniel, Professor of Anthropology, Colombia University

Monisha Das Gupta, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies and Women’s Studies, University of Hawaii, Manoa

Jigna Desai, Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies, University of Minnesota

Pawan Dhingra, Professor of Sociology, Tufts University

Wendy Doniger, Professor of the History of Religions, University of Chicago

Richard Falk, Professor of International Law Emeritus, Princeton University

Bishnupriya Ghosh, Professor of English University of California, Santa Barbara

Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, Professor and Chair of Women’s Studies, San Diego State University

Durba Ghosh, Associate Professor of History, Cornell University

Sumanth Gopinath, Associate Professor of Music Theory, School of Music, University of Minnesota

Nitin Govil, Associate Professor of Cinema & Media Studies, University of Southern California

Paul Greenough, Professor of History and Community and Behavioral Health and Director, South Asian Studies Program, University of Iowa

Inderpal Grewal, Professor of South Asian Studies, Yale University

Sumit Guha, Frances Higginbotham Nalle Centennial Professor of History, University of Texas, Austin

Thomas Blom Hansen, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for South Asia, Stanford University

Syed Akbar Hyder, Associate Professor of South Asian Studies, University of Texas, Austin

Nalini Iyer, Professor of English, Seattle University

Priya Jaikumar, Associate Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, University of Southern California

Pranav Jani, Associate Professor of English, Ohio State University

Sheila Jasanoff, Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard University, John F Kennedy School of Government

Arun W Jones, Associate Professor, Candler School of Theology, Emory University

May Joseph, Professor of Social Science, Pratt Institute

Priya Joshi, Associate Professor of English and Associate Director, Center for the Humanities, Temple University

Sampath Kannan, Henry Salvatore Professor of Computer and Information Science, University of Pennsylvania

Suvir Kaul, A M Rosenthal Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania Waqas Khwaja, Professor of English, Agnes Scott College

Naveeda Khan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

Nyla Ali Khan, Visiting Professor of Women’s Studies, University of Oklahoma, Norman

Satish Kolluri, Associate Professor of Communications, Pace University

Ruby Lal, Professor of Middle East and South Asian Studies, Emory University

Sarah Lamb, Professor of Anthropology and Head of the Division of Social Sciences, Brandeis University; Co-Chair of South Asian Studies

Karen Leonard, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, University of California, Irvine

David Lelyveld, Professor of History, Emeritus, William Paterson University

Jinee Lokaneeta, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Drew University

Ania Loomba, Catherine Bryson Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania

David Ludden, Professor of History, New York University

Ritty Lukose, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and South Asian Studies, the Gallatin School, New York University

Sudhir Mahadevan Assistant Professor of Film Studies, Comparative Literature, Cinema and Media, University of Washington, Seattle

Tayyab Mahmud, Professor of Law and Director, Center for Global Justice Seattle University School of Law

Sunaina Maira, Professor of Asian American Studies, University of California, Davis

Bakirathi Mani, Associate Professor of English Literature, Swarthmore College

Rebecca J. Manring, Associate Professor of India Studies and Religious Studies Indiana University-Bloomington

Monika Mehta, Associate Professor, Department of English, Binghamton University

Jisha Menon, Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies, Stanford University

Kalyani Devaki Menon, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, DePaul University

Sally Engle Merry, Silver Professor of Anthropology, New York University

Raza Mir, Professor of Management, Cotsakos College of Business, William Paterson University

Deepti Misri, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies University of Colorado, Boulder

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Chair and Distinguished Professor of Women’s & Gender Studies, and Dean’s Professor of Humanities, Syracuse University

Satya P Mohanty, Professor of English, Cornell University

Megan Moodie, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Cruz

Projit B Mukharji, Martin Meyerson Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Studies, History & Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania

Madhavi Murty, Assistant Professor of Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz

Vijaya Nagarajan, Associate Professor of Theology & Religious Studies, Program in Environmental Studies, University of San Francisco

Gyanendra Pandey, Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of History, Emory University

Carla Petievich, Visiting Professor of South Asian Studies, University of Texas, Austin

Sheldon Pollock, Professor of South Asian Studies, Columbia University Kavita Philip, Associate Professor of History, University of California, Irvine

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History, Trinity College

Jasbir K Puar, Associate Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University

Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Professor of Law and Development, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

R Radhakrishnan, Chancellor’s Professor of English and Comparative Literature, University of California, Irvine

Gloria Raheja, Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota

Junaid Rana, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana

Anupama Rao, Professor of Anthropology, Barnard College

Velcheru Narayana Rao, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Middle Eastern and South Asian Studies, Emory University

Kasturi Ray, Associate Professor of Women and Gender Studies/Co-Director, South Asian Studies, San Francisco State University

M V Ramana, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University Sumathi Ramaswamy, Professor of History, Duke University

Chandan Reddy, Associate Professor of English, University of Washington, Seattle

Gayatri Reddy, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, University of Illinois, Chicago

Parama Roy, Professor of English, University of California, Davis

Sharmila Rudrappa, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin

G S Sahota, Assistant Professor of Literature, University of California, Santa Cruz

Yasmin Saikia, Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies & Professor of History, Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, Arizona State University

Arun Saldanha, Associate Professor of Geography, Environment and Society University of Minnesota

Juned Shaikh, Assistant Professor of History, University of California, Santa Cruz

Nitasha Tamar Sharma, Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence and Associate Professor of African American Studies and Asian American Studies, Northwestern University

Elora Shehabuddin, Associate Professor of Humanities and Political Science, Rice University

Bhaskar Sarkar, Associate Professor of Film and Media Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Priya Satia, Associate Professor of History, Stanford University

Aradhana Sharma, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Wesleyan University

Snehal Shinghavi, Associate Professor of English and South Asian Studies, University of Texas, Austin

Ajay Skaria, Professor of History, University of Minnesota

Shalini Shankar, Chair and Associate Professor of Asian American Studies, Northwestern University

S Shankar, Professor of English, University of Hawai’i at Mānoa Amritjit Singh, Langston Hughes Professor of English, Ohio University

Mytheli Sreenivas, Associate Professor of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Ohio State University

Rajini Srikanth, Professor, English, University of Massachusetts Boston Nidhi Srinivas, Associate Professor of Nonprofit Management, The New School

Ajantha Subramanian, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Harvard University

Banu Subramaniam, Professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Kaushik Sunder Rajan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Chicago

Raja Swamy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Tennessee Tariq Thachil, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Yale University

Ashwini Tambe, Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, University of Maryland, College-Park

Vamsi Vakulabharanam, Associate Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Jyotnsa Vaid, Professor of Psychology, Texas A&M University

Sylvia Vatuk, Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, University of Illinois, Chicago

Kamala Visweswaran, Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego

Kalindi Vora, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of California, San Diego

Bonnie Zare, Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies, University of Wyoming

Viewing American Sniper

26 Jan

Viewing American Sniper

 

[American Sniper was released on Christmas Day, 2014. It is a movie version of Chris Kyle’s memoir, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, with 255 kills, 160 officially confirmed by the Department of Defense. The movie set in Iraq is directed by Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper plays the part of Chris Kyle, and Sienna Miller is brilliantly cast in the role of his wife, Taya]

 

American Sniper is a fictionalized movie version of the war stories associated with Chris Kyle’s experience as a Navy SEAL in the Iraq War as recounted in his best-selling memoir. The film can be viewed from a variety of angles, including even as one more indictment of war as hell. A second line of interpretation focuses on the intense psychological tensions experienced by this single American soldier and his comrades caught up in the horrors of urban warfare in Iraq.  A connected theme are the adverse impacts of Kyle’s war service on his family that is made to cope with the complex and contradictory traumas of his absence (confronting his potential death on a distant battlefield) and his alienated presence whenever he returns, a scarred individual who longs to go back to Iraq to resume his assigned role as ‘legendary sniper.’  Multiple scenes in the movie portray Kyle as haunted by his service. In his book, Kyle consistently treats his victims as “savage, despicable.” At one point he makes such statements as “I only wish I had killed more,” “I loved what I did. I still do. If circumstances were different – if my family didn’t need me – I’d be back in a heartbeat. I’m not lying or exaggerating to say it was fun. I had the time of my life being a SEAL.” The film avoids giving emphasis such to extreme statements, but it does portray this sniper as convinced he was cut out for the combat role given to him, and that he seems more alive and content when active in the killing fields of Iraq than when back home.

 

 

Kyle’s own violent death is also metaphorically significant—actual events disclosed by text in the film but not depicted, Kyle was killed by an American soldier wounded in Iraq whom he had helped at a nearby veterans’ hospital where he worked at the advice of a psychiatrist to overcome his own version of PTSD. Such an ending of his life conveys the irony that for Kyle the more dangerous battlefield turned out to be in the neighborhood of his family residence, his assailant not the evil ‘savages’ he mowed down in Iraq but a fellow American veteran who had experienced those very same encounters. Kyle had survived four tours of duty as a sniper in the midst of the most bloody military operations in Iraq, but these survival skills proved irrelevant to the minefields of innocence that now made the American countryside a dangerous war zone.

 

From box office success and right-wing praise, American Sniper, is obviously most commonly regarded as a celebration of Chris Kyle as war hero who deserves the thankful praise of the country. From this outlook, Kyle killed enemies of America at great risk and cost to himself, and spared the country a repetition of the 9/11 attacks. It is this self-serving and essentially distorted vindication of the Iraq War that the film presupposes, even to the extent of having Kyle watch on TV as the plane strikes the World Trade Center, with a quick scene shift in the movie to waging war against those presupposed to be the foot soldiers of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Embedded in this view was a double false narrative that the American mission in Iraq was to carry out a necessary counter-terrorism operation linked to the 9/11 attacks and that the Iraqis being killed in Falluja and elsewhere should be perceived as ‘terrorists’ rather than as fighters against an invasion and occupation of their country by a foreign power that disrespects their religion, culture, and sovereignty.

 

These narratives dominated my perception of the movie, although those associated with its production deny such lines of interpretation. Clint Eastwood (the director and producer) and Bradley Cooper (who plays Kyle in the film) have publicly questioned employing a political optic in commentary on the film. They insist, in contrast, that the movie was ‘a character study’ of Kyle and ‘apolitical’ in the sense of not taking a position pro or con the Iraq War. Eastwood has tried to lend credibility to his claim by pointing out that he opposed the Iraq War, and was even skeptical about Afghanistan. Yet whatever he privately feels this not how most viewers most viewers would experience the film, either being enthralled by Kyle’s exploits or appalled by them. Eastwood may have aspired to tell an apolitical story, but if so, he has failed badly.

 

The Iraq War was a war of aggression undertaken in 2003 despite the rejection of a well-orchestrated (and misleading) American plea to the UN Security Council for authorization. Against such a background,  the attack on Iraq and subsequent occupation were widely regarded as international crimes bearing resemblance to the category of aggressive warfare for which German and Japanese leaders were punished for waging after World War II. In this light, the Iraqi violence associated with the hostile American occupation needs to be portrayed as a unilateral repudiation of the limits set by international law and the UN Charter on recourse to war by the world’s most powerful country. Additionally, American Sniper depicts the doomed efforts of an outgunned society to resist a militarily dominant foreign invader that is imposing its will on the country’s future by force of arms. Such a viewing is not meant to imply that we need to endorse some of the horrific Iraqi tactics relied upon, but it should remind us that presenting the Iraqis as ‘evil’ and as ‘savages’ functions in the film as an unchallenged display of Islamophobic propaganda, and cannot be credibly explained away as a realistic exploration of a war hero’s temperament and struggle for sanity and survival. American Sniper also presents Kyle’s story in such a way as to avoid any self-criticism directed at the American mission in Iraq.

 

The movie also lacks redeeming artistic merit. It is relentless and repetitive in portraying battle scenes of intensity intertwined with Kyle’s tormented relationship with his wife and efforts to become a father to their two children during his brief interludes of home leave between military assignments. We learn nothing about the realities of our world beyond a tired rendering of the embedded post-9/11 polemic on the necessity of foreign wars to keep America safe from evil forces lurking in the Islamic world. This orthodoxy is not even interrogated, much less rejected. And no where in the film is there any acknowledgement that the United States in Iraq was acting in defiance of international law and causing great devastation and suffering to a totally vulnerable foreign country, as well as producing a massive displacement of the civilian population. Leaving behind a devastated country and widespread chaos. The Iraqi experience of such carnage in their own country is treated as irrelevant, and is reminiscent of Vietnam War films that were mostly devoted to explorations of the victimization of the young Americans caught up in an experience of war that they could neither understand nor win, while overlooking almost altogether the massive suffering being inflicted on a foreign people in a distant land. That is, even most anti-war portrayals of these American wars accept the dehumanization of the foreign others.

 

For me the most significant impressions resulting from American Sniper’s narrative of the Iraq War are as follows:

 

            –the striking imbalance between the sophisticated military technology at the disposal of the United States versus the primitive weaponry in the possession of the Iraqi adversaries, creating an overwhelming impression that the Iraq War was more ‘a hunt’ than ‘a war;’ such an impression is somehow deepened by a scene in the film in which Kyle is teaching his very young son to hunt for deer;

            –the failure to make any effort at all to understand the experience of this war from the perspective of the Iraqis, creating the absurd impression that the only victims deserving empathy were Americans like Kyle who had endured the torments of warfare and suffered its admittedly disorienting consequences; the emotions of remorse as associated with the harm done to Iraq and Iraqis is no where to be found in the film.

 

What may be disturbing is the radical subjectivity of likely audience responses. In America, great popularity of mostly uncritical commentary on American Sniper, reinforcing the regressive national mood of glamorizing bloody military exploits as the most admirable expression of true patriotism. Elsewhere in the world the perception is likely to be quite opposite: American Sniper inducing anti-American attitudes either out of fear or resentment or both, solidifying the global image of the United States as a cruel geopolitical bully. That is, American Sniper is wildly pro-American for most domestic viewers, and severely anti-American for most foreign viewers. This gap in subjectivities exhibits the degree to which Americans are living in a bubble of their own devising.

 

Normal
0

false
false
false

EN-US
JA
X-NONE

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:12.0pt;
font-family:Cambria;
mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

It is highly unlikely that many Americans will appreciate this disparity of perception, and even fewer will pause long enough to assess its significance. If more of us could see ourselves as we are seen in the mirror of foreign reactions it might help end this unhealthy national romance with permanent war that started after World War II with the Cold War and continues now in the form of the ‘War on Terror.’  Such a pattern of delusional geopolitics will never produce peace and security in the 21st century, and will fatally divert attention from meeting the challenges of humanity associated with climate change, nuclear weapons, poverty, and extremism. To question this American domination project is to antagonize the entrenched bureaucratic, media, and neoliberal forces that benefit from endless war making and its associated expenditures of trillions. In the end it is this grand project of late capitalism that American Sniper indirectly vindicates, thereby burdening the nation and the world, perhaps fatally.

Doing Business with Israel: Increasingly Problematic

20 Jun

[Note: Published below is a letter prepared by the European Coordination of Committee and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) and endorsed by John Dugard, Michael Mansfield, Eric David, and myself; it urges adherence to guidelines relating to corporate and financial activity with unlawful economic activities in Israel and occupied Palestine, and is guided by principles similar to the BDS campaign; it is notable that on June 20th the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church by a close vote (310-303) voted to divest itself of $21 million dollars worth of shares in three corporations (Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar) engaged in legally and morally objectionable activities supportive of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. There is a growing momentum associated with this new nonviolent militancy associated with the global solidarity movement supportive of the Palestinian struggle to gain a just peace, including realization of rights under international law. This nonviolent turn is being directly challenged by the rise of ISIS in the region that relies on unrestrained violence and promises the liberation of Palestine.]

European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

On 24-26 June, 37 European companies from 11 EU Member States will travel to Israel as a part of an EU led “Mission for growth” project that aims to “promote partnerships between Israeli and European companies 
active in sectors identified as leading and developing industries in Israel.” Among Israeli companies participating in the “Mission for growth” are those deeply complicit in Israel’s occupation and apartheid policy. The previous delegation of “Mission for growth” took place on 22-23 October last year in Israel, where 97 european companies from 23 EU Member States meet with 215 Israeli companies from the different industrial sectors. In this open letter supported by Richard FalkJohn DugardMichael Mansfield and Eric David, ECCP member organisations call on the European companies to abandon their plans to be involved in the project. Letter to the participants of EU led “Mission for growth”: We, the undersigned members of ECCP – the European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP) – a leading network of 47 organisations, NGO’s, unions and human rights organisations from 21 European countries are writing to you about your company’s participation in the recent EU-led mission to Israel named “Mission for growth” with the stated purpose of forging business ties with Israeli companies.

We are writing to make you aware about the legal, economic and reputational consequences to your business if these deals go ahead. According to the Israeli research center, WhoProfits, Israeli participants in “Mission for growth” programme directly contribute to and are complicit in acts that are illegal under international law. For example Elbit Systems, an Israeli military company is involved in the ongoing construction of Israel’s Wall, ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004.(see Annex) Recognizing these grave violations in 2009, Norway’s sovereign wealth fund divested from Elbit Systems.1 We would like to remind you that business involvement in Israel contains legal implications. According to international law as applied in the 2004 International Court of Justice advisory opinion on Israel’s wall and settlements, third party states are violating their own obligations to not recognize nor render aid or assistance to these serious Israeli violations by allowing financial and economic activity with complicit entities. Since last year, the government of the Netherlands have taken the proactive step to warn companies domiciled in its territory of the legal implications of ties with Israeli companies with activities in the occupied territories. As a result, Vitens, the Netherlands’ largest water supplier, broke an agreement with Mekorot, Israel’s public water company, due to its role in plundering water from Palestinian aquifers in the West Bank.2

PGGM, the largest Dutch pension fund followed suit and divested from all Israeli banks due to “their involvement in financing Israeli settlements.”3 The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, supported by the EU and adopted by the UN Human Rights Council, explain that businesses must respect human rights and international humanitarian law. The Principles also urge states to withdraw support and not procure services from companies that persistently violate human rights.4 In September 2012, the UN General Assembly adopted a report on corporate complicity related to the illegal Israeli settlements by Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967. The report urges states to take steps to hold businesses accountable for their participation in Israeli violations of international law and to take steps to end business involvement in illegal Israeli settlements5 In March 2013, UN Human Rights Council adopted the report of the Independent Fact Finding Mission on the Israeli settlements. The Fact Finding Mission affirmed that involvement in settlement activities falls under the jurisdiction of the ICC and may result in criminal responsibility. Almost all Israeli companies are deeply complicit, directly or indirectly, in the oppression of Palestinians including its IT sector by drawing expertise from Israel’s military complex and Israel’s manufacturing companies, some based in settlements, with distribution outlets in settlements, helping to sustain them. By participating in the project and cooperating with Israeli companies involved in illegal Israeli settlements and military industry your company would be making a political decision to become deeply complicit with Israel’s violations of international law and Israel’s oppression of Palestinian rights. As such, your company would become a legitimate target for popular boycotts, divestments, protests and sustained campaigns to penalize your involvement and causing you economic losses similar to the loses already inflicted on French-company Veolia for its involvement in the settlement enterprise and British security company G4S6. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, from which we draw our strength, has been growing at the global level since its launch in 2005 of which the Economist magazine says it “is turning mainstream.”7 The BDS movement has consistently targeted complicit Israeli and international corporations — involved in Israel’s occupation, settlements and other international law infringements — such as SodaStream, G4S, Ahava, Mekorot, Elbit, Veolia, Caterpillar, Africa Israel, all Israeli banks, among others, with significant success and enormous reputational risks8. We will therefore monitor your company for business ties with Israel and urge you to abandon potential plans to cooperate with Israeli companies violating international law and human rights. Sincerely , European Coordination of Committees and Associations for Palestine (ECCP)

Endorsed by: Richard Falk -UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur for Palestine, 2008-2014 and Milbank Professor of International Law, Emeritus, Princeton University John Dugard – Professor Emeritus, University of Leiden, Former UN Special rapporteur on the situation of Human rights in the occupied palestinian Territory Michael Mansfield – Professor of Law, President of the Haldane Society and Amicus; practising Human Rights lawyer for 45 years Eric David – Law Professor, Free University of Brussels

*****************

Annex: Israeli participants in “Mission for growth” project violating human rights and international law

Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories – a private Israeli cosmetics corporation which operates from the occupied West Bank. Ahava is the only company which sells Dead Sea cosmetics and islocated in the occupied area of the Dead Sea. The Ahava factory and visitors’ center is located in the Mitzpe Shalem settlement, on the shore of the Dead Sea in the occupied part of the Jordan Valley and a large percentage of Ahava shares are held by two Israeli West Bank settlements.

9 – Afcon Holdings– The group engages in the design, manufacture, integration and marketing of electro-mechanical and control systems. A subsidiary of the group – Afcon Control and Automation has supplied CEIA metal detectors to Israeli military checkpoints in the occupied Palestinian territories; such as the Hebron Machpela Cave Checkpoint, the Beit Iba checkpoint and the Erez Terminal in Gaza, as well as checkpoints in the occupied Jordan Valley. Additionally, in 2009 the Afcon has supplied services to the Jerusalem light train project, which connects the settlement neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem with the city center. The company also supplies services to the Israeli Army, Israeli prison service and the Israeli police.

10 – El-Go Team – Provider of security gates. Vehicle gates and turnstiles of the company are installed at Qalandia, Huwwara and Beit Iba checkpoints restricting the occupied Palestinian population movement in the occupied territory.

11 Elbit Vision Systems – the company manufactured electronic surveillance systems (LORROS cameras) to the separation wall project in the Ariel section. The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of Elbit Systems.

12 – Gila satellite network– Provider of satellite communication services. Antennas of the company are installed in checkpoints across the West Bank: Azzun Atma, Beit Iba and Anata – Shu’afat refugee camp. The company has also provided the Israeli Army with the VAST (very small aperture terminal) satellite communications system. Several satellite dishes were installed on armoured personnel carriers.

13 – Netafim – A global private company of irrigation technology, which also provides services and training to farmers and agriculture companies around the world. The company provides irrigation technologies and services to the settlements’ regional council of Mount Hebron and the settlement of Maskiut. The company’s employees volunteered in the Israeli army’s combat unit Oketz. The company employs 4000 employees, owns 16 manufacturing factories in 11 states and over 27 subsidiaries and representatives in over 110 countries. – LDD Tech – provides services to gas stations in settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

1 http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB125197496278482849

2 http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.562769

3 https://www.pggm.nl/english/what-we-do/Documents/Statement%20PGGM%20exclusion%20Israeli%20banks.pdf

4 http://www.business-humanrights.org/UNGuidingPrinciplesPortal/TextUNGuidingPrinciples

5 http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43376#.UZH-eSvWyqw

6 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-06-06/gates-foundation-sells-stake-in-u-k-security-company-g4s.html

7 http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21595948-israels-politicians-sound-rattled-campaign-isolate-their-country

8 http://mondoweiss.net/2014/05/barclays-downgrades-sodastream.html

9 http://www.whoprofits.org/company/ahava-dead-sea-laboratories

10 http://www.whoprofits.org/company/afcon-holdings

11 http://www.whoprofits.org/company/el-go-team

12 http://www.whoprofits.org/company/elbit-systems

13 http://www.whoprofits.org/company/gilat-satellite-networks

On What the Pope Taught

30 May

 

 

            I am not surprised that there are such contradictory reactions to Pope Francis’ recent visit to Palestine and Israel. To begin with, there are sharply divergent views about the Catholic Church, and the papacy itself. Understandably for some, the complicity of the Catholic hierarchy with the shocking prevalence of sexual abuse by priests of young boys seems institutionally discrediting in the extreme. The anti-modern cult of celibacy and a failure to allow women to participate equally in the life of the Catholic Church furthers undermine its moral authority given the changing realities of the 21st century.

 

            Beyond this there are questions raised about Pope Francis’s own past, whether he was far too passive during the time of the ‘dirty war’ in Argentina, and too slow to favor the humane treatment of homosexuality. He has always chosen a simple life for himself, dedicating his pastoral efforts to benefit the poor, and being active as a leader in inter-faith activities. Since becoming Pope these virtues have been the signatures of his leadership, earning him praise and love from around the world, and helping us understand why his acts of devotion have been so widely seen, and an inspirational alternative to what is passed off as ‘global leadership’ in Washington.

 

            Unavoidably, his visit itself has been parsed in many ways and spun in all directions. Some insist that he should never have crossed the line separating religion and politics as he did when he made it clear he was visiting ‘the state of Palestine’ and not the ‘Occupied Palestinian Territories.’ Others complained that in such a situation of oppression and inequality, his carefully orchestrated efforts to acknowledge both sides equally actually gave rise to a false impression. In this respect, it was not acceptable and politically misleading to pay homage at the grave of Theodore Herzl, the founder of Zionism, or to treat Shimon Peres as a man of peace. Still others fault the Pope for not calling attention to the plight of Gaza or the threats confronting Bedouin communities.

 

            In my view, perhaps overstated, such carping misses the point, and manifests a disabling form of blindness. What was worth seeing, and only this, was the Pope bowed in prayer at the Bethlehem apartheid wall. It was this electrifying image, and the related story about how young Palestinian boys dared defy Israeli soldiers by writing welcoming graffiti behind where the Pope stood that makes the visit an unforgettable, even if unintended, affirmation of the Palestinian struggle against multiple forms of injustice. What will allow us to see better in the senses meant here is to appreciate why this image was and is so electrifying, will endure, and why the various commentaries, criticisms, and calumnies will soon to be forgotten.

 

            What we need to realize, whether we like it or not, is that the Catholic Church by its sheer presence, persistence, and resilience occupies a distinctively deep place in the thinking and feeling of people throughout the world, including tens of millions of non-Catholics. And the pope as the leader of Catholicism, in ritual and doctrine, enjoys a spiritual power of pronouncement without needing to utter a single word. And when that power is used charismatically, as at the wall, no cascade of words can suffice to offset the impact of such a potent image and metaphor. The Israeli Prime Minister vainly informed the world that the wall was there to prevent suicide bombing and had contributed to Israeli security since its partial construction more than a decade ago. It is equally irrelevant to refute this claim or to argue in opposition that the World Court had declared a wall built deep in Palestine amounted to an unlawful confiscation of land, imposing hardships, and should be dismantled and compensation paid for harm done.

 

            The Pope is not a lawyer nor is it a time to engage the controversy about the security functions of the wall. What counts, and all that counts, is that the wall has become a devastating image and metaphor of injustice and oppression, with Israelis as the perpetrators and Palestinians as the victims. Hany Abu-Assad’s fine film, Omar, a finalist for best foreign film at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, also used the wall as the dominant wordless metaphor of what it meant for Palestinian lives to endure oppression day by day, showing its reality for all those with eyes that see.

 

            Reacting to injustice is above all a visual and visceral experience. This is what Pope Francis has taught us. But first we must open our eyes, and keep them open. The greatest writers also perform their magic with language mostly by redirecting our line of vision.

Website Civility Guidelines: Comments

7 May

With the May 1st end of the moratorium on Israel/Palestine posts, I find that the old issues return. Restating and refining guidelines, let me repeat the basic imperative that I hope will be respected: either be civil or go elsewhere. In this spirit here are the guidelines, which are sometimes loosely implemented due to other pressures or being temporarily out of contact with the Internet:

–no comments that contain personal insults directed at me or other comment authors;

–no comments that exhibit ethnic or religious hatred, although serious questioning of historical and religious claims is acceptable, even welcome and constructive;

–no serial comments or republishing of what others have written elsewhere; links are okay;

–no commercially orientated material.

Living in the blogosphere is a learning experience, and so it involves necessarily learning on the job. I appreciate all those who have been loyal and supportive, and welcome additional suggestions about how to make the website more useful, interesting, challenging.

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,386 other followers