Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

From J’Accuse to Justice

In the interests of balancing the scales, and of remaining buoyantly hopeful, here is a short immediate postscript to the Israel Lobby Revisited. This is in keeping with an endeavour to think in the propositional and not just oppositional mode, and to be concerned ultimately with recognition, redress and restitution, and not simply resistance.

As a dear friend has noted, while the retrospective and informative links were appreciated, the previous post also caused, or may be liable to cause, some soul ache at the state of the world. My soul certainly ached recalling the last year and reading back on all that had transpired, but I remain optimistic. There’s no time for fear and despair, friends. There’s work to be done.

In the soul food kitchen, the prescription for this might be the soul equivalent of some good warming chicken or vegetarian soup for the soul, and of course its up to us what our preferred ingredients are: music, walks in the park, children, humour, poetry.

A French diplomat, Jean Monnet, once said, “If you have a problem you cannot solve, enlarge the context.” It seems to me that the antidote to disenchantment is re-enchantment (Thomas Moore has written a lovely book or two on this topic, highly recommended), and ‘enlarging the context’ and keeping perspective is paramount. Hope and imagination are always needed to keep our spirits up, and to envision successful solutions out of the quagmire.

The ‘where do we go from here’ forward thinking and movement is critical. These initiatives have been coming; they can be seen in such things as the one state proposals and the numerous joint initiatives within civil society between Israelis and Palestinians, for example, and in the raising of awareness of this topic and the airing of the Palestinian narrative. These are crucial actions in which we all have an important part to play.

The modern state of Israel occasionally recalls for me the parable of the Prodigal Son. We know all the terrible crimes and injustices that have been committed in this asymmetric conflict and we can issue all the justified denunciations in the world, at the end of the day what we have to invest more of our energy in is conflict resolution/ transformation strategies to enact a durable and inclusive peace.

Might this be a clue as to one way to bring the Prodigal State to its senses and into the international community as an accepted and valued participant rather than a pariah? Just a thought — I’ve posted this snippet before but it seemed appropriate here again:

“In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the centre of the village, alone and unfettered.

All work ceases, and everyone in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused.

Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, recalling the good things the person has done in his life. Every experience that can be recalled with detail and accuracy is recounted.

All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths and kindnesses are recited carefully.

…. At the end, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe.”

— Jack Kornfield, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace

I’m not suggesting a kind of touchy-feely psychotherapy for nations or assuming that goodwill, on its own, will trump geopolitics, merely that we can not discount innovative, sometimes counter-intuitive strategies and that we ought also appeal to the best in human nature and that allowing antagonism and alienation to accrue can be counter-productive. Rather, these strategies have also had an important role to play, if we look to South Africa again, in the Truth in Reconciliation commissions. Again, no instrument is perfect, no process without its bumps, no analogy exact, but there are success stories and reasons for authentic hope to which we can turn for inspiration.

Rebecca Solnit has an astute observation, again previously quoted, in her excellent book Hope in the Dark:

“Bush invited his constituency to be blind to the world’s real problems, and leftists often do the opposite, gazing so fixedly at those problems that they cannot see beyond them. Thus it is that the world often seems divided between false hope and gratuitous despair. Despair demands less of us, its more predicable, and in a sad way safer. Authentic hope requires clarity — seeing the troubles in this world — and imagination, seeing what might lie beyond these situations that are perhaps not inevitable and immutable.”

Last word to Eleanor Roosevelt:

Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world… Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

You may also be interested in:

** The psychology of tikkun
** Monte Asbury on Howard Zinn
** Jostein Gaarder, God’s Chosen People
Just In
** Nicola Nasser, The Arab Peace Initiative, Counterpunch
** Jewish Analysts Investigating Peace and Conflict (JAIPAC), The New Pro Israel: Mutually Assured Survival, available at CASMII, Progessive Government and Democracy.Rising

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6 comments on “From J’Accuse to Justice

  1. Jack
    15 March, 2007

    Hi Ann!

    Sorry so long in commenting. Have been reading though. One thing I can say is that visiting PG has amplified my education and magnified my viewpoint! :)

    I have been reading with interest the apartheid issue concerning Israel. The reason is, that I wrote an article back in the 80s about apartheid in South Africa. Of course it stirred quite a controversy because 1. It went against the conventional “wisdom” of the day (the trend in the United States was the implementation of severe sanctions that only hurt the black South African, and staunch support of the militant and terroristic activities of the Mandela’s) and 2. because I was a black man. My premise was that all public policy needs to be evaluated within historical contexts, and that apartheid would eventually become extinct given the trend. Of course the socialist revolution led by the Mandelas did not want that, and the blood price paid was tremendous. Many black South Africans lost their lives to Nelson and Winnie’s “necklace” (a tire filled with diesel fuel and set on fire–a gruesome and horrible death). I have never been one to say that the end justifies the means, but in today’s reletavistic world, that is the prevailing philosophy. That is why people can advocate policies of violence to bring about political or social change, economically damaging proposals that hurt the innocent more thant the guilty, etc. It has become part of our western philosophy that casualties along the way are acceptable as long as the cause is “just.”

    Going back to my article, though, I pointed out that the abrupt and harsh change brought about by radical policy would have equally harsh outcomes. As a “conservative” it was my belief that apartheid should be allowed to dismantle itself as it was in the process of doing anyway. This was supported historically, but it was not good enough for the self-righteously indignant western world. Apartheid needed to go away and it needed to go away NOW! Whatever it took, no matter who it hurt, policies needed to be implemented to get rid of it NOW.

    Needless to say, every prediction I made about South Africa and the policy decisions of the west that had been brought to play against the country have come true. Of course the western world has forgotten now about South Africa–it no longer cares, its need for self-affirming sanctimony was sated so it moved on to another cause. Meanwhile, South Africa roils from civil unrest, economic ruin, and disease, but thats ok, it was worth it to the west–we did our part, its no longer our problem.

    This is not the exception, Ann, it is the rule for us. The examples are endless and not just limited to issues of economics. An example of simiarl environmental policy is the outlawing of DDT on a whim based on incorrect scientific data, condemning hundreds of thousands of people to death from disease.

    Ann, I guess one of the reasons I am often labeled as a conservative is because I advocate slow movement, consideration and caution. I would not have made a good revolutionary! :)

    Now in the case of Israel, given the history of this nation, there have been considerable strides made in the right direction. Assuredly, like any process, there have been and will be setbacks, but over time these things may eventually work themselves out. As westerners we need to begin looking closely at our policy and what we advocate because we may do more harm than good.

    Kind of like the well-meaning but destructive mother-in-law.

    Kindest regards and keep up the wonderful and thought provoking posts!


    P.S. Did I ever mention to you that I consider President Bush and his administration leftists? His administration has overseen and signed off on more socialist domestic policy than his two predecessors! The rest of Rebecca Solnit’s quote I agree with whole-heartedly! :)

  2. peoplesgeography
    15 March, 2007

    Hi Jack,

    Thought you’d like Rebecca Solnit’s quote. I have been known to criticize people of the left and of the liberal ilk and feature Republicans too (Ron Paul gets a good run, here, for example). I identify more with the libertarian aspects of the so-called right-of-centre and more with the social justice and equity concerns of the so-called left-of-centre. Again, I think it boils down to your definition of socialist and what constitutes leftist philosophy. I and others would certainly balk at having the Bush administration labelled socialist (national socialist, maybe!). We recall that “national socialist” was used to denote the Nazis and the far right, yet socialist is placed on the left wing of the spectrum, thus ostensibly diametrically opposed. (Of course, sometimes welfare for the rich is sometimes termed ‘socialist’). For this and many other reasons (such as policy convergence of the two major parties, both wings of a corporatist state, it seems), my thinking is that the old Left-Right spectrum as used since the French Revolution is fast becoming redundant.

    I was very much interested to read your thoughts on South Africa and your take on the Mandelas. You sound like a real iconoclast (and econo-clast! ;) ) and challenging the prevailing climate is a healthy thing. I was particularly struck by and found the following immensely thought-provoking:

    [F]or the self-righteously indignant western world, [a]partheid needed to go away and it needed to go away NOW! Whatever it took, no matter who it hurt, policies needed to be implemented to get rid of it NOW.

    Of course the western world has forgotten now about South Africa–it no longer cares, its need for self-affirming sanctimony was sated so it moved on to another cause. Meanwhile, South Africa roils from civil unrest, economic ruin, and disease, but thats ok, it was worth it to the west–we did our part, its no longer our problem.

    I think that is largely true, in the fraction of what I know of the subject compared with you. South Africa does seem to be off the radar for some, but I would hate to think of causes taking on a flavour of the month transience! The friend I mentioned is South African herself and has lived in Australia since the eighties. I’ll have to talk to her more about this. Do you happen to have an e-copy of your article? I’d be interested in reading it and learning more.

    I agree that in most cases slow, natural, incremental changes being allowed to unfold is infinitely more desirable as well as more successful in enacting social change. I am not an advocate for social engineering, but I also wonder whether we might consider that not all bursts of rapid, “revolutionary” change are all unnatural or imposed either. The fall of the Berlin Wall, for example, was an action welling up over decades, yet the actual event was a relatively sudden one. With evolution/ revolution, as with left/ right, I wonder whether they are either-or. You previously made a persuasive case that some things are in fact mutually exclusive, but I wonder whether the binaries have been blurred in this case.

    Many thanks for taking the time, I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. If and as your time permits, I would be interested in learning more, at your leisure.

  3. Barsawad
    16 March, 2007

    Always fulfilling reading from your fine site. The Middle East will continue to be the focus of world powers for a long time to come, if not always. Historically IT HAS been the focus of past powers.

    As for the Plestinian-Isaraeli conflict, Israel is most to blame; and the US. At the same time, there hasn’t been a Mandela on either side to give that magical touch towards peace.

  4. Jack
    16 March, 2007

    Ann, I have a tinsy bit more time on my hands right now (lull before the storm) so it gives me opportunity to comment.

    If you will forgive me in advance I have a long, drawn out commentary along these subjects. I would rather email them, but I hope you don’t mind me inserting here.

    I have a photostatic copy of my old article left, I believe, and I have the original type-written (on eraseable paper–my typing skills have not always been the best–eraseable typing paper was the original “word processor” ha!). I will dig it from my files and try to get it to you.

    I have always been a bit of a maverick. Don’t mean to be, but I guess its my nature. I think the true reason was that the “herd” was often frightening for me, and I often sought retreat in the solace of my own thoughts and analysis. The sum total of which…

    …I come up with some pretty crazy stuff and have had to change my mind (“eat crow” as we say over here) on more than one occasion. It was that distasteful dining habit that brought about a bit of my caution. It helps me some, but not all, and I catch myself eating my own words even now.


    …the realization that there are others in this world that think the same way I do. Every time in my life I thought that I came up with something new and original I found later that someone, somewhere, somehow had already said it or thought it.

    But such is what the good Lord uses to keep us humble. ha!

    You are one of the few people I have ever talked to who had the insight you do into the Berlin Wall. The American perspective was, “Geez! Look at what just happened!” and it took many by surprise. Admittedly I was not. Not because of any great cognizance on my part, but because the signs, the change, the evolution had been in place for years. Of course I think this has to do with the nature of people. They tend to live in the now, and quickly forget the past.

    Of course this may change with the advent of the internet. We are truly living in the age of information (and MISinformation!).

    Ok, to address your thoughts on the “either/or” issue I offer a crude model of how I see things. Keep in mind that this is a crude model, and probably needs much work, but it’s a start.

    The upper hemisphere on this circle represents the social/political/economic principles based on individualism. The lower illustrates egalitarian aims. Of course this is always the human struggle–one system of thought thinks that decisions need to be made for the individual, the other wants to think and do for itself. You and me, Ann, fit in that upper hemisphere, the realm of personal responsibility, faith in humanity and its acheivements, and the fundamental belief that humans should be allowed to largely chart their own course of existence. The lower half largely subscribes to a doctrine that people cannot be trusted, outcomes need to be controlled and charted in the way the collective or ruling body sees fit. Our two great nations were largely founded on the former foundation, and we reap the benefits of that.

    Now using a democracy (individualism) as a reference point, moving either to the right or the left takes us away what you and I find idyllic toward the egalitarian side of the model. In doing so, we pass through varying political, economic and social degrees. It is the movement that poses for us moral dilemmas.

    The similarities that you mentioned and we note, the things that don’t seem to be “either/ors” play out dependent upon our movement within this model. We see the movement and recognize where a certain policy might lead, but don’t quite know whether it is a good or bad thing. The direction in which we move is only guided by one factor–motive.

    The interesting thing is that the leftward trend (liberalism) is less egocentric and appears on the surface to be much more “moral.” For that reason it seems more “noble.” In other words, if it is for the good of all that we sacrifice individual rights, isn’t that ok? Doesn’t the end justify the means? Liberalism justifies its movement toward egalitarianism based on lofty ideals (redistribution of wealth–wouldn’t it be great if everyone were rich!, gun control – collective security/safety is good thing!, environmental control–who doesn’t want a clean and pure world to live in! etc.) It is for this reason that many liberals define themselves and their ideals as being morally superior, and if one thinks about it, they ARE superior than the other directional movement away from democracy (radicalism–for want of a better term)–movement that is motivated more by egocentricity than anything else.

    Now to me, an originalist/libertarian, I endeavor to stand firm on the precepts of individualism, so I tend to be an absolutist in terms of movement. As our Patrick Henry says, “Give me liberty or give me death!” It is rare that I think the end justifies the mean because I see an end that is the natural result of human nature (domination and control over others). This causes me to look at socialistic policy (which could be anything from Keynesian economics–protectionism, regulation, taxation as a means of economic stimulation, to gun control) as an additional step down the path of tyrrany, and I struggle to find myself supporting any initiative that takes away those freedoms. Not even when it sounds like a good idea (seat belt laws, torte reform, marriage bans, cigarette laws, child rearing laws, hate crime laws), do I tend to budge, driven by the singular ideal that:

    “I would rather be exposed to the inconvenience attending too much Liberty than those attending too small degree of it.” Thomas Jefferson

    Ann, although the world is full of bad people there is also a world of good ones. The problem with laws are that they are only obeyed by the lawful–the bad people do not abide by the rules of civil society. I believe also that there are more good people than bad–and have a great deal of faith in humanity. The egalitarian mind does not, it looks at individuals as children who must be ruled and controlled with definitive parameters. It makes laws for good people. It is the parent that tells their child they HAVE to share, have to eat all of their vegetables. Children are not to be trusted to even take care of themselves or attend their responsibilities, therefore the need for a parent or guardian. So the Nanny State is called in to sit the child and make sure they should behave as good citizens should.

    Ann, when I became an adult I appreciated my adulthood. I reveled in it, took it very seriously, and earned it. I put my pants on the same way that President Bush or Jacques Chirac does–I am not better or no less a man (or woman than anyone else), but I appreciate the dignity and respect that responsible adults should all share. Inalienable rights.

    Ann, I used to recommend to my students that they play around with the graph–try to plot historical events, political ideas, etc. on it and even challenged some to try to refine and define it a little better. Maybe you, time permitting, could refine such concepts and communicate them much better than I ever could.

    I leave you with one of my favorite quotes of all time. It was from a movie called “Demolition Man” starring Sylvester Stallone. There was a character played by Dennis Leary who was the a resistance leader placed in a futuristic setting. While I do not necessarily agree with it in content, I do in principl:)

    “You see, according to Cocteau’s plan I’m the enemy, ’cause I like to think; I like to read. I’m into freedom of speech and freedom of choice. I’m the kind of guy likes to sit in a greasy spoon and wonder – “Gee, should I have the T-bone steak or the jumbo rack of barbecued ribs with the side order of gravy fries?” I WANT high cholesterol. I wanna eat bacon and butter and BUCKETS of cheese, okay? I want to smoke Cuban cigar the size of Cincinnati in the non-smoking section. I want to run through the streets naked with green jello all over my body reading playboy magazine. Why? Because I suddenly might feel the need to, okay, pal? I’ve SEEN the future. Do you know what it is? It’s a 47-year-old virgin sitting around in his beige pajamas, drinking a banana-broccoli shake, singing ‘I’m an Oscar Meyer Wiener’.”

    Your friend,


  5. peoplesgeography
    16 March, 2007

    Thanks very much for your comment, Barsawad. I agree, the Middle East has indeed almost always been at the heart of global history and culture as well as been the focus of past and present hegemons.

    As the site of the holy lands and origin of three major world religions; some of the longest continuous cities in civilization; and the source of most of the ‘black gold’ that underpins our standard of living; the future of the region—as with its past—may well be pivotal to the future of the world.

    Salaam and welcome to you.

  6. peoplesgeography
    16 March, 2007

    Jack, many thanks for your generous response, I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated reading it. We could certainly do with more mavericks for whom the herd mentality is anathema!

    I was fascinated to read the progression of your own thinking and appreciate the link to the political model you have put together. Amongst other things, it bears out the observation that we likely need multiple axes of more sophisticated descriptions than simply ‘left’ and ‘right’.

    You might also be interested in some of these efforts to re-map or re-model political axes, such as The Political Compass

    I’ll have a closer look at yours and get back with a more considered response. (And a question: what’s “ochlocracy”?) Quip: I’m sure its not a political ideology from Scotland! ;)

    Locating the link above to send to you gave me occasion to stumble upon other sites. I took Nolan’s The World’s Smallest Political Quiz (just 10 ten short questions in contrast to the more comprehensive Political Compass test).

    I’d be interested in:
    a. what you think of it, and
    b. where you came on the quadrant grid!

    I wasn’t surprised with my result. I was located in the Left but close to the Libertarian border! I last did the Political Compass about 8 years ago, and will have to see if the result has changed—I may post on this next, actually.

    More on the rest of your interesting comment shortly.

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Timely Reminders

"Those who crusade, not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better, but leave it either as it was, or sometimes perceptibly worse than what it was, before the crusade began. By thinking primarily of evil we tend, however excellent our intentions, to create occasions for evil to manifest itself."
-- Aldous Huxley

"The only war that matters is the war against the imagination. All others are subsumed by it."
-- Diane DiPrima, "Rant", from Pieces of a Song.

"It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there"
-- William Carlos Williams, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"