Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Time for Passion; A Time for Peace

Our species has been endowed and imbued with a spectrum of emotions, not the least of which is the ability to feel things with a tremendous amount of passion. Our expressions of passion may at times seem to go beyond that which would be considered normal, or acceptable, under “ordinary” circumstances, but we must always remember that this is one of the most powerful of emotions; passion is not only connected with our ability to love and express that important feeling, it comes into play with other emotional states as well. People often speak of being passionate about their work, there is passion involved in the creative act (something that I can attest to without any hesitation), and it is very evident whenever any sort of conflict that strikes an emotional note arises.

Rather than approaching a situation with calmness and logic, passionate feelings well up to the surface and reason is swept aside. At these times we seem to be reduced to unthinking organisms guided by something akin to a reptilian brain, that vestigial portion of our brainstem that controls the involuntary nervous system (respiration, for example) and which guides crocodilians on their quest for prey. If that sounds severe, if it sounds harsh or overly judgemental, please understand that it is said from the point of view of someone who understands the situation by virtue of having learned it first hand. This is not a case of the “reinvention of the wheel”, it is merely a statement of fact: if we allow ourselves to be guided by our passions in all things, we are doomed; Period.

While it must be acknowledged that emotions are vitally important to our lives and we would not be who we are without them, it is important to understand that when we allow them to guide the way we accept things without question and form our opinions based purely on how we respond to the situation on a purely emotional level we are then in danger of missing the real picture.

Rather than experiencing the range of emotions and enjoying them we become slaves to them, slaves to the anger that is stoked by blind rage, a rage that isn’t even understood in rational senses anymore. Emotionalism prevents us from seeing the evidence that contradicts our passionate stance on a subject, to the point of detaching ourselves from the world of facts and evidence-based reality: bodies lined up in streets become propaganda from the “enemy”, props that they arranged in order to elicit sympathy. War crimes are dismissed as being improbable acts, or as having been justified by the situation.

What needs to be done in order to solve the problems facing those living in Israel/Palestine is both difficult and easy; it is a solution that stares us in the face, and yet we do not see it for the elegance of its simplicity. In a time when the concept of “common sense” has been reduced to something no better than a campaign slogan of past campaigns for neo-conservative politicians attempting to sway the electorate in a land far removed from the peoples of the troubled Middle East, true common sense is often abandoned in favour of things that fly in the face of logic; the choice of strife is made over that of peace for the simple reason that to do otherwise would be to dishonour those who have paid for the land with the blood that flowed through their veins. It is this sort of rhetoric that paints them into the corner, leaving them without an alternative that doesn’t end in violence, violence for the sake of justice and the avenging of the losses that they have experienced, sometimes in the distant past. It does not allow for an alternative that doesn’t include a fanatical approach to the “protection” of the land, even if that means the use of techniques inspired by the lessons gleaned from the darkest days of Jewish history, the Holocaust and the Pogroms.

The solution is difficult because it goes against what seems to be the character of our species: we are a passionate and stubborn people by nature. We are a people that allow our passions to guide the creature rather than allowing our intellects to lead us, though we know that we are capable of taking control whenever we put our minds to the task. Our preference is to contend that there is no fault; there is always a way to justify that something is right even when everything points to the fact that our actions are wrong. We may call this the “natural” way of our species as many times as we desire, but that will never change the simple fact that the truth of the matter is quite different; we were never designed to be controlled by the passions that have led us, more times than need to be mentioned, past the point of no return. We were never meant to be led by unbridled passions that lead directly to the deaths of innocent lives for causes that could — and should — have been solved by the greater gift that our species has been endowed with: our intellect and our ability to reason through any issue with well-devised diplomatic solutions that do not involve the deployment of military forces and the deaths of countless innocent lives.

The reason that the solution for this is easy is quite simply because it calls upon the essential humanity found in each of us: rather than looking at the conflict in Israel/Palestine as it exists today, as an ongoing conflict between two different peoples struggling over the same piece of real estate, we must first recast the situation into an entirely new paradigm that will clarify the issue into a way that even the most intellectually challenged individual will be able to grasp the simplicity of the circumstances. Without being torn apart by our passions it becomes possible to see that the problems facing the people of Israel/Palestine are not that difficult to overcome, so long as you understand the importance of a simple word, a word that even the scriptures of the Old Testament say we should hold closer to our hearts than any other; that word is love.

In the fifth book of the Torah, or Deuteronomy as it is known in the Old Testament, Moses is given the “greatest commandment” from HaShem in the sixth chapter. It is important to note that this commandment is given at the time that the Lord God Almighty first promises the “Land of milk and honey”, which the Children of Israel decided to take possession of in a state of disobedience by not following the directions given to them by the Lord. The “greatest commandment” is revealed in Deuteronomy 6, a commandment that is repeated by another – Yeshua HaMoshiach – Jesus Christ – in the Gospel of Matthew (Mt. 22:37). After the “Sh’ma” is declared (“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!”) we are given the commandment: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.” In the Gospel of Matthew there is an interesting addition, which is also reflected in the teachings of Rabbi Akiva, that the second commandment is like the first, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:39-40).

Why would love, and something that seems to come out of a children’s television show from the 1970’s, being neighbourly with others even when they are different from us, be a required skill to be able to solve a conflict that has gone on for generations? Indeed, that is a question that resonates with intensity for many, but the answer is simplicity itself: what is the real reason for this conflict? Why are Jews and Palestinians at war with each other? Why do Arabs in neighbouring countries, for that matter, have such hatred for the Jews – a hatred that is reflected back by the Israelis? When you look at the blood of Jews and Arabs, when you look at who their ancestors were, there seems to be no reason for enmity; both claim to be descendents of Abraham, brothers with different mothers. Even if you do not accept a Biblical account of their heritage, Semites hating other Semites makes about as much sense as an Austrian from Vienna hating another Austrian by virtue of their living in Salzburg, or the very real situation of people in the Dominican Republic hating and fearing people from Haiti – people who are ethnically identical by virtue of them all having come to the island as slaves – and yet the Dominicans feel that the Haitians are, somehow, “more black” than they are.

It is time to step away from the passions that are leading us towards inevitable destruction and look at how easy it is to live together in harmony when the common goal is to move forward with life rather than towards death through ignorance. During the Cold War a great fear was promulgated by the propaganda puppet-masters behind the American press: the constant message that I remember hearing through the administrations of Ronald Reagan and even, to some extent, his predecessor Jimmy Carter, was that the Soviets were a hair-trigger away from launching an all out nuclear assault against the west – a first strike attack. I never bought into this line of thinking for two simple reasons: First of all, it simply didn’t make sense to me. The Soviets – led by Brezhnev at the time – had to know that the United States possessed the capabilities, with their nuclear submarine force alone, to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike that would obliterate the Soviet Union several times over. Thus the term MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction (or Mentally Addled Decision-makers, depending on your point of view). There is, after all, no such thing as a “limited” nuclear war and the Soviets understood this.

The second reason that I didn’t accept the premise of what the war-mongers in the west were trying to pass off as the “truth” while simultaneously whipping up a frenzy of jingoism and nationalism was even more basic and fundamental: if we accepted the hypothesis that the Soviets loved their children even half as much as the people in the United States did then they would never want to see the horrors of war visited upon their nation again. More Russian lives were lost (Soviet citizens and soldiers combined) during The Great Patriotic War, what the Russians call World War II, than any other nation that fought in the war – on either side. The famines and purges that came after the war continued to claim victims, adding to the twenty-six million that the war had taken.

There is no doubt in my mind that even the most hardened Politburo members and military advisors would have cringed over the images of the “motherland” being ravaged – yet again – at the possibility of a thermonuclear war, even on a “limited” scale. When they advised Brezhnev in regards to the deployments of their nuclear forces they would have been acutely aware of the fact that any first strike use of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union against the United States or any of her allies would be inviting a nuclear holocaust upon mother Russia such as never could be truly imagined; it was, truly, an unthinkable option. After the near disastrous outcome of the Cuban Missile Crises, an event we are still discovering details about, forty-five years after the fact, where the world was led so close to the brink of a nuclear holocaust you can still taste the tinge of a nuclear winter when it snows in North America, it seems unlikely that the Soviets would have been so eager or willing to go as far down that path with the United States as they had with JFK.

The Soviets learned from their mistakes in Cuba. Now, what can we say of the Jews? Why should Jews be concerned with the issue of living together in peace? Only for the simple reason that this simple concept nearly led to our people being wiped off the face of the earth. When the Nazi propaganda machine began churning out its lies about the Jews being the cause of the economic woes of the German economy it wasn’t being original; the Jews of Europe had been blamed for causing the spread of the Black Death in the Middle-Ages as well. Anytime a scapegoat was needed all one had to do was find the nearest Shtetl and grab as many Jews as was necessary, perhaps enough for a private Pogrom.

The Holocaust, if nothing else, should demonstrate what happens when people fail in their responsibility towards all of humanity: we are not only the brothers and sisters of those who look like us, but of everyone, regardless of their race. The answer to that age-old question, “am I my brother’s keeper?” is, in fact, “yes, you are”. You are your brother’s keeper, and your sister’s; you are your niece’s keeper and your nephew’s, and you are your neighbour’s keeper, and anyone else who happens to fall within your sphere of influence as a human. That is what makes us human, that is what defines our humanity; we have the capacity to care for one another and when we allow ourselves to arise above our petty prejudices, we do so. We do not abandon those who do not have anyone to care for them nor do we leave the weak or the sick to die by the wayside. We do not kill a child whose mother has died in childbirth, we find someone to care for them, giving them love and raising them as their own. We love; actions define our humanity, not what we call ourselves.

As the Jews who were freed from the concentration camps often discovered when they tried to return to their pre-war homes, many things had not changed; their homes, if left standing, had often been stolen by other families who would not return them unless the “dirty Jews” could prove ownership (a difficult task considering they had been taken from their homes with few, if any, personal belongings – said belongings having been taken from them at the camps). The same thing went with bank accounts, accounts that to this day are being contested by families trying to prove rightful ownership.

Does this not teach us anything? What would have happened if the German people had stood up and said, “Why should we believe these ridiculous lies? These are my neighbours and I trust them!” If asked to take up stones against Jewish business, “but what have they done to us?” Of course, there is anti-Semitism. That is, alas, a fact of this world. As warped and demented as this fact is, it is even more demented to see such hatred between two peoples who have far more in common (including anti-Semitism, though the Arabs may be experiencing a bit more post 9/11, but the Jews aren’t far behind … neck-n-neck) than the main thing that divides them, religion. There is no “official” religion of the Palestinians, though there seems to be a predominantly Sunni portion with a sizable Christian minority as well, but this should not be used as an excuse for not being able to live in peace with each other.

Religion is what has blinded the Israeli position regarding the land that they protect with higher esteem than anything else; the land that has been granted, they believe, as a sacred covenant to them by the Lord God Almighty. The belief that the division of the land is impossible is seemingly fundamental to the tenets of Judaism, and yet this belief is as erroneous as the very idea that the present State of Israel is a representation of the Biblical Holy Land, the Promised Land, the Land of Milk and Honey.

Who amongst you can relate the story of how the Jews came into the Promised Land? The story is long, quite complicated at times, and filled with some of the most unpronounceable names that you can think of … until you read the Book of Numbers. There is an important preface to the story, contained in the Book of Joshua, that is found a bit earlier, when the Lord makes the actual promise of the land to Moses, in Exodus. Moses is told: “Little by little I [the Lord God Almighty] will drive them [the inhabitants of the Promised Land] out from before you, until you have increased, and you inherit the land. And I will set your bounds from the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines, and from the desert to the River. For I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand, and you shall drive them out before you. You shall make no covenant [contract or agreement] with them, nor with their gods. They shall not dwell in your land, lest they make you sin against Me. For if you serve their gods, it will surely be a snare to you” (Exodus 23:29-33, NKJV, parenthetical comments are my additions).

So, what went wrong? After the death of Moses and the selection of Joshua as the new Prophet of the congregation things didn’t quite go according to the script and it all centres around a simple concept: disobedience. “Woe to the rebellious children,” says the LORD, “Who takes counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin; …” (Isaiah 30:1, NKJV). When the reputation of the children of Israel spread through the land the Gibeonites decided that the best way to survive was to avoid having to fight. They managed to convince the congregation and the leadership – including Joshua – to make a treaty [a covenant] with them, swearing it on the name of the Lord God of Israel. The result of this treaty is that the Gibeonites would serve as wood-cutters and water bearers for the Temple (they were slaves), but they were allowed to live.

Unfortunately, things did not go so well for the children of Israel. The Babylonians decided that slavery was an equal-opportunity career and thus, the Babylonian Captivity. Seventy years of … lets call it character building (2 Chronicles 36:1-21). Of course, the Jews were allowed to return to the Holy Land and they began the work of rebuilding the Temple, but that is not the end of the story (of course); rather than adhering to their covenant with the Lord, by not marrying anyone who was not of the twelve tribes, the disobedient Israelites took wives out of the pagans living amongst them (see Ezra 9)

As easy as it is to take the scriptures and point out all of the ways in which the Israelites disobeyed the word of God in regards to their inheritance, it is more important to examine the ramifications of those acts and what the reality of that situation is – for all of us – today. Whatever happened in the time before the Babylonian captivity is, as they say, ancient history. Nothing can change the fact that the children of Israel were carried away from their homes as slaves, just as nothing can change the fact that western imperialists carried millions of African slaves away from their homes to the “new world” and mistreated them for centuries. If there is any doubt that institutional racism still exists one need only look at the current presidential election (which has not even left the level of the primaries) to see the acrimony aroused as a result of racial issues (and gender); for this we should all be ashamed.

The only true solution to the Jewish/Palestinian “question” is to step back from our passions and allow reason to prevail; we must not allow ingrained prejudices to be freed to bubble up to the surface when we know they are inherently wrong, we must rise above the pettiness of racial divisiveness that makes us cringe when we see that our neighbour does not look as we do. For far too long we have lived lives of complacency, lives of disconnection from each other that permit the perpetuation of violent reactions against the people and things that do not adhere to our own way of life. There is no excuse for such barbaric behaviour; by these actions, by demonstrating that they are unable to live in peace with each other, the Zionists demonstrate that they have not learned anything from the lessons of history save for the worst, most despicable portions. The responses of violence from the Palestinians, of course, are no better, and may not be excused for any reason. Violence begets violence, and “an eye for an eye” will, in the end, leave us all blind.

Every act of inequality, every racial slur and every violent action perpetrated against our fellow man diminishes each and every one of us collectively. As neighbours in this continually shrinking world it is far past the time to put aside our differences and begin the process of living together in peace. If our neighbours do not go to our church, or synagogue, if they happen to go to a mosque, or if, God forbid, they don’t go to any house of worship at all, then so be it; let them go where they would, in peace. If that is such a difficult proposition for someone than I have another, even simpler solution: get off the planet and leave it to those who are able to live in peace with each other. The cost of war fostered by human ignorance and stupidity is far too great to be allowed to continue.


Anonymous said...

As always, an excellent post!
I will link it to it in my blog.

Anonymous said...

Just a few quick words for the american/jew (same thing) terrorists. Keep on pushing and pushing and one day it will blow up in your rodent, scoundrel faces. Maybe then you`ll wake up and learn to be decent human beings. But probably not. And please, enough with the neverernding jew terrorist holyhoax bs.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your response, DesertPeace; as usual your efforts have assisted in garnering many more readers to this article than would otherwise have read it without your help.

Then there is “anonymous” … I must admit that my first impulse was to hit the “delete” key when this comment came to into the queue for approval, but something made me decide to approve it. Perhaps it was the perverse irony involved in having someone being so willing to post something so blatantly ignorant and openly racist after an article that rejects the very precepts of racial hatred as something that should be eliminated, something that is not only illogical, but wasteful of human life and humanity. Perhaps I was amused by the irony that someone could be so blinded by the message to which they were responding, so blinded by the vitriol that filled their being, that they still felt compelled to utter racial hatred in a place devoid of such trash.

Regardless of their reason, the “rodent, scoundrel faces” shall not likely bother Herr anonymous, as I’m sure he has quite a few of his own demons to cope with for now.

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