Shoah is the Hebrew word for catastrophe. Al-Nakba is the Arabic word for the same thing. The Israelis use Shoah to mean the Holocaust. The Palestinians use al-Nakba to refer to their exodus caused by the creation of Israel. Shoah created al-Nakba; one catastrophe led to the other. The victims of one catastrophe created another catastrophe and its victims. 6 million Jews were the victims of Shoah and their relatives uprooted 700,000 Arabs from their homes in Palestine. The latter figure has kept on increasing since the Nakba has not ended. In the words of Anton La Guardia (whose book on the issue was the basis of a former blog of mine), “The wandering Jew found a home, while the homeless Palestinians still wander the Middle East.” La Guardia wrote that in 2002. Twelve years down the line, the Jews are so well settled in their homes that they are in a position to eliminate the remaining Palestinians.
One catastrophe leads to another. The only difference is the way people perceive them. What is Shoah for the Jews was victory for the Nazis, and what is al-Nakba for the Palestinians is victory for the Jews. Is it not possible to have victory for ourselves without defeat of others? Is it not possible for human beings to cooperate instead of compete?
In 1982, after the Israeli Defence Force destroyed Arafat’s headquarters in Beirut, Prime Minister Menachem Begin wrote to US President Ronald Reagan saying he felt as if he had destroyed Hitler’s bunkers.
‘As ifs’ matter much in history. ‘As ifs’ carry the pain of ancient wounds that refused to heal. ‘As ifs’ cause the demolition of a masjid in Ayodhya or the destruction of the Buddhas in Bamiyan or Lucknow. ‘As ifs’ are the ghosts of the past that need be exorcised from people’s collective psyche.
Can the devils be totally exorcised from the human psyche, however? If God is part of the psyche, Satan has to be the inevitable counterpart. In 1998, when a Tel Aviv University study found that anti-Semitism was on a decline in the world, Avi Becker, the executive manager of the World Jewish Congress office in Israel, said the situation was “good for the Jews, but bad for Judaism.” What he implied is a general truth: that without some enemy, real or perceived, religions cannot survive.
India needs Pakistan for the survival of Hindutva just as much as Pakistan needs India for the survival of Islamic fundamentalism. And the mutual need is rooted in enmity. Enemies make religions stronger. Would Christianity have grown as much as it did without the oppression it faced in its nascent stages?
The enemy satisfies both the God and the Satan that inhabit the psyche of the believers. Israel is the best illustration. As La Guardia says, “It [Israel] is both victim and aggressor, underdog and bully, deeply insecure and supremely arrogant, a democracy and an abuser of human rights. The Israelis can one moment argue that Arab countries present a mortal threat to Israel, and the next threaten to blow up their capitals into dust.”
Osama bin Laden and his terrorists had/have the same schizophrenia. Analyse any religious fundamentalist, and you will discover the same schizophrenic. God and Satan cannot be separated. Separating them is one of the greatest tragedies that has plagued mankind ever since the beginning of human civilisation. Gods cannot survive without Devils.
Is there any remedy? Let me borrow the answer given by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, History Professor and author, “After all the disillusionments with the history of civilizations is studded – the triumphs of savagery, the bloodlettings of barbarism, the reversals of progress, the reconquests by nature, our failure to improve – there is no remedy except to go on trying, and keeping civilized traditions alive.” [Civilizations, Pan Books, 2001, the last page]