Monday, August 4, 2014

Shoah and Al-Nakba


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]


14 comments:

  1. Loved this post. Very relevant with happenings in Gaza!

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    1. The recent events in Gaza made me read La Guardia's book again after a gap of a decade. Most of these thoughts came from that book. The God-Satan philosophy is mine.

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  2. First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Socialist.

    Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
    Because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
    -Martin Niemoller

    These lines, written in a page of an office notepad was given to me by my Dad your article somehow made me remember this. Great Blog!

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    1. Thanks, Datta, for sharing the lines here. Most of us follow that policy of non-interference as long as we feel we are safe. Diplomacy is no more a political concept; it has seeped into individual life too. We don't want to make any commitment except for our own welfare.

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  3. One catastrophe leads to another and we just don't know where to stop. We use each others religion to fight and shed blood and are forgetting the basics of any religion which is peace, harmony and love. At times I feel we are the most confused and malleable species of all.

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    1. Athena, for most people religion has nothing to do with peace, harmony and love. For them, religion is a source of identity. That's why when identity is threatened, violence breaks out in religious forms. For the Arabian Islam, the West posed a severe identity threat. Hindutva was engendered by a similar identity threat.

      There are a few individuals (compared to the vast majority) who have established their individual identity so securely that they don't need the identity given by their religion or any other source. For them, the meaning of religion can become more meaningful like peace, harmony, etc.

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  4. There is a remedy -- a remedy of samesightedness. God and Satan are not two different entities but two sides of the same as sides of a coin. It is our inability to see the whole picture that creates trouble and fight. They're not opposites but complementary. I do not agree with that without some enemy, real or perceived, religions cannot survive.

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    1. Ravish, the problem is that religions polarise good and evil into God and Satan, whereas they both belong to the same reality - "two sides of the same coin". That leads to the need for creation of the enemy, because the enemy has to be externalised. So Pakistan becomes the enemy, the evil which is outside of us. America becomes the enemy of Islam, far away from "us"... For those people who make the mistake of externalising the evil by polarising good and evil, the enemy outside becomes essential.

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    2. I differ a bit from you, Matheikal. Religions don't polarize. There are a few who forged the meaning of some verses of religious scriptures and utilize them in uniting a group against someone. USA is not enemy of Islam but a few terrorists. It is not fair to put a blot on a religion because of a few maniacs.

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  5. The devil of all is ego. It can be conquered at individual level. But when it becomes the cause of a clan or community or country wars happen. Nobody is powerful enough to conquer it then. I had this dream of whole world getting washed down by waters yesterday night. I guess that is the only solution when it reaches the pinnacle until then as Felipe said- keep trying..

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    1. Roohi, your comment is an expression of what I've said above in answer to Athena in different words. You speak in terms of ego of the individual and of the community. I called it identity.

      Ego is unavoidable to some extent. It is related to self-respect. Inflated ego is the problem. In the case of America, I can agree with you that inflated ego of a community (nation) becomes the cause of much strife in the world.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Glad to see what you feel.Correct in these circumstances

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    1. Is it just my feeling, R? Is it correct only in these circumstances?

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