‘Israel has the right to defend itself’. Kerry. Cameron. Bill Maher. A vast majority of politicians and media personalities in Europe and the US have resorted to this mantra in an attempt to legitimize the ongoing Israeli belligerency. Care should be taken here as to not immediately placate ourselves into a game of cause and effect; with Gaza sympathizers invariably seeing the origins of the conflict within post-colonial Zionist transgression – and those with pro-Israel sentiments speaking of vehement hostility to its very existence. Before any attempt to reason along these subjective lines of analysis is made, a partial study of how the above motto has carved its way into the American (and British) consciousness is only appropriate. Why do Americans so sternly believe that Israel’s right to defend itself exceed all other considerations?
In Pakistan, as a largely helpless swathe of third world residents, it is essential that we objectively seek to jerk out the exact lens, much like those studied in epistemological narratives, through which the western media forms its reality. We must consider as to what extent does the general American consciousness – media outlets and congressmen included, purport to the biasness and double standards we accuse them of. Or could this all simply be our own hypersensitivity to Muslim suffering that evokes notions of a nefarious western ploy to subjugate us?
The holocaust as a tragedy is unparalleled in the last few epochs of human civilization. Centuries of persecution within Europe climaxed into as calculated and diabolical a pogrom as any known. Heightened Jewish sensitivities even several decades on are atypical of human nature and are not unjustified if we compare them with other examples: With Muslims being persecuted and scapegoated throughout much of the world since the early 1900’s, are we not as protective of Muslim interests as the descendants of a Jew who might have escaped Auschwitz after losing most of his family?
We must be cautious here in supposing that only religion can evoke such convoluted and reactionary perceptions of the world beyond. Factory workers, LGBT members, companion villagers or community members of any size or purpose often tend to see the world through the perspective of ‘them versus us’ when confronted with persecution or the slightest hint of criticism. Analyzing your own partiality during a simple club match between two football sides playing in a far away country would be enough to suffice for the validity of this basic human response.
With that said, it is a prerogative of all conscientious philosophies -religious and secular, that the refinement of emotions and actions over basic impulses is one of the characteristics which differentiates human societies from those within the animal kingdom. It is here that the predisposed justification of Israel’s assault on Gaza as ‘its right’ comes across as a fundamental digression, especially – and this is where it becomes critical – with centuries of rigorous toil for basic human rights, equality, international law and policy. If these humanly defined and largely arbitrary standards of living imposed on third world sensibilities by their western counterparts are to be respected by the former, there would need to be a prevailing egalitarian justice when it comes to their implementation. It is not right, under any law, for a Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule to be deemed ‘illegitimate, unlawful, fanatic’, whereas a rising seven hundred miles away in Syria may be deemed enlightening, just because it appeases American’s imagining of a world full of allies and partners. Needless to say, it has been spasmodically observed that America’s perception of the word dictatorship varies with what benefits it can derive from it and not due to any coherent disputes in the political theory of ruler ship.
Throughout the world, nations invariably seek to act as per their own benefit and strategic welfare. Where America, and much of the west, crosses the red signal in this context is its moral policing. America and its allies across the Atlantic stand out due to their power to do so at a advantageous scale – and by force, where needed.
The lifeline of Israel has always been America’s will to impose its imagining onto the Middle East through this crucial decoy. Over decades, this has nurtured a parasitic relationship in which the two require each other in order to placate their interests within an increasingly aggravated region. Over half of American’s foreign aid is handed over to its only true ally in the Middle East. Hence, when Israel launches a full scale assault in response to three boys being kidnapped and killed, America is by nature forced to presume that the ‘cause and effect’ ends right there. Human rights reports, UN mandates and all of the standard lines of argument that are used to guillotine nations and regimes into nonexistence all fall on deaf ears now.
The relationship, however, runs much deeper. Americans sympathies with Israel are tied in an ideological knot and are not just flocked by the shamanism of Jewish lobbies and implied national interests, as most Muslims and non-Westerners would like to presume. The rise of Israel and present-day situation in the territories it rules over present an interestingly similar narrative to American origins. History textbooks in American high schools comprise of kitschy passages on the American struggle over ‘basic and inalienable rights’ against the mighty British crown. The plight of the Native Americans, with some sources estimating nearly 18 million killed in war or by continental disease, is at best portrayed as a regrettable subplot. I can still recall being accustomed to three-four Holocaust based novellas per school year during my elementary grade education, with almost no such tales of the Native American account making it into the class curriculum. At best, students are subjected to an array of romanticized Pocahontas love stories and group activities that teach them how to differentiate between Iroquois and Sioux teepees.
The conduct of the present-day Israeli settlers presents a near-perfect parable to the American onslaught, fueled equally by a Manifest Destiny, or the inherent and often unspoken belief that they were ordained by God to conquer and civilize these lands with their own superior race. A vast number of North America’s earliest settlers had faced persecution in their native European homelands. Scattered groups of Puritans, Jesuits, Quakers and other Christian sects had each seen Columbus’s New World as a promised refuge – no different from Jewish feelings about the Promised Land mentioned within the Belfour Declaration. The increasing hostilities between these settlers and the native population led to a number of skirmishes, battles and wars. The eventual massacre and subordination of the natives had been justified to 18th and 19th century American sensibilities as a war between their true Christian ideals and the inferior, uncivilized world. Young Americans are still subtly trained to see the causes of all wars with the natives as the breaking of a treaty by the uncivilized heathens that they were. Very little attention is paid to the actual causes which led to the Indian riposte, and how the ‘under-siege’ white settlers came to rule over the rest of the continent: 4/5th of present day America being marked by Indian territory located outside of the 13 original states. A tale strikingly similar to the Israeli struggle, isn’t it?
Hence, with this in mind it should not be difficult to see how an aptly conditioned American does not need to ponder much to find music within the Zionist narrative. These are two real world examples, and not tales, of the oppressed becoming oppressors. To present a fair view, the persecution of Christians and Ahmadis within Pakistan is no different from these remorseful tales: an Muslim promise land, where Muslims would be free from Hindu agitation, becoming a budding purgatory for all others.
Manifest Destiny was essentially a doctrine proclaiming American exclusivity, based on a ‘divine right’ to spread the virtues of the American system and lifestyle. Its lingering presence in the American conscience is contrary to the very ideals of ‘equality, freedom and natural rights’, which America bellies with all the rhetoric that years of education at Stanford and Harvard have imparted on its affluent leaders. Although many Americans will strictly speak against its modern day applicability, an underlying belief in this 19th century dictum is precisely what America implies with its unfaltering support of Israel and its proactive approach to world affairs.
Modern neuropsychology tells us that the human mind invariably searches for patterns adherent to its core beliefs and perceptions of the world. Hence, if an Englishman with empathy for Israel watches a news report that states the blockade of supplies to Gaza as a possible reason for Hamas’ firing of rockets, the viewer’s mind casually prances through any details of the actual blockade and aims to find meaning in Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket fire. This confirmation bias is inclusive of an archetypal Muslim male’s interpretation of the world: All issues related to Muslim oppression would be taken to heart whereas any news of Christians being oppressed within Muslim lands will be taken as raw data not worthy of further processing. However, what is disconcerting in terms of the Israeli-Palestine crisis and the subsequent media portrayal is that unlike an archetypal Muslim male from a developing country, these individuals are assumed to be from developed democracies where reason and rational analysis are given their due respect and engrained within men and women through modern education. In the case of the U.S., it can be quite bewildering to note how a nation with 46 universities in the world’s top 100 universities – each emphasizing logic, awareness of human rights, and egalitarianism, is the pot stirrer behind such contradictory lines of action and social consensus.
In 1973, a Native American girl stood in for Marlon Brando during his Academy Award winning speech for The Godfather. Sacheen Littlefeather, as she is known, spoke for the deleterious portrait of Native Americans in Hollywood films. She aimed to highlight the struggle of a people that had tens of millions killed and those who survived watched their lands and social customs swept away in front of their eyes. Not unsurprisingly, much of the Hollywood fraternity and the present media jeered at her speech (amidst muffled applause). Brando also received his fare share of public resentment afterwards. You would assume that four decades of exertion in human rights awareness and the fulfillment of a global consciousness would help form a more forbearing and composed outlook of the world. As the western public and media’s predisposed classification of Israel’s offensive on Gaza demonstrates – it has not.
Whereas people in the East spend billions of dollars in absorbing western liberal arts and social sciences education; yearning to master the ‘sanctified’’ constitutional systems and human rights texts of their accomplished fellow human beings, there has been a certain liberty shown by the west in resorting to basic tribal tendencies when it comes to realizing its imagining onto the world stage.
America, like great empires of yore, will destroy and plunder, and use ample rhetoric to sweep the hearts of its own population. But in its attempt to civilize all others through careful cultural exploitation, it is guilty of one fatal mistake: moral bullyragging. In all fairness, the only words of wisdom that can be said to President Obama, in due respect to the conditioning one receives within the American political system, are: take what you may in a world where the relativity of ethics and values is accepted and debunked at will by those more powerful; but to fool the intelligence of the wronged is a nauseating injustice. Regardless of which lens you choose to look at the world with.
Ali Umair Chaudhry writer is a media consultant for multinational firms and government agencies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: twitter.com/aliumair