It’s Doppelgänger Time

Watching the images from Gaza the other day I was reminded that while he was in exile in Algeria, Eldridge Cleaver, the Black Panther Minister of Education, would talk to me about the “A-rabs” and the “J-rabs” as though the Arabs and the Jews were mirror images of one another. Cleaver seemed to be borrowing from the “Spy vs. Spy” comic strip in Mad magazine, which has been described as a parody of the ideologies of the Cold War. The two spies were eternal enemies of one another and identical.

In his own crazy way, Cleaver tried to navigate the turbulent waters of the Middle East in the early 1970s. Indeed, he dispatched Timothy Leary, who was in exile with him in Algeria, along with Panther spokesman, Marty Kenner, and Jennifer Dohrn, Bernardine’s sister, to meet with members of the PLO in Lebanon. Not surprisingly, the whole venture turned out to be suicidal, politically speaking.

Leary, Kenner and Dohrn were out of their element; even in the best of circumstances, they wouldn’t have been able to agree on strategy or tactics. To expect them to work with the PLO was madness on Eldridge’s part.

Looking back, I’m not sorry I went to Paris to meet with Abbie Hoffman and the French Yippies, rather than to Lebanon.          In Paris, Stew Albert, Brian Flannigan, Abbie and I knew the terrain. A Yippie in France was still a Yippie.

The situation in Gaza and throughout the Middle East is as fraught now as it ever has been, if not more so. American leftists have been scrambling to make intelligent remarks and take the high moral ground. The voices of reason tend to be drowned out by the voices of unreason. From my point of view, no one has yet offered a clear persuasive ethical argument, and a way forward through the noise. Yes, as Naomi Klein has said, children should come before guns. But we live in a time when children and civilians around the world are held hostage to guns, armies and to war-mongering politicians and presidents.

It’s a terrible time, as Tom Paine would have said, and there is no clear light at the end of the tunnel.

2023 is doppelgänger time, to borrow from the title of Naomi Klein’s new book about herself and her double, which is subtitled “A Trip into the Mirror World.” Today, nearly everything and everyone has a twin and an opposing self. Nothing is clearer now in terms of right and wrong than it was when Klein wrote her first book, No Logo (1999). Yes, genocide is wrong and racism is wrong, but how to avoid the bombs and the blood?

What’s an American leftist to do or say, except “peace now,” “no more war” and “no warmongering.” The case for pacifism has never been greater. In fact, I became a pacifist in 1995 when I was in Hanoi and realized that in the contemporary world, no one wins a war. Perhaps no one ever did. Yes, I was happy that US troops had withdrawn from Vietnam and that the US was no longer bombing Southeast Asia. In Hanoi, it also seemed to me that no side in that war had “won.” There were no clear winners. We were all losers.

Today, Arabs and Jews, Israelis and Palestinians are both losers and so are the Russians and Ukrainians. Humanity is losing. On the way home yesterday from SFO, a Lyft driver from Afghanistan said he thought that the world was headed for Armageddon. I said that it looked that way to me. The driver added that he was sad not to be able to live in his own country and to be with his family. He was happy to be alive, but unhappy to be in the US.

During the war in Kabul, he had worked with the US as a translator; the Taliban put a price on his head. Like so many others the world over, he had become an unwilling refugee and an exile. Face it, there is no clear solution to global conflicts today and no clear way to avoid the suffering of refugees and exiles. At least not now, though I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying to find one. Lives are at stake and we’re in limbo.

In Algeria in 1970, the Yippies, the Weathermen and the Panthers, Cleaver and Leary, aimed to create something that would reconcile Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims and Christians, Blacks and whites. We were idealists and we were over our heads. Is it possible that we are over our heads now no matter what part of the globe we inhabit? Go ahead and point a finger and demonize. Make yourself feel good. And while you’re at it, point a finger at your doppelgänger.

Jonah Raskin is the author of Beat Blues, San Francisco, 1955.