Saturday, July 23, 2011

A matter of life and death

It has been a beautiful summer's night. The front was busy with people enjoying simple pleasures and with others working flat out to earn their livings. Yet there has been a cloud of death shrouding today. The horror of events in Norway show that fascism, in whatever manifestation it takes, is still with us, infecting diseased minds. A singer died too, a talent lost, destroyed by the insanity of a celebrity lifestyle offered to the wealthy, often mistaken for hedonism. In the real life outside the bubble, the pain of the parents must be incomprehensible. And how many other talented and delightful people died of their addiction in the gutter, unheralded and unmourned? How many migrants suffocated or drowned in the desperate search for a better life? How many have the Syrian police incarcerated and tortured today? Death is all around us.

So let's celebrate life. That is all around us too. It is in the solidarity being offered the people of Norway, a deeply moral emotional spasm. It is in the support for the oppressed in some, if not all the parts of the world that we would like to see it.

Here in Greece, the nation is breathing a nervous, unconfident sigh of relief after a deal had been reached on its debt, recognising the problem as pan-European and not the result of the sins of the improvident.  I would have been tempted by scepticism if it had not been for this deeply sane post by Aristos Doxiadis. At its heart is a recognition of the primacy and value of the practice of politics:
“Aha”, I hear the other side saying, “but these are extraordinary times, that call for extraordinary leadership. By that standard, they have done a miserable job.”  Well, it depends how much faith one has in benevolent dictators: is the power to commit great resources without negotiations a good thing? How confident can we be that a grand strategic plan decided in early 2010 would have worked well? For every proposal that was mooted, there were counter-arguments of substance, not just of process. Take for example, the idea of a big Marshall plan for Greece: what kind of governance would ensure that the funds would be well used to support sustainable growth, rather than being squandered to rent-seekers? Ditto for a massive recapitalization of all European banks – how would the terms of that distribute costs fairly and ensure competent management from then on (not, presumably by getting corrupt or clueless civil servants to be CEOs).

Further, extraordinary leadership is compatible with democracy only if the majority of the people are affected by extraordinary circumstances; and will therefore consent to extraordinary solutions. This is not the case in the Eurozone. 
Indeed. And if there are failures, then, as he puts it, in a functioning polity "there can always be a new round". Here he resists the siren song of demagogy in favour of the political process, something that seems to be forgotten in the USA. The EU have recognised the need to rescue the insolvent, unlike in America where a profoundly unserious opposition seems to be on the point of propelling the solvent into default. And for what? The very limited liberalism and dark skin of its properly elected president?

Europe has resisted such lunacy and embraced politics, however uncertain its achievements, just as today we mourn the slaughtered victims of anti-politics.

And this raises the problem of our political language, the way we discuss life and death issues, many far more serious than the Eurozone. Take the Middle East for example.  Here is the most marvellous expression of optimism by Gershon Baskin in the Jerusalem Post.
So one thing that gives me hope is the deep belief that this conflict is resolvable; every single issue, to the minutest detail, has solutions based on research, dialogue, precedents and “home-grown” Israeli-Palestinian ingenuity.

What is lacking, and is absolutely essential, is any semblance of trust.

Israelis and Palestinians have definitely earned their mutual distrust.

The most crucial aspects of each of the five Israeli-Palestinian agreements have been breached systemically by both sides. There is no clear “good guy” and “bad guy” when it comes to implementation of signed agreements. And no artificial “confidence- building measures” can replace such earned lack of trust.
Once again, the conclusions of the optimist can only be an expression of a faith in life.
I am not so naïve as to believe I have no mortal enemies, but I don’t allow myself to be constrained by fear, or allow fear to sour into blind hatred.

I believe in the power of people to be good. I believe in the power of compassion, which is much stronger than hatred. And I will always be true to myself and to the belief that making peace is first and foremost a decision – one that we have apparently yet to make.
After the experience of seething, deranged hatred in Norway, the glorification of murder, the pitiless slaughter of ordinary people, here we have again a celebration of life against death.

Yet what of international solidarity?  One thing that strikes me is how the left in the West has embraced the language of the far right in both Israel and Palestine. Both pro-Palestinians and defenders of Israel have seized on this lack of trust with rhetorical gusto. For one side the language is full of a far too ready eagerness, especially given the long history of anti-Semitism in Europe, to paint the Jew as the ultimate villain, complete with absurd analogies, conspiracy theory and the romanticisation of the Palestinian far right as a noble resistance. Sadly, Israel's defenders also use language dripping with negation, seeing Palestinians solely as the ultimate anti-Semites, unable to recognise the bitter experience of occupation, exile and dispossession, desperate to de-legitimise any protest, to deny that there is any partner for peace. Each take up the banner of irridentalist nationalism, which will only bring death in its wake, and feel most righteous in doing so.

But peace demands something else - a deal, politics, life. And the place to find it is in the left, the Palestinian and Israeli left. They are not that far apart, though they certainly have their disagreements.  They do not share these discourses, they abhor them.  Both are seeking the same thing, the building of the trust necessary to do a deal that will allow the national-self determination of both peoples. Yet our leftists seem ignorant of their efforts and scornful of the prospects, preferring the certainties of partisanship.

And to me, this is what being on the left is about. It is about a respect for life. This doesn't mean quiescence, nor the absence of struggle. What it does mean is clear sightedness, to recognise that the defence of people about to be slaughtered by a vile regime is not imperialism, to see that trying to accommodate murderous despots as an 'exit strategy' is an act of cowardice rather than of courage and, at the same time, to realise that the struggle to reach an agreement that transcends conflict is not necessarily a sell-out.

Intoxicatedby the beauty of the Greek star-lit night and by not a little of the cheap draught wine, it is easy to feel the privilege of life. Yet that is what an emancipatory politics is about, life over death. Even though we will all succumb one day, the time that we are granted should be a heaven on earth and not a living hell.


Levi9909 said...

Who are you counting as being on the Palestinian and Israeli left and what are their respective positions on a peace process?

I saw in your blurb that you are interested in anarchy. You have probably seen this but if you haven't you must:
Maybe you even knew the guy that made the documentary, Paul Avrich.

He died back in 2006.

The Plump said...

First, thanks for the reference to the film, which is simply magnificent. That was an hour well spent. I had not seen it before, nor heard of it. I didn't know Paul Avrich though I have read a lot of his stuff.

Where I would see the meeting point of the left is around several of the organisations forming the peace movement and with links to mainstream parties. The parameters are clear:

A two state settlement.
Boundaries to be based on the 1967 Green Line, with negotiated adjustments.
Mutual recognition of the right to self-determination with security guarantees as a first step in the demilitarisation of the conflict.
Jerusalem to be the capital of both states.
The right of return for Palestinian refugees to be established within the Palestinian state.
The human rights and democratic governance of both peoples to be central to any settlement.

This is achievable - but not wanted by irredentist nationalists who will do their best to sabotage it.

I would also welcome the collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian trade unions, joint cultural and educational projects, solidarity struggles etc. This is a precursor to the long term peaceful development of both peoples leading to who knows what. Two peoples without a state? Well, "you have to be idealistic or you might as well take a gun and blow your brains out".

Thanks again for the film - I will repost it shortly. I am still bowled over by it.

Levi9909 said...

Glad you liked the film. You were so enthusiastic I watched it again myself last night. I'd forgotten about the yiddish songs and films in it.

re Palestinian and Israeli left, do you mean the left of mainstream groups like fateh and labour (whatever the latter are called now) or are there specific named groups with specific programmes?

The Plump said...

Obviously, the mainstream parties are the ones that will have to do the deal. But I also follow a couple of other groups One Voice ( and the Israel/Palestine Centre for Research and Information (, there are more I am sure.

Incidentally, my interest arose as a result of the experiences of my Uncle in the British Army in Palestine who used to tell lots of stories (he was in the King David Hotel when it was blown up) and so I used it as a basis for an undergraduate dissertation. Then I had the opportunity after university to teach on the West Bank as a volunteer tutor in English. I met a lot of people, some of them were pretty troubling, but I came back without illusions but with hope. I wrote a post on it a few years ago:

Levi9909 said...

Thanks for that. I have real doubts about One Voice. I think the tendency to view Israel and the Palestinians as equals, the insistence (of they are still insisting on it) on the retention by Israel of the "settlement blocks", the support from the king of Jordan, and maybe a few other things that I have forgotten because I haven't noticed OV for a while, suggest a maintaining of the status quo by other means.

Anyway, I look forward to you posting on the Free Voice of Labor.

Komik Videolar said...

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