Having a Symmetrical Narrative on Palestine

Only Jews can push back at Netanyahu's fascist government and wean society away from such hardened positions. Just like only Muslims can push back at Islamists and isolate them.

Having a Symmetrical Narrative on Palestine

The interview of Palestinian ambassador Husam Zomlot with Piers Morgan highlighted asymmetry in how mainstream media handles Israeli and Palestinian narratives. David Hearst, the editor at Middle East Eye dissects this asymmetry by focusing on the trope “Israel has the right to defend itself”. 

However, there is also a strong push against this asymmetry of narrative as exemplified by the Bassam Youssef interview and the videos by Novara Media that challenge mainstream media. 

Individuals like Sangita Myska at LBC,  Shreya Dhoundial at Mirror Now, and Marc Lamont Hill at Al Jazeera have also pushed back at Israeli officials. In a similar vein, Ashok Kumar Pandey pushed back at Hindutvist fascism, explaining that RSS support for Israel is based on hatred for Muslims. 

These are strong analyses that provide a counter narrative to the mainstream western position that appears unabashedly partisan. The following adds to these analyses. 

The Economics of Terrorism

Based on the work of Phil Gurski, a former Canadian Intelligence analyst, the structural issue is not of poverty or lack of education but of perceived grievances. Many terrorists are educated in STEM subjects, as intelligent individuals are required to not bungle their missions. 

Putting this in the context of demand and supply analysis, supply side policies of addressing terrorism do not work. Kill one terrorist, ten more will take his place. The war on drugs makes it clear that using brute force does not destroy the drug market. It makes it more lucrative. Thus, demand side policies are needed. This means addressing the structural issues including perceived grievances.

Overall, as we condemn the actions of actors, systems analysis should allow us to address the conditions that instigate actors to behave a certain way. This means going beyond condemning the actions of Hamas and addressing Israeli apartheid policies that instigate humiliation, despair, and grievances. 

However, the current focus remains on supply side policies of indiscriminately bombing Gaza year after year. This approach leads to genocide and the approach of the god of the Old Testament who commanded the liquidation of the Canaanites. The Biblical narrative dehumanizes them as “idol worshippers”, just as Palestinians are called “human animals” ala Yoav Gallant and their children “little snakes” ala Ayelet Shaked.

Demand side policies entail that the international community show urgency to resolve the festering issue of the Bantustans of the West Bank and the open-air prison of Gaza. The responsibility falls on them for abetting hopelessness, despair, humiliation, and grievances by paying lip service to an increasingly unviable two-state solution. Having an ethno-supremacist state (like an Hindutvist or Islamist state) precludes a one-state solution. Thus, the international community needs to stop the charade of “human rights” that are asymmetrically applied and instead help create a level playing field on Palestine. 

The limits of the Noble Savage Politics

Hamas is an Islamist group, not an Islamic group. It was financially supported by Israeli state actors to weaken the PLO. The analogy here would be the Indian National Congress seeking to weaken the Muslim League by supporting the Mullah class with groups like Jamiat Ulema Hind and the Majlis Ahrar. 

Islamist groups don't really care about human rights violations or follow the stringent rules of jihad.

Pakistani Islamic scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi argues that we project certain groups as heroes when they are responsible for precipitating the destruction of their nations. He is correct in his analysis that people struggling for their rights need to stand behind a unified leadership and maintain peace. 

Islamic ethics are clear that jihad is a recourse of last action and based on some level of parity, to avoid the fall out of unintended consequences. The prohibition of targeting women, children, the elderly, and even the environment is absolute. 

To stress this point on a popular level, there is a clip from the movie Omar Mukhtar – Lion of the Desert, where the resistance fighter (played by Anthony Quinn) stops his men from shooting an unarmed Italian occupying soldier. His men tell him that the Italian occupiers kill them. Omar replies "they are not our teachers"

However, in contemporary times, this narrative would be perceived as the politics based on the noble savage or the Uncle Tom trope. Youth push back that the onus should not be on the oppressed but the oppressor. 

Additionally, such politics would work against the colonial British Empire with some semblance of order, in places with democratic rights to resistance, or when the international community stands by the oppressed as in South Africa. Such an approach does not work against tyrants like Hitler, who kill with the approval of their own conscience. 

Finally, when Piers Morgan asks where is the Nelson Mandela of Palestine, it must be recognized that we have a very sanitized image of the man. The ANC is noted for the violence it wreaked in the past including high profile bombings that killed civilians through the 1980s. Mandela was on the U.S. terror watch list till 2008. 

Why Don’t Muslims Condemn Hamas?

Hamas was created as a Frankenstein monster. Such monsters bite back. Just like the Tehrike Taliban Pakistan (TTP) targets the Pakistani army that created them in the first place. 

There are universal fatwas against ISIS and Al Qaeda. There is the UAE sponsored fatwa against the Muslim Brotherhood. However, there do not seem to be high profile fatwas against Hamas. Their violence seems to be overshadowed by their provision of public services and the egregious violence inflicted by Israel. 

Regardless, there is no universal position of Muslims on this issue. Many Muslims support Palestine. However, the Gulf Arabs want to normalize relations with Israel for defense and technology against Iran. 

They can easily sideline human rights violations as they have done in the case of Yemen, the Uyghurs, and Kashmiri Muslims. They retain strong ties with China and have awarded PM Modi with their highest civilian awards. In other words, economics trumps human rights. 

There is also Gulf Arab contempt for Palestinians, Egyptians, or other Muslims. There is no such entity as the exaggerated “ummah” (community). Thus, there is no universal Muslim position on the issue. 

Finally, the US and the UK lost any morality when they invaded Iraq on trumped up charges. There were no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). It was a corporate ploy to enrich companies. 

As such, why should the framing of the conflict be dictated by the question “will you condemn this?” Such a question has an equal answer "will you condemn that?" There is no morality here. One fascist group (Bibi government) simply attacks another fascist group (Hamas). 

The River to the Sea Slogan

There is the issue of the “river to the sea” slogan, which does not seem to provide much support to the two-state solution irrespective of the fact that the Bantustans of the West Bank and the open air prison of Gaza do not lend much hope for a two-state solution. 

The slogan means different things to different people. Regardless, this slogan has indeed been used to assert Palestinian rights over the entire land just as hardened Israelis claim the whole Judea and Samaria as their own. 

The issue is of competing narratives, and one which may not go away. However, a non-binary approach would allow for peaceful co-existence whilst maintaining differing narratives. For instance, Canadian land is attributed to the Treaty People even though political power lies with white settlers. Thus, some creative variant like “we acknowledge the claims of both people” could perhaps do the trick. 

Regardless, the meaning of slogans, cultural attitudes and norms often shift with social, economic, and political changes. 

Salman Rushdie and State Sponsored Violence 

Terrorism is often stoked by state sponsored violence. For instance, the draconian human rights violations of the Kashmiris, Sikhs, and Adivasis in India led to militant uprisings by Kashmiris, Sikhs, and Naxalites. On Kashmir, Salman Rushdie said:

"... but the Indian army has taken the decision ... to actually decide that everybody is a potential combatant ... And the level of brutality is quite spectacular. And, frankly, without that the jihadists would have had very little response from the Kashmiri people who were not really traditionally interested in radical Islam. ... The two horrible people there in the Kashmir story are the Indian army general and the Iron Mullah, who are really two opposite sides of the same coin."

The point is that to stem terrorism, the state needs to stop state sanctioned violence and stop causing perceived grievances. The onus lies on the state. Hardened strategies like dehumanizing others and bombing them into oblivion does not end the problem. A new generation simply carries on the struggle. 

The Parallels with Hindu Nationalism

Instead of condemning human rights violations, many Indians in social media are adopting hardened pro-Israel positions. In an interview, the hawkish General Bakshi states something to the effect “to hell with root causes”. 

This is based on anti-Muslim positions that have been stoked since 2014 under the Modi regime. However, this is also because Israel is incredibly important as a billion-dollar arms supplier to India. 

Again, economic considerations trump human rights violations. India didn't care much about Ukraine when it continued to buy gas and arms from Russia. 

Based on such economic and military interests, Hindutvists turn a blind eye to the contradiction that Israelis practice circumcision, eat kosher, and reject polytheism, all things for which they put down Indian Muslims. 

The far-right government in Israel shares much in common with the Hindutvist government in India. For instance, a right-wing fanatic assassinated both Rabin and Gandhi. Both far right Jewish and Hindutvist groups want an ethno-supremacist state (the analog of an Islamist state). 

In both cases, the narrative is about an existential threat to the majority from a minority - Israel or Hinduism is in danger. This is akin to the cry of Islamists that Islam is in danger. 

Finally, both taint legitimate opposition with charges of anti-Semitism and Hinduphobia. Based on Azad Essa’s book Hostile Homelands, in the U.S., the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) seems to take a leaf from the strategies of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). 

The Perils of Activism

That there is apartheid in Israel is confirmed by South African Leaders and United Church visitors even if we discount Muslim accounts. However, even someone like Archbishop Desmond Tutu was painted with charges of anti-Semitism.  

Recently, over 30 Harvard student groups signed a Palestine Solidarity letter. Later, some student groups pulled out. They said they hadn't read the letter. The letter went for a radical punch approach and could have used nuance. It focused on systems analysis and left out group actor responsibility. 

The issue was doxxing by a truck, powerful billionaire alumni withholding funding, rescinding job offers, and blacklisting of students from jobs. The fear of losing jobs trumped taking a principled stand. 

Taking a principled stand often means standing alone and at great cost. Understandably, not everyone is willing to pay that price. 

Jewish Voices for Peace

Fury is natural. When the TTP murdered 132 Pakistani school children, the people wanted to end the terrorists. But in doing so the Pakistani military wreaked havoc. Innocent people suffered as collateral damage. The TTP emerged again. 

Any army is composed of young people ready to follow orders and indiscriminately kill. The heat of war and toxic power brings out the worst. The Stanford Prison Experiment has taught us about how ordinary youth can inflict oppression.  

The Pakistani army committed atrocities in Bangladesh. They viewed the Bengalis with racist contempt. The Indian army committed unspeakable horrors in Kashmir. They dehumanize Muslims as impure and foreign to Indian soil.  

The “human animals” ala Yoav Gallant and “little snakes” ala Ayelet Shaked is more of the same dehumanization with ensuing collective punishment and genocide. 

Amidst this dehumanization, there are those who push back. Recently, five hundred people, including two dozen Rabbis, were arrested in Washington, DC. Jewish activists demanded a ceasefire in Gaza and displayed the message “Not in our name”. 

Only Jews can push back at Netanyahu's fascist government and wean society away from such hardened positions. Just like only Muslims can push back at Islamists and isolate them. And only Hindus can push back at Hindutva that festers genocidal hatred against Indian Muslims. 

Each one of us has work to do.