We live in horrible online public spaces – even as our private lives may contain in equal and respectful parts the beauty, sadness, love and fear, natural and appropriate to the curiosity that is this planetary existence of ours.
So whilst I’m having a wonderful time at home with family and friends, with good food and drink, with affection and humanity and everything that relates to being a good human, every time I sign on to my Twitter and Facebook accounts, speckling (inevitably it would seem) the thoughtful and even inspiring in a way that reminds one all too soon of a flock of malevolent birds – or maybe even a Petri dish of bacterial growth – I see the awful things that are happening out there, and – then – wonder, at a loss for better or more useful words, simply “Bloody bloody hell!”.
Meanwhile, Israel proceeds to bomb Gaza furiously, and Hamas proceeds to fire rockets just as hatefully … and I read reports of Israeli snipers repeating the terror of the Balkans in the 1990s … and children die and women bleed and men are corralled in that part of humanity that only deserves partial dismay when their deaths are duly reported because, as men, they are (perhaps) somehow more to blame for this tragedy (even as they are entirely innocent too – even those who belong to duly constituted armies) … and so we realise to what extent our natural shorthand in the face of complex situations has disintegrated into a moral idiocy of revolting proportions: an idiocy which assigns no virtue to any position held by anyone still able to effect anything, never mind those of us who look on from afar.
Yes. We move very quickly from cautiously prejudging the world around us – in order to be able to understand it better and in time – to forming layers of prejudice around those other occasional, and ultimately immensely damaging, prejudgements which emerge from a dark and painfully reactive emotion. Like cancerous oysters surrounded by and embedded in a blandly clever rhetoric, we erect upon foundations of cack-handed and half-baked thinking entire strategies of self-justification – a self-justification which allows us to acquire any number of permanent badges of courage, and continue to wear them whatever the implications or circumstances.
Prejudging the world is a necessary summary of what happens around us. We do it all the time. We look at a person’s face and then draw conclusions and, if the conclusions are fortunate, we continue the conversation, adapt our initial impression and come to a fairer, more accurate, understanding of what we are engaging with.
But in extreme conditions – conditions such as the Balkans, now Gaza, a fairly unreported Syria, a confusingly reported Ukraine, a whole host of depressing moments and conflicts – there is no time to do anything more than rapidly, and often cruelly, form a prejudice out of a prejudgement. That person’s face is behind a rifle crosshair; that uniform signals “enemy”; and so the dynamics of civil conflict kick in like the destruction of a RORO vessel: the seeping of water into one side of a craft suddenly becomes a gush of slippery liquid knocking sideways and upside down all opportunity for stability – or, even, in the case of all-out war, all embarrassed chance of a gingerly outstretched seeking of dialogue.
Without dialogue, we are not human. This is why our political class now is inhumane. The most it ever achieves these days is a pasty-faced process of heavily circumscribed “listening”: no obligation to take any notice; no requirement to register the results publicly; no inclination to do more than spin the opinions of the many into the poverty of thought of the very powerful few. But true dialogue, a true exchange of positions, a true equality of hierarchy, a peer-to-peer set of relationships if you like … of this we have none; of this no government – nor, indeed, authority of any note – cares to believe in and sustain.
And now I read in the Guardian that (the bold is mine):
Antisemitic hate crime rose by more than a third in the first six months of the year and spiked to a five-year high in July, figures show.
The Community Security Trust, which records attacks on the Jewish community in the UK, found there had been a 36% rise in antisemitic incidents, including violent crime and vandalism, to 304 between January and June. This was followed by 130 incidents in July alone, which coincided with the Israeli military offensive in Gaza.
The story goes on to describe the fear the community, also innocent, is experiencing as the ghosts of European anti-Semitism begin to rise from the graves of the millions who died at its hands. Florid language, yes … OK. Maybe it is. But the situation is both fearful and ever-present. For anti-Semitism is an oyster of permanence, buried but not crushed, hidden but not bowed.
As I said in my previous post:
But if I were the [Israelis], and prone to giving unbidden advice (I don’t generally, so forgive me this one time), long-term I’d fear far more a resurgence of European anti-Semitism than a cack-handed post-war anti-solution of a relationship with the Palestinians.
And if you think this is beyond all bounds of realistic possibility, just contemplate the following scenario: an underground of neo-Nazis, for decades unable to convince a wider population that its prejudices relating to the Jews in Europe were anything but prejudices, suddenly, and in a highly social-networked way, grabs hold of a complex and miserably visceral situation which most Europeans can only protest about. Imagine what could be done with such an emotionally explosive situation – a situation which lends itself so easily to the prejudgement I was talking about above.
(A gentle by-the-by on the way too, if you will: compare and contrast, if you do remember anything, what happened in the Balkans – much closer to our European homes. Compare the urgency with which people took to the streets to defend and protect the innocent. Compare what was done to Sarajevo’s plural community. Compare how level killing-fields were not to be permitted. Compare how everything was kept isolated for so very long, whilst Europe failed to decide how to deal – once more – with a home-made genocide; a genocide on its doorstep.)
I used to argue the following: “It doesn’t matter where the opinion comes from – judge instead the intrinsic value of the words in question.” I’m not so sanguine now. Words have a history; phrases form out of the prejudgements in question; and prejudice comes from borrowed points of view, often violently bolted together. We cannot isolate from the mouths of those who speak, or the fingers of those who write or type, the words that issue forth.
Words can be bullets – fired by snipers of clever and accurate intent – just as easily as any piece of deadly lead.
And whilst the Israelis are committing serious offences against humanity, there is a trail of complicity and criminality on many sides which makes the acts of war being carried out in the world today little more or less than a cultural DNA we all share.
The damaged genes we all carry – and sometimes exhibit in our families and personal environments, as well as on world stages – have also made the body politic and social what it is in these terrible moments.
So as we try to unravel where it went wrong, the only easy prejudgement that doesn’t fall into the prejudice we should always try and resist is to say the innocent bear no single nationality at all – as do neither the culpable.
For what I fear most, of course, is if this democratically-elected Israeli government – in the confusion of easy latterday socially-networked prejudice – succeeded in convincing a significant number of Europeans that an excuse to “hate the Israelis” (the codification process going on would be clear, I think) was actually a reason.
The pain, for me, with Spanish Jewish blood in my family, would be overwhelming. That a determined 21st century government, through its actions one unhappy summer (whether imposed from without or initiated forcefully from within), managed to unravel everything good Europeans – both Jewish and otherwise – had worked for decades to remove from our sociopolitical and cultural agendas … and what’s more, this government was Israeli … and what’s more, its direct supporter was US … well, the irony with respect to those who truly saved the 20th century from oppressive European dictatorship would never be stronger.
I no longer know what to think.
And even so, this doesn’t stop me from thinking. As yet, does it you?