I’m finding it increasingly difficult to comment on a whole host of matters. Even where I do manage to type out eight hundred words of thoughts, half of what I write is so carefully pre-edited as to make me feel the only thing I’m learning to do of late is self-censor my output more ingeniously.
#DRIP was so very shocking as an abuse of everything the British body politic has meant for me, ever since I’ve been conscious of it, that I clearly couldn’t do anything but express my considerable disagreement. But other matters, many other matters, have me declining in some way or another to comment.
At the moment, I’m finding it particularly difficult to say anything cogent on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Even my choice of overarching terminology – to use the word “conflict” for example – is bathed in a lack of personal liberty: what I should say, what I can say, what might be held against me by people I value – on the one side and the other; both those who are in favour and those who are against.
To be honest, in a way I’ve been here before. When Iraq hit our screens (always our screens, always our disempowering predigesting mediated screens), I found myself – as now – in Spain. I saw the world stage from the Spanish majority view; from the British people taking astonishingly to the streets; from the peaceful people who saw only the interests of oil. At the time, many of us asked why this dictator and not a whole host of others. If invasion was needed to topple Saddam Hussein, why not the evil inheritors of barbaric colonial rule in other parts of the world too? Why not aim, at one fell swoop, to dedicate painful resources in order to make a coherent entirety of international relations once and for all? Where was the logic in prioritising Saddam over so many other genocidal maniacs?
We can ask the same questions now, of course – perhaps, ironically, in reverse. So many of us find ourselves knee-jerking our hatred for the actions of the Israelis in – again – this thing I gingerly call a “conflict”. And so many supporters of Israel remind us of the millions of affected in other tragic areas of “conflict” such as Syria, Ukraine – or the forty-two Commonwealth countries where it’s currently a crime simply to be gay. With all this horrible stuff going down in so many places, why do so many of us find it easy to concentrate on Israel?
Well. Of course, Europe has a history of anti-Semitism. It’s in our DNA. I have Jewish blood – yet my grandfather, who had more Jewish blood than I, expressed – on limited occasions – certain vigorously anti-Semitic sentiments in my youthful presence. He’d talk about bankers and capitalism from his point of view as a committed lifelong socialist, for example – in the same breath as worldwide conspiracy. Even at that age, I remember the incoherence and wondered why it was happening.
So those who support Israel do have history on their side, when they ask why Israel is dominating the news and not (for example) Syria. And this is where I come to the title and subject of my post. Comment is no longer free – for the following reasons:
- Modern history is too complex to be commented on properly – except by those who have lived it, or those who belong to communities whose elders have lived it.
- Modern history is too unhappy to be understood properly – except by those who stand aside and look on from afar, and find themselves de-legitimised precisely because of their distance.
- Modern technology makes it very easy to pass judgement – it becomes incredibly simple to be incredibly facile. I’m trying not to tonight in this post – and I know I’m going to fail.
- Modern technology lends itself to manipulation on all sides – I am sure I will say a lot less today about Israel, Palestine, Syria or Russia than I would like to, and exactly because I’m aware of forces beyond my ken which might decide to interfere with my voice. Yes. I’m a coward.
- That we believe comment is free, that everyone can pass judgement on almost anything, means that we join a myriad of causes – sometimes out of a common and understandable desire to prove to others what we would like to be interpreted as our shared integrity. In some cases, certainly in mine, we collect causes like badges – in the end, forgetting completely that a cause can only really be truly fought by those who find themselves at their absolute wits’ end: in desperate need of salvation, it is true – but a salvation which can only properly come through their own hands and tools.
For I remember Iraq – blogging furiously against its confusion. I remember more recently the #bedroomtax; the cruelty the British disabled were exposed to; the scapegoating of the poor for the grave errors of powerful elites. And from both these moments I remember the conclusion I had to come to: the solution is not for me to take on your cause but rather, far more fundamentally and humanely, and where not humanely at least cogently, to ensure that you have an even chance to fight your own battles where you must.
“Level killing-fields is that?” I hear you ask. “Maybe so,” I answer wearily. Maybe we’ve progressed no further than the Balkans. Maybe we are condemned to repeat ourselves.
But in the end, it is the act of tragic elites everywhere to believe we can intervene with a right and freedom to comment from on high.
Give people the tools to defend themselves – or take away the tools their opponents use to attack them. But stop, right now, using broken bits of babies to further your socially-networked causes, any of your causes – any bloody where in this repetitively nasty world.
Update to this post, 25/07/2014: I’ve just read this article from Open Democracy on the background to Israel’s point of view. It makes for interesting reading – where not contextualising reading. The crimes being committed are serious, of course – but there is always another position.
And history too.