Gaza success proves Israel is strong, not right
Unfortunately Levinas never succeeded in applying his own philosophy of an ethical relationship with "the other" with regard to the Israel-Palestina conflict. He continued to consider a Palstinian as an enemy, not as the other for whom he's responsible. If Levinas would have been able to apply his philosophy properly, then he could have written this article.
There are two quotes which are especially important in this respect, one about language and one about looking in the mirror that the other shows me:
In Levinas's philosophy language plays an important role. I cannot understand the other, who is totally different from me. I cannot enter into his mind, I can only hear my own thoughts, I am restricted to my own consciousness, I don't have access to the consciousness of the other person (like in the film Being John Malcovich). But there's a very useful tool to make it possible to be in touch with the other: language. I cannot be him/her, he/she cannot become me. But we can build a bridge between us so we can meet each other halfway on the bridge. The bridge is built with bricks called "language". The language of violence is not suitable to build bridges, it will only destroy existing bridges. That's why Grossman says: "We have to speak with the Palestinians, we have to speak with Hamas."
"And because we have spoken to the Palestinians for so long in that language (the language of violence), and that language alone, we have forgotten that there are other languages for speaking to human beings, even to enemies, even bitter foes like Hamas - languages that are as much our mother tongue as the language of planes and tanks.
We must speak to the Palestinians: That is the most important conclusion from the most recent round of bloodshed. We must speak also to those who do not recognize our right to exist here. Instead of ignoring Hamas at this time, we would do better to take advantage of the new reality that has been created by beginning a dialogue with them immediately, one that would allow us to reach an accord with the whole of the Palestinian people."
About the mirror:
I cannot look at myself directly. I can not look at myself from a distance, because I am myself, I cannot take a distance from myself. I can only see myself in a mirror. It's the other person who holds the mirror. In what I am doing to the other I can see who I am myself. The Palestinians are holding a mirror to the Israelians:
David Grossman says:
"We must speak, because what has happened in the Gaza Strip over the last few weeks sets up a mirror in which we in Israel see the reflection of our own face - a face that, if we were looking in from the outside or saw it on another people - would leave us aghast. We would see that our victory is not a genuine victory, and that the war in Gaza has not healed the spot that so badly needs a cure, but only further exposed the tragic and never-ending mistakes we have made in navigating our way."
When the guns become completely silent, and the full scope of the killing and destruction becomes known, to the point where even the most self-righteous and sophisticated of the Israeli psyche's defense mechanisms are overcome, perhaps then some kind of lesson will imprint itself on our brain. Perhaps then we will finally understand how deeply and fundamentally wrong our actions in this region have been from time immemorial - how misguided, unethical, unwise and above all, responsible, time after time, for fanning the flames that consume us. Obviously, the Palestinians cannot be let off the hook for their crimes and mistakes. That would be tantamount to belittling and condescending to them, as if they were not mature adults with minds of their own, responsible for their own decisions and failures. The inhabitants of the Gaza Strip may have been "strangulated" in many ways by Israel, but even they have other options for protesting and drawing attention to their misery than the launching of thousands of rockets against innocent citizens in Israel. We must not forget that. We cannot pardon the Palestinians or treat them forgivingly, as if it were obvious that whenever they feel put upon, violence will always be their sole response, the one they embrace almost automatically. Yet even when the Palestinians act with indiscriminate violence, when they use suicide bombings and Qassam rocket fire, Israel is stronger than them, and it can have a tremendous impact on the level of violence in the conflict as a whole - and hence on calming it down and even bringing it to an end. The current confrontation has not shown that anyone in the Israeli leadership really grasps the critical significance of this aspect of the conflict in any fully conscious or responsible way. One day, after all, we will seek to heal the wounds we inflict today. How will that day ever come if we do not understand that our military might cannot be the primary instrument for carving out a path for ourselves in this region? How will that day ever come if we fail to comprehend just how graveness is the responsibility that lies on our shoulders by dint of our complex and fateful relations, both past and future, with the Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Galilee?
We must speak to the Palestinians: That is the most important conclusion from the most recent round of bloodshed. We must speak also to those who do not recognize our right to exist here. Instead of ignoring Hamas at this time, we would do better to take advantage of the new reality that has been created by beginning a dialogue with them immediately, one that would allow us to reach an accord with the whole of the Palestinian people.
In the night, without a fight
Charles de Gaulle in Diofior
Lie down in the light
If we try to skip the "pre" part and we limit ourselves to the "judice", the judgement afterwards, then I think that the most important criteria for judgement is actual behaviour.
It's possible I like or dislike a culture or religion in general. But the only thing that matters is actual behaviour from people.
So to come back to the prejudice that the Senegalese only want money or marriage from white people (Toubabs). Whether this prejudice is true or not with regard to a specific person I meet, I can see this from his behaviour. People to whom this prejudice applies, usually start asking me stuff immediately. "Hey Toubab, buy me a drink, give me this, give me that." They treat me like an object then, like a walking wallet. People who are not like that can be recognized because their first action is to give, to invite me to come and drink tea with them, to share their food with me. Good behaviour is a sign that a person has a good heart.
Labels like a name, a religion, a culture, a background, they don't say much about a person.
The problem with prejudices
I never managed to explain on Orkut to those people why it's a problem to discriminate and to be prejudiced, why generalizations are problematic. I just experienced yesterday in Senegal, in my village Diofior, how much negative prejudices are making intercultural contact complicated.
I think the word racism should not be used too soon. Most people are no racists, they mean it well, they just have some negative associations / experiences and they project that onto people they don't know yet.
I don't think I will be able to explain it today either, but at least I will describe what has happened to me, both in the Nethelands and in Senegal.
First I will give an example that I posted on Orkut, to explain the problem of prejudices:
A group has got certain general characteristics. People from a certain country have got a certain culture. The majority of people in that group have certain characteristics in common.
Dutch people are usually direct, straight, open, not very polite. They don't show much respect for elderly people, they treat them as if they have the same age. If you meet 10 Dutch people then probably 9 are like this.
So when I say that I am Dutch you automatically think that I will not treat elderly people with much respect. Because the chance is big it I will be like this. But in fact I might be that other person, the 1 out of 10 who does show respect.
Each time I treat elderly people with a lot of respect. But people who don't know me think negative about me because I am Dutch. It's based on prejudice. They already rejected me before they found out who I really am.
We know all about statistics, we know the general characteristics of a culture, but we should always have an open mind towards the person in front of us. Don't be prejudiced, don't judge too quickly before you got to know somebody.
Prejudices in Holland
My boyfriend is a Muslim from an Arabic country. Now, how do people react when I tell about him?
- “Oh, so your boyfriend is a terrorist.”
- “How can you be with somebody like that, if you have to be with a foreigner, why not with somebody from Sweden or Belgium.”
- “So he went to a training camp to become a terrorist.” (that was meant as a joke)
- “How can you have a relation with him, now you will have submit to your husband, to obey him, to be humble. You have to wear a veil.”
- “You have to make good appointments about how you will raise the children together, otherwise he will be much too strict with your children. I know what these men are like.”
There are also some people who ask what he is like, what does he study, does he have a job, how nice is he, how handsome etc. That's what people usually ask when I say I have a new boyfriend (a Dutch one).
Another situation: I am reading “Moslim Unlimited” (see below) and one of my neighbours passes by. He looks at the book. He sees the word Muslim and his face looks very ugly now, as if he is going to vomit. He looks at me as if I am reading Mein Kampf and he calls me Miss Al Langen after that.
It hurts to be confronted with this all the time. These people, friends and family, have negative associations with the culture and religion of my boyfriend. They had negative experiences or they heard negative stories. The label “Muslim” only is enough to reject him. They don't know anything about him, they have never met him. And they don't know his culture and religion, they don't have any Muslim / Arabic friends. They only know what they see on television, what they read in newspapers.
Now what happens when I tell about my boyfriend to people in Senegal? People ask: “Is he a Muslim?” I say yes. Then they say: “That's very good.” Then they ask what he is like and how it's going with us, and if he will come to Senegal. I feel much more at ease here. The people I am talking to, they like me, they are my friends, so they assume I will have a nice boyfriend as well. For the rest they will judge him only after they have met him. And they consider Islam as a good religion. But they consider all religions as good. We all have the same God, they say.
Prejucides in Senegal
Prejudices don't exist in Holland only, of course. People in my village Diofior are black, and I am white, as you know. Negative images exist in Diofior about white people. Negative images exist as well about black people who are friends with white people.
Yesterday I had a small disagreement with a friend. I was very busy, we had a long meeting for the project to help disabled people. My friend called me many times. I said I don't have time now and put down the phone. He said I should not treat him like that. We had a long discussion after that. He said you are white, I am black, but we have the same God, we are equal. He said I am not after your money, money doesn't matter for me. He said I know you have a boyfriend, so we are like brother and sister, like friends, nothing else. I said that all of that is fine, no problem, I just don't want you to call me 20 times a day when I am busy. Another friend explained that it's a cultural difference. The boy spends his time with his friends and family all day long, they call each other all the time, they are together all the time. The Dutch culture is different. I work a lot. I don't see my friends and family much. The other boy explained that I didn't mean to be impolite to my friend, he said that I would say the same even to my father and my mother. He understood it very well, even though he is not from my culture.
The reason that my friend was talking about money, about being black and white, and about being married, is because of prejudices. People in Diofior say to him: why are you friends with a white woman? Do you want her money or do you want to marry her? When I tell him that he should not call me that often, he thinks that I think that he is after my money or that I think that he wants to marry me. Because that's what's usually the case with black and white people and that's what the people around him are saying. It's very bad that these prejudices are so common. It makes our friendship more difficult. My friend understands now and we forgave each other.
We are just two humans, we are equal. Our different skin colour doesn't matter. We can have misunderstandings sometimes because of cultural differences, but we will solve that together. We don't want to be bothered by prejudices.
Muslim Unlimited was developed by Esma Choho, journalist and author. MU is a method consisting of reading and doing Five Actions: Focus, Allah, Reality, Self-Care, Giving. Esma developed MU for everyone who wants unlimited peace, strength and freedom. MU helps you to help yourself. With each dream or pain you may have. It works. We (those who do MU) know that from experience. The entire method is described in the book Muslim Unlimited – Life and Survival in the Wild West by Esma Choho (soon available in English).
MU is not related to any political or religious movement, organisation, country or institution. The ONLY goal of MU is to develop peace, strength and freedom and share it with others.