We see the limits of decoloniality in some progressive Americans’ positive reaction to the recent attack on Israel. This despite the kidnappings and killings of Israeli (and American and other) civilians. The decolonial party line is that the United States, via Israel, is oppressing Palestinians. I happen to agree with that assessment, up to a point. In the United States we see ourselves as the center of the world, so everything is either thanks to us or our fault. This is unhealthy. Plus, this is less and less often the case since Trump’s presidency. It is not our fault that Israel is suffering, and it is not exclusively our fault that Israel is harming Palestinian lives on a daily basis.
Bear with me, and be glad I’m being honest and remorseful about what follows. Suffice to say, and I repent, my first thought when I heard about Hamas penetrating Israel was relief for the Palestinians. That they might finally be heard and respected. I was relieved that they would know that they weren’t forgetten. And happy that their cries for justice hadn’t fallen on deaf ears. I still yearn for Palestinain freedom. Don’t get me wrong, I have an MA in German and have studied the Holocaust and am not anti-Israel. It’s just I don’t want to support nationalism, be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist.
Let’s just say, however, that reading about the celebration of democratic socialists in New York at this Hamas assault gave me pause and made me horrified at my intial hard-heartedness. I was reminded of Solzhenitsyn.
Remembering Solzhenitsyn showed me how far I had fallen morally by adhering rigidly to decoloniality. Solzhenitsyn recounted once that Angela Davis, the decolonial Black socialist activist of several decades back, had expressed indifference to a gulag prisoner who had asked for her help when she toured the Soviet Union as a star. She had said his plight didn’t matter and told him she wouldn’t help him or publicize his political condition.
No ideology should empower us to feel indifference or mirth at the shedding of innocent blood or unjust imprisonment. But ideology does just that. To the purely decolonial, civillians killed by terrorists aren’t innocent when it happens in an imperial nation. To imperialist conservatives, citizens or immigrants aren’t innocent if they don’t play by arbitrary, often racist, rules. For instance, Black people commiting even the pettiest of crimes can be imprisoned and harshly fined. When whites do the same no one cares. We would take endless Ukrainians I’m sure. Not so for the political victims escaping unrest in Latin America.
Both decoloniality and imperialism kill. Justice-mindedness spares us from the extremes of each. Justice is contextual, and richer when informed by a flexible and rich spirituality that is devoid of nationlism. All spiritualities have this potential, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Sikh, Shinto. And all spiritualities can be used for ill.
Purity of Heart and Intention is at the Heart of All Faiths in their Truest Forms
I was in Japan most recently, studying Zen and Buddhism and Shinto, and was alarmed when I learned that these traditions had been harnessed in WWII for ill by the Japanese. So much for idealizing Eastern religions. They are just as helpful and harmful as all others. In the West we get a very tame version of Buddhism, mainly inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh. This is referred to as “engaged Buddhism” in ethics textbooks on Buddhist spirituality. It is a more recent development that grew out of Eastern and Western interactions. Engaged Buddhism is worthy of the praise we give it, but it is, again, less developed than Christian ethics as a discipline. Just because it exists, doesn’t mean that it is dominant. There are endless varieties of Buddhism, just as there are many types of all the other major religions.
Purity of heart and intention is universally necessary, regardless of faith tradition. Western Christianity still has a lot of self-interest feuled by capitalism, imperialism, and rugged individualism. Maybe we have inspired similar problems in lands we help, like Israel. Maybe this imperialist Christianity, influencing her Jewish foremother, has caused the oppression of Palestinians. This would make sense, just as European Christians, now Americans, harmed Native Americans and Spanish speakers in what is now the Western United States. European Americans were also experiencing religious oppression back in the day. Sad that the Native Americans continue to suffer mightily for our past suffering. This is what motivates my commitment to the innocent lives in Palestine. They are there, and I see them in my minds and stand in solidarity with them even as my heart grieves for Israel.
Responsibility and perfection in Israel and Palestine
Sure we all have complicity in the mess of society. We have individual and collective responsibility to act as moral agents towards, as what the some strains of Buddhism would call, the liberation of suffering beings.
Israeli response will likely be even more harmful than Hamas’s recent assualt in retaliation, just like the American response for September 11, 2001, which disturbed the Middle East with its “shock and awe” campaign for decades.
We should condemn the further loss of innocent lives, be they Israeli or Palestinian.
Protection is not an offensive. Nor is it punitive. If the US track record can be counted on, we will be fueling still more violence. We should instead use our power to stem the tide of violence and to call for maximum restraint on the part of Israel.
Instead, Biden has said Israel has the right to fully defend herself. One wonders where self-defense becomes an assault on innocent lives and just how forgiving the US will be of such indulgences at the cost of countless innocent lives in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. We can act now to promote the most peaceful outcome. America has a lot of influence. Let’s not fuel yet another war, and merely help Israel patch up her boundaries and recover the kidnapped.
I’ll be honest: I have thought a lot about Palestine in the recent years. In fact, preceding the attacks on Israel, I reached out to a Palestinian researcher to see if they could talk about mental health in their setting. That article may still come through, in which case I’ll publish it here, but just know that I had negotiated it in advance. The researcher might be in too much crisis to have the bandwidth to write at this moment, or it could be dangerous for other reasons that I don’t understand as an extremely ignorant American about Middle Eastern matters.
Here’s hoping that Israel swallows her losses and maybe, just maybe, see the Hamas fighters as evil prophets–true prophets were non-violent as a rule–who still have a prophetic word to offer given Palestinian oppression and Israel’s–and the West’s– indifference to it.
A Prophetic Conclusion
It is ironic that Israel, which follows the Hebrew Tradition which includes the powerful words of what we as Christians call the “Old Testament” prophets, would have ignored and exacerbated the plight of Palestians. Under Trump, conservatives hardened their hearts to America’s oppressed and encouraged the oppression of others abroad. But previous presidents had been blinded by middle-America’s whiteness to see that they were suffering.
Palestinians are the victims of a modern apartheid. They deserve to be heard.
All religions and peoples are equal, and violence is not the answer. All religions, in their holiest and most unselfish forms, are socially engaged and teach nonviolence. I denounce that Israel has cut off power to Gaza and has stopped giving warning shots so that civilians would know to shelter. It is barbaric. Those poor people are trapped there, and have been for over a decade. Now they are in a death trap. It is a crime against humanity. Americans everywhere should be protesting just as we mourn the tragic suffering of Israel during this, their 9/11.