Hazem Saghieh

When one is struck by an unexpected calamity of a magnitude beyond his imagination, his first reaction is to curse everything around him. The world appears to be an unsafe place, humans become dangerous beings, ideas seem to be mere lies, and reason is rendered surplus to requirements.
He has neither the cognitive nor emotional toolkit needed to equip him to understand this development or live with it. Under these circumstances, we see him surrender to an apocalyptic consciousness brimming with beginnings and endings: X has ended, Y has collapsed, Z has been exposed, and we are either at the dawn of a new era that gives rise to an unprecedented reality we had never thought of, or this is the end for us and the universe as a whole.
The war on Gaza pushed us, in the face of its gravity and scale, to reach these kinds of apocalyptic conclusions. The Israelis and many Jews felt the same way after the ‘Al-Aqsa Flood’ operation that the Palestinians and many Arabs and Muslims felt after Israel’s retaliation: Morality has become a thing of the past, as have values and laws, and a world that completely breaks with that which we had known is emerging, either heralding a great victory or foreboding an apocalyptic end. In the Arab world, astonishment came from many places; who could have anticipated this degree of Western bias in favor of Israel, that the killing of children and destruction of hospitals would proceed as it has and continues to, or that the world would seem so weak and powerless in the face of the atrocities Israel has been committing?
However, experience also teaches us that developments only become unexpected for reasons that can be accounted for, including our inability to expect. Often, this failure is understandable, excusable, and human.
If I may refer to my personal experience, the 1979 protests in Iran, which culminated in a mass revolution that overthrew the Shah and left Khomeini firmly situated on his throne, were similar. At the time, I was among those who had been taken aback by this “unexpected” event, which unfolded after several developments in the region that were seen as major setbacks. Thus, I became one of the activists announcing beginnings and ends: The West with its liberalism, Marxism, conservatism, and nationalism had fallen, as had the state that came to us from the West, alongside the notion of law and ‘Eurocentric’ knowledge systems… In contrast, our particularity, which “Western” books and theories do not help us understand, exploded. This particularity lies within our deep Islamic self, which was unleashed by the Iranian revolution. When the country came to be governed by clerics in accordance with the ‘Velayat-e Faqih’ doctrine, we rebuffed assessments of this development that applied Western political standards, and when young men following the ‘Imam’s line’ took over the American embassy in Tehran and held its staff hostage, we saw it a total rupture with the concept of diplomacy as it had been conceived by the West…
Our reactions to what we consider miracles and supernatural feats are similar, regardless of whether we believe those paranormal developments are beneficial and promising or harmful and deadly.
Today, amid the criminal war on Gaza, our sentiments, which are as valid visceral responses to a particular fleeting moment, are morphing into a school of thought, or rather non-thought, overflowing with declarations of beginnings and ends. Everything in history collapses, all civilization, all culture, all law… Born in the wake of this collapse is the principle of a sacred war of annihilation, though this principle is not a recent discovery but a feature of humanity since our inception as a species. We are now discovering that everything we had learned in schools or through experience has made us more ignorant rather than educating us, and that they deceived us more than it enlightened us.
However, the suffering in Gaza and the savagery it is being subjected to should not push us to take the track of renouncing reason, knowledge, and the universality of our humanity. Religious and civilizational wars are not virtuous, and they certainly do not empower the weak of the world. In turn, Osama bin Laden is not a hero whose enlightened intentions we had failed to understand, nor is Abu Ubaidah the man to lay our path toward the future. Moreover, the actions of the oppressed are not always absolutely justifiable; they can make mistakes and they can turn into oppressors, and the actions of most national movements attest to this. Violence may be acceptable when we are left with no other choice, but it is not acceptable as a cure, even if the late Frantz Fanon claimed it was. As for colonialism, it is an ugly and criminal occupation, but it is also a number of achievements and gains without which civilization would not be civilization. Similarly, the ‘white man’ is a racist myth like that of the ‘non-white man’. If Western countries’ blind favoritism of Israel is morally bad and puts their democracy at risk, these countries nevertheless continue to set the global standard for democracy and the rule of law. Regarding the conflict with Israel – and this may be difficult to say while the wound remains fresh – this perpetual tragedy will not be resolved without a just peace settlement. If it does not emerge tomorrow, then it will the day after, unless we prefer to see the region totally annihilated. Israel will not be able to “get rid” of the Palestinians and deny their right to an independent state, and the Palestinians will not be able to “get rid” of Israel and wipe it out as a state and society.
In the end, we must always see with two eyes and allow our discourse to encompass two potentially contradictory narratives and potentialities. Indeed, nothing emerges in a void, and nothing ends in the sense of being annihilated. As for the era of paranormal events that defy reason, leaving it paralyzed and leaving us reconsidering everything we had known and learned, humanity has been defying it for generations, starting with the pre-Socratic Greeks.
1 + 1 = 2, and this is true yesterday, today, and tomorrow, whether we are victorious or defeated, overwhelmed by our horror or in control of our minds and sentiments. And we would be better off in control…