Friday, November 10, 2006

Whither barbarism (A moderate view in Al-Quds al-Arabi)

David Grossman, the famous Israeli author who lost a son in the recent war with Lebanon, gave a speech at the Rabin memorial recently (November 5, full text here and some comments here). He said Israel and Zionism are in a crisis, deeper than any could have imagined in earlier times, and he called on the government to drop the posturing, negotiate with the Palestinians, and end the suffering of both sides. Many found it a very moving speech. Among them Subhi Hadidi, a Syrian writer, best known until recently as a critic of the authoritarian Syrian regime, and now a regular columnist for al-Quds al-Arabi. Hadidi's column today is called "Beit Hanoun in the New Middle East: the disclosure of contemporary barbarism."

The "new Middle East" is a reference to Condoleeza Rice and her famous statement just before the recent Lebanon destruction, to the effect that we will be seeing the birth-pangs of a new Middle East. Hadidi notes that from that day to this, Ms Rice has swallowed her tougue each time she might have been tempted to explain what the phrase means. Quite understandable, writes Hadidi. And quite understandable too the fact that she and her government have had nothing to say about the Beit Hanoun massacre. (By way of background: On the same page, Al-Quds writes in its main editorial that we shouldn't be surprised if Olmert ordered the massacre, because it wouldn't be out of character for someone who has made the racist politician Avigdor Lieberman the deputy prime minister in his government. On Lieberman in historical context, see this). In any event, Hadidi's particular point is that Ms Rice, not surprisingly, has done nothing to restrain the Israeli government as it descends into this type of action. Rather, he notes, the restraint, insofar as there is any, is in the common conscience and collective memory of the Israelis. He cites Jewish scripture. And he cites David Grossman, linked above. The tone is borderline prophetic: "They have forgotten the holocaust, except to mention it from time to time..."

While on a human level Hadidi and Grossman, and surely their readers too, can come to a meeting of the hearts and minds on the horror of this and the need to call a halt, his point is that the US government is working in the opposite direction. It supports the Israeli government in all that it does, even in this. Hadidi's concluding rhetorical point, much appreciated judging from the reader-comments the Al-Quds appends to all its articles, is that Ms Rice's unconcern is in a way appropriate. Would it have been fitting for her to express a greater concern that that of her boss in the White House? Or for that matter, Hadidi adds as an afterthought, would it have been fitting for her to express any greater concern that that of the great kings an emirs of the Arab world?


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