Sunday mornings is my time for catching up on the world's events. I have been watching the live blog of the Israeli attack on Gaza at The Guardian (would Max Gluckman approve?). They have been updating regularly as events unfold. I have given up on the American coverage having watched the American morning T.V. news shows. I was appalled at the coverage. I think the high point was when Wolf Blitzer spent most of his time trying to pin Queen Noor into some sort of statement denouncing Muslim extremists as she was lamenting the humanitarian crises in Gaza. Hey, Wolf, there are children dying. Anyway, When there is coverage--and there is precious little of that--it is completely lacking in any objectivity or any actual discussion of the full totality of the situation. I heard next to no discussion of the Israel blockade of Gaza since their nominal pull-out some 3 years ago (and preceding the election of Hamas.) One of the leading watchdogs of the press by the press, Editor and Publisher, gives a good summary of the pro-Israel American press coverage.
How could an 18 year old student get an objective understanding of the problem based on this coverage? Is presenting a discussion of these issues not, exactly, what we should be doing as Anthropologists? And yet, our blogs rarely cover these issues--the notable exception being Open Anthropology, wait he is a Canadian. You know, as a discipline, we have no functioning voice in the American dialogue.
Fortunately, there is a wonderful piece, Orwell, blinding tribalism, selective Terrorism, and Israel/Gaza, by Glenn Greenwald at Salon, giving all of us who struggle with undergraduate teaching the Teachable Moments in the unfolding disaster. Sample this argument:
If you see Palestinians as something less than civilized humanAnd he continues his argument:
beings: as "barbarians" -- just as if you see Americans as
infidels warring with God or Jews as sub-human rats -- then it naturally follows
that civilian deaths are irrelevant, perhaps even something to cheer.
Why should a superior, civilized, peaceful society allow the welfare of
violent, hateful barbarians to interfere with its objectives? How can the
deaths or suffering of thousands of barbarians ever be weighed against the death
of even a single civilized person?
So many of these conflicts -- one might
say almost all of them -- end up shaped by the same virtually universal
deficiency: excessive tribalistic identification (i.e.: the
group with which I was trained to identify is right and good and just and my
group's enemy is bad and wrong and violent), which causes people to view the
world only from the perspective of their side, to believe that X is good when
they do it and evil when it's done to them. X can be torture, or the
killing of civilians in order to "send a message" (i.e., Terrorism), or
invading and occupying other people's land, or using massive lethal force
against defenseless populations, or seeing one's own side as composed of real
humans and the other side as sub-human, evil barbarians.
He ends his piece with the language of our discipline and a conclusion we can all agree with:
It's much easier to undervalue the suffering imposed on The Other when you don't have to see it.
Its an interesting thought, isn't it? The idea that we may never solve the violence unleashed in this world without the ability to see the full humanity of all the world's people. Wonder where that idea came from? Perhaps, Mr. Greenwald took an anthropology class. I hope. I just wish an anthropologist had written it. Perhaps, they are all too busy working at "anthropologizing" the U.S. military.