My last article, titled ‘Islamic Fanaticism, Human Terrain, and the Need for a Peace Jihad-Part One’, was intended to be the start of a new series of several follow-on articles. I was in Cusco, Peru on a research project when I wrote it, and have been slow to pick back up since then.
While I do want to follow up with that topic, I intend to postpone it for a later time. At the moment, I think the passing of Christmas, as well as more bad news from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, would make a more fitting topic for the months of December and January. Listening to (quite beautiful) Islamic and Coptic Christian sermons and verses on Christmans and the birth of Jesus (an event perceived through interpretive lenses of both faiths with similarity as well as deep differences) in Classical and Egyptian Arabic has also prompted me to write on the subject of Palestine.
As a long-time Arabic speaker and Special Operations veteran, I have an ongoing sentiment of particular sorts toward the Middle East and the Palestinian-Israeli conflcit. As a product of years of humble refinement and strained antithesis within the constructs of my Middle East worldview, I have become more and more willing to abandon simplistic narratives and easy answers in favor of an admittance of intellectual ‘defeat’-that is, I accept that I do not have the answers, and that perhaps no one does, at least not in any comprehensive way. I feel that this admittance is a good starting point for real solutions to such a complex and deep-seated problem.
That said, I believe that I do have some of the answers, some of the time. I believe that the answer in which I place the most confidence is that most so-called answers are overvalued or outright irrelevant. I do not say this to be deliberately dismissive, but I honestly think that most unending narratives of historical boundaries, religion-based geography and politicaly negotiated entitlements will never, ever convince the other side of much at all. I believe with good reason that an over-emphasis on these narratives of historical, geographical and political entitlement only forestalls the real problem on both sides. I belevie that untill this real problem is properly understood and put into sober and honest context by both Palestinians and Israelis alike, these ‘side narratives’ as I call them will only drag things out or give shallow, superficial or temporary solutions to a deeper, systemically broken culture of conflict. The problem I speak of here is face saving.
Both sides do it. In fact, most human beings do it. It is an almost universal instinct hard wired into our very being, culturally and even neurobiologically. It is a piece of our behavioral repertoire, our human ‘currency’, a part and parcel of how we live and breath. It describes how we do business with our peers as well as our enemies, how we act around our freinds, the things we say during job interviews, how we court the opposite sex, even how we interact with those we love. We all try to save face in one way or another.
However, some cultures do this differently and in varying degrees of intensity than others, and this has profound implications for peace in Palestine in ways which have been deeply overlooked and even drowned out by the long running tapestry of geopolitical, sociological, ehtnographical, and religious narratives of that conflict and region.
Sound complicated? It is, and yet in some ways it is not. Once explained in specific detail, it becomes almost as clear as day. In the next article, Part 2, we shall explore this a bit deeper.
As they sometimes say in the Middle East,
عيد ميلاد المسيح
(‘eed milaad al-maseeH)