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A leftist friend phoned me one evening last week. "Is the world going to end?" she wanted to know.
Fortunately, it's possible to know what's on the mind of your friends without having to ask for all the details. Like me, she'd seen the Internet reports and pictures of the Hamas and Fatah factions in Gaza shooting it out. What she wanted to know was, Would the Palestinian civil war and deadly split between Hamas in Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank likely lead to a regional explosion involving Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Al Quaeda, and whoever else, and was it possible that such a regional explosion might lead to a global Armageddon?
"No, the world is not going to end," I said on the phone, with more conviction than I felt. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to give the question my full attention because at the moment I was watching a trivial tennis match on TV somewhere in England in which my favourite 21-year-old Spanish-Mallorcan tennis player, Rafa Nadal, was getting unaccountably clobbered in the second set by the number 106th ranked player in the world, a Frenchman named Nicolas Mahut. Such are the compartmentalizing ways of the world (by which we avoid going crazy?).
A couple of days later, when my leftist friend and I were having dinner and drinks, I elaborated. "No, I don't think the world's going to end… for one thing, Syria and Iran don't have nuclear weapons… yet." By then, the barely 3-month old so-called "unity" government of the Palestians, which was cobbled together by the Middle East powers in the wake of initial internecine factional shootouts, had definitively split and were hunkered down in their mutual lairs. The Fatah leader and Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, had formed a new West Bank administration and the Western world was scrambling to prop it up, while the Hamas faction was turning Gaza into Hamastan, and celebrating what might turn out to be a pyrrhic victory.
When I was able to drag it away from its compartmentalized distractions, there were a couple of things on my mind about Palestine. The first thing was a photograph. The most poignant and blood curdling of the visuals that appeared the day of the Hamas victory was a photo of a line of defeated Fatah militants being led out of their Gaza security headquarters at gunpoint. In the photo, they were lean, mostly shirtless young men. If you were far away, you could know almost nothing of who they were, or what deeds they might have been responsible for. All you could know, from the captioned report, was that a few minutes after the photo was taken, they were marched out of camera range and slaughtered, execution-style, with a bullet to the back of the head. That was the nausea-inducing image that remained after the reports went on to detail the jockeying for position of the various factions and the inevitable, fleeing civilian refugees.
Second, the one thing I hoped that I wouldn't have to read was some leftist analysis of the situation that smugly pointed out that Israel was the cause of the Palestinians killing each other. In fact, I wrote to another of my leftist friends, who's on one of those "list-serve" arrangements that fills up his mailbox with leftist analyses, and which he occasionally, and selectively, passes on to me. He assured me he had no intention of passing on any leftist analysis explaining that the cause of the Palestinian bloodbath was Israel.
Anyway, he slyly added, my old friend Rick Salutin, the leftist columnist in the non-leftist Toronto Globe and Mail, had already made the point that the Hamas religious party had been financially propped up early on by Israel as a counterweight to the Fatah nationalists. "The blood is on everyone's hands," said Salutin.
Well, that's true enough. And it's also true that I'm not a big supporter of Israel. As I've had to confess at various times in my life, I'm one of those non-Zionist "bad Jews." I'm not a supporter of Israel because I'm against all theocratically-connected and ethnically-based states. But unlike Hamas, which wants to drive "Israel into the sea," as the phrase I heard in my childhood goes, I'm willing to put up with Israel as a piece of historical realpolitik. In the compartmentalizations of my life, I'd rather devote my political energy to urging Israelis to end their occupation of the West Bank and other territories, and to make peace with a Palestinian Authority that allows for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Third, I suppose, as a leftist myself, I'm not allowed to say that some Palestinians are murderous, ideologically- and religiously-driven thugs who have created a situation of sanctioned mutual barbarism. Fatah has been a hopelessly corrupt, clannish, clientelistic entity for years, and in Hamas we see the brutal Palestinian alternative to the late Yassir Arafat. But I don't want to read that Israel is responsible for the Palestinian factional war, although Israel is responsible for plenty, including the occupation of Palestinian lands and the repression of Palestinians. I wouldn't mind reading an analysis that says that some Palestinians are perfectly capable of killing each other. But I suppose it would be a leftist heresy to say that, so I won't.
In another, far-off pigeonhole of the mind, I note that the writer Salman Rushdie has been awarded a knighthood in Britain. Rushdie, who years ago, in 1989, was threatened with a death fatwa from an Iranian ayatollah for writing a novel, The Satanic Verses, that some people believed was an insult to Islam, is now being honoured as an artist. Sure enough, we are promptly informed through the media that a minister in the government of Pakistan has declared that a suicide bombing in England would be a justified response to the knighthood. Already a mob has gathered somewhere in Pakistan to burn effigies of the Queen and of Rushdie. And the head of the British Muslim organization says… blah blah blah.
No, the world is not ending. It is merely turning into a madhouse.
Berlin, June 19, 2007.