Category Archives: culture

collective guilt

Collective guilt is a funny thing and is often wielded as a weapon of privilege. Israelis, for instance, use collective punishment as a way to infer collective guilt upon communities they attack. Americans, too, have conferred collective guilt onto the populations of Afghanistan and Iraq due to support of “terrorist regimes”. I write about collective guilt today because of the current movement in the United States to force collective guilt down the throats of the Muslim-Americans. Muslims have been a legitimate part of American society since the era of slavery, when the first Muslims were shipped over in slave ships to work plantations in the south. Since then, their presence has been known mainly through the African-American community and more recently through Arab-American and Asian-American communities. Muslims are doctors, lawyers, home makers, teachers, and lawmakers. Recent immigrants from Muslim-oriented countries have been assimilated into American society far better than say, Muslim immigrants in Europe.

Despite this, Muslim-Americans have come under attack in because of 9/11. After 9/11, thousands of Muslim-Americans were imprisoned, attacked, and discriminated against by virtue of their being Muslim. A fatwah issued after 9/11 even suggested that Muslim women in America wearing the veil should remove it lest they be singled out for violence or discrimination. Now, nearly 10 years after the attacks, Muslim-Americans are still accused of failing to feel sufficiently guilty for these attacks that they had little to nothing to do with. After all, the Muslims who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were not American. Yet, with stories hitting the news about a mosque being built near “Ground Zero” and Muslims holding celebratory days at theme parks on 9/12 (which coincides with the end of Ramadan), the pressure is still there and it is still an emotional issue for Americans to cling to. Even the Anti-Defamation League, a group dedicated to fighting racism against Jews – and as they state, all people in general – has come out against the building of a mosque near “Ground Zero”.

The hypocrisy here is astounding. After all, there are too many Americans who would refuse to pay reparations or even apologize for hundreds of years of slavery, the genocide of indigenous Americans, the atomic attacks on Japan, the Vietnam War, and yes, the generations of Muslims abroad who have been annihilated by American aggression. The ADL will come out in support of the firebombing of Gaza and continued oppression of Palestinians at Israeli hands. To admit collective guilt as a community is to accept your place in the food chain of privilege. Who can blame Muslim-Americans for refusing to apologize for the attacks of 9/11? They have simply picked up an American trait during their process of assimilation. Despite many being absorbed as full members in American bourgeois society, Muslim-Americans have their patriotism questioned. Yet, there is nothing more American than a mosque built near “Ground Zero”. Perhaps a more American gesture might be to build a mosque on the ruins themselves à la the American embassy being built in Baghdad.

Either way, there is nothing new about fear-mongering near election season. What remains disgusting is the hypocrisy inherent in such a discussion, as Americans will still steadfastly refuse to accept any responsibility for anything, including the events that could have inspired 9/11 in the first place.

conspiracies no. 2

“Just watch, now that you have more advertising in the West Bank, you’re going to see this message creeping in: ‘You deserve it.’ It’s not about community, it’s about you. That’s the death knell for the society. That will finally drive the wedge between the Palestinians and their community. When people are out for “me, me, me”, it’s over. The community is the only thing holding them together. What the Israelis may not understand -or maybe they do and what’s happening is intentional- is that the biggest barrier they face is the tie that binds the Palestinians together, the glue that solidifies their protest. The fact that the neighbors bring over food. The men sitting out back singing old Palestinian folk songs late into the night. Once they destroy that sense of community the population is finally anesthetized, an anesthetized population doesn’t have the energy or the desire to resist the occupation. They buy into it, pun intended.”

Ramallah Majnoona: “a mirror city of Tel Aviv”

First, you should know that I’m a Debbie Downer. I get strange looks wherever I go in life because no matter how happy any one group of people wants to be for any reason, I’m always there to hoist a wet blanket over everyone’s shoulders and tell them why they should be miserable instead. That said: there’s a lot of reason to be depressed in the West Bank. This is the land of refugee camps and suicide bombs, of weekly protest marches against the wall being violently dispersed by tear gas canisters and live ammunition. And yet Ramallah is no place for a Debbie Downer like myself.

Reading the recent articles in the BBC and New York Times about nightlife in Ramallah, you might assume Ramallah is the new Beirut of the Middle East or something, described in the NYT article as a “a mirror city of Tel Aviv.” Go to a place like Orjwan on a Thursday night and you can see the who’s-who of East Jerusalem high society home from school abroad for the summer and mingling with attractive international aid workers. I can tell you I’d never be let into a place like this in the states, but by virtue of my international stature will be ushered to the front of the line at Orjwan and allowed in before a whole throng of locals who scraped together enough shekels to make it out. The fact of the matter is that if you’re an international you can go wherever you want in Ramallah. You’re VIP royalty. Ignore your college buddies in West Jerusalem who say you’ll get stabbed or whatever. Look around you at Sangria’s or Orjwan and tell me this is the development trajectory the refugees in Balata are happy with.

After all, the truth of the matter is that because of this kind of New York Times write up, Palestinians can hardly afford rent in Ramallah nowadays. Foreigners with a 5k per month job here think $500 per month for an apartment is a real steal, but this is practically impossible for most people. Great amenities, All within walking distance of a refugee camp.  Jobs and apartments are offered to “Internationals only”. I wonder if any of these internationals driving BMWs around Ramallah have ever read Wretched of the Earth, if they realize they’re just a new class of missionaries selling beautification to a place that still has to pay with shekels.

Sorry, there I go being a Debbie Downer again. These guys just want to have a fun time and here I go raining on their parade. Who am I to tell Palestinians how to live or what kind of businesses to run? Unlike Thomas Friedman who comes in the dead of night to meet with the top crooks in the PA or BBC reporters at Snobar, I’ve talked to Palestinians who don’t particularly care for this cosmopolitan vibe emerging in Ramallah. It ends up drawing newspaper ink away from the issues that Palestinians really care about: land, justice, and peace. Pushing all the international money and offices and values into Ramallah makes people pretty suspicious that they’ll never see a capitol in Jerusalem. Plus, the importation of westerners imports western tastes, something Palestinians aren’t all particularly happy about. After all, a culture of removal from reality like one in the West results in overwhelming political apathy, like we have in the West.

Like a Palestinian told me, “these Palestinians, how are they fighting for their land?” Sure, we can write travel pieces about clubs, pizza, and women, but the New York Times has forgotten to examine other new cultural values being imported into Ramallah like drugs, gambling, and prostitution. Mothers tearfully wring their hands when their boys say they want to move to Ramallah, and with good reason. Ramallah is the tube being shoved down the throat of the Palestinians, funneling Western tastes and interests into their stomachs. Ramallah would be what some experts on colonization would call a “port city”, creating a safe haven for foreigners and fostering an elite Palestinian class that will be much more inspired to guard their comfortable lifestyles than support a popular resistance movement that may result in undue hardship from the Israelis. After all, isn’t the globalization mantra “why do it yourself when you can pay someone to do it for you for less money”?