Sari Nusseibeh III:
The discussion on Engage continues. I blogged about it here.
The latest comment from one commenter, John Strawson, made me reflect somewhat.
Here is what he says:
The argument that Sari Nusseibeh's statements are anti-Semitic have I think been well dealt with. What is perturbing is how the use of the accusation of Anti-Semitism is being used. Nusseibeh suffers the fate of the Jew in Anti-Semitic discourse. Whatever he actually says is taken as a cover for something else. Nusseibeh has changed his mind on the charcter of the conflict and has taken action on that basis, his work for dialogue and cooperation with Israelis is constructed in this account as a form of deception to divert attention from his "real" purpose. At the same time factual errors in his book, a work of biography not history, are then constructed as either sinister or as evidence that his reflections and account of his life, the development of his ideas, his political campaigns are flawed or perhaps of questionable veracity. Few of us have not changed our minds and all of us make factual errors sometimes - even, dare I say it, in print - that is normal and not the result of malevolent motivation. The key issue is not what Nusseibeh might have said some years ago and a meeting or seminar, or written in leaflet during the first intifada but what he has been doing in at this critical juncture - arguing for a two-state solution, opposing academic boycotts of Israel, debating fellow Palestinians on sensitive issues such as the refugees, suicide-bombing,and human rights. For this, of course, some Palestinian organization and indivduals denounce him as a collaborator. Those who read Once Upon a Country as a historical reference work have missed the point.It is about the jouney of a Palestinian nationalist who has taken what Rabin once called the "risk for peace."
Strawson's positions about Palestinians are often, at least in my view, exaggeratedly favourable. For example, he recently advised another commenter that there was no risk at all involved for Jews to visit Ramallah or Bethlehem. He is a frequent visitor there, he says, and is always welcomed exceedingly well. Maybe he is. But this confidence could hardly be shared byf this man who recently found himself by mistake in Ramallah. So, based on this and some other past exchanges I tend to take Mr. Strawson's positions with a few grains of salt. They are well meant but not thoroughly thought out.
Now in the case of Prof. Nusseibeh I happen to share Mr. Strawson's opinion that his words have been misinterpreted as possibly antisemitic while in fact they represent quite a reasonable, defensible position on the I/P conflict, one that could be acceptable to many Israelis. I've explained all this here and here.
Now John Strawson takes the defence of the man's integrity a step further, and claims that Prof. Nusseibeh is being vilified like a Jew in an antisemitic story.
What bothers me is this seemingly irresistible impulse to assault those who express doubts about Nusseibeh's meaning by casting them in the role of the classic antisemites, persecuting an innocent man.
I have to wonder why a decent man like Prof. Nusseibeh needs to be beatified as a martyr in order to persuade others of his decency. A decent man's decency speaks for itself. And even if Prof. Nussebeh is currently experiencing the inconvenience of being misunderstood, his decency or integrity cannot be compromised; he has not said anything ugly or defamatory or vituperative. He is as people should be. Decency is the norm, the expected way of behaviour and thinking. For being decent, he does not need all these accolades and feverish analogies. In some way I find this line of defence even demeaning, if not inflammatory.
Whenever I encounter this need, this apparent surprise, that a person known to be decent, is indeed proven to be decent, I remember this scene from Jane Austen's Sense And Sensibility:
"...He has loved her, my Elinor, ever since the first moment of seeing her."
Here, however, Elinor perceived, -- not the language, not the professions of Colonel Brandon, but the natural embellishments of her mothers active fancy, which fashioned everything delightful to her, as it chose.
"His regard for her, infinitely surpassing anything that Willoughby ever felt or feigned, as much more warm, as more sincere or constant -- which ever we are to call it -- has subsisted through all the knowledge of dear Marianne's unhappy prepossession for that worthless young man! -- and without selfishness -- without encouraging a hope! -- could he have seen her unhappy with another? Such a noble mind! -- such openness, such sincerity! -- no one can be deceived in him ."
"Colonel Brandon's character," said Elinor, "as an excellent man, is well established."
"I know it is," replied her mother seriously, "or after such a warning, I should be the last to encourage such affection, or even to be pleased by it. But his coming for me as he did, with such active, such ready friendship, is enough to prove him one of the worthiest of men."
"His character, however," answered Elinor, "does not rest on one act of kindness, to which his affection for Marianne, were humanity out of the case, would have prompted him. To Mrs. Jennings, to the Middletons, he has been long and intimately known; they equally love and respect him; and even my own knowledge of him, though lately acquired, is very considerable; and so highly do I value and esteem him, that if Marianne can be happy with him, I shall be as ready as yourself to think our connection the greatest blessing to us in the world. What answer did you give him? -- Did you allow him to hope?"
There is a Moroccan saying which I heard repeatedly from a former boss of mine, a Moroccan Jew: Meaning to kiss him, he gouged his eye. This is how I would characterize the sort of defence advanced by Mr. S. An overkill. A defence to end all defences. Once the man is martyred, there is no more a question of his prevalent decency and integrity.
"Civilization is not self-supporting. It is artificial. If you are not prepared to concern yourself with the upholding of civilization -- you are done." (Ortega y Gasset)
Friday, January 04, 2008
Sari Nusseibeh III: