Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Poverty in Philosophy - another look at Sari Nusseibeh

I've just finished reading two lectures made by Sari Nusseibeh at Harvard University last November. They are labelled "Philosophical Reflections on the Israeli-Palestinian War". I don't think I've ever had any respect for Sari or his thoughts, not since first discovering his writings a few years ago. Here we have a man from one of the oldest Arab families of Jerusalem, supposedly highly educated, yet who can be easily overtaken in terms of 'enlightenment' by the humblest fruit or vegetable seller in downtown Cairo or Basra. I have no time to write a detailed criticism of what he is saying in these two lectures, but to summarise he breaks down the "Israeli/Palestinian" conflict into something which can be broken out of if people are courageous enough to break out of some rigid identity that is imposed internally and externally, and come up with clever solutions to this "problem". He takes us through many hoops, citing both Hannah Arendt and Isaiah Berlin, through conceptions of freedom, what it means to be an "actor" and the relationship of intellect, will and action. The aim for any of Sari's "actors" is to be a fox, cunning enough to grasp reality and then to desire, pursue and put in place, alternative futures which are far from inevitable. All he is really saying is, if we were all just somebody else then everything will be fine and we can end conflict, end war. Thank you, but I thought that with a Phd from Harvard you could come up with something a little bit better than this vapish argument.

One thing which is prominent throughout Sari's article is the distinct lack of any context in any shape or form to his arguments, something he himself sometimes criticises people of in those very same lectures. Throughout the article he assumes the mantle of an impartial commentator to events, actors and the world around him, amazingly, he manages to internalise the naive and childlike idiocy of Americans and Europeans who bring their International Relations and Diplomacy 101 workshops and theories over to Africa and Asia to teach people how to live. His example of the Russian invasion against Georgia is only coherent for somebody who relies on CNN or perhaps the BBC for all their analysis of what is happening.

With regards to the problems of the Middle East, not once does he consider that perhaps colonialism, the mandates and the occupation of Palestine by marauding, racist and murdering Europeans could perhaps be a source of grievance. Apparently he believes he surprises people by claiming that the Israel/Palestine conflict could be ended if Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert locked themselves alone in a room. He neglects to consider that it is not Mahmoud Abbas who speaks for the Palestinian cause - a man most Palestinians would prefer to see hanging from the gallows. The person in that room should be the Palestinian farmer who has seen his land taken over and his trees uprooted by a Jewish settler from Brooklyn, New York. Or perhaps the woman who has had five of her ten children murdered by Israeli soldiers whose parents or grandparents came from Eastern or Western Europe. Only one man will leave the room in that scenario and this is the fact that Sari ignores by manipulating his argument to the conclusion that he wants rather than the one it should be. In the plush offices and lecture rooms of Harvard, a pillar of the American intellectual and political establishment, Sari conveniently forgets the truth staring Palestinians in the face every day since 1948 - they are facing a war of extermination.


Nasrawi said...

Great post. Thank you for your article - just came across your blog on palestine blogs aggregator.

It is with incredible ease that scholars sweep under the rug the destructive effects of colonialism and its effects on post-colonial society. And it is even stranger then that when referring to Palestine there is almost no mention in mainstream scholarship that we are talking about a colonial situation, a colonial enterprise seeking to eliminate the colonised.

I completely agree - it is a war of extermination. Not a war against Hamas, or rockets, or radical elements, but a war against the Palestinian people since the early years of the 20th century, through to 1948 and since then.

Maysaloon said...

Nasrawi, thanks for your comment and for stopping by Maysaloon. It's great to discover your blog too.