Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

There's something wrong with "them"

[Approximate Reading Time: 6 minutes]
[Mood: Critical]

I was having lunch at a cafe the other day. It was a nice day so I took my food outdoors and ended up sitting within earshot of a man and a woman who seemed to be catching up on things after a long time. I could hear their conversation which for some time centered on the Israeli-Palestinian problem. The woman said something to this effect, "I don't see a solution. They don't want one. It's not a question of how much land we give or take, they're just not going to settle for it. They don't want peace. They hate us and send their children as suicide bombers into our cities, and our malls. What kind of a person would strap their own child with explosives and send them to kill others and themselves? They hate us more than they love their children..." The man mostly nodded in agreement.

My mind soon drifted away from the rest of their conversation to what I had just heard. From what they said and their accent, I gathered that they were both Israeli. I started trying to understand what she said. I started to imagine myself in her shoes and see it the way she just described the situation. And it started making sense to me. I could see myself saying something similar. If I were living in an Israeli city with the constant fear of suicide bombers, some of whom are children, I might give in to the notion that there is something wrong with the "others". Something inherently messed up with their "kind". After all, like she pointed out convincingly, who would, in their right mind strap their children with explosives and send them to kill others and die an untimely death?

I then started putting myself in the shoes of those "others" she seemed to despise. I asked myself, "what would it take for me to do what they do?". What kind of mental make-up, worldview, upbringing, cultural factors and personal circumstances would impel me to do something as drastic as send my own bomb-laden daughter or son to die? It wasn't hard to come to the conclusion that it's a rather extreme form of desperation. A complete lack of any hope whatsoever. "My children are starving in refugee camps. I have no means of making my ends meet, no livelihood, no hope. Everyday, I see men, women and children around me dying. My own children are not going to be an exception. I feel like a failure. I'm angry at the Israelis. Life used to be so much better before they made it all hell for us. I hate them. I don't see any other reason but them for this current situation that I find myself and my family in. I lost several members of my extended family already to Israeli drone attacks. I have to do something about it. We HAVE to do something about it. We're going to die anyway here."

I felt a strange urge to introduce myself to the woman and talk about the situation. Not with an intention to question her or disagree with her but to further understand her point of view. I didn't. They finished their lunch and left, back to the daily grind. She will perhaps catch up on the news later and hear of another suicide bombing. One that's not too far from a place she's familiar with. One that strikes a personal chord with her. One that bolsters her stance on the situation.

As an observer, I can't help but feel hopeless about the situation myself. Not just the Israeli-Palestinian one but humanity's predicament. We have unwittingly boxed ourselves into a corner of a dark room where the  occasional ray of light is not that of the Sun but of an artificial light bulb. A light bulb controlled by the same people who placed us in the room to begin with. I'm talking about propaganda. We're daily bombarded by news stories from popular media. These stories shape our view of the world. Propaganda is powerful. Propaganda works. Propaganda keeps us thinking about the world around us in ways that have been carefully crafted and delivered.

If the woman were to meet the parents of a would-be suicide bomber and spend a few hours with them, would she change her views about the "others"? What if it's a few days instead of a few hours? Would she start seeing them as people that are not too unlike herself? Can she put herself in their shoes? What would it take to bring the worldviews of the two parties into a semblance of alignment, if not agreement? Is such a thing even possible in the lifetimes of everyone who is alive today? Is it possible at all?

As long as we're comfortable with our jobs and our paychecks, our social circle, our movie nights and everything we've come to expect and even take for granted, we remain blind to the pernicious effects of state and corporate propaganda. When we remain uninformed or worse yet, misinformed, we support misguided governments and their policies while we do business with unscrupulous corporations. We do this at our own peril.

It's not everyday that I hear a conversation like this at lunch. But it was all the more interesting to me because only a few days earlier, I had come across a video of an interview with an ex-soldier of the Israeli military. In it he describes what he saw on the ground and tries to explain the situation from a new perspective, one that's utterly absent from mainstream media. Check it out here -

It's not my intention to justify or agree with one point of view or another (I'm pretty sure Palestinians get a dose of propaganda on their end too), but to point out a possible source and cause of the dichotomy in worldviews which lead to the situations we find ourselves in all too often. And that source and cause is propaganda!