Thursday, March 17, 2016

"We cannot afford to see the other man's point."

And you thought all this post-modern/progressive anti-Zionism is new?

This, from a book review of Thieves in the Night by Arthur Koestler (also a movie), highlights my "that's old news" attitude:

Although he does not entirely come to life, Joseph's doubts, questionings and slowly achieved certainty do live, and they are provocative, disturbing and important to anyone interested in understanding the moral and emotional basis of Zionism, which makes it something more than a mere desire to find refuge from oppression, even though it has been ignited by that desire. They have the further interest of seeming to be the personal doubts and self-questionings of Mr. Koestler, whose sensitivity to moral values provides him with a conscience that is a literary instrument of great power and illumination.

Most of his bemused contemplations are self-scourging and have to do with qualities he finds unpleasant in his own people. To take a characteristic example, Joseph is worried over the quality of the younger generation of Zionists.

Their parents [he says] were the most cosmopolitan race of the earth- they are provincial and chauvinistic. Their parents are sensitive bundles of nerves with awkward bodies- their nerves are whipcords and their bodies are those of a horde of Hebrew Tarzans roaming the hills of Galilee. Their parents were intense, intent, over-strung, over-spiced- they are tasteless, spiceless, unleavened and tough. Their parents were notoriously polyglot- they have been brought up in one language which had been hibernating for twenty centuries before being brought artificially to life.

Although his criticisms of his people, both moral and esthetic, are based on a sort of hypercritical, exaggerated sensitiveness towards their flaws which grows increasingly savage in him as he prepares to join the direct-actionists, there is never a time when he questions the right of his people to dominate the land in which the Arabs are and have long been in a majority. He knows that Zionism can bring- and has brought- to the Palestine Arabs techniques in production, medicine, organization and sanitation which will raise the living standards of all the inhabitants of whatever race or religion.
He knows, too, that the primitive, as well as the new intellectual, among the Arabs has an answer to this, and the following passage indicates his reaction to it:

"I wish my Arabic was as good as yours," said Joseph. "What was the old Sheikh explaining so solemnly?""He explained that every nation has the right to live according to its own fashion, right or wrong, without outside interference. He explained that money corrupts, fertilizers stink and tractors make a noise, all of which he dislikes.""And what did you answer?""Nothing.""But you saw his point?""We cannot afford to see the other man's point."

As a political tract for the Zionist cause, "Thieves in the Night" might have gained in persuasiveness for the sympathetic reader still troubled in his mind by one or two aspects of the movement if Bauman, the terrorist, had replied to the Sheikh. Such a reader, disturbed by the thought that the right to be master in a land through superiority in technical skill was, ironically enough, once asserted by the English when they transported the wild Irish from vast districts in their country and it to the more socially advanced Britons, may be inclined to feel that the old fellow made a point worthy of an answer. As a tract it suffers, too, from its failure to treat the ferment among Arab intellectuals as seriously as it deserves to be taken, since it is a very living thing.

But Mr. Koestler, although he is sympathetic to Zionism and a little intolerant on the subject, is not primarily concerned with his defense of it. Chiefly what he has set out to do is to probe and dramatize the emotional tension of the sensitive, highly civilized Jewish intellectual, who finds himself fighting for a national state in Palestine while the memories of European oppression are still bitterly fresh in his mind. Brilliantly and with deep passion Koestler has captured the hope and the dream, the hard emotional intensity, the terror and heroism, the violence and the mysticism that dominate the Jewish struggle in Palestine. The mood and spirit of that struggle, given added poignance by the tragic irony of fratricidal strife between Hebrew and Arab, are portrayed in such human and comprehensible dramatic terms, and the pity and the terror of it are so powerfully captured that "Thieves in the Night" becomes another unforgettable Koestler document on the desperate sickness of our time.


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