Friday, October 30, 2009

Defending the Palestinian Cause on Jon Stewart's Daily Show

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive - Anna Baltzer & Mustafa Barghouti Extended Interview Pt. 1
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(Do watch the second part too)

The interview showed the human and rational face of the Palestinian resistance not widely known to the general American viewers. It moved beyond the usual morality tale of 'poor Israelis facing genocidal-minded Arabs/Muslims' . It must have impressed upon the viewers that Palestinians, like Israelis, may also have legit concerns and need to be heard too.

My concern with that interview and with many others out there chanting 'peace, peace, non-violence, non-violence' is that sometimes they are used to de-legitimize militant resistance (as 'irrational' and 'unjustifiably violent'). It takes attention away from the whole history of Israeli atrocities by focusing too much on - and even blaming at times - the victims for responding with violence in defense. (Same goes for the case of Lebanon.) The 'peace, peace' slogans at times neglect the fact that the international community has failed to deliver any positive results in the last sixty years. So far the only thing that has been directly effective against the Israeli expansionism is militant resistance.

That said I don't think Anna believes that militant resistance is wrong in principle. I was in one of her presentations last year where she emphasized the role of historical atrocities which led Palestinians to adopt violent tactics. From what I understand, she would not want to de-legitimize the militant resistance, although she might believe that non-violence is preferable and more effective. (I don't know the position and politics of Mustafa Barghouti.)

I think the resistance in Palestine as well as Lebanon would also prefer non-violence over violence. The difference really is on the question of 'efficacy' of violent vs. non-violent tactics. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was largely non-violent. Even scholars of non-violent movements acknowledge that fact.

The distinction between principle and tactic is important here. We would be arguing on a very different level if some peace activist believes in non-violence as a principle - that militant resistance is always wrong. (Even Gandhi made exceptions to that principle!)

But if it is a matter of tactic with non-violence as the preferred method, then the implication is that if legit resistance-s choose militant tactics in Palestine or Lebanon, their actions should not be looked down upon by peace activists. Also since it is a matter of tactic (not principle), tomorrow the resistance-s may very well decide to become non-violent, if they feel that time has changed and the international community is more responsive to non-violent tactics and can actually do something to address their grievances.

Back to the interview. Given the imposed limitations in the mainstream media over this issue, I think the interview was a step forward in pushing the limits of the debate. Though it would have been nicer if the two had somehow questioned the framework in which the debate was framed. Joseph Levine's excellent article in Boston Review comes to mind: The debate needs to be re-framed from that of ‘Israeli security vs. terrorism’ to ‘Israeli occupation vs. Palestinian resistance’. That is critical.

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