Published:  12:18 AM, 02 January 2019

Living in our bubble of illusions

Living in our bubble of illusions

That was exactly why the corporate media has not invested al-Najjar's death, with the emotional, empathetic coverage it would if a pretty young Israeli female medic had been gunned down by a Palestinian. It was that double standard in his own newspaper that outraged cartoonist Steve Bell last week. The newspaper Guardian had barely covered the story of al-Najjar. When Steve has tried to redress the imbalance, his own cartoon of her death was censored.

Israel-Palestine tug of war, offered me that door, just as it has, to so many others. It is not, what the Israel's apologists - and the upholders of the Great Western Narrative - will tell you, because so many westerners are anti-Semitic. It is because Israel lies in a grey zone of experience, one that is readily available to western tourists, but can at the same time give them a chance to glimpse the dark underbelly of western privilege.

Israel is enthusiastically embraced by the Great Western Narrative: it is supposedly a liberal democracy, many of its inhabitants dress and sound like someone in the United States. Its cities look rather like cities in Europe and its TV shows are given a makeover, only to become hits on British TV screens.

If you don't stand too close, Israel could be Britain or the US. But there are clues galore, for those who bother to look a little beyond superficialities, that there is something profoundly awry about Israel.A few miles from their homes, the sons of those western-looking families, regularly train their gun sights on unarmed demonstrators, on children, on women, on journalists, on medics, and pull the trigger with barely any compunction.

They do so not because they are monsters, but because they are exactly like us, exactly like our own sons. That is the true horror of Israel. We have a chance to see ourselves in Israel - because it is not exactly us, because most of us have some distance from it.

And because, it still looks a little strange despite the best efforts of the western media, and because its own local narrative - justifying its actions - is even more extreme, even more entitled, even more racist towards the 'other', than the Great Western Narrative.

It is that shocking realization - that we could be Israelis, that we could be those snipers that prevent many from stepping through the door to see what is on the other side. Or, more troubling still, halting at the threshold of the doorway, glimpsing a partial truth without understanding its full ramifications.

To explain what I mean, let us digress for a moment and consider the allegorical film The Matrix. Neo, the hero played by Keanu Reeves, starts to realize that the reality around him is not as solid as it once seemed.

Things have become peculiar, inconsistent, and mysterious. He is shown the door to an entirely different reality with the help of a mentor, Morpheus. Neo discovers that in truth he exists in a dark world taken over by computer-generated life forms that feed off the consciousnesses of him and the rest of mankind. Until then, he had been living in a dream world created to pacify him and other humans as they are exploited for their energy.

Neo and a small band of others who have liberated themselves from this false consciousness cannot hope to defeat their opponents directly. They must wage war through the Matrix, a digital world in which the computer life-forms always triumph. It is only when Neo finally grasps that the Matrix is an illusion too - that these life forms he is battling are simply binary code - that he becomes strong enough to triumph.

And now, back to ourselves. On the other side of the door lies a truth that humans are all equally human. From this vantage point, it is possible to understand that a privileged westerner or Israeli would react exactly like a Palestinian if he had to endure the experiences of living in Gaza.

From this location, it is possible to understand that my son might pull the trigger, just like most Israeli teenagers do, if he had been bombarded, like them, with brainwashing all his life from his media, school and politicians depicting Palestinians as primitive and violent.

From the other side of the door, Russia's Vladimir Putin or Bashar al-Assad look as irrational, or rational, and as questionable (or criminal) as George W Bush, Tony Blair, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump. In fact, they look less criminal - not because they are better humans than their western counterparts, but perhaps, because they enjoy less power and face more constraints, in trying to impose their will.

The issue is not about who is better or worse. They are the same as humans. It is about who has more force at his disposal -and more will to use it-- to perpetuate, pure power.The conclusion is that the way to change our societies fundamentally for the better, depends on a change in our consciousness, on liberating ourselves from false perspectives, as we make our efforts to step through the door.

If we remain in a world of illusions, of false hierarchies of virtue, oblivious to the role of power, we will continue to be like Neo, living in his dream world. And if we step only to the threshold, glimpsing the shadows on the other side, we may well become slaves to these illusions, just as Neo has taken his battle back into the Matrix, fighting ghosts in the machine, as though they were flesh-and-blood enemies!

This danger can be seen in the context of Israel-Palestine too, where the horrors that Israel has inflicted on Palestinians, justifiably radicalized many observers. However, not all of us are able to step out comfortably through the door. They linger at the threshold, angry with Israel and Israelis, and continue sanctifying Palestinians, as nothing more than innocent victims.

Some however, have managed to find false consolation. Again, this time they have accepted readymade conspiracies that "the Jews" are pulling the levers that make such outrages - and the western inaction, possible.To stand in the doorway is as bad as refusing to step through. The illusions are as dangerous, and the false consciousness, as profound.

Our planet and our children's' future depend on us. We need to liberate ourselves, seeing the ghosts in the machine, for what they truly are. We have to begin rebuilding our societies on the basis that we share a common humanity.That other humans are not our enemies......only those who wish to enslave us to their power!

(The first part of the article was published on 31 December 2018
in the Oped page)

The writer is a former educator based in Chicago

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