The symmetries of hate: I once owned a map called "Who hates who in Eastern Europe." It had arrows crisscrossing in every direction. It was funny, in a true sort of way, but now it seems hopelessly parochial.
Take the Mideast. There are anti-Semitic rants recorded from Arabic news sources and sermons, as well as reprints of anti-Semitic tracts such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. There is a comparable rain of hate from the Israeli side. The phrase "death to Arabs" is painted on walls, chanted and echoed at high levels. Israel's chief of staff recently called Palestinians a "cancerous manifestation" and said actions in the occupied territories are "chemotherapy," with more radical "treatment" possibly to come. Another chief of staff called Palestinians "cockroaches." Menachem Begin called them "two-legged beasts," and Ehud Barak called them "crocodiles."
There is a special role to the denial of fundamental grievances by each side against the other. There are reports of distribution of Holocaust denial literature during pro-Palestinian conferences at American universities. And embattled Israeli historian Ilan Pappe says Israel's government, through the ministry of education, has begun "the systematic removal of any textbook or school syllabus that refers to the Nakba [the 'catastrophe' that befell Palestinians in 1948]even marginally. Similar instructions have been given to the public broadcasting authorities."
The arrows crisscross not just in the form of hate, but as a sort of second-order hate, in which people accuse each other of hating. Harvard president Lawrence Summers has charged U.S. profs and students with being "anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent," for criticizing Israel and asking universities to withdraw investments there. For those whom he was referring to, many of them Jews, I imagine being called anti-Semitic is far more hurtful -- and intimidating -- than being called kikes.
The presence of anti-Semitism in the Mideast is itself a little disorienting, since in its past forms it always involved a one-sided persecution of Jews. In this case, anti-Semitism is involved, but the situation is far more mutual, like the symmetries of hate in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. We are dealing, in other words, with something less on the model of the rise of Nazi Germany, despite the element of anti-Semitism, than of the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia.
Armenia, Armenia: For a sombre source of limited hope, let me turn to the case of the Armenian genocide, nearly a century ago, when perhaps a million and a half Armenians were slaughtered, some directly and others starved, by Turkish authorities, and another half a million exiled. And still today their descendants seek not revenge but simple recognition of the event. The Armenian National Committees of Canada and Toronto recently published a pamphlet saying they do "not bear any animosity toward the Canadian Turkish community. On the contrary" -- they are motivated by the desire not to allow "Hitler's contemptuous remark, 'Who remembers nowadays the Armenians?' to haunt us forever."
Most Canadian Armenians seem haunted in this way. Atom Egoyan's new film is on the subject, as was Elia Kazan's America, America 40 years ago. I knew Jerry Tutunjian slightly as editor of the Canadian Automotive Association's breezy travel magazine, till I started getting mail from him in this cause. Or Zere Ouzounian, a mild, cultivated man (who does root canals all day, every day) and works part of each year in his homeland as his contribution. They bear this burden quietly, seeking mainly, as a motion passed in the Senate only this year says, that the government of Canada (along with the rest of the world) "recognize the genocide of the Armenians and . . . condemn any attempt to deny or distort" it.
What an odd human need: to force simple acknowledgment of a grievance, as opposed to righting it or avenging it. People often say to someone they are in conflict with that they would just like to put it behind them and move on. The trouble is, it is usually impossible to put something behind you until you have acknowledged that it is there in front of you. Then, amazingly, at least sometimes, you can move on.
The mighty U.S. war machine: At a press conference, U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked about the idea that Osama bin Laden might welcome a U.S. attack on Iraq. He did one of his takes and asked, more or less, What idea? The reporter said he'd seen a cartoon in which Osama is the only one to raise his hand in favour of a U.S. war on Saddam Hussein. Instead of dis(mis)sing the source as lightweight, Donald Rumsfeld appeared to ponder it, then said something like, well, he could picture a cartoon showing the opposite. It made you wonder how much thought they give their wars. Or maybe the notion of cartoon characters fits right in.