Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sheridan in Love 3

"Israel is also the only Western nation in the Middle East (with the exception of substantial but minority parts of Lebanon). Israel is the only national expression of Western values, and indeed Western power, in today's Middle East. These terms can be confusing. The West aspires to universal values of democracy and human rights..." (Israel still looks good, warts & all, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, The Australian Literary Review, 6/5/09)

Yes, as a colonial-settler offshoot of Europe, Israel may be the only "Western nation in the Middle East," but how the hell "substantial parts of Lebanon" make it into the same category is beyond me. That aside, as soon as Sheridan trots out ideological constructs such as 'the West', and so-called "Western values," you know you're in clash-of-civilizations territory, where, in the words of Edward Said, "the personification of enormous entities called 'the West' and 'Islam' is recklessly affirmed, as if hugely complicated matters like identity and culture existed in a cartoonlike world where Popeye and Bluto bash each other mercilessly, with one always more virtuous pugilist getting the upper hand over his adversary." (The Clash of Ignorance, The Nation, 22/10/01) In the reductive, us-and-them world of The Australian's foreign editor and neocon magician, over two centuries of bloody European/US meddling, invasion, domination, and control in the Middle East are spirited away as he conjures up a seductive vision of democracy and human rights, to which an entity dubbed 'the West' is supposed to eternally aspire.

Integral to this fantastic vision is the absurd suggestion that Israel, a settler-colonial ethnocracy, which has been dispossessing and oppressing the indigenous Palestinian Arab people for over 60 years, is acting as some sort of vector for democracy and human rights in the Middle East. It is perhaps useful, at this point, to recall Israel's job description, courtesy of Sir Ronald Storrs, the first British Governor of Jerusalem : "It will form for England a little Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism."

As US academic Con Hallinan explains: "Storrs' analogy was no accident. Ireland was where the English invented the tactic of divide and rule, and where the devastating effectiveness of using foreign settlers to drive a wedge between the colonial rulers and the colonized made it a template for worldwide imperial rule. Ariel Sharon and former Prime Minister Menachem Begin normally take credit for creating the 'facts on the ground' policies that have poured more than 420,000 settlers into the Occupied Territories. But they were simply copying Charles I, the English king, who in 1609 forcibly removed the O'Neill and O'Donnell clans from the north of Ireland, moved in 20,000 English and Scottish protestants, and founded the Plantation of Ulster. Protestants were awarded the 'Ulster privilege' which gave them special access to land and lower rents, and also served to divide them from the native Catholics. The 'Ulster privilege' is not dissimilar to the kind of 'privileges' Israeli settlers enjoy in the Territories today, where their mortgages are cheap, their taxes lower and their education subsidized. Prior to the Ulster experiment, the English had tried any number of schemes to tame the restive Irish and build a wall between conqueror and conquered. All of them failed. Then the English hit on the idea of using ethnicity, religion and privilege to construct a society with built-in divisions. It worked like a charm. Once the English hit on the tactic of using ethnic and religious differences to divide a population, the conquest of Ireland became a reality. Within 250 years, that formula would be transported to India, Africa, and the Middle East. It was 'divide and conquer' that made it possible for an insignificant island in the north of Europe to rule the world. Division and chaos, tribal, religious and ethnic hatred, were the secret to empire. It would appear the Israelis have paid close attention to English colonial policy because their policies in the Occupied Territories bear a distressing resemblance to British policies in Ireland." (Divide & conquer: common imperial rules for the 21st century,, 29/7/04)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is interesting to contrast the last two posts. Both relate to the British practise of divide and rule. In Sri Lanka, the British put the Tamils and mixed race peoples into senior posts during the colonial period. When the colonial period ended, the majority Sinhalese demanded redress. The Sinhalese over-shot in the other direction, with the consequences we now see.