Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Mind-Forg'd Manacles I Hear

I imagine that most people would agree with the simple proposition that to the extent that one's mind is cluttered with bad thoughts and bad ideas, one can neither think nor see straight. To test this truism allow me to juxtapose two vignettes.

The first was composed by a British Zionist, Redcliffe Salaman, who served in one of the British Army's all-Jewish battalions in WWI Palestine as its medical officer. It's the one off-note in his description of the celebrations staged by British troops following the armistice of 11 November 1918: 

"Our transport men, who are Welsh, sang delightfully; the Arab Wallahs of the Camel Corps made their monotonous noises to the rythmic clapping of hands, and danced the can-can. They did me the honour (?)* of doing a special turn outside my tent, but their loathsome and sensuous writhings make me positively sick." (Palestine Reclaimed: Letters from a Jewish Officer in Palestine, 1920, pp 112-13)

It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the venom expressed here is primarily the product of the racist, colonialist, Zionist lens through which Salaman necessarily views the natives of Palestine.

If, for example, we take another, later scene of celebrations involving native Palestinians - viewed this time other than through the distorting lens of Zionism - we get a very different picture indeed.

The following vignette was penned by a young British archaeologist, Thomas Hodgkin, working in Palestine in 1932. Because Hodgkin's vision, unlike Salaman's, is clear and unblinkered by toxic ideological obsessions of the 'your land is really my land' variety, his description conveys an objectivity and a sense of shared humanity completely lacking in Salaman's:

"I gave a dinner to about a dozen of the most charming workmen when digging ended on Wednesday night. We had a sheep roasted whole, truly Arab. Not a very large sheep though, but a beautiful meal, cooked in boiled rice and flavoured with pine - very rich. They played pipes and sang sad love-songs and danced (at least the Egyptians did) odd dances which used the bottom in a wonderful way - waggling it grotesquely - and half falling down and pulling themselves together again. A happy evening - and they cheered me like a House Supper at the end. Sad to see the last of them." (Letters from Palestine: 1932-36, 1986, p 26)

Reading Salaman's forthright anti-Arab bile (of which there are many instances in his little book), and noting the more carefully concealed anti-Arab animus of later Zionist writers, is to be irresistably reminded of William Blake's powerful lines in his poem London:

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant's cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg'd manacles I hear.

Few mind-forg'd manacles are quite as encumbering and crippling as those of political Zionism.

[*The bracketed question mark is indeed Salaman's.]

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