On Embracing the Identity of ‘Terrorist’

This morning Jerry Coyne posted to his blog about YouTube videos containing content allegedly from Hamas TV (Hamas is either the elected government of the chunk of Palestine called Gaza or a terrorist organization, depending on who you ask) of children’s programming. Though this children’s programming resembles the sort of thing found on Western television, the nature of the content is disturbing in that, assuming the translations displayed are accurate, the fluffy, cuddly characters on the screen appear intent upon convincing small children to hate Israel and its Jewish population. (I’m heavily qualifying here because I have no means of verifying the accuracy of the subtitling.)

After reading Jerry’s post I attempted a bit of Twitter-based cross-pollenization and got the attention of Rania Khalek, who tweeted:

Rania’s concerns in the first tweet are why I qualify what I say above, but the second tweet makes the more important point. It also reminded me of a section from Michelle Alexander‘s book, (which is a must-read) The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, called Gangsta Love, in which Michelle discusses the embracing of the gangsta identity by young black men in spite of its misogynist, violent nature. The following is stated in the context of young black men trapped in the titular New Jim Crow, but could as easily be stated of Palestinians under the yoke of Israeli oppression: “[A]re we willing to demonize a population, declare a war against them, and then stand back and heap shame and contempt upon them for failing to behave like model citizens while under attack?” It’s all too clear we are, but it gets strangely more damning in the very next paragraph. Michelle continues:

In this regard, it is helpful to step back and put the behavior of young black men who appear to embrace “gangsta culture” in the proper perspective. There is absolutely nothing abnormal or surprising about a severely stigmatized group embracing their stigma. Psychologists have long observed that when people feel hopelessly stigmatized, a powerful coping strategy—often the only apparent route to self-esteem—is embracing one’s stigmatized identity.

If that chunk of paragraph can reasonably be mapped to the experience of Palestinian men, it ceases to be enough to say that they turn to resistance (what some call terrorism) out of necessity alone. They seem to embrace with fervor precisely the identity that enables their oppressor and onlookers like the US to yet more easily dismiss what are entirely serious claims of colonial displacement, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, under the mantle of that all-too-classic bit of diplomatic evasion, “We do not negotiate with terrorists.”

A bit more from the same paragraph:

Indeed, the act of embracing one’s stigma is never merely a psychological maneuver; it is a political act—an act of resistance and defiance in a society that seeks to demean a group based on an inalterable trait.

It may not be sensible to describe nationality as an inalterable trait, and ethnicity is also, in this regard, slippery. Even so, the fact which Zionists do not seem to seek to alter is the status of Palestinians as enemy. There is no moral high ground upon which conservative Israelis may stand that doesn’t feature an enemy down-slope, and the Palestinians are the enemy in Israel’s midst, for Israel the closest and most threatening.

A final quote from Michelle: “The problem, of course, is that embracing criminality—while a natural response to the stigma—is inherently self-defeating and destructive.”

I’m hardly in any position to offer advice to Palestinians, (as I sit here checking my privilege) but I don’t think it will be entirely out of bounds for me to say that what Palestinians ought to do is adopt, to as great an extent as possible, the path of non-violence. If Hamas and the rest of Palestine can upend the current narrative through a more dignified resistance and seize the moral high ground from the Israelis, they will lend valuable fuel to the international Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions movement and, one hopes, make genuine progress toward peace and equality.

Addendum, 8 July 2014: My last paragraph no longer seems supportable. As of this date Gaza has been under heavy attack by Israel for several days. Though I think I was already recognizing the failure of my opinion to be sensible with respect to what the Palestinians are currently suffering, what prompted me to write this was a tweet from one of Twitter’s more enlightened users:

Non-violent resistance operates, I think, in a realm in which there may be some reliance on the (beneficent) humanity of the oppressor, some possibility seen by the oppressed that the oppressor will act with restraint, come to recognize the failure of its policies, and cease their activities with some small measure of grace. It becomes ever more clear that in their embrace of fascism and apartheid, the government of Israel and the Zionists who support it cannot conceive of a peace which does not include the utter annihilation of the Palestinian people and the conquering of their lands. Any hope I might have for peace seems laughably naive in comparison. It is with this in mind that I respectfully withdraw my earlier opinion, recognizing it is not my place to offer suggestions on what the Palestinians ought to do.

Addendum, 28 July 2014: A slightly expanded version of text from The New Jim Crow that is bolded above—highly relevant and worth further emphasis:

Economist Glenn Loury once posed the question: “are we willing to cast ourselves as a society that creates crimogenic conditions for some of its members, and then acts-out rituals of punishment against them as if engaged in some awful form of human sacrifice?” A similar question can be posed with respect to shaming those trapped in ghettos: are we willing to demonize a population, declare a war against them, and then stand back and heap shame and contempt upon them for failing to behave like model citizens while under attack?

Also, this paragraph from a post to truthdig by Lawrence Weschler:

For the single overriding fact defining the Israeli-Palestinian impasse at this point is that if the Palestinians are quiescent and not engaged in any overt rebellion, the Israelis (and here I am speaking of the vast majority of the population who somehow go along with the antics of their leaders, year after year) manage to tell themselves that things are fine and there’s no urgent need to address the situation; and if, as a result, the endlessly put-upon Palestinians do finally rise up in any sort of armed resistance (rocks to rockets), the same Israelis exasperate, “How are we supposed to negotiate with monsters like this?” A wonderfully convenient formula, since it allows the Israelis to go blithely on, systematically stealing Palestinian land in the West Bank, and continuing to confine 1.8 million Gazans within what might well be described as a concentration camp.

Addendum 3 August 2014: A tweet from Jareer Kassis that says, inside of 140 characters, what it took a whole lotta blog post to say:

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2 thoughts on “On Embracing the Identity of ‘Terrorist’

  1. Pingback: Do Some Gun Control Laws Contribute To Mass Incarceration? | The Ubiquity Principle

  2. Pingback: On My Recently Dashed Hopes For Sam Harris | The Ubiquity Principle

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