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Swept By Generalizations
"What we forget is that we learn to distinguish between integrity and loss of integrity before we even learn to talk. While most of us love a wholesome King Kong, most cry upon meeting our first clown because we recognize the distortion in the all too familiar human face and behaviour?"
Since we all differ, categorization is only fair. The problem is never with categorization of people, but with the lines along which we draw our categorization. For irrespective of colour, creed or culture, people are divided into two kinds: those who have integrity and those who lost their integrity. And the less we differentiate between the two, the more we fall into the trap of generalizations. Besides generalizations create mistrust and hatred amongst peoples, we always end up including in our generalizations people we have known to be irrevocably opposite of our generalizations. We justify our betrayal by rationalizing that since few people fall outside any generalization; it is therefore acceptable to generalize. Is it?
In a generalization like “Westerners are imperialists racists”, for example, the generalization includes millions upon millions of Westerners who are against imperialism and the racism it presupposes. It also includes people like John Pilger, Robert Fisk and Rachel Corrie. The thing is, if Pilger, Fisk and Corrie are imperialists and racists, who is not? To include and equal them with the imperialists and the racists is in effect to tell them: Thank you for dedicating your lives to working for justice and human dignity. Thank you for having the integrity and the courage not only to see the truth but to voice it and act upon it. Nevertheless, since we think you form such a small minority, we still have to betray you, and why? For the sake of winning an argument while trying to prove that the whole world is bad. Never mind that Gandhi was one person. Never mind that Hitler was one person. Never mind that since one dedicated his life to peace and the other to war, it is irrelevant to generalize about both being human beings after all. What is of relevance is not whether or not we are all human beings after all, but that we cannot rationally equate people who have integrity with people who do not have integrity without losing our own integrity.
In the generalizations about Jews being what have you and what have you not for example, the generalizations necessarily include all the shared Prophets amongst the “Three Great Religions”. They also include people like Erich Fromm, Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass. What these people have is integrity, ethics, morality, and respect for human dignity and rationality. What they have not is hatred, particularly, self-hatred. For if they are not in the heart of the Jewish tradition of being “a light unto nations”, who is? No, I have never met or seen or heard any of them in person. Nor have I Archimedes Newton or Einstein to know what they think pressure and force lead to, or where do falling objects from planes land. My irrevocable knowledge is based on my faith that is based on their long history in writing that is based on their firm and consistent belief in “simple ethics”. (Noam Chomsky).
As for the mother of all generalizations namely that “Moslems are terrorists”, the generalization includes 1.2 billion Moslem. Amongst those are millions upon millions mothers. Amongst those is one of my three mothers. The other two get covered with the generalizations “Christians are Crusaders”’ and “Americans lost all their morality”.
As for my Moslem mother, as sure as there is a soul behind the body, she is not a terrorist.As for my Christian mother, she is as much of a crusader as Edward Said and Hanan Ashrawi can ever be. As for my American mother, whom I have adopted decades back and have known to be goodness and serenity themselves, she is moral all year round, and is not in the habit of losing her morality between the months of August and September of any year.
Confronted with choices, conflicts and tragedies; we become more of what we are. We do not go to bed sober and wake up alcoholics. Nor do we go to bed ethical, moral, full of integrity and wake up the following morning preaching genocide. Academics and historians in particular, do not get struck by racism for example. They only come out of the closet when it feels the right temperature to go stark naked. Feeling cool and comfortable, a historian thus declares that, “There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing.” as in the case of Zionism versus the Palestinians. That is, for the Zionists to fulfill their dream of “Greater Israel”, the Palestinians must be ethnic cleansed, because, according to the historian, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” Logical indeed! If it were not for logic dictates that if the Palestinians have to die, surely they would prefer to die for the Palestinian and not the Zionist omelet. Logical indeed! If it were not for morality dictates that when the eggs are stolen, a poached egg on toast should be sufficient. Logical indeed! If it were not for logic plus morality minus racism dictates; nobody should die other than from natural causes or when God wills, and not when academics decide to be logical. For while morality may lead to logic, logic does not necessarily lead to morality, it may lead to genocide.
With loss of integrity all around in times of endless wars and endless hatred such as ours, we all get swept by generalizations in the end. Whereby, we begin to suspect that every other person we meet is either a terrorist or is bad in some way. But the reason we must refuse to betray in general and betray our mothers in particular, is because when we betray our mothers by accepting the generalizations that label them as “terrorists”, “crusaders” and “immoral”; there is nothing to stop us from betraying our friends, neighbours and the rest of the human clan. And when we justify betrayal citing different moral angles to morality, there is nothing to stop us from rationalizing killing. Preceding every killing spree is a betrayal spree. To kill is not all that easy. For one to kill one has to hate. Only hating is not all that easy. For one to hate one has to dehumanize. Only dehumanization is not easy at all. For an Israeli soldier to look through the nozzle of his rifle and see a stray dog instead of a Palestinian child, the young Israeli soldier has to betray the wholesomeness of his vision, rationality and humanity. Having betrayed all, it then becomes all too easy for him to kill the child. Having killed the child there is nothing to stop him from killing the mother and father of that child. Having killed the whole Palestinian family there is nothing to stop him from killing any one he wants or is brain washed to dehumanize.
During intensive brain washing times such as ours, we are coerced into a mode of thinking that if it were not for Father Christmas, we would be orphans; and if it were not for empires, we would be slaves. For if we cannot get our parents right, there is little hope we can get our grand parents and the rest of the human clan right; and if we stop seeing any difference between slavery and freedom, there is little hope we will ever seek to be free. In other words, that we get all our basics wrong whereby we lose faith in ourselves and in others suits empire builders. Thus, our feelings of hopelessness in the human and the humane are not so much because of what we learn about others and ourselves, more because of what we choose to unlearn or tend to forget.
What we forget is that we learn to distinguish between integrity and loss of integrity before we even learn to talk. While most of us love a wholesome King Kong, most cry upon meeting our first clown because we recognize the distortion in the all too familiar human face and behaviour. Once we learn the difference between wholesomeness and distortion however, we cannot unlearn what we have learned. Our irrevocable knowledge is that sure knowledge that there is always a face behind the mask, a body behind the face, a soul behind the body and a God behind all. To betray that knowledge is to betray our humanity, rationality and integrity. Ironically, even when we betray all, we still survive, because we are made to survive despite clowns, distortions and betrayals. Only our survival is, at best, without hope or faith in ourselves and in others. At worst, it becomes all too easy for us to rationalize killings, wars and genocides.
by courtesy & © 2005 Hanan Mondo
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