LIGHT OMEGA

Nov. 12, 2004Articles and commentary regarding world events
THE 'CHAIN OF VICTIMIZATION'


     I wrote in the last newsletter about Yasser Arafat and endeavored, there, to bring into focus the problem of viewing the life of a man who has been the source of much good as well as much harm to others. Though I spoke about Arafat in particular, the discussion applied to all persons, for all are mixtures of light and darkness, some much more of one than the other. In taking into account both the good that Arafat did and the harm he contributed to, we are left with the question of how we are meant to view such a mixture in people. Put differently, we are left with the question of how to maintain compassion in the presence of darkness within others and in the presence of that which is destructive to life.

     This fundamentally spiritual question is essential to grapple with today, when acts of violence and terrorism are becoming all too common, and when the motives of those who commit such acts are often a mystery to us. There are many forms of terrorism present in the world, and all forms are destructive to life. But what motivates terrorism? Is there any good in those who commit such acts? What motivates the kidnappers, the abductors, the murderers whom we see and hear about in Iraq? What motivates the insurgents who kill their Iraqi brothers? Can they all receive our compassion?

     Somehow, it seems more possible to say "yes" in relation to Chairman Arafat. This is because the good that came out of his life in relation to supporting the cause of the Palestinian people, may outweigh the elements of his life that were not good - the killings, corruption, the support of terrorist activity. But even in relation to Arafat, how do we weigh good against not-good? How do we know what the proportions may have been within him? In the end, we cannot know, for we would need to be inside him to do so. But we can remain aware of how the 'chain of victimization' works which fosters much of the violence in the world that becomes terrorism.

     What is this 'chain'? Within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is that which was initiated by the holocaust of the nineteen thirties and forties and perhaps stirred into existence even before then by the history of the Jewish diaspora. The holocaust cost the lives of six million Jews and left with those who remained the legacy of a commitment. This commitment of heart and soul was stated as "never again". "Never again" would we allow such a thing to happen. The world felt this. The surviving Jewish population which made its way to Eretz Yisroel felt this. "Never again" could this be allowed to happen. And so the possibility for a Jewish homeland was offered because enough of the world felt "it must be." Enough of the world felt "never again." Little did it realize that the "again" part of this promise was already being ennacted in relation to the displaced Palestinians who immediately became homeless refugees, driven out of their own land. The "never again" portion promised to the Jews was not promised to the Palestinians, many of whom felt that their livelihood and very existence were being denied. And so those who were the victims of Nazi horror became the survivors, dwelling in the new land. And in turn, in order to protect the promise that said "never again," in order to protect their own security, the Palestinians became the new victims. The promise of security and safety, so important to the Israelis, was to prevail, initially, for this group, but was lost to the Palestinians who became the new group of oppressed.

      Years and decades passed, and eventually the Palestinians sought redress of their grievances, of their homelessness, of that which had been taken away by the legalization of the status of Israel in 1947 and later on by the 1967 war. Now, victims themselves, helpless and in distress, they began to seek an end to oppression and, since they were not strong enough to influence the Israeli government nor its military directly, some sought to influence the government indirectly through attacks upon its citizens. Thus, a wave and then another wave of anti-Israeli terrorist activity became a counterforce employed by a victimized population against a new oppressor - an oppressor who was still defending against its own former status in relation to the Nazis, and also in relation to a currently hostile Arab world that rejected its claim to the land it stood on. The holocaust has never been forgotten by Israel. It was and is embedded within every fibre of every Israeli who needs to know that their right to exist will never again be challenged. Many of the Palestinians do not feel this same confidence.

     The practice of terrorism as a form of self-empowerment, an expression of rage, and an antidote to victimization, mushroomed in the newly-formed Palestinian groups who sought a way to influence Israeli policy regarding the 'territories'. Now, a new kind of victimization came into being. Both the Israeli civilian who could no longer travel freely within his or her own town or city, and the Palestinian 'martyr' who would turn his or her powerlessness into an ultimate act of defiance - these became the new victims of Palestinian powerlessness in its ultimate effort to convert despair into power and hope.

     Within Iraq, the 'chain of victimization' can be seen as well. Here, not as clearly as between Israel and Palestine. The situation in Iraq is more ambiguous, largely because we do not have accurate information about what is true. Would most Iraqis have wished for outside help in overthrowing Saddam Hussein? Perhaps. Probably. Would they therefore have wished for an American-led occupation as a necessary consequence of this? Probably not. The absence of clear information about Iraqi sentiment and the couching of American intention in terms of high ideals, muddles the situation in a way that it appears not to be muddled in Israel/Palestine. As the public, we are often victims of misinformation and the omission of facts. We have to search to find out what is really happening. And yet many feel in their hearts, even without precise information, that the occupation is wrong, that the war is wrong. It is wrong on the level of duplicity in terms of the representation of American reasons for being in Iraq, and it is wrong on the level of humanity in terms of the price in human suffering that it has caused.

     Having said this, how, then, do we view the widespread insurgency in Iraq, and is it an 'insurgency' at all, or the most visible part of the protest of an entire people? Is it the expression of a minority, or a protest against a new form of oppression which has replaced the oppression of the Saddam Hussein regime? Many feel that the group of so-called 'insurgents' or 'rebels' are not separate from the Iraqi people but rather representative of it.

     The 'chain of victimization' in Iraq appears to be a response to U.S. occupation and control. On site reports indicate that much of the populace feels that they are being invaded by a foreign occupier with its own interests, under the guise of liberation. The most active or angry part of this group wishes to strike back against U.S. military power but, as within Palestine, the capacity to do so is severely limited. Therefore, the 'victims' of oppression follow two tracks: the first is the 'insurgency' which assumes the quality of militia-like activity - small groups fighting battles with other groups of armed combatants, both U.S. military and Iraqi National Guard and police. The second, more extreme group, uses terrorist tactics and turns its focus to individual civilians who are not necessarily involved in the conflict, but who are symbols of American occupation. In both cases, the aim is to rid Iraq of the occupiers, recognizing, at the same time, that it must be through means that make it difficult for the coalition to remain in Iraq, rather than through direct military confrontation. The victimization of civilians is not the last rung in the 'chain of victimization' in Iraq, however. For the al Qaeda network, led by Osama bin Laden, has been, and is taking on the cause of the 'victims' in both Palestine and Iraq. Its aim is to oppress the oppressors, to turn the oppressors into victimis. This goal involves the completion of a circle in which America feels the pain it is inflicting upon others.

     Seeing this, understanding this, can we therefore become compassionate toward those who are fighting the Americans and associated Iraqis in Fallujah, Samarra, Najah, Baghdad, Mosul...? And if we are sympathetic to the 'insurgency', what shall our attitudes be toward those who are the hostage-takers and the beheaders, even toward al Qaeda itself?

     Here is where a line seems to get crossed in terms of what the heart will allow. The line gets crossed when we move from a war-time scenario that gets fought between two groups with weapons - two groups who have consciously and deliberately taken each other on. No matter how opposed we are to the purposes of either group, at least we feel that we are in the realm of ideals which each group claims to represent. They are false ideals, perhaps, conflicting ideals, but ideals nevertheless. This is in contrast to action taken against innocent civilians, whether in Iraq, Palestine, Israel, or America. Such action seems to partake more of cruelty and sadism, no matter what the ideals are that claim to be behind it. Here is the line that gets crossed - when terrorizing and killing individuals who have no relationship to the actual conflict becomes a means to an end - one in which the individual life involved is discounted entirely, one in which the individual is seen merely as a symbol of that which is hated, rather than as a real person. The heart cries out as it witnesses this disregard for life. And even more so when certain actions which involve personal terror for an individual are then exploited and paraded for the world to see via videotape. Then, cruelty combines with contempt and we revisit the inner memories or scenes we have heard about regarding Nazi atrocities. These behaviors speak to us of brutality, not idealism, not nationalism. As a result, they are more unacceptable, more associated with darkness than the battles between two opposing groups.

     On the human level, there is a point reached for many at which horror outweighs compassion; at which the observation of cruelty outweighs any vision of idealism or any other mitigating motive. It causes protest in the heart, protest that insists that there must be another means to an end other than this one, and that this one must not be allowed to continue. Horror and revulsion activate our sense that something has become inhuman, that is, not within the realm of what can be comprehended. Because we all live with a conscience, our conscience determines the shape and location of this line that inwardly cannot be crossed.

     What of compassion then? Where do we put it, and for whom do we feel it? Concerning certain 'inhuman' actions taken, there appear to be those that cross the line of conscience and cannot be forgiven, for they partake too much of what is against God. For these actions, we cannot feel compassion. Yet saying this, and even while we feel anguish in the presence of the horrible, we must recognize that we are still dealing with people, with souls. And ultimately, we cannot make war upon nor justify hatred toward souls who are of God. This distinction in the presence of the horrific, is often one that is difficult to make. Yet the action is not the soul. This is the understanding which saves. And we must cling to it, even when it seems impossible to see, lest we become like the perpetrator of that which we hate and are revolted by.

     The history of oppression and victimization, of victims turning into new oppressors, winds its way through human history with tragic consequences. It is the essential dynamic between nations that are engaged in historic conflict with each other. It is based on the way in which the human psyche deals with powerlessness and threat. Until a new way can be found, one in which people can accord fundamental respect to each other and in which powerlessness can be replaced by a shared right to exist and to prosper, this tragic history of oppression and victimization will continue.

     For today, hopefully, we can each learn to go as far as we can in the direction of compassion before the line gets crossed beyond which we can no longer see the soul of another operating. And even when this happens, we must still pray to see through the energy that covers the light of the soul - to see the original pure motive which directed that soul before it became separated from its own goodness. This prayer of compassion is an invocation for the freedom of souls. It asks that each may once again feel the original light that exists at their core, and be liberated from the forces of darkness which take them so far away from love and truth. In the end, actions that are abhorrent to us must be rejected. But the soul who is more than the action, this soul must be redeemed.











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