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From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

I was perusing some of my regular reads from the Middle East, and it occurred to me that it would be interesting to do a study of non-Israeli newspapers in the Middle East to see what percentage of their articles are devoted primarily to Israel and what percentage of their articles are devoted primarily to themselves or to the situations in other Arab countries. I’m thinking in particular of outlets like Egypt’s Al-Ahram, which I’ve been reading for a while now, and which almost always contains a handful (or more) of editorials and other articles pertaining to Israel. Another interesting comparison would the number of critical articles about Israel and Egypt (say) that appear in the major media of such respective countries. We know that the Israeli press is filled everyday with articles and editorials critical of the Israeli government and its policies, yet it would be interesting to see the corresponding percentage of, say, the Egyptian media’s domestic criticism in proportion to its criticisms of Israel. Granted, freedom of speech in both countries extends to criticizing Israel and, granted, Israel is an interesting and important topic, but the coverage devoted to it by these non-Israeli sources seems to dwarf their coverage and criticism of other countries, especially Arab ones. I’m reminded of Voltaire’s quote that if God didn’t exist people would have to invent him: that is, if Israel didn’t exist, outlets like Al-Ahram and their respective governments would have to invent Israel so as to have something to occupy the thoughts and concerns of the people lest they start turning their attention and anger to their own governments. (Arab News, to cite a related example, seems to devote its daily editorial cartoon more often than not to addressing something about Israel: Yet how often do we see Israeli political cartoons about Saudi Arabia?)

In this respect, the Arab states are indeed fortunate that they failed in their attempts to wipe out Israel, for had they succeeded they’d have little left upon which to focus their attention besides themselves. It’s somewhat Freudian, I suppose, but Israel, in serving as a sort of unattainable object of desire—an always-already (and inexhaustible) opiate of the masses, if you will—provides an almost essential sort of stabilizing factor or fixation for various other countries, by which others of their own socio-political neuroses and traumas, especially of the domestic variety, can be endlessly deferred and directed at the always Other. A negative political cathexis on the domestic front could be endangering to the regime at home; so, better to have such (potential) resentment directed outward, at Israel, rather than vented into the craven space of inward self-recognition and interrogation.

How interesting would the Middle East be if we did not have Israel’s Apartheid and genocide and all its other myriad facets of nefariousness to complain about, and how interesting it would be to see all that roiling energy and anti-Apartheid sensibility directed towards criticizing other states in the region. In a sense, it reminds me of the teenager who constantly threatens to move out from her parents’ place but never does, because having mean ol’ Mom and Dad around to blame everything on offers a certain stability and comfort of self-agency. God forbid that Israel should ever disappear, as without the Zionists state outlets like Al-Ahram would lose a significant proportion of their subject material. A modest proposal for a thought experiment: imagine Al-Ahram, even for a month, keeping the same size but devoting no more articles about Israel than, say, Ha’aretz publishes about Egypt in the same time. Would the subsequent potential and available space for cover of other issues involve similarly critical reporting about domestic politics or merely increased coverage of, say, cricket?

Also interesting, I suppose, is the fixation of many critics of Israel regarding Jews and Semites and other such matters of Jewish identity and hybridity. As I’ve noted elsewhere at TBON, this fixation on Jewish heterogeneity and provenance, as entrenched in good faith as it always unquestionably is, is often given voice in the letters sections of papers like Al-Ahram. And so it’s not surprising that the latest edition of Al-Ahram includes a letter from Yousef Abdulla, who informs us that “Very few, apart from population geneticists, are aware that European Jews (Ashkenazi) are not Semites; they are mostly Slav.” Jews, Slavs, Khazars: it can be hard to keep all this Jewish socio-ethnography straight, but whatever.

Here’s a photo caption from the front page of Ha’aretz’s website: “Palestinian boys dressed as suicide bombers wearing mock bomb belts during a rally held by Islamic Jihad in Jenin on Saturday.(AP)” Awww, how cute, or something. Kids today, they blow up so soon.

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