25 February 2009

Is it possible to discriminate against a state? (II)

Thanks, Aldous, for drawing attention to the upcoming Durban Review of the United Nations World Conference Against Racism, Xenophobia and Related Intolerances (which, it seems our own country will not be attending). I remember the hysterics surrounding Durban I quite well, not least because 9/11 proved them touchingly fatuous, and also, in their own way, oddly idealistic.

Can one discriminate against a state? I think, to paraphrase the Rev. Lovejoy, the long answer is yes with an "if, and the short answer is no with a "but."

An individual qua individual can, I think, be "discriminated" against. In fact, we do it all the time - through friendship, love, catty comments, etc. This discrimination (the word comes from the Latin root to "divide" after all) stems from some inherent questions surrounding individual agency and communication with the "other," and can be, frankly, what makes life universally interesting. You can (and should) debate on the level of values whether some discrimination is "good" (e.g. smarts over dullness, etc) but in any case, to be "discriminating" is still a positive term.

Discrimination in a racial sense is, following Christopher Hitchens, a bit of a misnomer. It's division based on...what? It's not profound biological difference (which is a whole other kettle of fish - think of cases around those with developmental disabilities, for instance), but it's not wholly a cultural division either. To me, racism has always seemed to be centred on proximity - not just physical proximity, but also cultural, personal, and emotional, to someone, who, for whatever reason, is "not on your side/team/race/." A proximate understanding of racism explains how some people can reconcile irredeamably racist views of groups with a positive personal view of individual members of those groups.

Anyway, this is a roundabout way of saying that of course Israel, like any other state, can be "discriminated" against by other states - the difference between the system of states and the system of personal relationships being, as I think Aldous' putative supervisor would argue, not all that different.

Unfortunately, the broader crisis underlying the issue is that according to biopolitical models, the modern state elevates the ordering of life - and by extension, race, which is one ordering of life - to the centre of the state's raison d'etre. So perhaps Durban II should be devoted to more honestly discussing the various institutional tactics and strategies by which all states - including the United States, Israel, Iran and our own - order life, and the relative merits and demerits of each.

The Forbes commentary fails mightily on that score in two respects: first, it conflates all criticism of Israeli policy (as a state) with blanket anti-Semitism (towards a group, the Jewish people, that do not universally believe Israel speaks for them). This is a very old - not to say hackneyed - observation

Second, and to me more interestingly, the piece only inadvertantly and obliquely refers to the fact that it's proximity or its lack - with terrorists, with "Arabs," with a the idea of a Palestinian state, with the idea of Palestinians themselves, with the wall, with Iran" - that's at the root of the regional problem.

My questions is, where does the opposition to Israel from Arab or Islamic states coming from (because remember, these aren't quite the same thing). Is it opposition to the Jewish people's existence - opposition that the Quran at endorses any more than the Bible does? Or is it opposition to the Israeli state, for a wide variety of reasosn? I guess this is the $64,000 dollar question.

That's my two cents. John? 'Dous?

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