City of Brass

Having just returned from an overseas trip, I am particularly sensitive to the issue of racial profiling of muslims by airlines. Or more colloquially, “flying while brown”. There are any number of innocent things you can do on a plane that only seem suspicious when done by a brown; be they muslim or Sikh or even Jewish. The ultimate example of this was the case of Iraqi blogger Raed Jarrar, whose innocent shirt with Arabic lettering got him into trouble on a Jet Blue flight. That incident was enough for me to personally vow never to fly Jet Blue again; I am quite gratified to read that just last week, Raed was awarded $240,000 in damages from Jet Blue and the TSA for that violation of his civil liberties. It’s important to take two things away from this affair; one, that security profiling is not inherently bad, but when applied unjustly and hysterically does more harm than good to airline security, and two, that when the security procedures over-step their bounds, the justice system is there to redress the wrong. Those of us who are brown and fly often should take heart in this outcome and not wear victimization on our sleeves.

Related – post on this from the Upgrade: Travel Better blog and another by Amy Sullivan at TIME: Swampland. Also, my classic post, “suspicious things I’ve done on an airplane

The idea of the state of Israel is one I support wholeheartedly. A nation for the Jewish people, a homeland where they can engage in the same right of self-determination and chart their own destiny. However, this right and this dream cannot be attained at the expense of the same dream and rights of other peoples; in fact doing so is fundamentally antithetical to the ethos of the Jewish people themselves. Throughout their long (and persecuted) history, the principle of Justice is the defining trait, by which the Jewish people might legitimately be called a light unto nations. What terrible irony, then, that Israel acts to undermine that legacy and heritage!

ijv.jpgIsrael is, by any reasonable definition of the words, an apartheid state, engaged in an illegal military occupation, employing collective punishment against a civilian population. Note that these terms are used without any hesitation by Israelis of all political stripes themselves; it is only in the peculiar US media and political milieu that such terms elicit such a defensive, denialist reaction. But this too is no surprise; the US political establishment sees Jews as a political asset to be cynically used for their own purposes, whereas the Israeli political establishment lays claim to the Jewish intellectual heritage of truth and self-critique). That heritage is celebrated by A Time to Speak Out, a new compilation of essays by leading Jewish intellectuals that serves as a sobering analysis of the cognitive dissonance of modern Israeli society and also a truly inspiring demonstration of the commitment to Truth and Justice that remains at the core of Jewish identity.

All of this is my prelude to the assertion that Israel’s actions in Gaza are profoundly non-Jewish, not only because it violates the very spirit of the Jewish character, but also in a more literal sense because it undermines the ostensible goals of the state of Israel itself – partly because the founding vision of Israel contains a fundamental contradiction. The idea of Israel in the abstract is a noble one, but in terms of providing a safe haven for Jews, is hardly unique to Israel – arguably, the United States itself is a superior home for the Jewish people to thrive and prosper, with free expression of their culture and faith. For similar reasons, I have also argued that America is the greatest Islamic country on earth; at its most basic, freedom is the key attribute, and nowhere else in the world are Jews (or muslims) more free to be Jews (or muslims) than in the United States.

Israel, however, was founded not on ideals of simply being a haven for Jews, but also with the Zionist goal of being an exclusively Jewish entity. This is a concept that is simply not compatible with modern liberal ideals. In a nutshell, Zionism in its modern form (to which all major Israeli poitical parties subscribe implicitly) requires three qualities: 1. Democracy, 2. Jewishness, and 3. Greater Israel. All three of these are under tension with each other, however, and the Gaza conflict has brought these tensions to the forefront. In subsequent posts, I intend to explore the intersection of these three concepts. The simple truth, however, is that Israel cannot survive as a meaningful political entity if it attempts to pursue all three. For survival, Israel must pick any two, or lose them all.

Note – I have blogged extensively about these issues in the past. I intend to reformulate my arguments more cohesively now and will draw upon those older posts as well, so if you are looking for some preparatory reading material, check them out. Also, I highly recommend Paul Rosenberg at Open Left and this essential New York Times editorial by Rashid Khalidi for some basic background fact-checking on the Gaza conflict.

I’m sure that was the pessimsitic sentiment in some circles. Such naysayers were proven wrong, of course – or at least, mostly wrong:

Portions of the frostbitten United States are feeling the coldest air
so far this winter and forecasters predict the cold snap could extend
into the weekend.

Frigid conditions were expected for Inauguration Day Tuesday in Washington, CNN reported Thursday.

Raw, subzero surface temperatures and winds driving wind chill
readings to the minus-40 range settled in along a path from the
Canadian border to the lower Midwest, with some cities posting record
overnight lows. 

An Alberta Clipper preceding
a numbing shot of Arctic air was expected to leave 1-3 inches of
powdery snow along the Interstate 95 corridor from New York City to
Boston Thursday, reported.

Orrison said most temperatures Thursday would be below zero in the
Upper Midwest through the Great Lakes and into the Northeast — and the
cold snap isn’t over.

The coldest air of the season was expected to blast through the
Upper Midwest and settle over the East and South during the next two
days and last through the weekend before a warm-up begins, he said.

It’s difficult to leave Africa – literally, our flight kept getting delayed and we barely made our connection to Amsterdam. But also in a philosophical sense, it is hard to leave, because some piece of Africa stays with you. This was a fantastic, if grueling, trip, and it definitely affected my perspectives with regards to my blogging and my political priorities. I will have much more to say about Africa later, and I also have some photos to organize and share as well.

I’d like to extend a sincere thanks and express my deep gratitude to all my guest bloggers, especially Willow and Hesham for keeping things moving. I am glad that City of Brass was in such capable hands while I was gone; I actually enjoyed reading my own blog for a change!

So, I am back. Let’s get started.