On Arrogance and Modesty: Shemot Exodus 1:1-6:1

On Arrogance and Modesty: Shemot Exodus 1:1-6:1

by

Howard Adelman

Moses is not introduced until Chapter 2 of Exodus. Instead, this book begins as a tale of the Israelite people and the Pharaoh “who knew not Joseph.” (1:8) But we know who Joseph was. We just read a very long story about his life and achievements. And now we are introduced to a repressive Pharaoh. How is this Pharaoh (PII) depicted? How does his character, his dispositions, his motivations, his self-conception and his overall temperament compare to that of Joseph? Of Moses?

Pharaoh (PII) has none of the grace, the tolerance, the consideration and the humanitarianism of the Pharaoh who knew Joseph (PI), the Pharaoh who appointed Joseph as the vizier of Egypt. PII was a populist. He talked directly, just as Moses will, but Moses talked to God; PII talked to his people (1:9). He may have been an all-powerful leader, but PII championed the ordinary Egyptian against previous Pharaohs who, PII seemed to believe, succoured and welcomed strangers. PII presented himself as opposing the establishment, the previous powerful elite who coddled strangers in their midst. Against the interest in protecting and holding onto their labouring population, PII raged against the Israelites.

PII used the Israelites as a scapegoat. They were Other. They were totally other. They were inferior. But they were also numerous and, therefore, a potential fifth column – “in the event of war they may join our enemies in fighting against us and rise up from the ground.” (1:10) Do not welcome the stranger. Fear them. They are a danger. In the process, PII transformed Egypt from the benevolent rule of an autocrat (PI) to a state run as a one-person fiefdom. L’état c’est moi. PII began the process of dismantling the institutions that allowed Egypt to rule the ancient world. Instead of welcoming strangers among them, PII oppressed them. He rounded up those “strangers” and shackled them in forced labour. As he did so, the fear of the alleged dangers of the Israelites grew rather than diminished. The Egyptians were ruthless, without an ounce of empathy, and made life as bitter as possible for what had become a slave nation.

If PI had been constrained by economic realities, PII was not. The latter was willing to kill the source of his manual labour force, Hebrew boys, to service his paranoia and to use the fear of strangers as a way of mobilizing the Egyptians behind his autocratic rule. Was he effective? Not among the midwives who did not carry out his harsh decree and, instead, blamed the Hebrew women for being so healthy that they did not need a midwife. He may have been a populist, but could not use his tongue to persuade, just dictate.

He would be succeeded by another autocrat even worse than PII. PIII never acted with any strategic considerations in mind. His treatment of the Israelites was not a product of thoughtful and sound public policy, but rather of rants and stubborn determination to get his way. PII may have used the persecution of the Israelites to mobilize the Egyptian population behind him, but PIII disdained diplomacy altogether in favour of being a brawler, not just with anyone, but with the God of Israel. Contrast the behaviour of PII and PIII with the respect PI showed God.

It seems clear that PII was a macho male who lived off dominating the lives of others. He wanted and needed recognition. PIII would need even greater recognition, not as primus inter pares, first among equals, but as first űber alles. PIII would accept no rivals under any circumstances, and certainly would not accede to a God who was superior to himself in virtually every way. But his conflict with God would bring out his anxiety, his self-doubt, his emotional instability, his negative emotions and his propensity towards depression – when he was not being manic.

PII and PIII both lack any sense of curiosity (compare them in this regard to PI), imaginative capability, concern with or care for others. There did not seem to be an ounce of empathy or compassion in either. And PIII, though stubborn and determined to have his way, possessed no ability to think strategically in a disciplined manner, or to follow and submit to a set of rules, or even formulate such rules. Revenge was the driving force behind his behaviour rather than accommodation. As we will see, he seemed incapable of learning from experience.

Cognitively rigid and incurious, lacking any sense of emotional stability and calm, PII (and, subsequently, PIII), quite aside from being the oppressor of the Israelites, comes across as a most disagreeable fellow. PII was certainly driven and determined; PIII was even worse; he was, again as we shall see, restless and incapable of keeping a deal. He seemed to be a dynamo in perpetual motion, especially when contrasted with Moses. PII, the Pharaoh in the narrative before us, was the archetype of callous rudeness and arrogance. It would not be inaccurate to dub him a narcissistic mendacious two-dimensional performer rather than a three-dimensional human being. The only emotion both PII and PIII seemed capable of expressing was rage.

What a contrast with Joseph. But Joseph was far from a saint and just as far from being a Tzaddik, contrary to his publicists. He was as disagreeable as PII, but for different reasons. Joseph was a consummate actor with an instinct for making an impression on others. But Joseph was also a malicious gossip. If PII saw himself as greater than anyone, Joseph was very capable of his own aggrandized self-expression, though certainly more warranted. PII did not have to get along to get ahead. Joseph acquired the skill of the former to accomplish the latter. He acquired the skills of a diviner, but took no responsibility for his actions. Unlike Moses, who invited God to intervene in history, in Joseph’s world, God determined everything, eliminating the need for confession, forgiveness and, hence, acceptance of responsibility.

Look at the end of Genesis when his brothers begged for forgiveness. Instead of offering that forgiveness and permitting his brothers to accept and take responsibility for their actions, he cried. Unlike PII, Joseph was all sentiment, but lacked compassion, not to suggest that his brothers exhibited much. Joseph told his brothers: “Do not fear, for I am in the place of God.  As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:19-20) PII might have claimed that he was a god, but Joseph did the next worse thing. He said that he was in the place of God. Though God never spoke to him as he would to Moses. Joseph did not invite God’s entry into history, but insisted that what took place, even evil deeds, were just expressions of God’s will. For very different reasons, PII and Joseph both exhibited “an existence unmolested by the rumbling of a soul.” What a contrast with Jacob! Both PII and Joseph, though radically different, could not accept that they had ever done anything wrong.

Both PII and Joseph presented themselves as gifts from heaven. But true Israelites “rose from the ground.” Moses was an exception. He came forth from the water.  The meaning of the name Moses in Egyptian meant “drawn out,” a name given by Bithiah, his adoptive mother, who pulled Moses out from the river. Bithiah’s name itself means “Daughter of Yah,” daughter of God. She became Moses’ second midwife. Joseph, in contrast, was named Zaphenath-paneah. The speculation about the meaning of that name that seems both the most scholarly as well as appealing to me is “he who is called life.” As much as Moses is a spiritual man serving as a conduit between God and man, Joseph is the epitome of a natural human driven by a quest for power and position as the expression of what it means to live at the highest level.

If Joseph was arrogant, Moses is the epitome of a great man who remains humble despite his royal upbringing. He first became a shepherd of sheep and then of humans as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela did in the twentieth century. But the latter two divined the future as Joseph did. God spoke to Moses face-to-face and Moses was the vehicle by which God revealed Himself to humans. Joseph said to his brothers that he would personally be responsible for their safety and well-being. Moses never attributed any credits to himself. His unique characteristics were not special. Perhaps many others could have done as well or better than he did.

Moses was not a goody-goody two-shoes. What is the first story told of Moses after the tale of his birth and his being drawn out of the water? It is the encounter with a taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. Moses rose up in anger and slew the man. He did not own up to the deed but sought to hide it by burying the man’s body. The next day when he witnessed two Hebrew slaves fighting one another, and intervened, they challenged Moses. “Who are you to talk peace and to dissuade us from fighting? You killed an Egyptian taskmaster yesterday. Are you threatening me now?” There was a witness. Pharaoh wanted revenge, even against a boy in his own household. Moses was afraid and fled.

Not much of an advertisement for a future military, political and religious leader of the Israelites. He fled to Midian. He went to a well, the J-Date for ancient Hebrews. Once more he intervened. But he did not kill. He simply chased away other shepherds harassing the priest of Midian’s seven daughters. And he watered their flocks. The Midian priest was impressed, invited Moses to dinner and then gave his daughter, Zipporah, in marriage. Zipporah had a child, Gershon. We move through Moses’ early life with the speed of lightning. Yet there is sufficient to capture his core character – caring, responsible, capable of taking a moral stance, but also possessing a volcanic temper.

Then the revelation. Not a dream needing interpretation, but the appearance of an angel of the Lord in a blazing bush, a bush that is not consumed by the fire. Moses will not be consumed with the anger within him as Pharaoh (PIII) will be. God is fire. Moses emerged from the water. Fire and water do not mix. Yet God called to him. And Moses, like Abraham answered, “Hinaini.” Here I am. Moses did not turn away. And God spoke directly to Moses, introducing Himself but not revealing his name. He called on Moses to lead his people out of bondage.

Moses replied. Who am I to carry forth so great a mission? How can I convince anyone? Moses had to be drawn out of himself. He had to develop and be transformed into a leader. How could he convince people? He was full of doubt, totally lacking in the certainty of either PII, PIII or Joseph. By signs and wonders, God replied. And he gave Moses a demonstration turning a rod into a snake and a snake back into a rod, covering the back of Moses’ hand with fish scales and then making his skin smooth again.

These are not arbitrary magical acts. And they are not just dreams either. The snake in the Garden of Eden is crafty and clever, shrewd and wily. Machiavellianism will be required.

We need a break; it is time for a joke. A Bishop of the church each day passed a Jewish beggar near the entry of the church. Next to him the Bishop saw a Christian beggar wearing a monk’s habit with a large cross around his neck. Each day the Bishop would drop a few coins into the box of the Christian beggar. After many days of passing the two, he stopped. He addressed the Jewish beggar. Why are you begging as a Jew in front of a Cathedral? Why don’t you go outside a synagogue among your own people? The Jewish beggar turned to the other beggar and said, “So Moishe, look who is trying to teach us how to raise money for charity?” Machiavellian indeed!

In the Garden of Eden story, the stiff staff, the rigid snake, can no longer stand up, but falls to the ground. In this tale, the sequence is reversed. The rod becomes a squirming snake and then reverts once again to a staff.

Moses was a merman who emerged from the water and grew up with delicate skin in the royal household. As one of my readers noted, Moses was like Elisa in The Shape of Water, an outsider in the Hebrew, Egyptian and Midian communities. If Elisa was mute, Moses too had a speech impediment.  Moses had “never been a man of words.” (Exodus 4:10) But God will instruct Moses what to say and do. Joseph, in contrast, was the one giving the credit. In Exodus, God takes the credit and Moses simply has to trust God that He will perform as needed. Aaron will speak for you to the people. This will guarantee that Moses can never become a populist. For he will not be able to address his people directly or claim they are his people.

Could one have a greater contrast with PII and PIII, but also with Joseph? Moses remains the epitome of a modest leader.

 

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Interstellar – the Drama

Interstellar: I – The Drama

by

Howard Adelman

Nancy and I along with our son and daughter-in-law, Daniel and Jessica, went to see a film that I thought was called Intergalactica, but soon discovered was called Interstellar. My mind, and often my mouth and even my fingers, for some reason, known or unknown, often does that – transposes one word or phrase for another. One example – always guaranteed to split the sides of my wife, Nancy, and my two young children – is the substitution of the name of candies called “Jolly Ranchers” with the name “Jolly Rangers”. When I first typed the substitution, I even reversed the names, writing that I substituted the correct name, “Jolly Rangers”, for the name “Jolly Ranchers”. I only caught the error in editing. Jolly Ranchers were favourite candies of Daniel and Gabriel when they were young. I always seemed to call that candy by the wrong name. The mental reason for that substitution is unknown to me until this day.

As another example, I almost always say “loan” when I mean “borrow”. I know the right term in my mind, but there is a disconnect between my brain and my mouth. Almost everyone does this a few times because of a memory synapse error, but for some of us, it is a chronic condition. For others, the condition is acute. The phonological system involved in speech output in the language-dominant hemisphere is impaired. It is one major reason why I almost never read a talk. For almost inevitably one word or phrase will be substituted by another, in spite of the script before my eyes, to produce an unintended joke and unwelcomed laughter. When this occurs in a seemingly extemporaneous speech, it is barely noticed.

I do not know the physiological explanation for my condition, but I think I have a rational explanation for why I called the film Interstellar by the name “Intergalactica”. The name “Interstellar” never made sense to my rational and scientific mind, so my brain independently performed a transposition. After all, interstellar means travel between stars. From the little I had heard about the movie, the space travel was from the planet earth in one solar system to another life sustaining planet in another galaxy. The movie was about travel between galaxies using a wormhole in the space/time continuum. In any case, why would humans seeking an alternate livable planet want to travel from one sun to another? Perhaps to a planet in a very different solar system. But everyone knows, or do we, that this is impossible – even in science fiction. Intergalactic travel, believe it or not, is a far more realistic scenario which the imagination of the movie makers literally bend to their advantage.

The more I reflected on the movie to write about what I was thinking, the clearer it was to me that I could never write about it in one or even two blogs. I wanted to write about the science in the film as I started to do above. But the film was so packed with science – from the biological to fundamental physics – that it would take a blog or two just to unpack the scientific dimensions of the movie. Put another way, truer to that science, science was but one dimension of the film and it alone had multi-dimensions.

Secondly, there was the visual and auditory aesthetics of the movie. I had never seen or heard a movie anything like it before – and I am not just referring to the soundtrack that sometimes made it impossible to decipher the dialogue, especially the dialogue about science. Was that deliberate? Usually I can re-run the movie in my own head when I write about it the next morning. I found that impossible with Interstellar. It was so rich in visual and auditory terms. And those are the dimensions of a movie I often recall least of all. I am not a person who can easily recall what a person looks like or sounds like, or can richly describe a scene where we have just been. Somehow, I can usually do it with movies. However, with this one, I plan to return and see the movie a second time just to concentrate on that dimension. Since we leave in three days for our southern trip en route next week from Seattle to Marin County in California, that second viewing will probably have to wait until we return to Victoria in mid-March. Hopefully, the movie will be playing at some IMAX somewhere.

The dimension that I – and usually most others – can most easily grasp is the dramatic and thematic one. That dimension alone was very rich – though sometimes corny and cloying. Although basically a classic love story, that aspect of the movie also had many dimensions. I could not help but think of E.M. Forster’s great novel, Passage to India, even as I was watching the movie. In a late chapter in the novel, Professor Godbole is at a festival celebrating the midnight birth of the Hindu god, Krishna. The celebration is not a national feast or even a multicultural one, but an effort to allow everyone to feel at one with the universe. Godbole is thinking about his obsession with the English lady, Mrs. Moore, his memory of a wasp sitting on a rock and the rock itself. He fails. The movie Interstellar is imbued with the same Hindu vision of merging mankind to be at one with the whole universe while also revealing what separates humans.

Love is the means to get there. But what kind of love? Godbole thinks it might be a man’s love for a woman. But he is unsuccessful. So is the effort of Dr. Amie Brand, played brilliantly as usual by Anne Hathaway, who is determined to reunite with the great love of her life, an astronaut, Dr. Wolf Edmunds, who, in the Lazarus mission ten years earlier, was one of twelve scientists who set off to find an alternative planet where the survivors of Earth could resettle. Is it the love of mankind for future generations? This is what drives the chief scientist, Amie Brand’s father played by Michael Caine, so much so that he tells the great noble lie called Plan A that dominates the film. Humans had already demonstrated a great disregard for future generations and had allowed the planet Earth to move pell mell towards its own destruction in the dystopian bleak opening and pre-story to the movie’s major scientific narrative. Can one scientist’s determination to save future generations overcome these propensities?

Behind that destructive force is another – the love of a human for himself – a personal survival instinct. This is what drives Matt Damon playing the part of the fallen angel, Dr. Mann, whose determination to live overcomes his responsibilities as a scientist. Mann is man’s worst enemy. However, in this interplay, of self-love and species love, of inter-personal love of a man for a woman, there is a fourth form of love that supersedes them all. It is the love of a parent for a child and of a child for a parent. In the movie, it is the love of Cooper, himself an astronaut, played by Matthew McConaughey, not for both of his two children, but for his daughter Murph. Murph as a child is played by Mckenzie Foy, as an adult by Jessica Chastain and as an old woman on her death bed, by Ellen Burstyn. Cooper’s connection to his son Tom (Timothée Chalamet as a 15-year-old boy and Casey Affleck as a grown adult) is just blown sideways, or, rather backwards, because Tom grows up to be a stick-in-the-dust farmer just as his grandfather, Cooper’s father-in-law, Donald (John Lithgow), was.

The competing forms of love constitute the dramatic centre of the film .However, only a parent’s love for a child, more specifically, a father’s love for his daughter and its reciprocal response, allows humans to escape the gravitational pull of earth and become the embodiment of infinite love that allows the survival and re-birth on another planet of the human species. Godbole’s affection for Mrs. Moore and his attempt to merge the rock and the wasp and Mrs. Moore in a singular unity could not accomplish that task. Nor could Professor’s Brand’s effort. But Cooper and Murph could and did in this Hollywood romance. “Love is the one thing that transcends time and space.” But not any love. Only the love between a father and a daughter is successful.
And what a reversal of the biblical precept (Numbers 30:16) that gives a father command over the vows a young daughter might make. In Interstellar, the relationship is reversed. Murph is the superego who holds her father to account for his vow to return. Murph is Antigone, anti-gone, who becomes the guardian of the faith and stands up to the principle and teacher who would betray science and the cultural heritage of learning and exploration of humans.

As suggested in reference to Dr. Mann, the movie is as much a religious film as it is an exercise in science fiction. Hence the Lazarus name of the previous mission echoing Jesus’ restoration to life of Lazarus four days after he purportedly died. In that mission, twelve apostles, no, astronauts, are sent forth to find an alternative livable planet. Three found possible prospects. In addition to Dr. Mann and Dr. Edmunds, there was Dr. Miller on the first of the planets that was thought to offer a possible viable alternative to Earth. She too died. However, there is no raising any of them from the dead. Cooper and his crew prove not to be miracle workers and the ghostly suggestions of books thrown off their shelves in Murphy’s bedroom when she is still a young girl will also prove to be more metaphysical than mystical. So why if the movie is a blend of the heart and the scientific rational brain, are there so many religious references?

Well it is a tale of faith versus cynicism. It is a story of good versus evil, the latter emerging in many forms, from political historical re-writing of the truth of the Apollo mission into a tale of political shenanigans to Dr. Mann’s behaviour in enticing Cooper’s crew to land on his planet. It is a tale of resurrection of a different sort, if not from the dead, from a cryogenic hypersleep as two of the astronauts aboard Cooper’s space ship, Doyle (Wes Bentley) and Romilly (David Gyasi), do. It is a tale of awe for the absolutely divine magnificence of the enormous universe in which we live. However, instead of, “And God said… and then there was…” we find what was and try to discover and articulate it. Thought, reflection and words follow and do not precede the cosmos. But more than anything, this is a tale of both human vision and human responsibility, both often celebrated in religion, but also both just as often repressed by organized religion.

Then, as Megan Garber’s article in The Atlantic on the movie put it, there is also a Chosen One – Murphy – a chosen people – those brought to the new promised land. If religious, the movie is more Jewish than Christian even though Murph saves the world when she is thirty-three years old. For the people must go on an exodus given the widespread failure of crops and famine in the land. However, one cannot make too much of this for there is no real persecution, though the space voyageurs do not go forth into the Land of Oz “somewhere over the rainbow”. As much as the movie is religious, it is religion caught up within the network of science. To the extent that religion is not reverent of science, to the extent that it is a matter of blind faith in the lessons taught by authority, the film is stridently anti-religious while always remaining ethical. In that sense, it has the same ironic references to religion as Passage to India that I mentioned above. The sense in which it is most religious and also most akin to science is that both involve faith in an eventual salvation, faith in benevolence, faith in a world that is overwhelmingly unknown and, to some extent, unknowable.
The clues can be found in the text book assigned to Murph by her school that now denies that humans ever landed on the moon. For institutionalized thinking has become dogmatic and is at war with both curiousity and wonder in favour of order and good behaviour. Conformity is at war with exploring the impossible to make it possible by dogmatically preferring certainty over speculation, especially that of science fiction. The message of the movie is as simplistic as any religious message: dare to aim higher; break barriers and reach for the stars, replace self-protection and survivalism with exploration, risk and perseverance. Our greatest tales are of journeys to discover the unknown based on faith in the promise of the future.

Our rich cultural history provides the clues to regaining that lost art of speculation, wonder and pushing the boundaries of knowledge outward. The titles of the books on Murph’s shelves in her room and of the books that are thrust by some unknown force onto the floor. I was looking because I thought that surely Passage to India or Homer’s Odyssey would be among them. But I did not spot either. Instead, the books I spotted, with a few exceptions, seemed more mundane than profound with no subtlety whatsoever in the connections with the movie. I actually cheated here since I could only recall a few, so I looked on line at close-ups of the bookshelves that play such a prominent part in the film.

The mundane books included Stephen King’s The Stand about a post-apocalyptic America ravaged by plague, James Elroy’s The Big Nowhere, Curtis and Dianne Oberhansly’s Downwinders: an Atomic Tale and Elizabeth Wolff’s Out of the Blue in which the title says it all, in the latter case referring to both chance and to the source of truth in the sky. There is also a biography of Charles Lindbergh, a Scrabble dictionary and a Sherlock Holmes mystery. These books were clues that subtlety would not be a great strength in this movie. Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, an updated version of the Moses story set in New York, seems to have some connection with the movie, but I would have to read Helprin’s book to figure it out.

However, Herman Melville’s classic, Moby Dick, the story of Captain Ahab chasing a huge white whale, is also among Murph’s books. The novel begins, “Call me Ishmael.” Is Christopher Nolan, the director of Interstellar, the narrator, Ishmael, while Cooper is Ahab searching to find, not a spirit whale, but a habitable planet where the human spirit as well as body can survive and thrive? It is hard to say. For the film is syncretic, mixing and not always matching multiple sources and influences. I was sure one of the most important was Odysseus’ (in Latin, Ulysses) travels in the Odyssey and his ten-year effort to return home to Ithaca after the Trojan Wars. In a small way, perhaps. But there were too few parallels. In Interstellar, there are twelve ships that were driven off course just as in the Lazarus mission ten years before Cooper set off. Are the people on Earth the infamous lethargic lotus-eaters? Certainly multiple winds that Odysseus had in the leather bag given by Aeolus, the keeper of the winds, permeate the story.

However, there are no cannibals though the voyageurs are torn between Dr. Mann’s and Dr. Edmund’s planets, the Interstellar tale is actually far less fantastical than the narrative of the Scylla and the Charybdis. For this film is about science fiction, not science fantasy. Odysseus never meets the spirit of his own mother, but rather the real flesh and blood presence of his own daughter. He was the spirit. She was the real thing. It is Cooper’s daughter not Cooper himself whom the new colony of humans is named after. After all, the movie is about father-daughter love as an expression of quantum entanglement, the interaction of two particles that behave as one even though they may be light years apart. We no longer live in the mechanical industrial age but in a networked communicative age; this movie is surely an expression of my children’s and grandchildren’s era rather than my own.

Next Blog: The Science of Interstellar

The Blame Game: John Kerry versus Pauline Marois

The Blame Game: John Kerry versus Pauline Marois

by

Howard Adelman

 

After every important political act, at significant political junctions, one of the first responses is who gets credit and who gets blamed. The peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians may be drawing its last breaths and the corpse of the process is not yet on the coroner’s gurney, yet pundits and ordinary folk alike are already weighing in and assessing blame. The dissection of the Québec election began almost as soon as the election was called.

Seventeen minutes after the results of the Québec election, a chorus that began a week before the end of the Québec election, now began its steep rise to a crescendo over the next three hours. On 9 March 2014, Pauline Marois was to blame for going off message by allowing her new star candidate, media mogul, billionaire Pierre Karl Péladeau, to upstage her, thrust his fist in the air and, like a Black Power revolutionary, shout the equivalent of, “Vive le Québec libre!”. Marois compounded the error when a video caught her shoving Péladeau aside as she once again took centre stage alone before the mike and then further compounded this double message by blabbering at length over the next week about precisely when a referendum would be held with weasel phrases such as “when Québeckers want it” or “when they are ready for it,” and then speculating at length on the currency Québeckers would use afterwards, border controls, etc.

Others blamed the introduction of the Charter of Values for being so divisive, for bringing bigotry out of the woodwork and for misrepresenting what Québeckers stood for. On 10 September 2013, when Bernard Drainville, as the ironically named Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, introduced the Charter of Values to save secularism from the threat of religion infiltrating state institutions, this imitation of France’s doctrine of laicité and its method of contemporary enforcement did not fit the behaviour and attitude of most Québeckers who came into contact on a daily basis with members of religious minorities who wore the professions of their religion proudly on their heads or around their necks when they came to work in Québec hospitals, schools and government offices

In 1985 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled i that such decisions should be determined by the principle of reasonable accommodation. The Bouchard Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation in its hearings around the province had already demonstrated the enormous amount of latent bigotry around the province when the issue of reasonable accommodation was raised. The Commission also concretely documented that most Québeckers in their daily intercourse with minorities were very accommodating and exemplars of tolerance. The Commission recommended against playing into the sentiments of bigots and for allowing reasonable accommodation to be worked out in practice. The Marois government chose not to follow the lead of the Commission. Their divisive policy to ban the wearing of religious symbols, either as a political ploy to help get re-elected with a majority or as an expression of their own deepest prejudices and fears or a mixture of both, backfired

Further, as the debate on the Charter of Values unfurled, instead of retreating to some degree to deal with the criticism, the exponents dug in their heels and tightened the restrictions. The recent election only permitted the unreasonable nature of the fears to be pronounced by some of the oldest and most respected citizens of the Province from the Francophones (le rattrapage) while, in practice, many Québeckers began to realize it would mean the flight from their province of highly regarded professionals whom the province needed if the economy was to complete its path to modernization and renewed economic growth.

For the first time Marois faced an opposition leader who proudly wore a Maple Leaf pin, who even dared to suggest that all Québeckers should be bilingual, who trusted and supported the strength of the French fact and reality in the province, and who echoed the sentiment of most younger voters who were tired of divisiveness in politics. However, the articulation of this set of competing values threatened the very raison d’être of the PQ party. In reality, the election was a great success, bringing forth in an open manner a fundamental choice for the people of Québec, whether in the future they were to face a series of debates over how to protect the unique character of the French fact in Canada and in North America, a renewed use of the device of a referendum on sovereignty that had become anathema to most Québeckers, a belief that Québeckers were under constant and continuing cultural threat and could not and did not feel secure enough and strong enough to go out into the world and face the competition. Marois may have been very wrong in reading the mood of her constituency but she should perhaps be praised for, even if reluctantly and contradictorily, putting the choice clearly before Québec voters.

In the case of John Kerry, the problem is quite different. He had repeatedly said that, in the end, the choice was up to the Palestinians and the Israelis. “We can’t want peace more than they do” had been his mantra which he repeated once again on 5 April when it was evident that the negotiations were in deep trouble. Further, Kerry had made it known that the prospects for a deal were not high when the latest effort began, but he could not accept evading making a strenuous effort. US Secretary of State John Kerry declared that he owed that as an obligation to the world community, to Americans and especially the millions of Israelis and Palestinians who generally desired an end to the conflict between the two peoples. Nevertheless, he was blamed for giving rise to unachievable expectations, for the inevitable aftermath of disappointment and depression, for the high costs of a diplomatic initiative that ends in failure and for the possible (inevitable?) violence that was likely or sure to arise as a result of that failure and the further erosion of trust between the two parties. Further, if past failures had seriously wounded the peace parties on both sides, this failure would mortally wound them.

It is true that risks have consequences, that the effort does not leave the situation at the status quo ante, that new layers of cynicism and despondency are piled upon a long history of failure. However, failures also bring about clarity, just as the Québec election did. Are negotiations and a peace agreement to be based on the 1967 cease fire lines with reasonable adjustments and equal trade offs from both sides as Kerry had declared? (“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”) Or does the resolution have to go back to the 1948 deal with respect to borders, rights and mutual recognition? Or is there a third option?

Last night on Steve Paikin’s, “The Agenda” on TVO, Steve had as one guest, Diana Buttu, an Israeli-born Palestinian-Canadian lawyer who, in the past, has served as a spokesperson for the PLO and an advisor on international law with respect to the peace negotiations, but who has been outspokenly critical of Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator. His other guest was Emmanuel Adler a political scientist at U. of T.’s Munk Centre. The two discussed with Steve Paikin the negotiations and their likely immanent failure.

While Emmanuel Adler wanted to cling to a faint hope for the receding prospect of a two-state solution, it seemed clear that Diana wanted to go back and override the original decision on division to resurrect a one state solution with the ideal of Jews and Palestinians as equal citizens in a single state rather than the principle of national self-determination being the basis of the political order in former Palestine, but without acknowledging this would mean the end of the Zionist dream of national self-determination for the Jewish people and that this was a resolution totally unacceptable to the vast majority of Jews in Israel. Supporting her position was the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had not agreed to recognition of the 1967 borders as the basis for the talks with Israel renewed last July.

What seems clear is that who gets blamed depends, in part, on the outcome wanted or expected. If the goal is a single state in which Israel is eliminated, the failure of the talks is simply a proof that the two-state solution is and has always been doomed. Then the blame goes to Kerry for convening the talks and misleading international public opinion, to Israel which refuses to grant Palestinian demands even for the two-state solution, and perhaps a little to Abbas for allowing himself to be drawn once again into such a fruitless process, though he is somewhat excused because he is operating from such a relatively weak position. If the goal is a two-state solution, then the blame could go to Netanyahu a) for not being flexible enough, b) for provocatively approving the building of 700 housing units in Gilo even though discussions had already determined that Gilo in Jerusalem would be part of Israel, and even though Israel had made clear at the beginning of the negotiations that the building freeze would only apply to the West Bank, and c) for a tactical error in not releasing the prisoners at the time originally agreed, even though by that stage of the negotiations Israel had become convinced that the talks could not have any positive results. Or blame could go to Abbas for also lacking flexibility and for taking a step of initiating an application to join various international bodies even before the talks ended.

Who gets blames also depends on the integrity of the person casting blame. Diana Buttu has a record of distorting facts and even outright lying to support arguments and allegations she makes against Israel and to advance the goal of a one state solution, while Emmanuel Adler is a renowned scholar of great integrity and a well-known dove who despairs at Netanyahu’s leadership. So the politics of blame were not balanced.

Notice that, unlike the Québec elections, there is no winner. So the blame largely overlaps with responsibility and is totally congruent with the responsibility allocated to the loser. Explaining why something happened (allocating responsibility) and then blaming someone for that responsibility – that is, adding a negative morally critical judgment to the one responsible – are related but different acts. In the case of the Québec election, the loser comes in for blame for the loss. In the peace talks, everyone loses when talks break down, including the mediator and both sides, except those who wanted the talks to break down because they deplored the two-state solution. The argument then involves how to allocate, spread or diffuse the blame. But if the moral or political reprehensibility is to be added to the judgment, it may be totally inappropriate when applied to the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, or, at least, only of use in revealing the position of the person casting judgment rather than whether any of the agents involved deserve to be characterized as morally or politically to be hung out in disgrace.

My own conviction is that understanding the reasons for the breakdown and the responsibility of the different parties is important, but when everyone is a loser, casting blame is not only useless but counter-productive. Instead, the breakdown allows one to recast the problem. A peace agreement based on a two-state solution is NOT possible, at least for the foreseeable future, no more possible than a successful secessionist referendum in Québec. Does that mean you should support a one state solution? Not at all, for that is far more impossible than a two-state solution and, in effect, would doom the victors on the ground to being losers.

So what position should one take as each party takes up positions that will best advance its cause. The Palestinians will attempt to shore up its position as the victim, to shore up its position under international law, to shore up its position in the world of public opinion by working harder on the BDS effort, and the efforts to denigrate and delegitimate Israel. For the only grounds on which the weaker party can advance its cause is through the use of moral arguments, legal arguments and through sentiment. Israel as the stronger party will have to defend itself as best it can on all these fronts, and be limited in any aggressive actions it can take lest its position significantly worsen under international law, dominant international norms and, most of all, public sentiment. At the same time, Israel can try to use its position to both pressure the Palestinians – generally counter-productive – to create partnerships with Palestinians on the ground – generally positive – to get the Palestinians to accept a two-state solution. The dilemma is that using economic pressure and the prerogatives of the powerful, such a real economic sanctions, congruently fits right into the international campaign of the Palestinians. Further, the result can run counter to any Israeli interests. For example, cutting off the rebate of taxes to the Palestinian Authority could cripple it economically, but the result may be the rise of Hamas to power in the West Bank, the initiation of the third intifada, and the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.

My own position is to advise a fourth strategy. The pursuit of the two-state solution through peace negotiations is as dead for now as the pursuit of self-determination for Québec. The pursuit of a one-state solution is a fraudulent illusion and a mask to cover up the pursuit of the death of Zionism and Israel. The resort by Israel to economic pressure and tightening the screws of oppression are both counter-productive and will only lead to strengthening the Palestinian cause in the long run.

The only position, that I think is viable, is to use only the minimal level of economic and military coercion necessary to defend the state of Israel and its people while pursuing a two-state solution and de facto boundaries on the basis of the agreements that have already been negotiated and agreed upon while enhancing economic, intellectual and political partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. Just as the pursuit of sovereignty has to be aufgehoben in Québec, preserved, raised up to an ideal and put away on a shelf for an unknown and far off future, so too must the goal of reaching an agreement on a two-state solution be preserved, raised up to an ideal and put away on a shelf for the foreseeable future while taking steps on the ground to advance such a goal. The PQ failed because they were impatient while the rest of Canada remained patient with Québec. The Israeli government must act with patience, generosity and forbearance using the behaviour of Ottawa as an example.

Commentary on the first six books of Genesis

Parashat Bereshit (Genesis 1.2-6:8)

by

Howard Adelman

This week Jews (and some others) begin the annual re-reading of the Torah. And the beginning is my very favourite part. Why? Because it is about what we are given as gender beings and how that forms the foundation of our ethics. We are born equal, man and woman; God created men and women as equals. But not in man’s head. Man has the delusion that he was born first and that woman is but a physical extension of a man. While man does not take responsibility for his own penis and sexual drives, he presumes woman is merely an appendage and physical extension of himself to serve him. This inversion of how man regards his own body and how he regards a woman’s body are the foundation of ethics and what it means to say a man is born in sin. It not because he is sexually driven; rather, it is because he does not take responsibility for his sexual drives, for his embodiment. Further, he turns a woman, not into an object, but into an extension of his own agency and does not respect her as an agent in her own right.

Take the issue of revelation which supposedly divides the Orthodox – or, at least, most of them – from the non-Orthodox in a debate over whether the Torah as written is the word of God transcribed on the page or the collation of a number of writers over years when the importance of the Torah is that, as one reads and examines the text, the text reveals to us profound truths, beginning with the roots of sin and the need for ethical norms and their compass. The usual division of Bereshit starts with the first seven days (1:1-2:2) and then moves to the Garden of Eden Story (2:3-3:23), then to the story of Cain and Abel (4:1-4:26) and ends with the prelude to flood (5:1-6:8). I want to cover all four sections in one commentary.

Though the narrative begins in cosmology in the discussions of light emerging from darkness, the emergence of the sky, the earth and the heavenly bodies, and then the creation of the fish of the sea, the birds in the air and the animals on earth and finally, the relatively new species, human beings, the significance of the story has nothing to say about how the world was created. Rather, it is a set up. Nature is good. God says it over and over again. Then God created humans and, understandably, needed a day of rest.  

When we throw light on nature, when we separate the darkness and allow light to bathe over not only the earth but even the deep depths of the ocean floor, one has to be amazed. Just watch an episode of National Geographic or the BBC series on deep water exploration. What a fantastic place we live on! It is truly a wonder to behold. By the fourth day, we have a cosmos that gives us our days and nights, our weeks and our years, the rhythms of time in accordance with which we live. And even when monsters and wild beasts came into being; it was all perceived as good.

And then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” (verse 27)  So begins the problem and the paradoxes. Man is created in God’s image even though God has no visible presence. But what is clear is that he created both male and female. (verse 28) And then we have the first blessing and the first commandment: “Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.” Being created in God’s image is not about physical appearances but about the human role as an agent – a creator AND a ruler. “And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (verse 32) In ch.2:3, God rested and blessed the 7th day as He looked with satisfaction on what He created. 

But not for long! Then the dissolution set in. God discovers for the first time, and it will not be the last time, that He made a mistake. For what he thought of and pronounced as good was no such thing. Why? 

We then move onto the second segment and read the second story of man’s and woman’s creation, and in this story they are not created equal. For this is the story as the male imagines it. Man is the product, not of a virgin birth, but of a femaleless birth. He is made sui generis out of earth and water and air that is used to inflate him. And then God created the Garden of Eden with all kinds of trees, but two special trees, the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It is a huge garden fed by four great rivers: the Tigris, Euphrates, Pishon (where the wealth of the earth’s resources, especially gold and precious gems, can be found) and the Gibon (the Nile ?) that runs through the Cush. The Garden extends from Babylon or Iraq down through the Arabian Peninsula where Noah’s son, Shem, and his son, Joktan (the Ishmaelites) (Genesis 25:18) will settle, down into East Africa where Noah’s descendent, Cush, the son of Ham, will settle. 

God issues the second commandment, not to eat and enjoy, but rather not to eat, specifically not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If man eats thereof he will realize that, unlike God in whose image he is made, man will know that death is certain. Further, man in the Garden of Eden did not recognize he was lonely; God observes that. God pronounces that as not good. In the second imaginative version of creating woman, woman is fashioned out of Adam’s rib, but for a specific function, to be man’s helper and aide de camp. Rulership is perceived as extending over women. Third, man is given a job. He becomes a biological taxonomist giving names to the different species of animals and fish and birds and perhaps even the insects in the billions. Perhaps this was the reason he did not even recognize his emotional need for a woman – he was so caught up in his mental work of naming and imitating God as a creator. Finally, it was observed that man and woman were together and were naked and were not ashamed.

Chapter 3 tells the story of what is often called “The Fall”, on the supposition that until this moment Man and Woman lived in a state of grace. But if in man’s imagination he was born not from woman, that woman was created as a projection of himself, and in service to himself, then the seeds of trouble had already been planted. We are introduced to the Serpent, a new character in the story. Who is the Serpent? He is shrewd. He is a wild beast. He is erect. Unlike other animals, he speaks. He is masculine. And who does the Serpent talk to? Not man, but woman. And what does he say? He does not behave like man walking around the Garden as a biologist naming everything and therefore serving as a surrogate in bringing things into being in the realm of knowledge. Instead, he behave like Socrates sceptically asks a question. 

 “Did God really say: You shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” 2 The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the other trees of the garden. 3 It is only about fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said: ‘You shall not eat of it or touch it, lest you die.'” 4 And the serpent said to the woman, “You are not going to die, 5 but God knows that as soon as you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like divine beings who knows good and bad.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave some to her husband, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they perceived that they were naked; and they sewed together fig leaves and made themselves loincloths.

 

Why were they embarrassed? What were they ashamed of? They had disobeyed a commandment. But the disobedience had been very pleasurable. Further, they became wiser in some sense in taking pleasure from themselves as sexual beings. The serpent had been correct. They did not die from eating the fruit. Only their innocence died. They became ashamed of their bodies. Why? Because, commandments and ethics did not determine what they did; their bodily desires did. So they recognized who the serpent was. This erect figure, this male penis, was not an independent voice, but the voice of male desire for which the man did not take responsibility. Just as the woman was seen as an extension of his own body, the penis became an independent agency for which man did not take responsibility.

 

Both were internally conflicted, each torn inside and confused. When God sought them out, they hid. God clued in. He immediately knew that they had eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God knew that they had the sexual relations, those relations that Bill Clinton denied he had had with Monica Lewis. God asked, “Did you eat of the fruit that I had forbidden you to eat? The gender wars were now on. The male said, “She did it. She put me up to it.” So really, God, it is not only her fault. It is Your fault. For you created her as company for me. The woman was not much better in refusing to take responsibility. The serpent, his penis, tricked me, she said. So God addressed the penis directly and said that henceforth, the penis would no longer stand erect but crawl on the belly of man. Henceforth, this now shrivelled and wrinkled piece of flesh would be the source of enmity between man and woman and the male and female children of man and woman that will spout from their loins. She will strike at the head of man, at man who attempts to rule over woman by guile and rational cleverness. Man will strike back, nip at her heel and forever undermine her as he attempts to seduce her and then rule over her. In spite of that, her desire will be directed towards him. As a result, she will have children, but bring them forth only in pain, and not simply physical pain.

 

As for man, no more would he simply be the biologist and taxonomist, but he would, like his scrawny shrivelled penis, be cursed and henceforth survive only through physical toil in an earth no longer bountiful but full of thorns and thistles. Man would have to become a farmer and a herdsman and work all his life by the sweat of his brow. You thought you were made from dust so to dust shall you be returned. And Man named his wife Eve – no longer a generic name but a particular name, but as a generic name in a different sense than as a class term, the mother of all of humanity and even of everything that lives. Woman would henceforth be Gaia. And man would henceforth not be allowed a life of leisure, simply living off the fruit of the land.

 

The third segment of Bereshit begins with Chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel. For if the story of cosmology is a tale of awe and wonder and the beauty and bounty of nature, and if the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden is the story of the inner conflict within each between Desire and Life and between not only the two of them and between Desire and Life, but between Desire that envisions man as God living off the earth and ruling over that bounty and Desire for Woman and becoming one flesh, and between Life that aspires to immortality and Life that simply endures the hardship of survival, the story of Cain and Abel moves into a new struggle, the struggle for recognition between two alpha males and between two different ways of life bequeathed to humans who no longer live in the Garden of Eden. It is the story of emerging from the second stage of what began to be called in modern political theory, ‘the state of nature’.

 

Cain, the eldest was a farmer. Abel was a shepherd, a herdsman. But the cowboy and the farmer could not be friends. Each wanted exclusive recognition of his rights. For their ways of life were pretty incompatible. One needed fences. The other needed open pasture. One life meant being on the move. The other meant settled life. Each offered the best of what he produced as a sacrifice to seek recognition for his way of life at the same time demonstrating that they were still above the work of mere survival and wanted divine recognition. God gave it to the shepherd, not the farmer.

 

God had said that the farmer could do fine without recognition as the superior way of life, as the way of life worthy of divine sanction, but the farmer did not want to live on the margins of a pastureland, as in the pampas of Argentina, or to lose the status as God’s chosen imitator. It was not the man dedicated to domesticated animal husbandry who killed the farmer, as one might imagine, but the farmer who killed the peaceful shepherd. Farming became the dominant mode of earning a living and herding animals and sheep or camels was thrust off into the margins. Agriculture became the central route to building civilization and cities. When God asked Cain where his brother was, Cain, unlike his parents, did not seek to hide but replied equivocally: “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

 

Ironically, his smart-assed reply revealed the very core of the ethical code necessary to avoid murder and mayhem. As punishment, the man of the soil who only wanted to settle in one place, was made a nomad, driven to seeking more fertile soil always elsewhere. He became the unsettled settler, the migrant par excellence and not just a nomad. He went to live in the Land of Nod (ארץ נוד), East of Eden, the land of wanderers, for “nod” is the root of the Hebrew word, “to wander” ((לנדוד). Ironically, the desire and need to wander would become, not so much the source of agricultural settlements, but the foundation of cities where man lives uprooted from the soil as neither a farmer nor a herdsman.

 

What is the mark of Cain that God put on him to protect him from murder? Cain was made into a fugitive and wanderer alienated from nature and destined to live in cities. To live in a city, man requires protection. No more could a man be recognized for what he did and how he brought forth the means of survival by his labour. The mark of Cain is recognition that man must be a citizen of a polity to be protected; he can no longer rely on his own devices; he must have membership in a political collectivity. This is his mark of Cain. He can enjoy no freedom without such a membership. So in the fight for recognition of one way of life over another, neither wins. A new form of polity centred on the city and civilization comes into being where man must be recognized as a member of a people and ruled by a government in order to survive. Ironically, the mark of Cain is citizenship. It is the mark that means man has totally left the state of nature and entered into the world of polities. So Cain and His wife bore a son, Enoch, who founded a city. And another son born of Adam and Eve, Seth, gave birth to another line of humanity.

 

And so humanity grew and multiplied and settled the world until Noah and his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth came along. The fourth segment of Bereshit is told following the alienation from the wonder and awe of the beauty of nature, following the discovery of treachery and duplicity rooted in a failure to take responsibility for ourselves as embodied creatures, and then following the war between different ways of life and the search for recognition of the superiority of one over the other only to end up with murder and the emergence of a new way of life, living in cities and a polity where each carries a mark of identification, the artifact of citizenship, as the means of protection. But civilization will breed classes, those who sacrifice themselves for the future and develop their capacities and means of sustenance, and those who look sceptically upon the whole effort of service and duty to family and nation and country and simply want to get satisfaction from life.

 

Then who were the Nephilim, divine beings, the heroes of old, men of renown, who cohabited with the daughters of men and who made wickedness the prevailing mode of life on earth, and who made God regret that he had created life on earth altogether so that he wanted to start all over again to correct his mistake and decide to bring forth the flood? The Nephilim are neither those who achieve mastery over men and themselves nor those who are self indulgent. Why are these Nephilim equated with those who fell who are associated with wickedness, children of God and fallen angels, or, alternatively, those who cause others to fall, giant Samurai, heroic warriors of a bygone age worshipped in epic tales?

 

The Nephilim are both. They are the knights of the roundtable, chivalrous men whom women idolize. They are gods and God Himself becomes God si love. True love becomes amor where the new ethical basis is between the idealistic knights who dedicate their might to an abstract ideal and the ladies who worship those knights. Knights were not wicked in the sense of bestial, lewd beings in pursuit of the satisfaction of a night of passion. Rather, they were the epitome of courage and valour, of honesty and integrity, loyalty and fealty and dedicated in a totally pure way to the women to whom they gave their troth. Women were not perceived as physical extensions of man but as a source of inspiration. They are put on a pedestal and, in turn, appreciated as an ideal. Life itself becomes etherealized. And man is no longer in bondage to man but in bondage to a heaven-sent partnership that has nothing to do with the passions of the flesh and everything to do with mutual recognition, with grace, with mutual protection and mutual fulfillment in an ideal conception of life.

 

Why would God see this as wickedness? Why are heroic fearsome giants (Numbers 13:32-33) viewed as a source of distress and discomfort? Because in a land of heroes and romanticism, in a land built on the premise of romantic love as the source of ethics, in a land built on an ideal of purity and perfection as the fullest expression of life, that land devours its inhabitants. That is not a land rooted in the family and in children, but in ethereal passion and self-sacrifice for abstract ideals. These children of God become the real source of the virus of wickedness and repression. And ordinary humans are seen as grasshoppers or cockroaches, inyenzi, insects to be exterminated where the rule of law and of civilized men is sacrificed in service to an abstract ideal and dream of perfection.

 

So God will strike first and drown all but the select few.

 

So it is no surprise that the Haftorah reading comes from Isaiah, for Ashkenazim, Isaiah 42:5-43:10. God opts for nationhood and not heroism, for enlightenment and not self-repression in stark opposition to idolatry of any kind. God becomes dedicated to innovation and not nostalgia where the citizens of cities will lift up their voices. The warriors will not be knights of the roundtable but, rather, the Lord will go forth like a warrior, raising a war cry and prevailing against idolatry. And so we are given an apocalyptic vision of a God in labour giving birth to the new:

 


יד
  הֶחֱשֵׁיתִי, מֵעוֹלָם–אַחֲרִישׁ, אֶתְאַפָּק; כַּיּוֹלֵדָה אֶפְעֶה, אֶשֹּׁם וְאֶשְׁאַף יָחַד.

14 I have long time held My peace, I have been still, and refrained Myself; now will I cry like a travailing woman, gasping and panting at once.

טו  אַחֲרִיב הָרִים וּגְבָעוֹת, וְכָל-עֶשְׂבָּם אוֹבִישׁ; וְשַׂמְתִּי נְהָרוֹת לָאִיִּים, וַאֲגַמִּים אוֹבִישׁ.

15 I will make waste mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs; and I will make the rivers islands, and will dry up the pools.

טז  וְהוֹלַכְתִּי עִוְרִים, בְּדֶרֶךְ לֹא יָדָעוּ–בִּנְתִיבוֹת לֹא-יָדְעוּ, אַדְרִיכֵם; אָשִׂים מַחְשָׁךְ לִפְנֵיהֶם לָאוֹר, וּמַעֲקַשִּׁים לְמִישׁוֹר–אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, עֲשִׂיתִם וְלֹא עֲזַבְתִּים.

16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not, in paths that they knew not will I lead them; I will make darkness light before them, and rugged places plain. These things will I do, and I will not leave them undone.

יז  נָסֹגוּ אָחוֹר יֵבֹשׁוּ בֹשֶׁת, הַבֹּטְחִים בַּפָּסֶל; הָאֹמְרִים לְמַסֵּכָה, אַתֶּם אֱלֹהֵינוּ.  {פ}

17 They shall be turned back, greatly ashamed, that trust in graven images, that say unto molten images: ‘Ye are our gods.’ {P}

יח  הַחֵרְשִׁים, שְׁמָעוּ; וְהַעִוְרִים, הַבִּיטוּ לִרְאוֹת.

18 Hear, ye deaf, and look, ye blind, that ye may see.

יט  מִי עִוֵּר כִּי אִם-עַבְדִּי, וְחֵרֵשׁ כְּמַלְאָכִי אֶשְׁלָח; מִי עִוֵּר כִּמְשֻׁלָּם, וְעִוֵּר כְּעֶבֶד יְהוָה.

19 Who is blind, but My servant? Or deaf, as My messenger that I send? Who is blind as he that is wholehearted, and blind as the LORD’S servant?

כ  ראית (רָאוֹת) רַבּוֹת, וְלֹא תִשְׁמֹר; פָּקוֹחַ אָזְנַיִם, וְלֹא יִשְׁמָע.

20 Seeing many things, thou observest not; opening the ears, he heareth not.

כא  יְהוָה חָפֵץ, לְמַעַן צִדְקוֹ; יַגְדִּיל תּוֹרָה, וְיַאְדִּיר.

21 The LORD was pleased, for His righteousness’ sake, to make the teaching great and glorious.

כב  וְהוּא, עַם-בָּזוּז וְשָׁסוּי, הָפֵחַ בַּחוּרִים כֻּלָּם, וּבְבָתֵּי כְלָאִים הָחְבָּאוּ; הָיוּ לָבַז וְאֵין מַצִּיל, מְשִׁסָּה וְאֵין-אֹמֵר הָשַׁב.

22 But this is a people robbed and spoiled, they are all of them snared in holes, and they are hid in prison-houses; they are for a prey, and none delivereth, for a spoil, and   none saith: ‘Restore.’

(Hebrew-English Bible/Mechon-Mamre)

 

But they can and will be redeemed.

“Crisis in The Congo: Uncovering the Truth” A Comment.21.05.13

“Crisis in The Congo: Uncovering the Truth” A Comment                                   21.05.13

by

Howard Adelman

I took the weekend off to open the cottage. When I opened my email this morning, Roberta Morris, a former PhD student of mine who has been working in film in California, emailed me in response to my blog on Dan Gertler, and presumably the parts referring to his role in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Roberta asked if I would comment on the DRC knowing that I had written extensively on both Rwanda and the DRC. She had just returned from a one-man show on “Heart of Darkness” by Actors’ Gang Theater (Tim Robbins’ company) and a screening of “Crisis In The Congo: Uncovering The Truth” released by Friends of the Congo. She had been asked and was considering committing her organization to sponsoring screenings far and wide, but wanted my input on the situation in the Congo and my views of this video. My comments follow. Though I started writing on Harper and Ford this morning, I set that material aside to comment on the film.

 

The plight of the people of the Congo remains dire. The Congolese people have been subjected to enormous miscarriages of justices at least since King Leopold of Belgium received a trusteeship over the territory in 1885 and treated the country as a resource for building his own personal fortune on the backs of the Congolese. Adam Hochschild, author of the very moving and upsetting, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa and who is interviewed in the film, depicts the colonization and exploitation of the Congo’s resources. The film is correct that the DRC is rich in an enormous variety for minerals, some both necessary to modern cell phones (coltan) and available uniquely in the Congo. The DRC has been exploited for over a century for its wealth. The Congolese people have not benefitted from that wealth but, instead, have suffered as the victims of that exploitation time and time again.

 

In the film, Dedy Mbepongo Bilamba, a Congolese author commented two years ago on the UN Mapping Report primarily to assert that reports without any follow up action are inadequate. Action must follow. Secondly, he insisted that focusing on “half of truth is lying”.  I will have more to say on the UN Mapping Report within this blog but for now I want to concentrate on the film. The documentary has two major theses in addition to the claim of exploitation of the Congo which I believe is indisputable. First, the agents primarily held responsible are Western powers, primarily the USA, UK and France but certainly also Belgium. Canadian mining companies are also charged with responsibility. There is no mention of the role of Israelis. More directly, the so-called proxies of the United States, Rwanda and Uganda, have provided the military muscle for these exploitive Western imperial powers. Secondly, the motivation for the involvement is the mineral wealth of the DRC. These two theses hold half the truth, and if half the truth is lying, then the film lies. For the mineral resources were used primarily to finance the conflict, to enrich locals, to repay loans for and also the purchase of additional military equipment. If the film distorts, it is a terrible shame because the injustices brought against the Congolese, the war crimes and crimes against humanity need to be emphasized and broadly disseminated.

 

Is that simple story of the agents responsible correct? Is the account of the motivations of external actors accurate and adequate? I think not. In the Cold War rivalry between the USA and the USSR, the USA through the CIA opposed Patrice Lumumba, can be held responsible in part for his assassination and can be charged with installing their own selected candidate, Joseph Desire Mobutu, as President of the country that he renamed Zaire. However, this is only part of the truth. The film in its timeline states that from 1965 to 1997 “The United States installed and maintained Joseph Desire Mobutu in power for over thirty years in spite of a number of attempts by the Congolese people to overthrow him.” There were few serious efforts to overthrow Mobutu. More importantly, as Dan Fahey himself noted in the film, contradicting the film’s own claim, the USA, followed subsequently by other Western powers, abandoned Mobutu at the end of the Cold War in 1989 and did not support Mobutu from 1990 until his overthrow in 1997. The humanitarian crises has many intersecting causes and involves many diverse agents, including competing aims by the countries named. As Fahey has written in his studies of the current situation, comments not included in the film:

  

Over the second half of 2012 and the early months of 2013, Mambasa territory in Province Orientale, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been the scene of escalating violence that is a consequence of brutal gangs running illegal poaching and mining operations coming into conflict with militarized conservation forces. Local politicians, prosecutors, conservationists, former militiamen and civilians tell the story of a devastating conflict driven by armed groups backed by powerful figures in the Congolese army. The violence in Mambasa territory “involved murder, rape, torture, beheading, setting people on fire, cannibalism, kidnapping, sexual slavery, pillaging, arson, threatened assassinations, and the killing of animals.” The principal perpetrators are in a newly formed militia known as Mai Mai Morgan, led by an elephant poacher called Paul Sadala. They are driven, they say, by a desire to protect the land from conservation efforts that give locals limited land use rights and access to resources; however they have committed astonishingly brutal attacks. They are supported, according to the UN Group of Experts and others, by a powerful Congolese army general in the region.

 

Local military forces and acquisitive ambitions of locals are and have been involved. Further, the divisions are often along ethnic lines so, except as an abstraction, it is difficult to speak of a Congolese people as if there is an identifiable group with a common purpose. In the advertisements for the film, the copy states that, “Analysts in the film examine whether U.S. corporate and government policies that support strongmen and prioritize profit over the people have contributed to and exacerbated the tragic instability in the heart of Africa.” In fact, the film has no analysis. Individuals testify that US corporate and government policies are primarily responsible for the support of strongmen in the interests of profits, but this is not a conclusion drawn from any analysis. It is simply a repeatedly expressed opinion. Is the assertion correct? Partially! But insofar as the film claims to uncover the truth by exploring “the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century,” it has more untruth than truth.

 

Let’s begin with the two claims made in the film abut the Rwanda genocide itself. One claim is made by Gregory Stanton after he notes that Hilary Clinton stated that she had one regret with respect to the Clinton presidency, that nothing was done to stop the Rwandan genocide. Stanton goes further and makes two further accusations: 1) Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright knew about the genocide; 2) they did everything to prevent the UN from doing anything to stop the genocide. The first is universally accepted as true but only three weeks after the systematic genocide started on 6 April 1994. In the first three weeks, there is no evidence that Clinton, or anyone else high in the administration, took any serious note about Rwanda so why would they know? The filmmakers or Robert Stanton could have read the writings of or interviewed Michael Barnett who is a professor in the political science department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. They could also have read Holly Burkhalter, Director of Human Rights Watch, who published a reasonably balanced account of the failures of the Clinton administration with respect to the Rwandan genocide. (“The Question of Genocide: The Clinton Administration and Rwanda,” World Policy Journal) My file of US confidential emails undermines Stanton’s exaggerations.  (On April 15, the US advocated withdrawal of UNAMIR from Rwanda “for their safety” and because it could not fulfill its mandate.) Though we strongly criticized the American position, we did not misinterpret American motives or intentions.

 

During the 1993-1994 year, Barnett spent the year as an exchange government bureaucrat at the United Nations. Barnett was assigned to the Rwandan desk – where else would you put a famous political science theorist but on what was considered the least relevant political desk? He, as he admits in his analysis of his own actions and motives, participated in the decision to keep the US uninvolved in Rwanda when the crisis began to unfold. The explanation was that America had no geo-political interests in Rwanda. Further, as Barnett and as I and Astri Suhrke separately documented, the US did not have to force Boutros Boutros Ghali, then the Secretary General of the United Nations, or Kofi Annan, a subsequent Secretary-General and then in charge of Peacekeeping at the UN, to stay out of Rwanda. The UN had followed that path systematically on their own, though certainly reinforced by the position of the Clinton administration to stay out of wars in Africa, a position itself reified by the Mogadishu syndrome and the disaster in Somalia the previous year. When the Clinton administration did find out and agreed to a peacekeeping force, the American military petty bureaucracy effectively sabotaged the efforts to supply the UN with armoured personnel carriers in a timely fashion. To say the least, Clinton did not do everything he could have to prevent stopping the genocide. He was just sufficiently neglectful to have made the USA complicit as a bystander.

 

Is this a nuance without a substantial difference? Not at all! There is a major difference between the irresponsibility of bystanders, the responsibility of backers of genocidaires and the responsibility of the genocidaires themselves. Further, analysis requires attending to differences and not silly simplifications. There were many agents involved at different levels of responsibility. Some of the agents included the Rwandan Catholic Church – as distinct in this case from the papal nuncio who was one of the exceptional persons who kept warning about the immanence of a massive humanitarian slaughter. See for example, one of the experts on the Rwandan genocide, Tom Lanagan, a colleague of Michael Barnett who has written extensively on the role of the church and has a new book forthcoming on the subject. However, by and large, experts are interviewed who, by and large, reinforce the view that the crises in the DRC is a fallout from the Rwandan genocide and responsibility can be attributed primarily to Rwanda and Uganda as proxies of the USA. Another scholar who could have been used to complicate the picture would have been Scott Straus who has also studied the area and written extensively on it. There are many others.

 

However, there are a minority of scholars and many ideologues who have assiduously worked to shift the blame for the genocide in Rwanda at least significantly onto the RPF, the Rwandan Patriotic Front that invaded Rwanda in 1990. Alan Stam followed the lead of Alan Cooperman, an excellent scholar, and stood against the dominant voices who tended to view Paul Kagame through rose coloured glasses. Stam has upped the critical ante against Paul Kagame. Not only has he joined the genocidaire chorus in suggesting elements of Kagame’s RPF set off the genocide by downing Habyarimana’s plane but he insisted that the RPF not only could have stopped the genocide but deliberately decided not to. This is another half truth that amounts to a lie.

 

Allan Stam has done an excellent scholarly job of tracing and mapping in detail the movements of the RPF troops and claims that Paul Kagame could have moved much faster and saved Tutsis but failed to do so. Further, he claims that the RPF represented a foreign force invading Rwanda. The latter claim should make one suspicious abut his interpretation of his mapping exercise. For it is like calling the PLO working first out of Jordan and then out of Lebanon a foreign force invading Palestine.

 

The RPF was made up of Tutsis who had escaped or been expelled from Rwanda when the Hutu overthrew the Tutsi monarchy thirty years earlier. They had not been allowed to acquire citizenship elsewhere. Even after serving Museveni in his overthrow of the regime in Uganda, the Ugandan parliament refused to allow them to gain citizenship in Uganda. They were not a foreign army but refugees from Rwanda who adopted military means to insist on their return and overthrow the Habyarimana regime, a common behaviour pattern among stateless refugees. 

 

Secondly, could the RPF have saved many more lives by advancing much more quickly? In my own interviews with American military experts and with Paul Kagame himself, it seems clear that he made a choice. He was a very cautious military strategist. His use of pincer movements by a better disciplined but inferior army in both manpower and armaments to defeat a stronger foe is taught in military schools. It requires proceeding from two sides but allowing an escape route for the fleeing soldiers and then keeping them off balance and preventing their regrouping for a counter-attack.

 

Stam makes much of the fact in his scholarship that Kagame then paused on a crucial line for three weeks when he could have advanced much quicker. The implication was that the pause was responsible for allowing the interahamwe to execute their genocide with impunity. What Stam leaves out was the extended negotiations with the French to prevent a French-RPF clash so that when Operation Tourquoise launched by the French takes place, the two armies would not come into conflict. Further, Stam also leaves out the failure of the French themselves to go beyond the main roads and go into the surrounding hills to save Tutsis who were being slaughtered. Finally, Stam makes much of the claim about both the indefiniteness of the numbers killed while disabusing anyone that only Tutsis were killed. That is a red herring. For the leading scholars on the Rwandan genocide refer to Tutsi and moderate Hutu who were slaughtered in the genocide. 

 

I believe Kagame should have moved quickly to save innocent civilians. Kagame is a hard nosed military man, however, was unwilling to risk his army and the military progress he made to save civilians. That does not make him complicit in their killing and certainly does not lend weight to the charge that Kagame welcomed the genocide of Tutsi to provide a moral cover for his won dictatorial regime.

That was 1994. What about the operations in 1996-1997 with respect to the invasion of Zaire? After the genocide, the defeated FAR (the former army of Rwanda) and their families along with the interahamwe militias fled primarily into Zaire. They took up residency in and control of the refugee camps. As The Democratic Republic of the Congo 1993-2003 UN Mapping Report noted,

After moving into North and South Kivu in July 1994, the ex-FAR/Interahamwe used the refugee camps along the Rwanda and Burundi borders as bases and training camps. Using the decades-old strategic alliance with President Mobutu and the widespread corruption within the FAZ to their advantage, the ex-FAR bought back or recovered the military equipment confiscated on their arrival in Zaire and resumed war against the army of the Front patriotique rwandais, which was now the national army of Rwanda, the Armée patriotique rwandaise (APR). (para. 191)

 

The ex-FAR used that control of the camps to milk the international system by enhancing by 25% the number of claimed refugees in the camps and then selling the extra rations on the black market in order to buy more ammunition and some additional arms. They used the camps to launch raids into Rwanda. When these efforts were futile or were defeated, they turned against the indigenous Tutsi in Zaire, the Banyamulenge, and launched a second genocide. This crucial information is missing from the film.  As everyone familiar with Rwanda at the time or through subsequent scholarship knows, Paul Kagame repeatedly warned the international community that if they did not intervene to prevent the ex-FAR and interahamwe from raiding Rwanda and from their new killing spree within Zaire, he would take action. The international community stood by, kept feeding and taking care of the genocidaires along with the other 600,000 plus civilian Hutu refugees from Rwanda. In November of 1996, Rwanda and Uganda launched a full scale invasion against the refugee camps, destroyed them and sent the ex-FAR and interahamwe and their families fleeing east while the greatest part of the civilian refugee population that had been held hostage by the genocidaires walked home back to Rwanda.

 

Laurent-Désiré Kabila had been an old colleague of Lumumba’s and had survived over the decades as a smuggler and self-promoter. Museveni of Uganda knew him and persuaded Paul Kagame to use him as the spokesperson for the invading force to provide a smokescreen that the invaders were Zairean rebels when the most were “volunteers” from the Rwandan and Uganda armies. Kabila promoted himself gradually from spokesperson to the leader of the rebellion. Without the detail, this account is in line with the story of the film. There are, however, several major differences. The United States did not back the invasion of Zaire. Secondly, the three parties – Rwanda, Uganda and Kabila – quickly fell out. When Kabila wanted to go beyond the overthrow of the camps and attack Kisingani, the Ugandans and Rwandese governments said no. He paused and was lucky. The Zairean army fled before he got there so he conquered Kisingani anyway and then went on the long march to capture Kinshasha and set himself up as the dictator. By this time he was not only at odds with both Uganda and Rwanda but those two countries also fell out. In the meantime a new exploitive regime had been installed in Zaire, now renamed the Democratic   Republic of the Congo.

 

Other than the absence of any significant role of the United States in either promoting or stopping the invasion, and the disagreements among the allies, the main difference in this account is in the numbers killed. At the time, based on the inflated numbers in the camps, assertions were made that 600,000 men, women and children had been killed by the Rwanda-Uganda invasion. (Stam at least kept his figure down to a more credible 150,000.) The 600,000 was a ghost number. The death toll was horrendous, with numerous massacres of groups of civilian refugees, many killed deliberately by army units and others killed for revenge by Mayi-Mayi and Tutsi who had earlier been victims of the Hutu, and others murdered by the ex-FAR as documented at length in The Democratic Republic of the Congo 1993-2003 UN Mapping Report, but no where near the hundreds of thousands claimed at the time.

 

The repeated figure of six million killed in the DRC to echo the Holocaust figure includes all those who died as a result of  both the first and the second Congo War based on what the expected population might have been starting with inflated figures and then inflated the numbers killed further in this way to claim there was a second genocide perpetrated by the proxies of America, particularly Paul Kagame, who was already held to be responsible for allowing the Tutsi to be slaughtered in Rwanda and was now accused of slaughtering hundreds of thousands of Congolese in another far worse genocide. The Rwandan and Ugandan forces can be accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes, and there were a significant number of civilian slaughters, but there is no evidence that an attempt was made to exterminate the Rwandan Hutu otherwise why were over 600,000 encouraged and allowed to march back to Rwanda and reclaim their homes? In fact, 13,000 were flown back to Rwanda on 22 May 1997 from MbandakaAirport.

 

I could go on. I just find it a double horror to see humanitarian crises and crimes hijacked by ideologues and propagandists. This film does precisely that. Though Friends of the Congo have been a leading organization opposing the exploitation of the wealth of the Congo and the imposition of another dictatorship in that country, and though the organization has been strident in unveiling the role of both Rwanda and Uganda in that exploitation, it has also, as in this film, done so through distortion of the historical record and by a simplistic and neo-marxist interpretation of what occurred, ignoring in particular the deep geographic divide between east and west and the deepened ethnic divisions that have coincided with the long wars. They have also ignored dissident scholarly voices that do not line up with their simplistic message that the invasion of the Congo was organized by the United States and the UK using their proxies, Rwanda and Uganda. They have also exploited the Holocaust by repeatedly asserting that six million have died since 1996.  

 

As advertised, “Crisis in the Congo: Uncovering The Truth explores the role that the United States and its allies, Rwanda and Uganda, have played in triggering the greatest humanitarian crisis at the dawn of the 21st century. The film is a short version of a feature length production to be released in the near future. It locates the Congo crisis in a historical, social and political context. It unveils analysis and prescriptions by leading experts, practitioners, activists and intellectuals that are not normally available to the general public. The film is a call to conscience and action.” Unfortunately, because of the lack of analysis, the distortion in the presentation and its utter failure to place the conflict in an adequate historical, social and political context, calls to conscience and action will be largely ignored, not to say that they would not be if a more objective and more penetrating documentary had been produced. This is just another way of exploiting the Congo.