Sunday, November 14, 2004

Power Vs. Justice

Letter to R., a Jewish friend, written in spring of 2002. Or whenever the Taliban fell the statues of Buddha. It's a small essay about power, and its many manifestations.

Hello Dear R.,

Yes, you are right. Hard as it may be for most of us, the fact is that power--or the (often wanton) WANT of power--makes the world go the way it does. Those who have authority, as individuals or as nations or cultures, want to wield their power on others.

What amazes me most is the funny tendency of the powerful to believe that what they do is not only good for them, but for others--particularly their 'victims'--too. I think when one is in authority, they assume a god-like position, and believe that all their actions are justified. And since they have the power, they also have the right to use it whatever way they may. The rest of the people then are weaklings and fools who know nothing of how matters are run.

This is true of elders who think they know 'best' how to treat the young right. And it is similarly true of ethnocentric cultures that believe that theirs is the only right way of life.

Well, this is one of the many facets of power. Yet another aspect of power is to use it as a weapon to spread into the world one's own kind. I am sure there are more sophisticated ways of putting it, but I can take only the naïve approach: I think that humans feel congested, and that just as is amongst the various species of the world, there is a conflict amongst the various races and cultures around the globe. They all want SPACE, which they perceive is limited. This space may either be the physical geography, or it may be ideological, etc. But there is some kind of a limited space that the various sections of the human race want to capture. So they kill others in order to spread more of their own kind. It may also be linked to a wish to dominate. Perhaps the most evident manifestations are the Christians' and Muslims' preoccupation with a larger population, or the American culture's attempt to 'reach and influence a larger audience'.

And then, there is WANT of power, stemming originally from an acute sense of insecurity. Coupled with authority over something, this can be a dangerous thing. This is what the Talibans and Afghans are doing. They do not have real power and strength (strength being the most positive form of power, in my opinion), so they turn on what they have a control on, and use their authority. I am referring to, of course, the demolition of the Buddha statues.

So… somewhere in all these frames of power and power-related struggles, we can put the Israel-Palestine picture. Two nations, both insecure for one or another reason, are fighting for space and survival. And yes, of course, for an identity (religious)… but that may really be just secondary.

Let me tell you what I honestly think of this situation. I am not aware of the precise historical developments that preceded this conflict, but I do not think it may be too relevant anymore because the situation is too embroiled. In a fight that has involved too many punches and kicks, no one party can stand up and say, “I have been hurt more than the other person is!” And in a world where fairness and justice only are found in books of law, no one goes for rational, righteous arguments. They tilt instead on the already heavier side. (If Pakistan were a bigger, more ‘powerful’ country, TIME would not dare to feature Srinagar as an Indian city in spite of the UN resolutions!)

Back to the Arab-Israel conflict: I only see this as a human situation, where humans are being killed, hurt, and deprived of their rights. I feel that the Arab suffering is too great, and should not be played down. But on the other hand, I also realize that Jews have suffered too much through exile and isolation. And that, every human has a right to a (decent, free) life. (I just don’t support this thing called Zionism, and that’s about it.) I know that my faith explicitly warns the Muslims about making friends with Jews and Christians, for it says that we will never, by nature, be the same as Jews and Christians are (Another interesting topic in itself.). Yet it is the same faith that orders us to respect and accommodate all faiths, provided they do not infringe upon us. It is just like your father telling you to watch yourself with snobs at school for fear that you will emulate them. But for you to translate this into an animosity with the ‘rich boys’ would be foolishness.

So, I think that if we see the equation in its simplest terms — human versus human — it will make understanding and sympathy much easier. Calling upon history may not let the situation rest, just as in the case of India and Pakistan. Of course history cannot totally be ignored, but if we humans are to find any peace in this chaos, we will have to look towards a common future for the mankind. Ah, well, one can at least dream!

I have gone a complete circle and came back to the same thing: nothing will happen until people are too busy fighting for more space, more power. Sometimes I take the cynic’s passive view, and attribute every wrong to those who are in power, and are bringing misery to common humans like myself — just because they are untouched by this misery and suffering themselves. Just like Saddam, and like Pakistan’s rich rulers. Or perhaps, the fault lies in us common people, that we have let ourselves be thoughtless puppets.

Well, in the end, it is justice and fairness that stand to lose. I can but dream that things would one day be otherwise!

And this is what I think of this issue of power versus justice.


1 comment:

  1. Wow!!

    This is the most amazing insight I have EVER read on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I've read a lot.

    Your writing and your views are amazing.