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Tony Grist

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I Don't Understand [Aug. 13th, 2006|06:03 pm]
Tony Grist
I was reading an article on Lebanese politics and after a while I gave up because I was reading the words but I didn't know what they meant. 

For example: Druze. I know the Druze are a religious grouping, but I don't know what the content is. I could look it up in Wikipedia, I suppose, but still  I wouldn't really know. I lack the cultural experience to be able, even dimly, to understand what it must feel like to be Druze.

And the same goes for Sunni, Shia, Maronite, Hezbollah....

Cultural experience is everything. I can form a dim idea of what it might feel like to belong to the Provisional IRA  because IRA members and I share a certain amount of cultural experience. I understand rainy northern cities.  I understand terraced streets and council estates.  I understand fields full of cows. I understand catholic.  I understand protestant.  I understand Irish nationalism.  I understand the British empire. And when I say "understand" what I mean is that all these concepts call up a certain emotional response in me. 

But the Lebanon? No shared cultural experience, no emotional response, no understanding.

It would be nice to think that the Western leaders who are currently meddling in the Middle East have the understanding I lack but, given the results of their meddling, I doubt it.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2006-08-13 05:58 pm (UTC)
I'm finishing up watching a HBO documentary called Death in Gaza. A British journalist talks to Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip amidst the occupation and fighting. Absolutely chilling listening to 12 and 14 year old boys refer to Jews as "sons of whores" and playacting the role of martyrs with toys guns and bombs, all the while being indoctrinated by teachers and militant groups to hate and see violent death as a desirable end. Miller, the journalist, intended to do a second part to the documentary and film the lives of Israelis in the area, but was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier making the first part.

I have no direct experience or link to the conflict in the Middle East, but I think to say that "cultural experience is everything" is overreaching. Without denying that it does provide critical insight, I think to adopt such a stance is to implicitly dismiss or devalue the insight/opinions of those who may not be directly involved but might very well have a comprehensive grasp on the history/sociology/politics surrounding the topic. I always used to bristle at the t-shirts that said "It's a Black thing: you wouldn't understand" because while it may have been only an attempt at ethnic pride it only served to further isolate and divide.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-08-13 09:03 pm (UTC)
I'm only talking about myself. I'm sure there are plenty of people outside the conflict who have a finely tuned awareness of the issues involved. I'm just saying I don't.

My point, I think, is that most of us, inevitably, have very little understanding of what gives in the Middle east- and I suspect that goes for quite a few of our political leaders.

Does Tony Blair know what the Druze believe and how they live? Bet he doesn't.
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[User Picture]From: solar_diablo
2006-08-13 09:05 pm (UTC)
Point taken.
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[User Picture]From: methodius
2006-08-14 02:16 am (UTC)
What scares me is that a lot of Americans who seem proud of being "anti-multiculturalism" support George Bush, so I can believe the allegation that when he decided to attack Iraq he didn't know the difference between Sunni and Shi'a Islam -- didn't even know there was a difference.

The self-proclaimed anti-multiculturalists seem to have a mindset of "You will be assimilated" to whatever their particular version of American culture happens to be, so what they think of a multicultural country like Lebanon can only be imagined.

As for me, Lebanese politics are beyond me. I find it hard enough keeping up with Balkan politics, and we have people from the Balkans and people from the Near East in our church.

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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2006-08-13 06:04 pm (UTC)
I think our shared experience as humans trumps petty geographical or religious difference. There is not a culture on this planet that would rejoice to have a child killed by a rocket on their way to visit a favorite uncle.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-08-13 09:09 pm (UTC)
I'm as angry as anyone at the killing of civilians in Lebanon and Israel. What I'm saying is that the (very complicated) political situation in Lebanon defeats me- and probably always will. I don't know or understand the history and culture of the place and don't see how (short of an intensive period of cultural immersion) I ever really could.
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2006-08-14 01:39 pm (UTC)
Do you have to? Does Tony Blair have to? It seems to me that you can have a positive influence without complete complete understanding (though it's tricky--surely beyond Teh Shrublet).
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-08-14 02:16 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure.

I suppose we'd have to debate particular examples of one country intervening in the affairs of another and then decide whether it was a good or a bad thing.

I suppose the glaring example of an intervention that has gone hideously wrong is the invasion of Iraq. I never thought this was a good idea, but I think it's demonstrable that the ignorance of the invaders has helped make a bad situation worse.

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From: (Anonymous)
2006-08-14 03:14 pm (UTC)
Absolutely. No question in my mind.
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From: manfalling
2006-08-14 05:09 am (UTC)
really? i'd say there are plenty of people who'd kill children and laugh about it. you think the nazi's wept every time they put children in the gas chambers? of course- that's the nazi's, but do you think the nazi's were the only 'evil' people ever, and we don't have any now?

lots of cultures devalue and dehumanize other people, such that their deaths mean nothing, and are even a cause for celebration. islamic fundamentalists pleased about bombing sutff- you think they don't know that they probably killed some kids in with all the adults?
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[User Picture]From: karenkay
2006-08-14 01:44 pm (UTC)
i'd say there are plenty of people who'd kill children and laugh about it.

You misunderstand me. Or perhaps I wasn't clear. I meant that no one likes to see THEIR children killed. I think that's pretty much a universal. That was just one example of what I believe is much we have in common.

Killing Other is, of course, what war is about. If you're killing Other, I'm not sure if it matters if it's children or not--in some cases, I think it probably feels better to kill children, because they may be easier targets and they won't grow up to fight you.
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[User Picture]From: baritonejeff
2006-08-13 09:17 pm (UTC)
The profoundly tangled web that is the Middle East I believe, tragically, will never, and can never, be unravelled enough to permit any degree of lasting peace.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2006-08-13 09:32 pm (UTC)
Never is a long time.

I guess people might have said the same thing about the religious wars in Europe in the 17th century.

Time is merciful.
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[User Picture]From: baritonejeff
2006-08-13 11:09 pm (UTC)
I would like to believe that.
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