Friday 31 May 2013

By a far and distant sea

Once upon a time, a dragon was born at the foot of a cliff, on the rocky shores of a sea far, far away.

It was a dark and stormy sea, under cloudy skies in which lightning flickered constantly, and the waves which crashed on the boulders below the cliff were the colour of slate. It was a dreary place, where nothing grew, and where the sun never shone.

In such a place the dragon was born, and as she grew older, she began searching for others of her kind, as dragons will, you know. But there were none – in all that land she was the one and only dragon, for she had been hatched from an egg that the sea had brought in from a distant shore. And this, of course, distressed her terribly.

The dragon lived in a sort of castle carved out of the rock by the waves; a castle most wonderful, with buttresses and arches, chambers and grottoes, where the wind and the waves made music. She loved the castle, but was unhappy in all else, because she was so lonely.

“Am I then condemned to spending my existence in loneliness?” she wondered aloud, crouching in her castle and watching the waves break and shatter on the boulders outside. “Can it be that I am the only dragon that ever was, or will be?”

“Hardly,” said a voice, and she jumped in fright. Sticking its head out of the water was a great sea-serpent, which regarded her with huge but kindly eyes. “There are dragons in the world, but they live elsewhere.”

“Where – where must I go to find them?” the young dragon stuttered. “And if there are none others here, how is it that I was born in this place?”

“I can’t answer those questions,” the sea-serpent told her. “But you should go to the hut of the hermit Silence, who lives at the top of the cliffs, and who has renounced all speech. He knows more of the world than I do. But be careful that the knowledge you seek not bring you more sorrow than joy.” So saying, it took a deep breath, and swam away.

“What did it mean by that warning?” the dragon wondered. “But let me seek the hermit Silence, and ask him what I need to know.” So she crawled out of the castle and climbed slowly and painfully up the cliff, while the lightning flashed over her and the rain slashed on the rocks. She was only a very small dragon, and had no wings, so this took her a long, long time.

The hermit Silence lived in a hut at the top of the cliff, a hut so small and battered by wind and weather that it seemed part of the rock itself. He was standing outside when the dragon finally found the place, and watched her come, his eyes expressionless over his grey beard.

“I would like,” said the dragon, “to ask a question of you, hermit. I need to know where other dragons live, for I am alone, and so lonely that I can no longer bear it.”

The hermit Silence looked at her for a moment, and then made signs with his hands and fingers, signs so expressive that the dragon had no difficulty understanding their meaning.

“Go,” the fingers said, “inland towards the forest which touches the sky, and there in the heart of it you will find the abode of my sister, the witch without a name. She can tell you where the dragons are. But be careful lest the knowledge bring you more sorrow than joy.” He turned away thereafter, and would look at the dragon no more.

Thanking the hermit, who made no move to acknowledge or respond, the dragon made her way across the cliffs and inland, towards the forest which touches the sky. After a journey of many days, she finally arrived at its outer fringes, and hesitated to enter, because the trunks of the trees stood so close that they scarcely allowed her room, and because the foliage overhead was so thick that it was dark as night even at high noon.  

“If I am to find other dragons,” the young dragon then thought to herself, “I have no choice but to enter. Otherwise I might as well return to the cliffs and stay alone forevermore.” So she squeezed her way into the forest, seeking the witch with no name. For many long days and nights she wandered, until she was quite lost, and drowning in despair.

The forest creatures saw her, and knew her for a stranger; and though they kept themselves hidden from her sight, they talked to each other about her, and finally one day the news reached the ears of the witch with no name, who lived in a hut in the very centre of the forest.

The witch with no name had never liked strangers entering the forest, for they were a disturbance to the tranquillity she required. When she heard about the strange new creature, she resolved to get rid of it as quickly as possible, and, taking the form of a small bird, she flew through the forest to where she knew it would be found. When she saw it, she was astonished, because it was a dragon; and she had not seen a dragon in the forest, or anywhere else in as long as she could remember.

“What is it you do here?” she asked the dragon, flying above her head. “Do you not know that you are in the realm of the witch without a name, who destroys all strangers who dare enter her realm?”

“I seek the witch herself,” the dragon replied. “I have a question to ask her. If she should answer it, I would be grateful. If she destroys me, then, too, I should be grateful, for at least my present agony would end.”

“What is your question?” the witch asked, taking her real form. “If I can, I will help you, for I can feel the depths of your anguish.”

So the dragon told her everything. “Long have I wandered,” she finished, “and still I have not found a single other dragon, or anyone who can tell me where one is to be found. If you can tell me the answer, do so; and if you cannot, please destroy me without further delay.”

The witch with no name smiled, with mingled sorrow and sympathy. “Far away, on the other side of this forest,” she said, “are the mountains of the moon, as cold and white as their namesake. If you wish to find what you seek, you must find your way across those mountains. But the wind will cut at your flesh as with the blades of a million knives, and the cold will eat into your bones.”

“I’m willing to suffer what I must,” the dragon said.

“Very well,” the witch replied. “On the other side of the mountains is a plateau so desolate that not a blade of grass grows; and in the middle of it is a valley, where the fire rises from the ground and the smoke lies heavy in the air. Go to that valley, and you will find what you are seeking. But be careful that the knowledge you seek not bring you more sorrow than joy.”

“I’ll have to take that chance,” the dragon said, wondering at the repeated warning. “Show me, if you can, a way out of this forest, for I am lost and helpless here.”

So the witch with no name took again the form of a bird. “Follow me,” she said, and flew off through the forest, the dragon following; and in less time than it takes to tell it, they emerged from between the trees, and in the distance the dragon saw, towering towards the sky, the mountains of the moon.

“Thank you, kind witch,” the dragon said, but the witch with no name had already flown back to her home in the heart of the forest. So the dragon crawled over the broken plain until at last she reached the mountains; and, without pausing a moment to rest, she began her lonely crawl up the mountain slopes. The wind whistled and howled and cut at her as with the blades of a million knives, and the cold bit mercilessly into her bones.

But she persevered, and, one day, she saw that there were no further slopes to climb up; and, below her, stretching to the limits of her vision, was the plateau, so desolate and bleak that the sight of it brought a chill to her soul greater than the mountain cold. But far in the distance she could see the smoke rising from a cleft in the ground, and she knew that was where the valley lay.

The sight brought increased vigour to her weary limbs, and as she climbed down the mountain and set off across the plateau, she felt a touch of happiness for the first time in her life; for she told herself that with every moment she was nearing her goal.

And so it was that early one morning, while dawn still painted the air, she finally reached the valley, the floor of which was obscured by flame and smoke, which rose in eddies into the air. As she crawled down into the valley, the heat rose until it seemed the very air was on fire, and the smoke burned her eyes.

But she kept going, for she had come so far that there was no question of turning back now; and at last she stood on the valley floor, while all around jets of flame rose from the earth, and ashes rained from the smoke rising towards the sky above.

And here were dragons. Large dragons and small, they crawled and flew and flitted about, and they came crowding round her, for she was the first to reach the valley from outside in many, many long years. And when she saw them, the aches and weariness dropped from her limbs, so that she would have wept with joy if she could.

The dragons came all around her, and welcomed her, and asked her where she came from. So she told them the tale of her long and weary journey; and they all shed tears for her, and not for her alone.

“We weep,” they said, “for all the dragons who live all through the world, alone like you, and will never find anyone to tell them of this valley, the only place where our kind can call home. We welcome you, sister, and we wish only that we could welcome all the others who live alone and sorrowing, looking forever for a place to call home.”

They made the dragon welcome, and gave her a cave to inhabit; and for many long years she lived there, until she was full-grown, a splendour to behold in ivory and gold, with wings red as blood rippling along her back. But she was never at peace, for she remembered the words of the other dragons, and knew also that in all the years she had stayed in the valley, not a single other dragon from outside had found its way there.

So one day she emerged from her cave, and called to the other dragons; and they came round, to hear what she had to say.

“Brothers and sisters,” she told them, “many long years ago, when I was looking for this valley, three separate beings – a sea-serpent, a hermit, and a witch – gave me a warning. They told me to beware lest my quest bring me more sorrow than joy.

“At the time I did not understand them, but I never forgot their words; and, after all this time, I am beginning to understand. For there are other words I have never been able to forget – your words, that you used to welcome me, when I first came here; you had lamented that there are other dragons like me, scattered through the world, alone and despairing of ever finding a home.

“I have thought long on these things, and I must say that my soul now hangs heavy with the thought of those dragons, so that I am no longer content here. No, I must go forth, and find those dragons, and tell them of this place. Only then will I find contentment.”

So saying, and paying no heed to their attempts to draw her back, she climbed out of the valley and flew into the sky. Wings beating heavily, she soared over the mountains she had crawled over so long ago, and set out to search the world for other dragons.

In ones and twos she found them – under ruined desert cities, crouching in dusty caverns; turning and turning round stone spires on rocky islands set in distant seas; lying quiescent by slow-moving rivers meandering through swamps; and in a hundred other places. One by one she found them, and told them where the valley of dragons was to be found; and then she moved on, restlessly, always seeking. And so the seasons fled, and the years turned to decades, and finally to centuries; and she found fewer and fewer dragons, but she searched on and on, though her body grew old and weary and her sight began to dim. Then at last she found no other dragons at all, but still she flew on.

Then, at last, one day she came to a cliff by a distant and sunless sea, where the lightning flashed without cease, and the water lashed at the rock; and it seemed to her that she had seen this place before. And there, at the foot of a cliff, she found a curious thing – a castle made by storm and wave, of delicate stone arches and rock buttresses, full of hidden pools and caves, where the wind played music. It seemed to her that she remembered this place, from somewhere in the distant past; perhaps, she thought, she had seen it before.

Curling herself up in the recesses of the castle, she looked out at the storm and rain, and thought she would rest a while here. Perhaps she would stay longer than a while. It felt good to her old body; for the first time in longer than she could remember, she felt content.

It felt to her as though she had come home.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2013

Sunday 26 May 2013

The Future of Palestine: The One-State Solution

Statutory Declaration: Nothing I will state in the course of this article is to indicate any recognition of the existence of, or the condoning of the crimes of, the so-called state of “Israel”.

In 1947, the British colony of India was given its independence. This independence was granted, actually, in two pieces, since the colony was carved into two new countries: India, the (nominally) secular centre portion, and the designated Muslim homeland of Pakistan, in two parts to the east and west.

The reason for this bifurcation of the colony was entirely political. The original India had a huge Muslim minority, which was economically and politically very important. Now, this Muslim minority was both a political threat and an opportunity – depending on which side of the political-religious divide one stood.

At that time the politics of India was mostly between the Hindu-dominated, but officially secular, Congress Party and the openly communal Muslim League. The Muslim League chief, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (who incidentally was himself anything but religious) picked up on a proposal for a new Muslim homeland, as a way of securing power for himself. The Congress Party leadership (a group headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, a Hindu who was also anything but religious) was more than happy to get rid of Jinnah and the Muslim League, for that left the Congress in unquestioned domination of the rump India. Therefore, simply for political convenience, the country was cut into two.

To any objective observer, this Partition (as it’s called in the subcontinent) was the single worst disaster in recent history. Just about any problem that the subcontinent faces now can be traced back to the Partition. I’ll just take a moment to explain why.

It’s been said often before that Pakistan was useless to Muslims who already lived in the new nation – there, they were in the absolute majority, and had no fear of Hindu domination. On the other hand – to Muslims in the part of the country that would become India – Pakistan was a disaster. It instantly reduced them from a large and politically empowered minority to a tiny, vulnerable minority, isolated in a Hindu sea. It got much worse soon since educated, economically well-off Muslims who could afford it packed up and left for Pakistan in droves. So the Muslim minority became a poor, largely uneducated Muslim minority, completely vulnerable to the very systemic discrimination Partition had allegedly been meant to avoid.

This process of cross-border migration – Hindus from Pakistan to India, and Muslims in the other direction – was accompanied by massive rioting and bloodletting between the religious groups (with Sikhs joining in on the side of Hindus, riding bicycles down streets in the Indian part of Punjab and beheading Muslims they chased down; in a few decades, Hindus would do the same to Sikhs in Delhi and elsewhere). The Hindus who migrated from Pakistan had lost most or all of their property when they emigrated, and they were consequently deeply embittered against Muslims in general. The Muslims who left India and migrated to Pakistan found themselves regarded as unwelcome carpetbaggers – Mohajirs – who soon faced such discrimination from their Punjabi and Sindhi religious brethren that they ended up in violent rebellion. Meanwhile, the Bunglee Muslim population in East Pakistan found that religion was no guarantee against oppression, with all West Pakistanis – Punjabis, Sindhis, Balochis, Pashtuns, Mohajirs, everyone – ganging up against them. By 1971 they would rebel, and with Indian help break away to form a third nation, Bangladesh.

Then there were the border disputes. The British had, in their infinite wisdom, decided to send a bureaucrat who hated India and wanted to get as far away as possible to draw the border. Not only did this create its own problems, but there was the issue of the “princely states” – nominally independent British protectorates, more than five hundred of which were scattered across the subcontinent. At independence, most were persuaded or coerced to join one of the two countries, but there were disputes over two – Junagadh, where a Muslim ruler over a Hindu population wanted to join Pakistan, and Kashmir, where a Hindu ruler over a Muslim population wanted to remain independent.

This isn’t the place to go into the controversy over Kashmir, but it’s worth noting that within months of independence, the armies of the two new nations were fighting each other over that state, with former comrades – and in some cases relatives – training their guns on each other. To this day, almost seventy years later, Kashmir remains divided, and the two countries both claim it in its entirety. Several violent conflicts – and one full-scale war, in 1965 – have been fought over Kashmir, and Pakistan still trains and sends over armed insurgents to fight a low-intensity terror war in the state against the Indian “occupation”.

These conflicts, of course, didn’t benefit either new country. For one thing, they caused a massive, truly staggering, defence expenditure. Nations which can’t even feed their children enough to stop them from dying of malnutrition have no business spending billions on useless aircraft carriers, nuclear arsenals, and long-range ballistic missiles; they have no right to sacrifice their poor to feed the maw of military forces which by now are so overmuscled that they literally can’t afford to fight open wars because of the damage each side will suffer from the other. And yet, the conflicts have so ingrained themselves in public consciousness on either side that nobody in power can call for a realistic assessment of force levels or cutting of defence expenditure. It does not hurt them either that the defence procurement process is extremely corrupt and kickbacks and slush funds are there to be had.

Remember the embittered Hindus I mentioned, and their Mohajir counterparts? Of course, they gravitated naturally towards right-wing politics. While Jinnah and Nehru were both centrists, the challenge to both – it took longer in India, which is larger and more heterogeneous – would come from the right. The Hindunazi parties in India were energised by the creation of Pakistan, which gave them a focus for their hate. For a very long time they refused to accept the existence of the new country at all; and since they could do nothing about Pakistan, they took it out on the Muslims (already poor and vulnerable) who had stayed back in India. To this day the official and unofficial discrimination against Muslims in India is extreme, and one only has to attend a few minutes of drawing-room conversation in Muddle-Class India to hear talk of how all Muslims are Pakistanis and should be forcibly deported to Pakistan. Those Hindus who have remained in Pakistan are even worse off in many ways.

Corruption, militarism, poverty, anti-minorityism, a fillip to right-wing fascism, and all this can directly trace itself back to the division of the country at independence.

Those of us who have been interested in the question of Palestine are, of course, well aware of the plight of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Zionist Nazi so-called state of “Israel”. The reader will also probably be aware of the two possible solutions to the conundrum of how to solve the problem – assuming anyone ever gets around to solving it.

The first is the two-state solution, with a two-piece Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with the Zionist Entity in between. This would leave about 25-30% of the historical Palestine in Arab hands, and the Zionist entity would own the rest.

In this scenario, the first sticking point would be the status of East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want for their capital, but which the Zionist entity would never give up. Even if a portion of East Jerusalem was handed over to the Palestinian state, there would be resentment at the occupation of the rest of the city. Therefore, that would become a permanent bleeding sore – just like Kashmir.

Then, there would be the question of the settlements. For decades now, the Zionist entity has been blatantly and illegally robbing Palestinian lands by settling immigrants in the occupied West Bank. These settlers are of the extreme right, virtually as far to the right of the “mainstream” Zionists as the Zionists are to the right of normal human society. They are of use to the Zionists in two respects: first, they allow the Zionist state to occupy the West Bank, build an Apartheid Wall to keep out the Palestinians, and maintain an enhanced military expenditure. Secondly, they allow the Zionist entity to export its lunatic fringe right wingers to what are basically frontier settlements, and away from the core homeland. The Zionist entity cannot withdraw these settlements in toto; at the most it might make some tiny, token withdrawals from fringe areas.

If these settlements are not withdrawn back into the Zionist entity, they will remain a permanent knife in the heart of the Palestinian state. They already occupy the best water sources, the best arable land, and sit astride natural communication routes. Leaving them in place would create the exact same border disputes as in the India-Pakistan scenario – with the same long term disastrous consequences. It would also turn the Palestinian state into a Bantustan, with no way to sustain itself economically, with its people entirely dependent on handouts from abroad and remittances from those who migrate to work in the Zionist Entity and to Jordan. In other words, it will be a gigantic labour camp, no more.

Thirdly, the question of the return of the displaced refugees. Unless the reader knows nothing about the subject, he or she will be aware of the “Nakba” – the great Palestinian ethnic cleansing of 1948, where the inhabitants were driven from their lands. Any settlement would require some form of right of return to the displaced people or their descendants, and that’s going to be a sticking point, again. At most, the Zionist entity would allow only a tiny fraction of the displaced Palestinians to return, because if substantial numbers did, they would demographically swamp the Jewish part of the population. Such a nominal return, of course, would only breed resentment among the Palestinian diaspora not allowed to return.

On the other hand, giving the Palestinians a separate state will only embolden the Zionist ultra-right who want the Arabs cleansed from the Holy Land of Eretz Israel. They have a country of their own, these people will argue – why should they be allowed to remain in the homeland, breathing Jewish air? The exact same argument as the Hindunazis use for Muslims, but more easy to put into practice because of the unquestioning support the Zionazis receive from the American Empire.

Fourth is the problem of the divided state of Palestine. Already, the two parts are under two different rulers. HAMAS, an organisation which the Zionist entity helped create earlier, rules Gaza, which is tiny, overcrowded and almost unlivable, with an economy dependent on smuggling across the Sinai border from Egypt. The West Bank is ruled by the corrupt and effete but secular Fatah. There’s absolutely no indication of how these two are supposed to work together in an independent Palestinian entity, when they can’t even get along when their alleged mutual enemy is the Zionazi occupier. As Palestine becomes a poor, quasi-independent basket case, these antagonisms will only grow, and a Bangladesh-style secession of Gaza is not only likely, it’s inevitable.

Just as with HAMAS and Gaza now, an anti-Zionist resistance movement will spring up, either from among the current political forces or from new ones. These will carry out pin-prick attacks with primitive weaponry, like today's Qassam rockets, which will have absolutely no real effect on the Zionist entity. The Zionists, however, will welcome such a resistance with open arms, because it will be the perfect excuse to maintain their militarism and periodic "punitive" mini-wars just as they are now doing in Gaza. The local Palestinian authorities, if they try to crack down on these resistance movements, will precipitate a civil war.

On both sides of the divide, Jewish and Arab children will be taught to hate the others, as they are being taught to do right now. The intensity of hate will be much greater, though, just as with Indian and Pakistani kids - and as with India and Pakistan, anyone calling for rapprochement will be dubbed a traitor (as I have been, many times over).

That's what Palestine is looking at with the two-state solution.

The other is the one-state solution, which would leave the entirety of Palestine under the control of a single nation, whatever you want to call it. This would have the following effects:

First, it would instantly defang the ultra-right on both sides. Just as Muslims in an undivided India would have been a far more secure community, the Palestinians would have an assurance that their numbers would secure for them a place in the sun. They would no longer feel compelled to shelter under the existing political entities. This would reduce and ultimately eliminate the poisonous influence of HAMAS, Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian right-wing organisations. Fatah, too, would have to shape up or ship out. A secure populace is a populace which has no need to tolerate corruption and wrongdoing in its political masters.

It would also have a calamitous effect on the Jewish Right. In fact, the apartheid state of “Israel” could not possibly survive in its current form with a large Palestinian population. Giving the Palestinians equal stake in the future of the nation would instantly expose the myth of “tiny Israel, surrounded by enemies on all sides.”

There would be no conflict over Jerusalem, which could be the capital of the new state with nobody having any trouble over that at all. For the first time in its history, this strangely fought-over town might be at peace.

There’s more. The settlers can simply be left to wither on the vine, since they will no longer be required as frontier guards. The Apartheid Wall, which causes so much Palestinian hardship, will of course come down, to absolutely nobody’s regret except those who benefit from its existence. The Palestinian refugees can return if they wish, since in a joint state they can’t become Mohajirs.

The immense Zionazi defence industry might as well close down, because it won’t be necessary any longer; the right-wing Zionist parties would have their raison d’ĂȘtre crumble instantly. Nor would Arab monarchies be able to continue to pretend to support the Palestinians while hobnobbing with the Zionist regime.

The Anschluss of the Palestinians and Jews would open up a whole new political space, that of cooperation instead of confrontation. This completely unoccupied central space is there, waiting to be taken up by joint Jewish-Muslim political parties, which would seek a joint political vision. Freed of the fear spread by the extremists, both Jews and Arabs would gravitate naturally to these parties. “Israel”, or whatever name the new nation would call itself, could finally become a democracy.

Of course, this would completely destroy the Zionist-centric character of the self-styled Jewish state. This is what brings out the true colours of so-called “peace activists” like Uri Avnery. This Avnery, a Zionist propagandist who deserves an analytical article all to himself, pretends to being an egalitarian and a supporter of left-secular politics and Palestinian rights. Yet when he discusses the only thing that will secure said rights, and the left-secular space in politics – the one-state solution – he declares it to be impossible. Furthermore, he claims two different peoples can never share a country equally. That must come as a surprise to multi-ethnic nations across the world.

I am aware, of course, that my conclusions might be controversial to many Palestinians, who might justly ask why Zionist thieves and occupiers should be rewarded by being granted recognition of the spoils of their crimes. To them I can only say that we live in a world which is far from ideal, and I see no solution which would involve the deportation of the Zionazis. Where would one send them anyway? The Zionist entity was always a scam, meant to get rid of Europe’s “Jewish Problem” by a less extreme route than Hitler-style extermination. Having got rid of the vast majority of their Jews, would the Europeans want them back? Where then would you – where could you - send them? Since there’s no answer to this question, the only solution is sharing and cooperation.

That will be difficult to achieve, but it’s the only way forward. The history of India and Pakistan is proof of what might happen otherwise.

Unite and stand, or fall separately. You have the choice.

Of course, I may be wrong, and independent Palestine and Israel may exist side by side as peaceful neighbours. But consider the situation if I am right.

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