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The Character of History and Palestine

The Character of History and Palestine

Historical revisionism is problematic in any form. In its worst manifestation, it can literally change our past in order to satisfy our present. In a recent column in The Tech ["Zionism Did Not Destroy Palestine," April 24], Omri Schwarz G takes a revisionist approach, which is troubling in this case mostly in that it is based on a creative representation of Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian leader of the '20s and '30s.

Scholars of the Middle East understand that the Islamic revivals we see today, for better or worse, are just that: revivals. The Middle East had little appetite for theocratic rhetoric after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. In fact, many had blamed the rickety state of government on an ossified Islamic expression in political life. Given this atmosphere, Amin al-Husseini, whatever his personal inclinations, engaged in a largely nationalist advocacy in Palestine. We can only conjecture what elements rose in Jewish society as a result of al-Husseini's presence. Schwarz speculates that, as a Palestinian, al-Husseini was accountable for a "Zionist faction of rabid nationalists." Such an assertion shifts the responsibility for extremism in a spectacular way.

Historical revisionism can be dangerous, but it can be downright devastating for our children. For example, Hitler proceeded with a systematic campaign of extermination against Jews because he knew that just a few decades before him the same had been done to Armenians. The history was revised, and the Armenians' horror was forgotten (except by them). By counting on such collective amnesia, Hitler figured he could get away with it. Thankfully for the human spirit, he did not: he and his institutions did not escape blameless. But others have.

Now as the Chinese overwhelm the several different erstwhile independent cultures on their western rump, they presumably look back to the exact same cultural dilution, assimilation, and sometimes extermination by whites of "Red Indians" (Native Americans) in the American West.

As the Israelis do the same to the Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they too may learn from such a cynically instructive example. Or maybe they remember that another group, the Gypsies (or Romas, as they prefer to be called), were also nearly annihilated by the holocaust promulgated by the Nazis. In our present day few people recognize this. We have simply forgotten.

Perhaps the Turks, with their attempts to insinuate themselves into Cyprus, think that they too can escape accountability. And maybe the Moroccans have a similar expectation when they flood their people into the ostensibly independent nation of Western Sahara.

The list goes on and on.

One reason we can stomach destroying other people is that we convince ourselves this time is actually different. Sometimes we forget the past to encourage our conviction. Sometimes we change it.

A constant repetition of the same mistakes, of the same cruelties, is perhaps the ultimate failure of human hope. When will we stop repeating our errors? Maybe never. It is, however, a question worth asking when one people insist that they have a catastrophe, another people insist that they have a celebration, and they are both talking about the same thing.

Husham S. Sharifi G