02 October, 2006

Conference: Palestine as 'State of Exception': a Global Paradigm (part three)

You may recall part one and part two.

Gargi Bhattacharyya talked about how the Palestinian issue has become an emblematic one for anti-globalisation and anti-capitalist people, with it often being said that it is the defining struggle of our time. While this has obvious benefits, it has the downside that the Palestinians themselves get reduced to ciphers, with their actual struggle rendered almost invisible by its appropriation by the opponents of the current world system. There is also the problem that although the Palestinian struggle is currently chic, it may soon go out of fashion, leaving the Palestinians high and dry. As someone with a sceptical view of the anti-globalisation movement, I found myself wondering if the Palestinians conscription by the that lot alienates support from middle-of-the-road people; the dispossession of the Palestinians has little or nothing to do with neo-liberalism, so bundling the two things together produces unlikely bedfellows.

Dr. Bhattacharyya also talked about race, and about how the West has in the context of the War on Terror moved towards seeing Muslims as an existential threat to Our Way Of Life; this is akin to how the Israeli establishment paints the Palestinians. The UK authorities, meanwhile, has moved away from multicultural models of integration for immigrants, seeing these as promoting self-segregation, and instead have moved towards a new model of authoritarian assimilation, with those clinging to other ways of life seen as hating freedom.

Bobby Sayyid talked about the resonance Palestine has for Muslims throughout the world. He finds this resonance interesting and not readily explainable – Muslims who have never been to Palestine or met anyone who was there still feel a great personal attachment to the issue. Dr. Sayyid also talked about how this general Muslim engagement with the Palestinian struggle can be somewhat abstracted and removed from the real-life experience of that people. Instead, the Palestinian issue becomes a metaphor for all Muslims who are struggling against oppression. Sayyid felt that without the engagement of Muslims world-wide with Palestine, the issue would have lost its salience.

I did find myself wondering how the Palestinian issue would resonate with people who are themselves being colonised by Muslims – the good folk of West Papua, say. If the struggle of the Palestinians has become a metaphor not of resistance against oppression but of Muslim resistance against repression of Islam then maybe the Palestinian struggle could lose its cachet with the kind of anti-globalisation people Dr. Bhattacharyya was talking about, if bolshy Muslims and anti-globalisation ever become decoupled.

Conor McCarthy was the last speaker, talking about Edward Said and his theories of the state. A lot of this was situated in a world of literary critical theory with which I am not that familiar, so I struggled a bit, with the lateness of the hour not helping. The paper name-checked such exciting characters as Gramsci, Foucault, and Poulantzas. Dr. McCarthy talked about how Said looked at the Zionist project from the point of view of those on whom it impacted, and on how he looked at the genealogy of Zionism as a concept. Beyond that, Said was perturbed by the disconnection between Israeli and Palestinian self-narratives.

General Points on the Conference

One thing that really struck me about this conference was the absence of any real Palestinian voice or any sense of Palestinian agency. Dr. Lentin had in her opening remarks to the conference discussed how this was going to be a conference about Palestinians in which their voices would be articulate. In practice, though the papers seemed to be all about things being done to the Palestinians or things other people were doing purportedly on their behalf.

Another feature was the absence of Israeli voices. Dr Lentin pointed out in her closing remarks that three of the academics who scheduled to speak were Israeli citizens, but these were either Palestinian Israelis or dissidents like Ilan Pappe whose opinions are completely beyond the pale of normal Israeli opinion. If the conference had lived up to its billing as a vehicle for articulating and analysing Palestinian viewpoints, then the marginalisation of any kind of Israeli voice would make more sense. In practice, though, large parts of the conference were devoted to things the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians, and the lack of any attempt to see things from their point of view made them seem disembodied and ahistorical, a decontextualised and inhuman force rather than the human citizens of a country.

In some ways, though, the above is just nitpicking on my part, and should not be taken as indicating any overall lack of satisfaction with the conference proceedings.


No comments: