I spent a few hours today on the university campus of Irvine. There was a pro-Hamas rally scheduled, attended by near 300 people evenly split between Hamas supporters and Israel defenders. When I first arrived, meeting a fellow blogger Gary Fouse on the steps, I was introduced quickly to some of the Jewish leaders and organizers that were milling about in the growing crowd. There was a sense of excitement in the air, but also a somber undercurrent coming from the Hamas fans that seemed to move in a herd for the steps in front of their speakers. Many of them wore military green t-shirts and checkered kaffeyahs, their eyes scanning through the crowd to dwell for a moment on the many Israeli flags. Was it anger I saw in their eyes? Sure, some of that would be natural, the debate that rages around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict defies civility. I spoke to Jews and Muslims alike, looking for catchwords and tripwires. The Jews and their supporters were surprisingly optimistic, but they agreed with me that their community was diverse in opinion and certainly not apt to go public with their support for Israel. The Muslims carried the wounded pride of a people persecuted, and I heard a lot of words like “aggressor” and “innocent”. The speeches centered on conquering this moral high ground, but no minds were changed and both parties mingled after the speeches without even a hint of violence. It seemed a dance well rehearsed.
But what of the moral dimension to this interminable conflict? Who can be right when no one can define wrong? The memories of days spent without the metallic taste of vengence, or reflected fatalism in the brown eyes of newborns wrapped in green must be so rare that not even parents of parents can recall them. To endure depravity for too long is to grow numb to it’s shock – and a conscience beyond shock is a garden that grows only poisonous, grasping vines. And war, a submission to the primordial furies trapped in the dungeons of our subconscious, it then leaves us to the whim of our nature. We are never as civilized after a bloodletting as we were before. But can we raise ourselves by lowering ourselves? What if the moral standard that we insist promises peace can only be imposed by meeting our enemies on a battlefield bereft of the lines that separate men from monsters? For every step forward, we take two back, and humanity can never heave itself from the trenches carved by its history. Will mankind ever learn humility enough to forsake power or banish fear? World wars haven’t cured us. I cannot see how anything less would do so.
So it appears that our future, like the hopes and dreams of our parents before us, remains unmade and yet totally predictable. We are genetically prone to conflict. Walking today through a crowd comfortable with its prejudice and tempted by its demons left me with no reason to smile in anticipation of victory over terror. That battle will never be over.