Friday, January 26, 2024

Judgment Day

The South African-led case at the ICC depends on some ideologically-informed propositions which deserve some interrogation.

Firstly, that Israelis are 'white' colonialists oppressing a dark-skinned native population and secondly that whatever the stated strategic aims served up by the IDF for their response to October 7, the underlying motivation is racism, conscious or unconscious.

These two notions allow those who claim genocide on behalf on the Palestinians to skip the objective criteria for the internationally-recognised crime (to a large extent formulated by Jewish thinkers in the last century), such as significant population decline over an specified period.

One of the ways of countering these claims is to deploy another, supposedly less ideological affirmation of the Palestinian cause, which I would tend to refer to as the 'scientific' postulation, based on recent DNA analyses.

What these apparently reveal is that Palestinians and Middle Eastern Jews (roughly half of all Israelis) are essentially the same ethnic group. This makes allegations of racism and white settler colonialism all rather moot, does it not? 

It's not hard for historians to see why this would, rather inevitably be the case. When the newly-Islamicised Arabs first invaded, many of the then natives, Jews and Christians in the main, were forced to adopt an Arabian-Muslim identity which they have since retained.

Thus — irony klaxon — many Palestinians possess Jewish ancestors, along with other heritable mixes from other peoples who have featured in the region since the Bronze Age: Caananites, Philistines, Samaritans, Coptic Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Frankish and Norman Crusaders, Turks etc. And so too do many of the Middle Eastern Jews.

What historians can tell you however is that the so-called scientific argument is not actually all that scientific after all, because it artificially separates Nature and Nurture, and in so doing ignores the fact that DNA alone is not a significant driver of events. 

After all, on my own native island, the English are not really Anglo-Saxon and the Welsh and Scots are not really Celtic. But these nations and their identities are grounded in complex underlying structures that have been historically meaningful: memetic not genetic. Conduct all the DNA tests you want, but language, existential beliefs and wider culture are the main drivers of history.

In spite of our modern obsessions with racism and ethnic cleansing, most historical conquests have been conducted by relatively compact armies of men who did not ultimately displace the much larger, mixed gender populations that they assumed control over. This was true of the Anglo-Saxons and it was true of the Arabs who rode into the Levant behind their Caliph in the seventh century bent on the conquest of Jerusalem.

The reverse process, the end of empires, is also worth considering here. When Islamic colonial rule faltered in the Balkans, new nation states took shape. These were based on a single ethno-religious identity (Greek, Bulgarian etc.)

The fate of the former colonial overlords who had enjoyed wealth and power in these territories for hundreds of years was rather mixed, shall we say. Some left for what remained of Ottoman Turkey, others were dispossessed or indeed murdered. Unlike the inhabitants of the Mandate, they didn't get the immediate opportunity to conspire with nearby allies to extirpate these nascent entities.

In ancestral DNA terms, many are still in situ, but they have adapted to a new identity and civic condition. Atavistic hatreds bubble away beneath the surface still, but these are not really the live geopolitical volcanoes they once were. 

If you look for western democratic nations that are still obstinately coveted by the Jihadis you tend to find only Spain...and Israel, of course. I think this is probably because these were colonies established by the original Caliphate and not the later Turkish empire, and so the urge to re-dominate goes deeper (and somewhat darker) from a cultural perspective. 

20% of Israelis are Arab and Muslim. They may not have converted to Judaism, or in the main converse in Hebrew, but they have to some extent adapted to the memetic structures of the nation within which they make their livings. Palestinians of this kind are, in a sense, already 'living the dream' of the one state solution. (Let's also not forget that pre-1948, Jews around there also regarded themselves as 'Palestinian'.)

Nearby one finds a couple of other notable Palestinian groups, open and closeted. In the latter category we have those with their own modern nation state in the form of Jordan. The other group are the ones that are the source of that big suppurating geopolitical sore we all to some extent suffer from today.

On some levels they are recusants: they do not wish to have anything to do with the Jewish state, to the point of being apparently psychologically incapable of living alongside it within their own UN-recognised nation.

They are also in a sense refuseniks, in that they have been denied the opportunity to leave and re-settle by the neighbouring countries sharing their basic memetic make-up and this historically unusual situation has been reinforced by the unhelpful doctrines that govern the UNRWA, which deem them to be perpetual refugees.

Genocide, like war, is in general a far more complex phenomenon than its most famous example from the middle of the last century. There are good reasons to be conscious of what the Holocaust and WWII have to teach us, but they can sometimes act as notable surrogates for an unwillingness to deal with the fundamental ambiguities of life. 

Take the last 'proper' genocide that most of the international community recognises: Rwanda. I say most, because Mitterand famously said at the time: "In such countries genocide is not too important" (!)

Au contraire. An understanding of what happened in 1994 is, I would suggest, essential to any understanding of the term. 

The original inhabitants of this mountainous little country were cave-dwelling pigmies called the Twa that now account for just 1% of the population. They were overrun long before colonial times by two distinct ethnic groups. A rather stocky and dark Bantu tribe and a lankier, lighter-skinned Nilotic people from the north. This distinction was already being eroded to the point of meaninglessness by the time the Belgians arrived, through a conscious mixing of both memes and genes.

Yet the Europeans duly upset this process of miscegenation and mobility between the two groups, and effectively revived the old ethnic polarity as a sociological situation.

In doing this they had a number of 'racial science' dogmas to play with, but also some absurd ideas derived from ancient scripture (that toxic body of nonsense again) - the so-called Hamitic myth - which claimed that Sub-Saharan peoples were descended from Noah's son Ham and were thus eligible for serial mistreatment. 

From then on Rwanda's Tutsis and Hutus were in effect castes (to a large extent divorced from underlying ethnic division) forced to play certain roles within the colony by their overlords.

However, many of the colonists themselves gradually became obsessed with the idea that the Tutsis were "oppressors" and they came to associate them with the feudally-privileged Flemish population of their own European homeland. This paved the way for the emergence of a Hutu-led dictatorship after independence.

When we cannot blame the worst problems in the world on the Bible or the Quran, we always have those "rogue intellectuals" with an inverted chip on the shoulder to fall back on, and so it was in President Habyarimana's regime, where the Hamitic myth was carefully inverted into a supremacist, genocidal ideal in manner that now has clear echoes in the Middle East.


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