Thomas Jefferson, co-writer of the American Declaration of Independence and 3rd president of the United States once remarked that the introduction of slavery into a society was akin to “grabbing a wolf by the ears,” in that the person grabbing the wolf must never let go for fear that if he did the wolf would devour him. Jefferson should not have limited his statement merely to the crime of enslavement, but rather, should have expanded the idea to include the crimes of oppression and systematic brutality of people as well. After all, enslavement could be argued to be any system wherein one person or a group of persons imposes their will upon others, which in its most common form is recognized as government, and that therefore enslavement as a word by itself does not suffice to explain the hideousness of the situation imposed upon its victims. Rather, the stigma of enslavement, that thing which makes it odious and which has earned it its rightful place in human understanding as a crime which calls out to heaven for justice is to be found in its oppression of people and in their subjugation to a life of violence and indignation. And he was right, you dare not let go, for if you do you are dead.
In essence what Jefferson (a slave owner himself) was saying is that human nature is such that people have long memories and that they are all imbued with the instinct to survive. Therefore, when someone or a group of people are subjected to oppression for any extended period of time, they will remember with perfect clarity the circumstances surrounding what was done to them and by whom it was done. Human nature, also imbued with the need for justice, will at sometime come calling for it, and given the level of violence with which the life of an oppressed individual was marked, it is safe to say that one can expect the same to be meted out in return, or put in simpler terms, “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” History has born the obvious proof of this out in the various slave revolts that have occurred from the time of Rome to the post-colonial age areas wherein Europeans were responsible for subjugating indigenous peoples to lives of oppression.
If examples from the past do not convince the reader of the truth in Jefferson’s prediction, than the present should, in examining the relationships that exist between white Americans and those whose ancestors were the victims of the kind of oppression which he names. Beginning with the Native Americans, it would be difficult if not impossible to find any sense of overall favorable sentiments by the majority of them towards white Americans, and how could one expect otherwise? They, the Native Americans, are today a group of people whose ancestors were forced out of their lands, starved, shot, and lied to at almost every turn by a group of people intent first on enslaving them and later on stealing their lands. To say that the white Americans of today do not bear any responsibility for the suffering of those in the past holds obvious merit in its most basic sense, but at the same time, means nothing to the average Native American who today is born on a reservation in circumstances of poverty and want. If the aforementioned relationship exemplifies the tendency of a formerly oppressed people to rely on long memories and the mistrust that these long memories create, then as well there is no better proof of the accuracy in Jefferson’s predictions than in examining the situation that exists today within those communities of black Americans who, just like their Indian counterparts, are born into circumstances of poverty and violence and who inescapably direct their gaze towards the whites of the past who were and are responsible for their present condition.
All this discussion about oppression and long memories couldn’t take place at a better time than now, given the items in the news concerning the events in the Middle East and in particular Palestine. Bush’s “Roadmap for Peace” and all the extolling of a “liberated” Iraq are events that are inextricably entwined within Jefferson’s remarks, despite the fact that they are taking place thousands of miles away and concern peoples who have never set foot on American soil. And while those in the US may (at the prodding and insistence of their programmers in the media/government complex) look with hope towards those ideas which are discussed in bringing the current situation to a peaceful end, perhaps they should also factor into the equation the inescapable truth that these people also have long memories and that they thirst for justice, and that their captors know this all too well. And if the first step towards bringing an end to the violence of the region exists in Jefferson’s symbolic act of letting go the wolf’s ears, it is then safe to say that those parties who have been holding the ears understand better than anyone what it is that they stand to lose by so doing, and with this in mind, it should then be concluded that there is no intention of bringing any peace to the region, whether it involves the Americans or the Israelis.
Despite the public relations circuses that have taken place recently with various leaders smiling and shaking hands and making promises, there is no intention of giving Iraqis their freedom nor the Palestinians their land. In the first case, Iraq and her oil are now the defacto property of Bush & Co, a conglomeration of business interests whose existence is denied only by the most naive or the most intellectually dishonest. The program of bringing “liberty” to the Iraqis is identical to the program of bringing liberty to the former slaves of the American south by unscrupulous Northerners who sought their own personal gain in exploiting the unfortunate situation that existed Reconstruction-era America. The Americans, through their corporations and threat of military force, are re-shaping Iraqi society and her infrastructure to suit their own purposes of extracting her wealth while at the same time keeping her people pliant. They will talk of freedom, but only the kind of freedom that suits American purposes, and in like fashion, as the blacks in America were moved from one form of enslavement to another, the Iraqis now are graduating from one form of oppression to something new and more efficient, but enslavement, exploitation and abuse nonetheless.
The Israelis, despite the tactical use of promises which are nothing but repeats of the same lies which they have employed for purposes of deflection in the past, have no intention of giving up one inch of ground that they consider to be rightfully theirs by virtue of the violence they expended in acquiring it. Theirs has been a history of expansion in the region, not contraction, an expansion fueled by many interests and ideologies, not the least of which is religious in nature, and which has been shown by history to be the most powerful of all prime movers. They would just as willingly part with some of their booty as would any pirate or predator, whose driving force is not justice and equity, but rather the law of the jungle or of the streets. Were the Palestinians fortunate enough to acquire some power or influence which would bring about a leveling of the situation, the Israelis would simply bide their time until some future event would present itself in such a way as to allow them to gain the upper hand again. Apologists for Israel would attempt (in common and predictable fashion) to argue away this assertion by attacking it as an ideologically-driven diatribe, however, unfortunately for them and for their argument, the history of how Israel has conducted business in past situations similar to these is the best indicator of how she would do things in the future, and given this history, there is no reason to suspect that the leopard has suddenly changed her spots. Furthermore, it should be remembered that many Israelis, including Ariel Sharon and others like him who hold the seats of power there, believe in the “biblical borders” concept concerning the area known as Ersatz Israel, an area which in their estimation includes not only the post 1967 borders, but as well the areas of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and parts of Iraq and Northern Saudi Arabia. This concept of “biblical borders” is but another example of the Manifest Destiny ideology first adopted by the Americans and now adopted by the Chosen People, and with this in mind, one should not contemplate with too much gullibility the idea that Israel is intent on giving the Palestinians their land back in any permanent fashion.
However, the biggest reason for a discerning person not to surrender to any undue optimism concerning the peace process lies in the understanding that people have long memories, and there certainly are a lot of memories for those in the Middle East to consider when everyone gets together to talk about peace. In consideration of those living in the Occupied Territories, optimists who wait with baited breath over the possibility of peace should remember that every inch of the territory in which the Palestinians now exist is a shouting testimony of the 50 years in which they have been shot, blown up, poisoned, and bulldozed out of their homes. Every child who has been maimed by Israeli bullets or bombs is a prosecutorial witness to the nightmare that has been the minute by minute oppression of these people. Every picture of a dead relative on the mantle in each home is a roadblock to the roadmap. If these do not serve as any indicators as to why the peace process cannot take place as long as the present situation in Israel exists, then perhaps those who are gambling on this hope should consider the fact that Israeli violence against the Palestinians (as well as the deliberate destruction of any infrastructure that they manage to achieve) continues unabated while these talks are taking place. With this in mind, it is safe to assume that the most important component of any discussion or negotiation, trust, is absent, and that therefore the vehicle necessary for bringing an end to hostility is absent any fuel.
Bush and Sharon know perfectly well what awaits them by letting go of the wolf’s ears. They realize that despite whatever promises are made by their victims to “forgive and forget” that nevertheless memories of people being killed by occupying armies (whether in Iraq or in Palestine) will override any sense of amnesia which their oppressors hoped their victims would develop. After 50 years of systematic brutality against the Palestinians and over 10 years of the same for the Iraqis, to expect that suddenly everyone would decide to just “get along” is folly. As well, the two leaders can forget about any help from neighboring countries in that region, as they have witnessed for themselves what has been done to the subject peoples of Iraq and Palestine, and who therefore have no reason to trust that there is any genuine desire for peace and justice on the part of the Americans or the Israelis. It is for these reasons that Bush and Sharon, despite their public display of devotion to the peace process, nevertheless have no intention of letting these people go. Instead, they will draw things out, making demands which are impossible for their victims to meet, and will blame the unavoidable violence on an unbending, unreasonable mindset that they assert their victims possess. And if the violence is not forthcoming in such a way as to bolster their position at the appropriate time, they will see to it that something manages to “pop up” through their own channels of influence.
One would think that educated men had considered the domino effect of history and the violence which is produced whenever a people are oppressed before engaging in brutal behavior. There simply are too many instances throughout history that confirm this tendency for one to assume that it would be any different. An intelligent person at some point must ask the question “Why do they do it? They know they can’t hold on to the wolf forever, and they must know what awaits them when they let go.” The only answer that suffices in understanding this condition lies in the age-old saying about vice and greed breaking down the intellect. Whether it is the sudden, short-lived violence perpetrated by a rapist or an assailant upon an individual, or the prolonged, systematic application of violence and oppression upon a group of people, the root cause of this willingness to inflict the worst upon mankind is derived from the individual’s surrender of his own sense of humanity over to the lower passions of greed and malice, and the willingness to believe that he can get away with it indefinitely.
In the interest of tempering our optimism about the proposed solution for the problems in the Middle East, we must remember that history is the best teacher of all, and that she has already spoken about what is sure to be the present outcome in some varying degree. The wolf will not go away quietly, and there is no reason to suspect that her captor will be able to outrun or outfight her. Therefore, with this image in mind, one should assume that the peoples of the Middle East who are and have been subjected to an existence of oppression and violence must resolve to stay that way indefinitely, or else prepare to be completely destroyed by their captors.
Mark Glenn is an American and former high school teacher turned writer / commentator. “Our Enemies They Are Not“ is an excerpt of the recently completed work by the author entitled “Not My Words, But Theirs : An American Christian’s Defense of Middle Eastern Culture and its people” (www.notmywords.com). For information regarding the purchase of this book, please contact the author at: [email protected]. He contributed above article to Media Monitors Network (MMN).