Hazem Saghieh

It Is a War That Demands We Forget Just about Everything

In the mid-19th century, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard published his famous book “Either/or,” in which he argues that individuals must choose between an aesthetic life and a religious and spiritual life.

“Either/or” consists of two volumes: one about the first life, or the first choice, and the second about the second life, or the second choice. There is a total split between the two lives/choices: they cannot be reconciled, nor can they be combined through pragmatic compromise, nor can there be a synthesis that unites these two alternatives and transcends them in a dialectical sense.

Anyone who pursues such reconciliation necessarily favors the aesthetic life, as he does not deny himself bodily pleasures or hold himself back from pursuing his interests, while his relationship with the religious and spiritual realms are for little more than a hobby.

Kierkegaard believed - and this why he is considered founder of Christian Existentialism - that there are no moral or rational criteria for making this unavoidable choice. As for believing that there is a certain theory that one should follow in making his choice, it is like dealing with what one wants to prove as an a priori assumption.

In other words, Kierkegaard closed every door in our faces. It is either or, and, without a guidebook to refer to, we must choose.

In the Arab world, we see poisonous winds blowing in our direction, forcing us, in its own way, to make an “either/or” decision. Either we admire what the religious Axis of Resistance parties and movements say and do, and glorify their leaders, without voicing any criticism, reservations, or retractions, or we support Israel's brutality and its insane bombardment of Gaza.

For a moment, it seemed realistic to assume that Israel's political blunders and its faltering military campaign, as well as the trial at The Hague being held amid broad international joint efforts in support of Palestine, could converge to engender a healthier climate that is more tolerant of diverse interpretations and divergent assessments. But no.

Thus, in accordance with this strongly established theory, empathy for Gaza and condemnation of Israel must be accompanied by a long list of items in order to be recognized and taken seriously by the militant censors:

The Lebanese must forget their fear for their country, which is already more dead than alive, as well as fears for their lives. Syrians must forget that this same Axis of Resistance had clamped down on them, as well as their revolution, which must be considered superfluous. Palestinians, especially Gazans, must forget how Hamas has ruled them, as well as how it prepared them for this war.

Iranians, Yemenis, and Iraqis must forget their serious reservations regarding the regimes against which they had revolted. Many Arabs must forget the expansion of Iran's influence in their countries and turn a blind eye to it. Women must forget the bigoted theories of Iran and its militias that are flourishing in the region and insult, enslave, and frighten women.

Modern individuals must forget that their individuality and modernity are the product of a Western culture that today, in all its aspects, is being bitterly lampooned. Those who love life must forget their fears of this burst of sentiment glorifying death.

Those who belong to nonreligious communities must forget the danger posed by this religiosity creeping from every direction. Those who follow religious creeds different from those of the fighters must forget the specter of a frightening fate that could befall them and swallow their reservations...

The fact is that any cause seen as the one and only struggle presupposes amnesia, as we have learned from the history of totalitarian regimes and the extensive critical literature on the subject. This singularity of a cause thereby assumes that history was at zero, and only the cause itself and its battles can create history and lift it above zero.

On top of that, this inclination suggests an appetite for tyranny and a penchant for settling old scores with critics and opponents who insist on remembering the things they have learned and experienced.

Thus, we all have to agree to forget who we are, what we were, and what we want to be; we must happily and enthusiastically proceed to dissolve into Abu Ubaidah, just as a worshiper dissolves into that which he worships.

The truth is that this is not a necessary price to pay for sympathizing with Gaza and condemning Israel’s brutality. Our sympathy and condemnation stem from our humanity before anything else, and from the fact that we would lack humanity if the pain of oppressed and subjugated people, like those in Gaza, did not concern us.

However, limiting oneself to abstraction gives rise to another lack that is no less dangerous to our humanity. Unassigned and undefined, one forgets his history, his particular circumstances, and his meanings. If those who do not support Gaza are indifferent to the pain and death of others, those whose support is not accompanied by reservations, criticism, and revision are indifferent to their own death and their own pain.

It could be said, correctly, that the astronomical cruelty being exposed by Israel’s actions reinforces and inspires our “either/ or” thinking. However, we cannot achieve a credible victory in light of the either/or theory, be it military or non-military. Rather, even if it were to win a major victory over Israel with this kind of awareness, tremendous tyranny and backwardness would share it with us, and we already have a massive surplus of tyranny and backwardness.