Hazem Saghieh

Utopia and Preaching Against Incitement and the Apocalyptic Bent!   

"Apocalyptic" refers to that which describes the end of the world; however, in a broader and more comprehensive sense, it describes occurrences that do not normally take place and the non-occurrence of normally occurring occurrences that reason does not accept. Thus, by force of the apocalyptic, the dead rise from the grave, for example, or every child dies, a flood sweeps the entire world away, trees become predatory monsters, and other strange things of this nature take place.

The Jewish prophets of the Old Testament, especially Isaiah, distinguished themselves with the apocalyptic warnings they delivered to their people and with their descriptions of the suffering that could be inflicted on their people if they continued to disobey God’s commandments.

If these prophets had not been infuriated, and if they had not conveyed those expansive images and fantasies, global literature would have lost much of what makes it what it is. However, what literature gains from this apocalypticism is a testament to life’s fragility and the scale of the peril that could befall us.

Following the current war on the Gaza Strip and the things that are being said and done during this war, the wording of the threats and promises of vengeance that have accompanied it, or the haunting declarations of victory made by both sides, one almost gets the impression that the apocalyptic bent is competing with reality to define what is real.

Though the two warring parties have presented too many examples of this to count, the mere possibility of it, or some of it, actually happening is enough to reverse all meanings, and reversal is among the signs that the end is upon us.

Indeed, what does comprehensive and overwhelming victory entail in light of Israel’s growing schism with the rest of the world, caught in the kind of isolation that often preludes a rout? How can deranged religious settlers be left to change the nature of things through violence? And what do we call the categorical confidence of a few men hunkered down in tunnels beneath the ground and promising their people a victory whose effects would stretch from the river to the sea?

The irrationality in all of this goes beyond those who directly speak for it. It has also taken hold of those who believe and celebrate their words, making it seem, for a moment, as though this irrationality is itself rational.

The fact is that the idea of "genocide"- be it as the gross actions Israel has been committing on a daily basis for more than seven months, or as the intentions manifested on October 7 - is itself an apocalyptic omen that is with us now: the number of deaths, the evacuation of civilians, the occupation of territory, the starvation of children, and changing everything that had existed... When we remember that several genocides have been perpetrated in our modern history, specifically the Arab Levant, we are overcome by warranted panic that the apocalyptic may not be an eventuality whose non-occurrence is guaranteed.

This picture is incomplete without an allusion to the paralysis and helplessness that afflict people under these conditions that are brimming with certainty, irrationality, and destruction. This is not a long way away from the sorts of reactions engendered by the prospect of nuclear deployment, especially at a time when this prospect enjoys broad mass appeal!

But can anyone, whether in our region or the world, reverse the idea of an "end," with all the apocalyptic vision it entails, into a "beginning?" And is it possible to precipitate a gradual transition from violence to politics, from ruptures to settlements, and from war to peace?

Such questions may seem utopian in light of this helplessness and paralysis that surrounds and envelopes the battlefield, or at a time when the political actors involved are split between those who are completely aligned with Israel and those who have no influence, and when the notion of victory at any cost reigns supreme over all others.

Nevertheless, the fact that the calamity - which had been immense in the first place - has reached this scale, and the prospect of its expansion to other regions and countries, urgently demand that we make ending this war a humanist and moral goal that takes precedence over every other objective and any gain its parties could attain.

When politics seems to not stand a chance, or stand almost no chance, there is no harm in putting utopia forward as a policy, an objective, and a slogan, and then clinging to it in the face of the apocalypticism creeping upon us from various sites and locations.

As for the two formulas that seem utopian in our day, and in light of the luminosity of belligerent consciousness, with its radicalism and extermination, they remain the same and do not change:

- It is necessary, politically, legally, and morally, for the Palestinian people to have a state - here, we solve half the problem.

- The illusion of annihilating Israel must be abandoned, as should the mentality of resolving conflicts through annihilation and erasure of any kind - here, we solve half of the other problem.

Can this be considered preaching in the light of our weakness and ill-preparedness? Perhaps. But preaching, regardless of what its haters may say, remains better than incitement and agitation that promise us all an immense insatiable mass grave.