Fri 23 Nov 2012
In the United States, after having given thanks for a turkey feast in which only one of the native birds has been officially pardoned and allowed to live a little longer, today becomes Black Friday. One official holiday (blessed by Lincoln, who is the star of a new Hollywood film) has ended and the shopping spree for the next official holiday (which officially keeps the “Christ” in Christmas) has begun. Actually in some places the shopping began last night. Whatever the real reason for the dubbing, it is obvious that this shop-to-you-drop mentality is meant to keep stores in the black rather than bleeding red. As a result, lots of gifts will be be bought to be placed under the Christmas trees of families who really do not need them. Meanwhile in the Middle East (and not just in the Middle East) Black Friday will be followed by a Black Saturday and the blackness will continue all the way through to a Black Thursday to be followed by yet another Black set of days on end.
In the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy I was without electricity in my home for 11 days. Apart from a few candles and flames in a fireplace, I was surrounded by darkness for more than a week. But there are different shades of darkness, despite the semantic homogenization in our concept of “black.” Being in the literal dark or in a situation where there is no light and thus everything is pitch black keeps us metaphorically in the dark as well. I lost power and a few tree limbs, but thousands of people during Sandy lost houses, possessions of all kinds, cars and boats. Some still remain without a home or power as I write this three weeks later. What makes today “Black Friday” here in America is inconvenience at the malls. It was inconvenient not to have electricity or hot showers and to cook on a Coleman stove for a few days, but the unfolding events in the Middle East go far beyond this kind of inconvenience.
Once again Gaza is bombed and Palestinian life counted as worthless. The rightwing Israeli mentality dredges up the biblical judgment that the people living there are still Philistines, that Hamas must still be worshipping Dagan, that the IDF is Samson with flowing hair but this time not in danger of being crushed in the buildings bombed apart. Ah yes, there is a ceasefire: this means fewer missiles lobbed and for the moment fewer lives lost. But the fire of hate is only smoldering and will be set ablaze again as soon as politically expedient. In Egypt President Morsi has unsheathed his political two-edged sword: helping broker a peace deal between Hamas and Israel with “Israel right or wrong” American blessing and at the same time granting himself the age-old authority of a pharaoh. In Syria the Assad regime is in a state of no-return collapse, but the killing goes on and will go on. Jordanians are protesting the British-engineered kingship that rules their lives. Bahrain’s ruling elite continues to crush any semblance of resistance. And I have not yet mentioned Iraq, which has surged out of public awareness here in America, or Afghanistan or Iran.
Over the next week the news out of the Middle East will blacken each day and a new week will double down on the darkness. There is always a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, but for many people in the region that tunnel appears heading straight to hellfire. Thus, it is hard to be optimistic about that light. The problem with Black Friday here is our own tunnel vision, our collective failure to recognize that the deaths in a variety of conflicts in the Middle East are as much due to the political gambits of the United States (and other allies and former enemies) as to the players we see on the cable news videos. The election we just had here in the United States focused on jobs and same-sex marriage, while foreign policy remained almost entirely “foreign” in the rhetoric. The economy and social issues are indeed important, but the extraordinary political upheaval in the Middle East does not deserve to be left in the dark just because you can’t find a good parking space at the local Walmart.
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