Thursday, September 18, 2003

Memories and Memorials

As far as I am concerned, the point of having a memory is really so that you can find your keys before you leave the house. Beyond that, it becomes as much of a liability as a benefit.

Education, in whatever realm, has for its purpose the passing on of our memories to others so that no one needs to reinvent the wheel over and over again. Since each person's perception is entirely personal, therefore, and since each person interprets his experience from only the one point of view, what happens is that this ego-centered evaluation of events leads to what can only be described as one-sided peripheralism. We have an example in the UN today, where the Israeli representative is declaring irrelevant and offensive the reference to the massacres of Sabra and Shattila under Ariel Sharon, twenty years ago, now that his government is looking for UN approval of the assassination of Yaser Arafat, apparently the only subject worthy of consideration at this crucial moment, according Israel.

When a person speaks from his personal experience, he is convinced that he knows what he is talking about, he becomes firm in his convictions. Seldom does anyone believe that he actually knows less than he thinks he does. One becomes like an item living on the surface of a large balloon that is persuaded it is the center of the world. However, because of its position, it is not only peripheral to the whole action but actually also incapable of witnessing anything taking place at any great distance from itself, and totally incapable of knowing, or evaluating, what is going on "on the other side of the moon", as it were.

Our perception also changes moment to moment, even our memories are not cast in concrete. In World War II in England, a number of people wrote daily diaries during the London Blitz. Some thirty years later, the survivors were asked to write their memories of those horrific days and they were all surprised to discover they none of them remembered the facts as they had lived them. Victor Klemperer and his wife who lived in Dresden during the war, also were able to establish that their memories were quickly distorted, sometimes even wiped out completely, and since Victor Klemperer kept a daily diary for the entire period, he was later on able to conclude: "We both know what happened, because we were there, but we also don't know what really was happening, because we were there."

Perception can revise the understanding of the past. I was six years old when my mother was killed and she made me aware of the fact that she wanted me to die with her. It was only when I revisited the scene, at age 45, that I understood the reality of what was happening as my mother was dying, that she did not want to leave me behind, that she wanted to take me along with her to protect me, and from a very negative situation, I became aware that the hand had flipped from face down to face up and in its palm I found my mother's love. It's never too late to have a happy childhood.

Whether we are telling a story or talking of the education of young people by older people, primitive cultures by more technically advanced societies, religious or philosophical societies converting the disbelieving or the indifferent, in each case the story teller or the educator is often operating under the aegis of some form of authority over the student or the listener, with the aim of obtaining some form of control, if not outright power, even when it might start out with the innocent goal of sharing knowledge or experience. We have had many civilizations based on these systems, which have all crumbled because of their unsustainability and the fact that they never faced the truth. And what is this truth? This truth is the conformity of the mind to reality.

There is a little story about the truth, a cautionary tale for those who believe in the eternal rivalry between Good and Evil, personified by God and the Devil. One day, God and the Devil are sitting together after one of their regular heavenly conferences, looking down on earth, at man enjoying his manly occupations, one of which is the perennial search for truth. Suddenly, some wise man, some sage no doubt, finds it, lying there, totally pristine, shining and awe-inspiring in its ineffable beauty, utterly unattended and unprotected, in the sand of the Arabian desert, in the Empty Quarters maybe. He picks it up, cradles it reverently in both his hands, and sets off for the nearest city. "Ah!" exclaims God, "Now you're done! Man has found the Truth, you have lost the game!" "Don't bet on it," retorts the Devil, with a devilish grin, "I'm going to help him to organize it."

What a self-motivated student of the truth accepts as a fact will depend in large part on both his physical, mental and emotional states. These in turn are in part determined by heredity, the cultural environment, the climate, the weather, the surroundings, personal habits of thinking and behaving, whether the individual concerned has slept, eaten, drunk, in adequate amount in the recent past, etc., etc.

It is easy for a human being to behave with dignity and honor when the world is at peace and in reasonable order. When chaos prevails, however, along with hunger, insecurity, unemployment, lack of shelter, threatening epidemics, all kinds of deprivations, including lack of medical support, it will take more than education to bolster the spirits of growing numbers of those suffering in order to enable them to chart a positive course through the shoals of the choices they will have to make from moment to moment. Even a normally calm man may lose his cool and hit back in anger when provoked by an act of gratuitous violence. No human being can ever be sure what his exact limits are, and what pressures will be necessary to break down his individual boundaries.

Also, nobody takes into sufficient consideration the fact that indifference is the root cause of violence, which may explode after silent incubation, as a smoldering fire may suddenly blossom into raging flames when inspired by a draft of air.

When I was a very little kid, my Catholic grandmother taught me to read at her knee on the Bible. All I knew about the Jews, until I reached puberty, was that Jesus Christ was a Jew. To the best of my knowledge, I had never met one.

I was educated as a boarder in a Catholic convent in England. During a mass X-ray campaign, I was found to have a shadow on one lung and thereafter had to go to the local Chest Clinic every few months for a check up. I was the only student who had to do this, and since I was Miss Goody-goody-two-shoes, the nuns let me go without a chaperone. I would just draw down from my allowance the pennies needed for bus fare there and back. I always rode the bus into town, because the appointment was made to coincide with the bus timetable. But since the Chest Clinic hardly ever took me on time (what health institution ever does?), there was no way the nuns could know when I was done. So, instead of taking the bus back, I ran the whole way, saving the pennies to rush into a second-hand book store on the way, where I could pick up a book. I claimed there was always that one book ready to drop off the shelves for me. I was never found out, because I was always on time for tea.

One day, the book I picked up was called something like "The Road Home". It was translated from Danish and was the story of a young nurse who was part of the medical team that had accompanied the troops liberating Bergen-Belsen. Bergen-Belsen was the camp where thousands of Hungarian Jewish children were deported for extermination. Some were still alive at the liberation: all were sick, either with TB or typhus. None of them wanted to live. Who could blame them? Their parents had all been killed before them. The nurse recounted the terrible powerlessness of the medical team facing these tragic skeletal children, with huge eyes of despair eating their emaciated faces, children whose spirit could not be reached by anybody.

The book had a lot of photographs, all of them featured as a collection at the center of the book. When I saw them, my heart broke: I wanted to die. "This is what we did..." I tore out the photos and burnt them: I never wanted to see them again.

I was really upset. I felt that I had stumbled across a dark secret, because nobody had ever mentioned such things to me before, and I wanted very much to understand how all this could have been allowed to happen. But I had not idea who to trust to ask my questions: everybody around me appeared to be a part of the conspiracy of silence. It did not get better when I found out about Treblinka, Maidenek, Birkenau, etc.

It looked to me as if "we" had done this to these people for only one reason: although they worshipped the same God as "ours" (same Bible, in fact "our" Bible had been written by "them"), they did not do it "our" way.

Eventually, I found out about the third religion organized out of the same Bible, the followers of Mohammed.

And these three huge groups of believers claim to be the children of the same God? Who could have thunk it?

Anyway, when I grew up, I continued to study the matter and I became convinced the creation of Israel was essential. My rationale for it was that if the Jews had had a homeland, it would not have been possible, for one thing,for the Christian Germans to throw thousands of live Jewish infants into the crematorium of Auschwitz... Alive in order to save the pennies it would have cost to gas them first. (This happened in August 1944.)

It took many more years of reading for me to learn that what happened to the European Jews of the Holocaust was not just about not having a sovereign nation. There were many other ethnic groups suffering throughout the world, on every continent, for no better reason than that they were powerless, different from their neighbors in dietary, language, vestimentary or lifestyle habits, and modern mapmakers with their straightedges had blocked out national boundaries which had now separated them into scattered minorities: the Kurds, the Turks and the Armenians being perfect examples, but you could also take a look at China, Africa, South East Asia, Europe and their innumerable minorities. Never mind taking a look at the forgotten indigenous peoples of the Americas and Australia and the newly broken-up old Soviet Empire.

When one examines the facts surrounding the creation of Israel, it is told us as a simplistic story: the return of the Jewish people to their promised land. The creation of Israel is described as the liberation of Palestine from the British occupation, never mind that the Brits had taken it over from the Ottoman Empire, who had themselves taken it over from the old Roman Empire, and that it was some 2000 years since Palestine had actually been a Jewish state. Another fact that is conveniently not remembered is that Palestine was occupied by the Brits, true, but they controlled a large Palestinian population, some of whom were Jews, some Christians, some Muslims, many of them Arabs, Turks, etc., whatever might be their religion, and most of them had been living there for generations. Oh, yes, there were some Turkish absentee landlords, holdovers from the Ottoman Empire, and yes, they were willing to sell their fallow lands to Zionists to make an honest penny. But a great majority of the settled Palestinians had been farming and doing business in the same places for generations and generations.

Israel didn't make the desert bloom: it burnt out the Arab farmers and drove them out first. There were orange groves in Palestine before the European Jewish survivors of the Holocaust ever came. The Palestinian Arabs were terrorized by the new Israelis into running for their lives, leaving everything behind for the sake of saving their wives and children. The whole purpose of Sabra and Shattila was this: See what happens when you insist on staying.

The terrible harm Israel commits on all of us is this war for our hearts and minds, where we are asked to back whatever horror it commits because they have earned the right to get even for what they experienced in their own past. They demand that we approve their killings, their torture, their military and economic repressions, their WMDs, all the paraphenalia of modern terrorism, and on top of that, they ask that we support it financially and endorse it, officially. When we criticize their methods, that is just "anti-semitism". What's more, they need more and more money to keep up this lifestyle, to which we have accustomed them, because there is no more viable economy in Israel, no more tourism, no more capital investments. Can't they see there is not likely to be any improvement until there is security, and that means security and justice for all?

One day that Ariel Sharon was being asked a question about the building of more illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, he retorted: "This woman is pregnant, she needs somewhere to live. What am I to say to her? Stop having the child?"

If you are so ready to sympathize with the dreams of any pregnant woman who is not actually your own wife, expecting your very own child, what makes it OK to kill any pregnant Palestinian woman at an Israeli checkpoint (setting aside the need for such checkpoints in the first place), on their way across town to give birth at the nearest hospital? Pray tell me, I would like to understand.

How dare the Jews call us "anti-semitic" because we protest against these terrible double standards? In the same way that we were recently told how President Truman was anti-semitic because he wrote in his diary:

"They [the Jews] care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as D[isplaced] P[ersons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment to the underdog. Put an underdog on top and it makes no difference whether his name is Russian, Jewish, Negro, Management, Labor, Mormon, Baptist, he goes haywire. I've found very, very few who remember their past condition when prosperity comes.""

Since Truman supported the creation of Israel, in the form in which it came into being, it seems to me his acts showed exactly where his sympathies lay. He may have considered the Jews selfish and self-centered ("very, very selfish"), but his decisions quite clearly indicated that he did not think the Palestinian lives were worth even considering.

It is quite clear to me, when I look at the whole dismal history of the State of Israel, that the Jews don't want peace. Given the record, I think they would be justified in wondering "When is the world finally going to understand that we want?" Forget the road maps, that's a farce. What they really want is a compound, a vast gated community, a Ghetto in the Orange Groves, inhabited only by theirs. It will be armed to the teeth, dressed in full body armor, leaving not a chink to access living flesh. It will have no heart or sympathy for any foreigner. It will be like those huge, fully-armed prehistoric monsters, whose every step shook the ground when they moved, who suddenly became extinct because they were too greedy and needed too much of the available resources of their world, and because they could not adapt to change in the environment and most of all because they could not change the way they were.

We can have all the memories we want; we can build all the memorials we want; we can rewrite history and recast the facts to suit our fancies and our goals; we can promote all the lies we can think of: no matter how often repeated, falsehoods can never become true. It will not affect the workings of the Law of Cause and Effect.

The cartoonist Steve Bell had Blair visit the Pope, who blessed him and said: "Son, bombing for peace is like shagging for chastity..."

Beneath our seventh consciousness, the mano consciousness, which corresponds to our unconscious, lies the eighth consciousness, the alaya consciousness, which stores our karma, the repository of every thought, word or deed we ever commit. This is ongoing and eternal. The True Buddha wrote:

"A person writing at night may put out the lamp, but the words he has written will still remain. It is the same with the destiny we create for ourselves in the threefold world."

Ariel Sharon is the leader of his country. He represents the people who elected him. Whatever he does in their name will return to them in kind. It really makes no difference whether everyone remembers or not, or whether anyone builds a memorial to the fact for those who don't remember. There is no escaping the Law of Cause and Effect.

It is something every one should think over carefully, when they elect their leaders.
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