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The Palestinian predicament: A philosophical examination of absent empathy

A Palestinian man (r) arguing with an Israeli soldier which is a common scene in the occupied West Bank   —Agency Photo
A Palestinian man (r) arguing with an Israeli soldier which is a common scene in the occupied West Bank   —Agency Photo

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When discussing "the world," it is essential to acknowledge that within our single planet, there exists a multitude of diverse worlds. Each society possesses its unique worldview, reflecting its values, beliefs, and historical experiences. The Germans aptly describe this diversity with the term "Weltanschauung," which essentially means "worldview." Let us embark on a philosophical journey to explore these intricacies. Rather than attempting to navigate every existing worldview, we will categorise the world into two broad perspectives: the Western and the Eastern. These perspectives have also been identified as the First and Third World, or the Global North and Global South, in an effort to embrace political correctness.

Besides geographical locations, these worlds, in general, are separated by wealth, power, and privileges. When we say globalision and universality, we often leave the global South or the Third World at the mercy of the merit card, forgetting the need for affirmative actions.

It often makes me think that despite my all-out effort to negate the presence of a clash of civilistion or its possibility in the offing, as marked by Samuel P. Huntington, civilizational fault lines are very much in existence, and they are on a collision course with each other. My denials seem to be not good enough to pretend that there is no elephant in the room.

THE COMPLEX INTERPLAY OF POWER DYNAMICS AND PSYCHE: To understand the collective minds in different worlds, we need to understand how ideas, views, and discourses in the public psyche are formed. One of the major elements is the understanding and approach toward power dynamics-- at individual, local, societal, and international spheres. Especially, in the intricate landscape of international relations, the influence of power dynamics cannot be overlooked. I would pick the famous debate that took place in 1971 between Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault at Eindhoven University, where they spoke their minds on power dynamics in modern societies. Noam Chomsky's critiques of international institutions and Michel Foucault's examination of power structures provide us with profound insights into the dynamics of power in society and its impact on global responses to conflicts like the Palestinian-Israeli issue. Chomsky argued about the source and exercise of power at the institutional levels in the states and society, whereas Foucault argued that power interacts and moves at much micro levels, through individuals, in non-formal positions and manners. I accept both, and hence feel that the approach to and understanding of an event, its evaluation, the reaction toward it is highly dependent on how the people in a society experience the power dynamics. Western societies evolved through trials and tribulations of history and for many centuries have been enjoying the fruits of renaissance, the industrial revolution, and colonialism. Whereas the eastern societies, during the similar timelines, suffered from the regressive religiocentric devolving and western colonial repression. In this complex interplay of power dynamics and psyche, it becomes evident that contemplating the suffering of Palestine and the role of Israel as a persecutor is not solely a matter of philosophical differences but also a result of historical, cultural, and institutional factors. These factors, intertwined with power dynamics, shape the response of the global community to this enduring conflict.

THE ETHICAL FOUNDATIONS OF WESTERN SOCIETIES-- OCCIDENTAL OUTLOOK: Our goal becomes apparent when we aim to scrutinise the ethical foundations of modern industrial societies, the very bedrock upon which democratic nations are built. These principles, encapsulated in the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and property, as postulated by John Locke, serve as the ethical compass of Western civilization. These principles are not foreign to the world; they are woven into Western education and governance, attracting people from the Global South who seek a better life, social justice, and a secure future for their children. Societies that benefited from the proceeds of colonialism or thrived on the exploitations and gains through the invasion of foreign lands had learned through systematic validation of such acts by the churches and other moral and social institutions. Though later academics and intelligentsia have marked and condemned such things, the privileges remained, and the lead that the western world gained stayed. This dilemma of moral frets and the conflicting worldview of the people in the modern time contributes deeply to the learned helplessness or, for that matter, the apparently hypocritical standing of the western mind in their responses. As we try to take a look into the complexities of the Western and Eastern minds. The Eastern psyche remains tethered to ancient values, deeply rooted in traditions, spirituality, and community bonds. Meanwhile, the Western perspective has been molded through industrialization and individualism, emphasising autonomy, personal freedom, and innovation. These differences in cultural, social norms, and power dynamics underpin the way societies function and perceive the world. The Western world, often portrayed as a beacon of universal values, occasionally falters when it comes to action, highlighting the gap between rhetoric and reality. This gap underscores the need for a deeper exploration of the East-West philosophical divide, the influence of institutional power, and the complexities of navigating international realpolitik.

THE IMPACT OF HISTORICAL PRECEDENTS ON MODERN RESPONSES: As we delve further into this complex interplay of worldviews, it's essential to recognise the philosophical underpinnings of this dissonance. Western philosophy, which significantly shaped modern democratic societies, champions concepts such as individualism, self-determination, and natural rights. These ideas trace their origins back to Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke, whose writings greatly influenced the American Declaration of Independence. Locke's assertion that individuals have inherent rights to life, liberty, and property underpins the ethical foundations of the Western world. However, the application of these principles in the realm of international relations has often been selective. In contrast, the Eastern world has a rich philosophical heritage with its own set of ethical foundations. For instance, Confucianism, deeply rooted in East Asian societies, emphasises principles like filial piety, respect for authority, and social harmony. These values have guided the conduct and relationships in East Asia for centuries. The clash between these diverse ethical paradigms, rooted in distinct historical and cultural contexts, can explain the variations in global responses to crises like the Palestine-Israel conflict.

HISTORICAL EXAMPLES OF SELECTIVE APPLICATION: To further illustrate this point, we can draw upon historical examples that demonstrate the selective application of Western ethical principles in international relations. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, justified by concerns about weapons of mass destruction, exposed the inconsistencies in Western intervention. While Western nations cited the principles of democracy and human rights as motives for their actions, the invasion resulted in prolonged conflict and suffering for the Iraqi population. On the other hand, the situation in Palestine remains a long-standing issue with little decisive action from the international community. The apparent reluctance to intervene forcefully suggests that the principles of life, liberty, and property, as advocated by the West, are not universally applied. In a similar perspective, as we see throughout the Middle Ages, Jews were systematically and regularly persecuted throughout Europe, they thrived and lived peacefully in Muslim societies across the Middle East and Central Asia. Despite this historical fact, it seems that due to certain developments and political intrigues during the interbellum years within Anglo-American power circles, as well as the unprecedented persecution during the Holocaust by the German Third Reich against the Jewish community, the Western world has decided to wash its hands off the Palestinian people. Is it a sense of some divine entitlement that the West feels it possesses, or is it a hasty outsourcing of collective Western guilt that they wished to shed in the modern era? This duality, this dichotomy of guilt and moral high ground is perplexing and often evident as nothing short of perfidy to those who look up to the West as the source and protector of the modern civilised world.

MODERN COMPLEXITIES -- REALPOLITIK: The complexities of the East-West philosophical divide, coupled with realpolitik, further complicate global responses to such crises. Realpolitik, a term originating in 19th-century Germany, refers to political realism, emphasising practical and pragmatic considerations over moral and ethical concerns. The application of realpolitik often involves striking a balance between national interests and ethical obligations. In the case of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Western nations may have strategic interests in the Middle East that influence their response. Geopolitical considerations, such as energy resources and regional stability, can weigh heavily on decisions regarding intervention. These interests, in turn, intersect with the ethical principles that nations claim to uphold, creating a complex web of motivations.

The global Palestinian predicament underscores the profound impact of differing worldviews mired with the dirts of hypocritical dichotomy on how the West and its allies respond to international conflicts. The East-West philosophical divide, combined with the complexities of realpolitik, calculated moves to secure financial or strategic leverages and control over institutional power results in varying responses to crises like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. However, as a global community, it is our shared responsibility to bridge these divides, prioritise human dignity, and seek just and lasting solutions. Only through empathy, understanding, and cooperation can we hope to address the longstanding issues that continue to affect countless lives in our diverse world.

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