Monday, 16 April 2007

Sir, did you pack that political baggage yourself?

By Khaled Diab
I prefer to travel light. After all, if you want to be mobile on holiday, you can't carry around too much luggage. That is why, at the airport, I'm constantly baffled by people who go away with half a dozen, hard-shelled and impractically shaped suitcases.
Despite my propensity for minimising luggage, I realise that, for my forthcoming trip to Israel and Palestine, I'll be weighed down by our collective political, historical and ideological baggage. For a simple soul like me, that is no sneezing matter. In fact, I'll barely be able to sneeze - and I do that a lot, especially in spring - or scratch without my gesture being riddled with political implications, historical significance and ideological confirmation of the firmly held views and prejudices of one group or another!
I can imagine myself rocking up to the check-in desk and the ground stewardess smiling politely before informing me: "Sorry, sir, but your political baggage has exceeded the maximum limit."
"But it's not just mine," I'd protest. "It's all of ours. I've tried to shed as much of my own as I possible can and know I carry only this tiny ideological backpack."
"Okay, sir, but did you pack it yourself?"
Or how about at Tel Aviv airport. "Have you got anything to declare?" the customs official would ask.
"Well, just this rucksack and laptop," I would begin. "Oh and decades of conflict, a cold peace and mutual distrust between our peoples." Seriously, I'm not sure how I'll be greeted at the airport and whether I may trip up at the first hurdle. I've asked the advice of friends and have decided that honesty will be the best policy when I'm interviewed.
The burden of history
The Middle East is weighed down and sometimes crippled by the past - as well as the geopolitical importance of its mineral wealth. The recent passover celebrations commeorate the divine slaughtering of my forefathers as retribution for their enslavement of the Hebrews more than 3 millennia ago. Then they fled in their exodus and did battle with their cousins the Cannanites and Philistines to gain their so-called 'Promised Land'. Although forgiven, its hard-wiring into religious tradition means it will never be forgotten.
Today is Good Friday, the day on which another unforgettable Middle Eastern tragedy play was enacted with the crucifixion of Jesus, the uncrowned 'King of the Jews'. Shortly thereafter, much but not all, Iudea's Jewish population was expelled by the Romans, planting the first seeds of the current conflict.
For the Palestinians, their displacement and oppression still lives on and is very concrete - especially in the refugee camps of the West Bank and Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.
A few hundred kms further east, another ancient politico-religious feud began with the assassination of Ali and the botched attempt on his rival Muawiyya's life aimed at ending the civil war over the Islamic succession. Instead, the party of Ali (Shi'ite Ali) felt hard done by, and the Umayyad began their persecution. And the legacy burns on in Iraq - with a lot of help from the US invasion.
The sins of the father are visited on the sons. An eye for an eye.
But it does not have to be like that. Politico-religious feuds are not unique to the Middle East. Look at India. Until the late 19th century, the Catholic-Protestant schism threatened to tear Europe asunder, and still lives on, to some degree, in Northern Ireland.
Of course, in a manner of speaking, the sins of the parents do live in the children, if those past crimes are the basis for present injustices, as is the case with the treatment of the Palestinians, the Shia'a in Iraq and the Gulf, the Roma in Europe or African Americans in the USA.
But once the sons and daughters right the sins of their fathers and mothers, then everything should be forgiven and Middle Easterners should let their pragmatic streak shine through. After all, as we say in Egypt, we are all children of today (ihna awlad enhar'da).

Originally written on 6 April 2007
©Khaled Diab


deb said...

Yikes, Khaled. I think you'll find that security doesn't have much of a sense of humor. . .

I have an Iranian (US resident) friend who came here this summer to meet her American/Israeli boyfriend for his sister's wedding. She was detained for five hours. She flagged down anyone who passed by to try to get help, then finally happened upon someone highly placed enough to feel comfortable with the responsibility of letting her through.

I guess don't forget that despite our European influence, Israel is still the Middle East, so don't expect too much efficiency! Actually, don't expect any.

deb said...

Oh, yeah. Also don't expect good manners. Seriously lacking around here.

Khaled Diab said...

Deb, thanx for the reassurance! ;-)

Well,if I get detained, it won't have been the first time. It happened to me once in the USA. And it has even happened to me on my own home turf, Cairo!

Rachel said...

This post makes me smile ruefully. Ahh, baggage.

A few years ago I went to a conference which I was nervous about attending, afraid I wouldn't fit in. The airlines lost my suitcase, and I arrived empty-handed! I decided it was the Universe's way of reminding me to release my baggage about the experience, and simply be present to whatever realities arose.

Of course, I was glad to get my suitcase back on the second day; by then I really needed clean clothes!