Sunday, February 8, 2009

Jews and Muslims

I recently received a chain e-mail that simultaneously shocked, disgusted and fascinated me. Entitled Jews and Muslims, the text compared 'Arabs' (sic! later defined as "The Global Islamic population") with "The Global Jewish population" in terms of Nobel Prize recipients. While the former group posted seven, the latter category boasted 129. Consequently, the e-mail degenerated into a tasteless tirade against 'humanity-damning' Muslims.

It took me a while to process the complex and multi-faceted nature of the e-mail. What to do with such statistical figures? Undoubtedly, the tone of the e-mail felt oversimplified, offensive and underthought. And yet, the numbers screamed at me of importance - or at least of the need for further consideration.

While reading David Roediger's collection of African American writers reflecting on whiteness, I stumbled upon a comment by pre-eminent American intellectual W.E.B. DuBois, which in turn spoke to me re: the almost forgotten e-mail mentioned above.

If we take the Genius as the savior of mankind, it is only possible for the white race to prove its own incontestable superiority by appointing both judge and jury and summoning its own witnesses...How silly!

Despite the significant differences between DuBois' early/mid 20th century context and focus on race, and the historical and identitarian factors at play in the e-mail, I recognize a similar logic in both cases. America's overwhelming financial, military and cultural support for Israel has been well documented. The question thus becomes: who controls the rules of the game?
Which judge and jury define success?
Who sits as the gate-keeper to systems of privilege?
My intent is, in no way, to dismiss the atrocities committed by 'freedom-fighters' on either side. On the contrary, the ongoing narrative of violence in the Middle East stills and scares the soul. However, the propagation of such 'Genius' comparatist literature should not work to solidify prejudice and justify self-aggrandizement, but rather provoke an honest debate on questions of systemic advantage and ethno-cultural normative supremacy.

The questions stand: whose versions of truth (and unfortunately also prejudice) dominate the institutionalized stage? How do we recognize the inherent worth and dignity of every person within this rubric of privilege?

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