On Narratives, Power, and Peace: A Note from a Palestinian Activist

By Qumsiyeh, Mazin | Tikkun, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

On Narratives, Power, and Peace: A Note from a Palestinian Activist


Qumsiyeh, Mazin, Tikkun


AS A SOCIAL SPECIES, HUMANS BUILD NARRATIVES to sustain and strengthen group bondage and identity. Like all human constructs, narratives can bring positive or negative results. We should generally respect different philosophies and narratives, but there are some narratives we simply cannot accept- for example, a narrative like that of a white European who believes Aryan white culture is superior to others and acts on this idea like fascists and Nazis did in the twentieth century.

Why should we accept notions of Christian superiority held by some Catholics who supported massacres committed during the crusades, or similar notions among some Orthodox Christians who supported massacres committed during the crusades and during the civil war in Lebanon? Why should we accept the notions of an Islamic "Umma" as articulated by Osama Bin Laden that all Muslims should stand as one and justify mass killing of "the others"? And why should we accept the political Zionist narrative of "the Jewish nation" that results in displacement of native people who happen to be Christians and Muslims?

Narratives based on mythologies can of course be harmless when believed by people living their ordinary lives in a multicultural and multireligious society. But they can be highly destructive when practiced via state power. That is why the founding fathers of the United States were adamant about the separation of religion from state power. Thomas Jefferson wrote to Rabbi Mordecai Noah on May 28, 1818:

I thank you for the Discourse on the consecration of the Synagogue in your city, with which you have been pleased to favor me. I have read it with pleasure and instruction, having learnt from it some valuable facts in Jewish history which I did not know before. Your sect by its sufferings has furnished a remarkable proof of the universal spirit of religious intolerance inherent in every sect, disclaimed by all while feeble, and practiced by all when in power. …

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