Norman Finkelstein breathes fire; Enlightens students on Conflict in the Middle East
Tuesday, November 18, 20141 Comment
As the University of Guelph celebrated Islam Awareness Week in early November, the Arab Students Association, Middle East Scholars Society, CJPME (Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East), OPiRG and Canadian Jews for Peace also teamed up to bring an educational event on campus about middle eastern culture, society and religions: closing out the week was a lecture presented by Dr. Norman Finkelstein, an author, scholar and former professor of political science who specializes in Middle Eastern Conflict.
Dr. Finkelstein’s talk was heavily informative: allowed students to understand the history of strikes on the Gaza strip, and what all of the coalitions, associations, regimes, and other political organizations brought to the table in a hot bed of political ideology that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict zones have become.
He also tackled media coverage and buzzwords that often accompany reports of Middle Eastern conflict like ‘terrorism’, ‘diplomacy’, and the public relations storm that leads most powerful governments to be run like corporations.
Perhaps the most interesting though was his explanation of negotiations and how—despite international law—diplomacy was a euphemism for a free pass in terms of international affairs when it comes to backing superpowers on the international play field.
What seemed the most powerful example of forced hands leading to heated relations was the explanation of the “terror tunnels” found bordering Israel and Palestine, moving to and from the Gaza strip: while one party claimed their creation was for protection purposes, the other party saw them as an imminent security threat. When two extremes as heated as this come into contact, the lack of an arbitrator forces each side to make propositions that seem like steps toward peace but present huge political and military dilemmas for the other party involved.
“In 2008 and 2009 there were explicit orders to blast everything in sight when soldiers entered Gaza,” as he ventured into one of many illustrations explaining the problem with negotiations between the political bodies “So there was a red line drawn by the International community that said ‘no fire-wiping’ […] for the sake of the illegal human blockade that was occurring. But as things erupted and Hamas called for the lifting of the blockade, and the only way that would happen was if Hamas threw down arms. Obviously that wouldn’t be the case, so violence is justified in the manner of ‘well they didn’t accept the ceasefire so we obviously have to keep fighting’.” As he went on to explain the futile intervention of Western governments, he paused a moment to remind the audience: “Politics, as I said, is all about exploiting the moment”.
While Dr. Finkelstein’s lecture was incredibly informative and presented a professional educative perspective, the question and answer period was a different story.
Only about 10 people chose to field their questions to Dr. Finkelstein personally, other people opting to submit a card with their question written on it. Those brave enough to address him in front of the crowd had an interesting experience.
While Finkelstein is known for his cutthroat style of interaction, many of those who came forward with a question seemed to be expecting an opportunity to learn rather than to be criticized by a man with a PhD who they expected to impart knowledge on them.
The very first question, questioning the announced neutrality of several countries was credited with an actual answer. Out of approximately ten questions, only a few answered adequately. The remainders were brushed aside with a scoff at terminology or the accreditation that since no foreign power had commented on it, he would also refrain from commentary.
In several past interviews, Finkelstein admits that in his youth he had a “holier than thou” mentality when discussing the Vietnam War, and that in his more recent studies of politics he regrets taking such moral positions.
That being said, listening to Finkelstein’s responses was akin to sitting in an elementary or high school debate, where the topics are assigned and the opposition is unable to see outside of their own viewpoint to properly address questions posed by the proposition and adjudicators.
But his obvious disdain could also be explained by his confusion resulting from having to land at Toronto Island Airport, take a ferry and then battle Toronto rush hour traffic to make it to a city which “the pronunciation of which still eludes” him.
It took him a few tries but he finally got it down to what sounded more like “Gweelf”.
Regardless of the improvisational nature of a question and answer period, the event was an informative one: Dr. Finkelstein was able to categorize and explain the types of political struggles and movements that fuel the fire in one of the world’s most complex political situations right now, and what everyone can do about it.
“If half a million supporters around the world marched to close down the UN in New York, Geneva; if the whole world’s attention is on Israel’s actions, the comatose puppets would have to say or do something… Any third repeat of international civilian pressure and therefore the UN, the US, would have to do something. Civilization is worth it.”