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March 31, 2012

A Lack of Imagination is Dangerous: On Israel, Iran and ♥

http://www.jewishjournal.com/blog/item/a_lack_of_imagination_is_dangerous_on_israel_iran_and_20120331/

There is something of a surprising campaign which has taken hold on Facebook which has also garnered some attention in the press. Two Israelis, Roni Edry and Michal Tamir added a poster to their Facebook profile with this statement in bold colors: “Iranians, we will never bomb your country. We ♥ you.” Within days there were tens of thousands of “likes” on Facebook, messages from around the world, a new Facebook page and even hundreds of positive responses from Iran.

What to make of all this? All the messages seem rather sappy and simplistic. “We ♥ you” is not a foreign policy. It is not a negotiating position. It is not even an obvious claim on justice or morality. It is strange.

It does, however, have resonance in its simplicity. This counterpoint to the bombast of Iranian, Israeli and American leaders is stark in the very minimalism of its claims. There is a rather strong denial of what French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas calls the “ontology of war” in these statements. The ontology of war is the understanding that peace comes at the end of a narrative which includes victory over the enemy. Peace, then is one stage in an ongoing process of war. Inevitably, peace will also be followed by war, since the peace is only assured by victory. Peace which does not partake of this narrative, peace which is a response to the Other, makes one vulnerable.


The longer message from the Pushpin Mehina folks includes this: “For there to be a war between us, first we must be afraid of each other, we must hate. I’m not afraid of you, I don’t hate you. I don t even know you.” This revealing of vulnerability, I would like to believe, is what Levinas has in mind when he claims that the only possible way that one might engage with a stranger, with another person is to respond to them—since they are beyond our grasp.

The initial rhetoric of this simple statement veers towards the familiar language of violence and then reverses course and turns towards an entirely differently path. “I’m not afraid of you” can be said in a menacing or threatening manner. The following sentences (“I don’t hate you. I don’t even know you”) reframe this sentence as a Levinasian response. I approach you with my vulnerability. I do not know who you are. I cannot categorize you, define you, totalize you, name you “enemy.” I can only reach out to you with a declaration  of my openness to you.

There has already been a demonstration of several hundred Israelis in Tel Aviv with signs similar to the ones posted on Facebook. In political terms, it becomes harder and harder for a leader to be belligerent when his people are saying they don’t war a war.

There might be larger implications here. Nobody knows if this movement will have legs. Nobody knows if a war can be avoided, or delayed. However, it is obvious that there are ways of trying to make peace which have not been tried. This movement should be a rebuke to those of us who doubted the power of democratic action. This campaign raises the possibility that peacemaking is not the sole province of professional peacemakers and diplomats, heads of state and generals. This movement raises the possibility that we should be training ourselves to be peacemakers in new and creative ways. Ways that we have not yet dreamed of. Ways that we should obligate ourselves to start dreaming up, and acting on.

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