AT SOME point, without the help either of the nudge or the wink, I’ll wager you have grasped through one commonplace observation the cynical and fraudulent character of the more crude manifestations of American nationalism. Well, are you in? Good. The observation to which I refer is the Chinese manufacture of so many American flags.
In the case of Palestine, there is a comparable but less common observation which links the business of Palestinian statehood to a deeper historical cynicism. Two days ago I noted a supporter, doubtless anticipating today’s UN General Assembly bid, had attached to her car one of those rear window flags one often sees during the Stanley Cup. To many it is the Palestinian flag, to some it is a variation of the Pan-Arab or Arab Rebellion flag. But to me it is, and always will be, the Sir Mark Sykes flag, sketched by the Yorkshire baronet on his rich mahogany desk, as part of the de Bunsen Committee’s imperial work of stirring up client-state Arab nationalism for use against the Ottoman Empire in Britain’s postwar Great Game designs.
The invocation of Sykes is, in the manner of metonym, an invocation also of the hypocrisy, duplicity, and mendacity which has besmottered British dealings with Arab peoples for over a century. The Mark Sykes/Arab revolt flag, intended to prop up a British-compliant (and improbable) Caliphate headed by Sherif Hussein, was manufactured by a British military supplier in Egypt and delivered to Arabia by the compulsive dissembler and self-aggrandizing T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. Not a very promising set-up, that. Because Britain had wisely hedged its bets, when Hussein was overtaken by rival Ibn Saud (thereby establishing Saudi Arabia) the British were already thick with the new King on the block, having retained the House of Saud on a monthly stipend of £5,000 while also building up its military strength. Along the way, many assurances were made to Britain’s supposed Arab allies, and many eventual betrayals established. Almost one hundred years later, the stink of it all is in the air.
We have all noted the role then and now of religion, and particularly of Christianity, in this Great Game Middle East meddling of the Western powers. What else, for example, would credibly explain the Stephen Harper Government’s extreme and atypical positions regarding Israel and Zionism? The re-constitution of God’s chosen people within the Promised Land is a necessary precondition of the Messiah’s return, a matter of great importance to Christian evangelicals. That the Christian Bible has played a dominant role in the creation and carving up of the Middle East can be discerned in the word Palestine itself, which is a derivation of the Hellenistic term “Philistine.” (The Philistines were a European people of the Adriatic coast.) The decisive taking-up of Zionism by British Prime Minister Lloyd George was very much biblically-driven. Canada’s Middle East policies are today informed by right-wing Catholics like Jason Kenney and John Baird and could appeal only to Christians and other such sectarians. More Canadians support a two-state solution, based upon pre-1967 borders, than do not. The Harper Government however will hear none of it. In Canada and the United States, foreign policy as it pertains to the “Holy Land” has been handed over to the discretion of dangerous religious lunatics and their proxies in government. In the US Congress it is considered political suicide to be seen defying the Jewish lobby and their supporters. As is the case in Israel itself, the secular majorities of Canada and the United States are held hostage by well-situated and rabid fringe constituencies. Even Netanyahu might have found within himself the spine to halt building projects in the West Bank, were it not the case that the relevant government ministries are controlled by the religious right. Religion ruins everything.
Much was made of the Durban III fiasco, and everyone reporting on the Ahmadinejad speech noted (as they do on every such occasion) the walk-outs. Many however kept audience with this Iranian master of political theatre, who promotes 9-11 conspiracy and whose worldview is as ugly and apocalyptic as any Jewish or Christian extremist. There should be no audience at all for monotheism-based fantasy narratives of annihilation and retribution, but an audience there is, and a big one too. The question occurs: are all monotheisms the same? Maybe not. But applied to the Israel-Palestine mess, the differences between Jew, Muslim, and Christian make no difference at all. Whether Hamas or Shas or Christians United for Israel, they are all pushing the world toward the same ugly, violent and deadly ends.