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We are not more vile than our neighbours

 

I am not more vile than my neighbours but this disbelief in oneself is like a taint that spreads on everything one comes in contact with; on men, on things- on the very air one breathes. That’s why one sometimes wishes to be a stone-breaker. There’s no doubt about breaking a stone. But there’s doubt, fear-a black horror, in every page one writes.

Joseph Conrad

He is widely regarded as one of the finest writers in the English language, students who have suffered through Heart of Darkness in English 101 would especially attest to that. He is the anomaly of linguistics, not having English as a home language, he writes as only a master of the language can. Back in murky 101 days, I remember this whizz of a woman, she really was brilliant, constantly drawing the rest of us, minions’ attention to the fact that she was much more qualified to interpret Joseph Conrad’s work because she shared a heritage with him, Polish ancestry and Jewish. The lecturer of that particular part of the course, an ardent admirer of Ms Brilliant, also Jewish, frequently punched out jibes about Palestinians in that class. I was antagonised. Later when I spoke to my granddad about the jibes, he angrily demanded why I hadn’t responded to the jibes. Armed with hindsight, I should have but you see, therein lush Muckleneuk, in the seat of academia, the dividing lines were drawn. While we learned of the politics and philosophy of self and othering, there remained a distinctive sense of us and them.

And yet years before that, as a child of no more than six, my father had many Jewish associates, many of them became family friends, some still are. Uncle Ronnie was a particular friend. He once invited us to a fun day somewhere in the northern suburbs. My memory is not altogether clear, I remember throngs of people, I remember a windy day and sandy conditions underfoot, I remember rides, but what I remember most clearly is being stared at. Did I feel out of place? I was a kid; my place was wherever I was taken. There was something so incongruent in being stared at, something untoward that I could not understand. I don’t remember attending any other such events with Uncle Ronnie’s family. Post 1994, Uncle Ronnie emigrated to Perth, Australia. We lost all contact with him until last year when he pitched up unannounced at our front door. He had been visiting his ailing mother and was looking up old friends. While we all excitedly caught up, after the incumbent, “Jeez I knew when you were this small”, we soon found out that Uncle Ronnie had traded his wholesaler’s blue van for a confectioner’s hat, making nougat, Sally Williams style, only yummier, his daughter was happily married in Sydney, his son was in a kibbutz in Israel after recently being ordained as a rabbi and qualifying as a chartered accountant. My brother was over in Saudi Arabia, on a field trip with his Islamic seminary, after just having written semester exams for an accounting qualification.

We are the same and then we are different.

There are those who are happy to say, ‘aint my problem, and contentedly go about their lives unperturbed by recent events, and I am in no position to fault them, but I am not that person, perchance I’m too far away to matter, but I cannot be aloof to my own heart being ripped apart. Klna Gaza. We are all Gaza.

 

5 replies on “We are not more vile than our neighbours”

>Dont know who joseph conrad is. I’m too stoopid for that. But i do know about Us and Them. We’ve had Them as neighbours for as long as I can remember. And at times tempers flare, as they sometimes do between neighbours. It didn’t help that they were Them and we were US. And during times like this when hostility flares up in the middle east, none of that gets brought up in conversation. It’s like it doesn’t exist. But both Us and Them know that it does.

>bint battuta, ahlain! and merci. Conrad certainly is fascinating.

Nooj, It certainly isn’t a clash of faiths, I apologise for being oblique on that point. What I meant to show is that zionism drafts a kind of othering, an us and a them.

>I just watched Fiddler on the Roof and the whole time I felt I was watching my own family. Muhamad Asad’s ideas on palestine, written so long ago, when he was still an Austrian Jew, are still so valid. Ronnie Kasrils was on SAfm this morning defending Palestine against those of his own faith. This is not a war of clan or tribe or faith or ethnicity.

>Beautiful post. (And I enjoyed the reference to Conrad at the beginning – I am fascinated by Conrad’s life and adore his work.)

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