Palestine is so important in this respect because of its local complexities, let’s say Arabs and Jews, Arab Muslims and Arab Christians and Israeli Jews of themselves very mixed backgrounds. I mean we’re talking about Polish Jews, Russian Jews, American Jews, Yemeni Jews, Iraqi Jews, Indian Jews, it’s a fairly complex mosaic somehow finding a way to live together, on land that is drenched, saturated with significance on a world scale, unlike any other country in the world. I mean it’s holy to three of the major religions and every inch of it has been combed over and fought over for the last several thousand years.
And the pattern so far has been the Zionist pattern which is to say that ‘it’s promised to us, we are the chosen people, everybody else is sort of second rate, throw them out or treat them as second class citizens.’ In contrast to that, some of us, not everybody, but many Palestinians have said, ‘well we realize that we are being asked to pay the price for what happened to the Jews in Europe, under the Holocaust, it was an entirely Christian and European catastrophe in which the Arabs played no part, and we are being dispossessed, displaced by the victims. We’ve become the victims of the victims.
But, as I say, not all of us say, well they should be thrown out. Because we have been thrown out and so we have another vision, which is a vision of co-existence, in which Jew and Arab, Muslim, Christian and Jew can live together in some polity, which I think it requires a kind of creativity, and invention that is possible – vision that would replace the authoritarian, hierarchical model. But this idea that somehow we should protect ourselves against the infiltrations, the infections of the Other, is, I think, the most dangerous idea at the end of the twentieth century. Unless we find ways to do it, and there are no short cuts to it, unless we find ways to do this, you know there is going to be wholesale violence of a sort represented by the Gulf War, by the killings in Bosnia, the Rwandan massacres and so on. I mean those are the pattern of emerging conflict that is extremely dangerous and needs to be counteracted and I think therefore it’s correct to say that the challenge now is – I wouldn’t call it anything other than coexistence. How does one co-exist with people whose religions are different, whose traditions and languages are different but who form part of the same community or polity in the national sense? How do we accept difference without violence and hostility?
I’ve been interested in a field called Comparative Literature most all of my adult life and the ideal of Comparative Literature is not to show how English literature is really a secondary phenomenon to French literature or Arabic literature is kind of a poor cousin to Persian literature or any of those silly things, but to show them existing, you might say, as contrapuntal lines, in a great composition by which difference is respected and understood without coercion. And it’s that attitude I think that we need.