Tuesday, July 17, 2007


There will never be peace in the Middle East. Not because of religious, political, or cultural differences. Not because inane leaders and insane policies. Not because or blood feuds and tribal madness. There will never be peace in the Middle East because the parents of the Middle East continue to teach their children to hate, to kill, and to die.

Armies can and do stop fighting: one wins, another loses, or both are exhausted of blood and treasure. Enemies can learn to cooperate. People we support today turn on us tomorrow, while those who shot at us yesterday collaborate with us today. So the faces of friend and foe change, but the fact of friends and foes does not.

The reason for this is simple: we teach our children to fear, to hate, to kill, and to die for our ideas and ideals. There is no more chilling example of this than the Palestinian television show featuring the late Farfur, the human–sized Mickey Mouse look alike that preached hatred of Israelis and Jews to Palestinian toddlers.

When the show made the headlines, the outcry against it forced its creators to make changes. They could have written a story in which Farfur undergoes a spiritual conversion, discovering that Allah loves all life and all people, and urging Palestinian kids to reach out to Israeli kids in a spirit of friendship and compassion. What they chose to do instead is end the series by having Farfur brutally beaten and stabbed to death by an Israeli agent right before the eyes of the show’s horrified child star and the thousands of kids watching at home. These kids may not remember the civil war in Gaza or Iraq, but they will never forget the murder of Farfur.

Blaming Jews for the murder of one’s hero is an ancient tactic with an excellent track record for fomenting hate and violence. Christianity wouldn’t be what it is today if its early propagandists hadn’t shifted blame for Jesus’ death from the Romans to the Jews. Passion plays, the early forerunner of Farfur, left their audiences calling for Jewish blood, and often stopping by Jewish homes to shed a pint or two.

Myth is mightier than reality, and the fear and hatred poisoning the hearts of Farfur’s creators has now done the same to Farfur’s viewers; which was, of course, the goal all along.

As long as there are Farfurs, and his creators are already planning a new character to take up the mouse’s mantle of hate for Jews and Israelis, and by extension Americans and Europeans, there will only be more bombings, more kidnappings, more murders, more madness.

The solution? I am not sure there is one, but sunlight helps. We must continue to shine the light of reason on the madness of Farfur and his ilk. We must make it clear that hatred is learned, and do what we can to stop those who teach it.


AaronHerschel said...

I"ve argued in the past that violence, or conflict, is intrinsic to storytelling and is perhaps a prereq for a story's emotional oomph. But reading this blog brings home to me the contradictions inherent in my own position. I'm appalled by Farfur--but some secret part of me still thinks its genius. In my own writing, violence is a recurrant theme. I try to treat it with irony, but I also find a perverse pleasure in taking on the role of bad guy. I'm attracted to, for instance, an Elvis Costello song whose speaker is an abusive husband; or to Jarvis Cocker's charicatures of voyeur/stalkers; and, of course, Stephen Colbert's charicature of conservative news commentators. Physical and psychological violence is both a part of my imagination and my world, and my own positions vis a vis that violent impulse is something I want to wrestle and play with on the page. And yet. "Myth is stronger than reality." It's impossible not to recognize the moral implications of that statement for me as a myth maker and consumer. Where does that leave me?

Matthew said...

Some of Ursula K. LeGuin's fiction (notably "The Dispossessed," and the later Earthsee) interesting in this light; LeGuin clearly is interested in, and wrestles with, how to tell a story with mythic "oomph" without becoming part of a particular (male?) tradition of violence in storytelling.