Colonial past, colonial present

It’s hard to understand the present condition of the Middle East without understanding its past. And by its past, I mean its colonial past.

You can’t really understand, for instance, the current state of Israel without looking at its where it came from.

Plainly, Israel is a colonial state. It’s probably the most obviously colonial state in existence. Its genesis is complicated, a result of a bunch of ideologies and influences. But it was formed by colonial powers (thanks Britain!), and it continues to be one of the few expansionist colonial states.

If you’ve ever struggled to understand the affinity of America with Israel, sure, it’s interesting and nuanced and complex, but it’s also a case of like attracts like. America (and Canada, we by no means get to wash our hands of this) is a strongly colonial power, though in serious denial.

In particular US Christianity has an affinity for Israel that seems to line up with their extremely idiosyncratic doctrinal positions, like premillennialism (though by no means a new idea) and dispensationalism.

If you’re a bit more pessimistic (or, as a pessimist would say, realistic), you might say that a powerful, hegemonic patron state that just happens to be a colonial power living in the lands of a fairly historically dispossessed native people having a close relationship with a client state that just so happens to be a colonial power living in the lands of a fairly recently dispossessed native people, justified for religious folk with a set of doctrines that just so happen to align along that axis… that’s all a teensy bit too coincidental to be an accident.

That’s not to say that there’s some conspiracy to produce this result; probably not. But when things line up so nicely it’s probably not just some historical accident. We have this (blissfully ignorant) tendency to assume our doctrines and ideologies influence our politics and foreign policy, as if there’s no feedback there.

Is there any reason our politics wouldn’t influence our doctrines, though? I can’t think of any. There’s plenty of doctrines to choose from, all with convincing (ish) hermeneutics and frameworks draped about them. Why not choose the one that allows you the most simpatico bedfellows?

None of this even gets into our North American history of racism, both individual and systemic (and, for Christians, doctrinal; the point above stands, when you remember that entire denominations were created around preserving the institution of slavery). I think you could probably view Israel as existing at some weird intersection of colonialism and xenophobia, since present-day Israelis tend to be white seen as white (ish), where Arabs are not. But setting that aside for now…

It’s easy to say, based on all this, Israel Bad. But that cat’s out of the bag. Israel is. I’m not really dealing with value judgement here, as much as (as best I can see them) facts. Israel is a fact. A fact produced by a certain history which can’t just magically be undone. And it’s important to recognize that the Arab states would like nothing more than to undo Israel. None of this justifies Israeli or Arab aggression. It helps to explain it, but it doesn’t justify it.

It would be easier to sympathize if Israel weren’t an expansionist colonial power. If they weren’t trying to reclaim the “holy land” by disenfranchising and displacing Arabs.

As always, we live in the colonial present. We like to deny it, but in Canada, well within my parents’ lifetimes (however blissfully ignorant of this they choose to remain) the residential school system was still in operation. If we can’t acknowledge that, if we can’t at the very least acknowledge our colonial past, how can we expect to escape the colonial present?

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