Imagine Buddhists scattered all across the world — whether in Tibet or in Sri Lanka or in California — being persecuted for centuries. Finally, the international community decides to find a country that the Buddhist people can call their own. After a particularly brutal pogrom in Chinese-occupied Tibet that sees mass extermination and an exodus, a nation is carved out of the Indian state of Bihar. The nation of Bodhishala is born with Bodh Gaya, where Buddha attained nirvana, as its capital.
Biharis, and other Indians too, are appalled, even as the United Nations promises that “nothing shall be done that may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Buddhist communities in Bihar”. A new Bihar for stateless Biharis alongside Bodhishala is also promised. Meanwhile, Biharis vow the destruction of the unjustly created Buddhist State. Even with other Indian states backing them, the Biharis, however, are unable to face the sheer military might of the Bodhishalists who have powerful friends in Washington, Hollywood and beyond.
Armed with an historical sense of ‘victimhood’ etched on to the very existence of their nation, the Bodhishalists defend their country against a ring of hostile neighbours — even if defence takes on the form of capturing territories of other Indian states where Bihari refugees now live as an economic, political and existential underclass. Defence also comes in the form of an offensive overkill against those who oppose this modern-day colonialism.
Drop the silly metaphor of Bodhishala and you get essentially what Israel is today: a Jewish State carved out of the British protectorate of Palestine (itself a leftover of Arab territories under British and French custody after the demise of the Ottoman Empire post World War I).
As Gaza is pummelled by Israeli military might for the second straight week running, the cycle of who is the cause and who is the effect is vicious as ever. Israel, a month before elections, says it is waging a war against Hamas, the Islamic ‘terrorist’ party that governs the Gaza Strip and has been firing rockets into southern Israeli towns since December 18. Hamas, on its part, says that it had little option but to take action against Israel after it imposed asphyxiating economic sanctions in Gaza to ferret out Hamas that was elected fair and square according to the rules of the democratic game. With civilian body counts in Gaza growing by the day, Israel is providing Hamas the precious oxygen of ‘victimhood’ without coming close to its supposed objective: destroying Hamas. (Israel made the same mistake with the Hezbollah two and a half years ago, leaving the Lebanese militant organisation with a much larger and firmer support base today than it had before 2006.)
But reading an article published in the Arab newspaper Al-Hayat exactly 11 years ago today, it becomes clear that it’s not only the obvious ‘guilty victim’, Israel, who is to blame for the crippling Palestinian condition. “The choice of better [Arab] leaders is an imperative, but we must also improve our own conditions so that our workers do not have to build Israeli settlements just to put food on their tables, and our students do not have to settle for incredibly backward curricula in an age when our opponents are sending people to the moon, and our people do not have to accept lamentable conditions of tyranny and oppression where dissent is punished and torture is used by our Authority to cow the citizenry, all in the name of national unity... too much time [has been devoted] to slogans about Zionism and imperialism and not enough to helping us fight the battle against our own failures and incompetence. The struggle of the 21st century is the struggle to achieve self-liberation and self-decolonisation. And then Israel can be properly addressed.”
I don’t agree with most of his views. But here, the late Palestinian Edward Said was bang on. Victimhood without power, as the Jews of early 20th century Europe got to realise only too well, is to be consigned to hell.