Yasukuni, as you may know, is the chief Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirits of those Japanese who gave their lives – chiefly, in battle – for their country. As this includes a number of convicted and accused war criminals, and a great many men involved in the invasions and colonization of Korea, China, and elsewhere, and the various injustices and atrocities associated with those events, it is easy to see why the shrine is the center of considerable controversy, attracting great ire and protest in China and Korea every time a prominent Japanese politician makes a visit there. The shrine is, in any case, a genuine center of rightwing/militarist activity, and contains a majorly biased/skewed war history museum.
Thinking about it historically, in a late 19th through pre-WWII early 20th century context, the shrine is very much embedded in discourses of nationalism as connected to the post-Meiji Restoration creation of the concept of the “modern” “nation-state” of Japan, and thus to themes of Emperor worship and all that. Being that the Meiji Imperial institution was borne out of an anti-Tokugawa revolution, and being that much of the rhetoric of the Meiji state (up through WWII and possibly into the early post-war period) emphasized a conception of the Tokugawa period as a backwards, non-modern, dark ages of feudal repression during which Japan was “closed” to the world, and thus closed to new advancements and development, one would think that Yasukuni itself would also be closely tied up in that same pro-Imperial, pro-modernization, anti-Tokugawa discourse.
So, what does it mean that a Tokugawa, the great-grandson of the very same shogun who was overthrown by the Meiji Restoration, is now the head priest of Yasukuni? On a discursive or symbolic level, I feel there’s something very odd about this juxtaposition… Though, obviously, the State, the Imperial Household, the shrine, and the Tokugawa family have no problems with it, so maybe I’m just imagining things.
Just a brief thought, in the moment. Artists, writers, are political in all sorts of ways. Things that don’t look political on the surface can often hide considerable political meaning. And things that don’t necessarily resemble “art” can in fact be the creations of recognized “artists.”
Something doesn’t have to even be clearly “art” in order to be political in that way.
Someone was telling me about how a public/national institution was inviting ethnomusicologists to share their recordings – that is, the products of their field work – and the Institution would “publish”, that is, host, i.e. stream, the recordings on a website. Sounds great, right!? Share with the public these wonderful, rare styles of music from all over the world… One catch, though: the Institution claims copyright over your recordings. So, now, neither you, nor the person doing the actual musical performance, holds copyright over these works – and so, now, the ethnomusicologist who originally made the recordings for his own research purposes, now has to ask permission, and pay for licensing, to use those recordings in his research? Something seems fishy here. A similar story involved a woman who had donated a whole bunch of old recordings to the institution, so that they might archive it, and conserve it, protect it, keep it safe, and share it with the world. Except that now that that woman wants copies of the recordings she made and donated, she has to pay up just like everyone else.
With these things on my mind, it then occurred to me, as I was reading Scott McCloud’s excellent book Understanding Comics (I can’t believe I get to read this for class!), the snarky, tongue-in-cheek, socially activist, but “art” move that one could make, a political but artistic act in choosing to attribute copyright to the true creators of a work, rather than the corporate entity to which those creators were forced (or chose) to sign over their rights. For example, using a picture of Superman in an essay, and writing under it “(c) Siegel & Schuester,” instead of “(c) DC Comics.”
In a work like Understanding Comics, which is written entirely in comicbook (graphic novel) form, and which is itself about the way in which visuals are used to construct a narrative, and the crucial role played by everything on the page, including the blank space and the arrangement of the panels, in that construction, it is much easier to make the copyright attribution, or citation, seem a part of the art itself, a part of the writer/artist’s tongue-in-cheek creative creation. So, if I were to do something of this sort myself, I’m not sure quite how I’d do it, especially since I also don’t usually do scholarly work on pop culture.
Obviously, I’d still do whatever I needed to in order to cover my ass legally, in the bibliography at the end, or whatever, but, wherever there might be wiggle room for me to act as an “artist,” a “creator,” myself – it would certainly be fun to think of myself as not only scholar, but also as artist; to think of my creations as not just text, but as “art,” and as snarky and socially activist in whatever small way.
This has been much in the news lately, so I suppose it’s about time I post something about it. Incidentally, after not checking on my own site for just a few days, I came back today to find I had 46 spam messages. Wow. I’ve never seen so many at once before.
For those living under a rock the last few weeks, anti-Japanese riots have erupted in China, nominally connected to the territorial dispute over a set of tiny uninhabited islands known as Diaouyu in Chinese, and Senkaku in Japanese. Here is a recent Wall Street Journal article on the events, just one of a countless number published in the last few weeks.
I refuse to get into it here, because then I’m just inviting more debate, more wasteful flamewars (though, at the very least, it would get me to actually have some non-spam comments on this blog..). But, suffice it to say that despite the assertions of a recent NY Times editorial column by Han-Yi Shaw, and numerous rebuttals in which he is gloriously torn apart, this is not really about who truly, legally, rightfully, is in the right regarding claims to these stupid islands. The Chinese rioters, supported by their government, have seen to that. The dispute over the islands, much as they might like to pretend otherwise, was never really their primary attention. Once again, the Chinese have found an excuse to launch anti-Japanese riots, reviving a myriad of issues decades old and conflating them all with what should be a much more limited, specific, political debate, fanning the flames of hate and re-igniting the crucible of Chinese ultra-nationalist fervor & outrage against wrongs committed generations ago.
A friend suggested that we must take Chinese conceptions of nation and national territory into account, understanding Chinese attitudes about how any and all territory that was historically part of China is seen as integral to the wholeness of the Chinese nation-state, and how even the tiniest incursion is thus seen as an attack on the whole. A very interesting thought, and one I kind of enjoy, as I much prefer cultural lines of inquisition to the utterly boring realm of political theory and power politics; the Orientalist idea of China having a markedly different, separate, cultural conception of itself is a wonderfully romantic and intriguing one. I like it, and I’d be curious to know more about this. If anyone has any academic articles to recommend on Chinese conceptions of the essential nature of possession of all Chinese people & land, I’d be curious to read them.
Master wordsmith Murakami Haruki summarizes contemporary Japanese attitudes on nationalistic fervor best, I believe, saying:
“Anger-fuelled disputes of this kind are not unlike cheap liquor: Cheap liquor gets you drunk after only a few shots and makes you hysterical. It makes you speak loudly and act rudely. . . But after your drunken rampage you are left with nothing but an awful headache the next morning. We must be careful about politicians and polemicists who lavish us with this cheap liquor and fan this kind of rampage.”
With any luck, the Chinese and Koreans can learn this lesson too, and won’t have to learn it the hard way, as Japan and Germany did. (Hopefully we Americans can soon learn that lesson as well.)
You can read the entirety of Murakami’s essay, in translation into English, here.
This bullshit of Chinese & Koreans refusing to let go of age-old issues, and refusal to allow relations to become more fully friendly and peaceful has got to stop. It has got to end. What we need, in the words of Genki Sudo, is a “permanent revolution.”
Sigh. If only it were so simple. What magic words can they exchange in negotiations that will make a permanent revolution a reality?
People act as though the world they know, the world of the present, is the only way things could possibly be. Either that, or they believe that the 1890s-1940s are all there is to history. But the relationship between China, Korea, and Japan is more than a thousand years old, and it has taken many dramatically different forms over the centuries. It was different before, and it can be different again. All it takes is a willingness to put the recent past aside, and look to the future.
The Hawaii State Supreme Court has decided in favor of Paulette Kaleikini, who accused the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) of not doing due diligence in performing archaeological surveys along the entire route of the proposed rail line before beginning construction. Kaleikini, whose credentials remain entirely unclear to me, claims to have ancestors buried in Kaka’ako, a major site of ancient Hawaiian burials through which the rail line is proposed to run.
The politics are complicated, but, in short, construction is now stopped, and will be delayed by at least five to seven months; the Hawaii Reporter (which, incidentally, I had never heard of before) says that if any burials are found, and I am sure there will be, the project might be delayed by as much as 18 months. All of this is costing the taxpayers even more money, which I’m sure doesn’t make people happy – especially when so many people were opposed to the project originally on the basis of the vast cost to taxpayers. On the other hand, there seems some disagreement as to whether or not the project could be scrapped entirely, or whether it will push forward no matter what. I wonder how much pressure it would take to get them to scrap this route and do a completely different route, servicing a different part of the island.
My thanks to Cristina Verán, a good friend, who has pointed out a series of brief opinion pieces in the New York Times today, discussing the issue of dual citizenship. Though I do not myself enjoy the privilege of holding multiple citizenships, it is an issue I have very often thought about. And there are so many aspects to it that I scarcely know where to start.
Right: British, French, and German passports against a backdrop of the flag of the European Union. From an eHow article on dual citizenship.
It seems that the chief argument, or ideology, opposing dual citizenship centers on the matter of allegiance and loyalty. How absurd, some argue, that a state should permit its citizens to officially declare allegiances to other states, other nations. This comes out of a strong identification with a state, and loyalty to its government, or at least to its territorial identity and integrity (e.g. loyalty to the Republic of France), as compared to a more culturally or ethnically-based identification (e.g. affinity with the French people). There is certainly a considerable degree of validity to such arguments, whether purely in terms of feeling a sense of unified national Self, i.e. that all one’s fellow citizens indeed consider themselves first and foremost citizens of one’s own country, or in terms of political/military concerns of divided loyalties in times of conflict.
Ron Paul goes so far as to call dual citizenship treason, saying that “when you benefit from the blood spilled by patriots in the past, the least which can be requested of you is undivided allegiance.” The easy and simple counter-argument to such an idea is that we all benefit not only from blood spilled by patriots fighting for the US, but also patriots fighting for other countries, e.g. our respective ancestral homelands. If that’s what it’s really about, that our country (and our countrymen) do so much to allow us to be who we are, and where we are, today, and if it’s about showing our loyalty, our allegiance, in return, then it seems to me all the more reason to maintain citizenships for all the countries we wish to show our allegiance to, all the countries that have done so much to support us.
Yet, putting aside the issue of political allegiances, in terms of personal identity, I think it an absurdity that someone with a complex, multi-national background should have to choose between them. In today’s world, where more and more people are living significant portions of their lives in different countries, where travel and communications and international interactions are so commonplace, it is not unusual for someone to have complex, multi-national backgrounds, being born and/or raised in a country different from that of the citizenship of their parents; having parents whose citizenships are different from one another’s; growing up in multiple different countries, and thus having strong ties to those different places even if one did not (or could not) officially claim citizenship there; or any number of other situations. Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies, quotes Teddy Roosevelt as calling dual citizenship “a self-evident absurdity,” on the basis of the argument of divided loyalties. Yet, is it not equally absurd for an individual who feels deep in their heart, in the fiber of their being, that they belong to multiple countries, multiple cultures, to be denied the official recognition of that fact, and the formal privileges that should come along with that?
Under Articles 14-16 of the Japanese Nationality Law, anyone born after 1985 to Japanese parents in a foreign country (e.g. the US) must, before the age of 22, choose one citizenship or the other, and cannot keep both. I know plenty of people who were born dual Japanese & US citizens, but have been forced to make this choice (or, people closer to my own age who, fortunately, have not had to make that decision, since they were born before the 1985 law came into effect). How absurd that someone who has grown up in both countries, with the culture of both countries, with both countries an integral part of one’s personal identity, should have to officially give one of these up, and be treated as a foreign national in one of their two homelands. This reminds me of early 17th century Japanese policies implemented when the Spanish & Portuguese were kicked out of Japan, the Dutch restricted to the tiny island of Dejima, and the Japanese forbidden from leaving or returning to Japan. Though I gather this only actually happened in a mere handful of cases, I have read that children of mixed European/Japanese parentage were given the opportunity to either stay in Japan, becoming a member of Japanese society, and never leaving Japan again (i.e. never seeing their father or their father’s country), or, to leave Japan, staying in Dejima or leaving entirely, being considered wholly a foreigner, and never being permitted into Japan again (e.g. to see their mother, their mother’s family or hometown). Obviously, travel and immigration are not nearly as strictly restricted today as it was in the time of “maritime restrictions,” but even so, the idea of a strict artificial division, that one has to be either Japanese or non-Japanese, that on an official, citizenship level, no more complex identities can exist, remains largely unchanged, it would seem.
This official, political, legal stance of forbidding people from both being a Japanese national and holding a foreign citizenship seems all the more bizarre given the familiarity with which Japanese often regard other people of Japanese descent (Nikkeijin). Whether it’s an assumption that Nikkeijin fundamentally understand the Japanese way of thinking, or other aspects of Japanese customs, culture, values, and attitudes, or whether it’s more some sense of belonging, or simply a sort of affinity for the similar, Japanese certainly do seem quite often to show a stronger connection to or affinity for Nikkeijin, both on the personal level, and on more official levels (hiring, allowing one to immigrate to Japan, agreeing to rent an apartment to a Nikkeijin but not to more foreign-looking foreigners).
Of course, the circumstances of one’s birth are not the other means by which one can obtain citizenship(s). There are many who, as adults, for one reason or another, seek to claim citizenship of another country, whether simply in order to claim a part of their identity that is otherwise not officially recognized, or to move back to the homeland of one’s mothers and fathers, or to adopt a new land as one’s home, either out of genuine national/cultural desire, or more purely logistical motives. If the right career opportunities happen to fall into my lap, I can absolutely see myself moving to Ireland, the UK, elsewhere in Europe, or even elsewhere in the world, and wanting to obtain citizenship there in order to dramatically simplify visa & immigration issues, even if I’m not exactly looking to begin seeing myself as French or German or Italian in terms of my personal, cultural, identity.
All of this is complicated, of course, by the fact that different countries award citizenship differently, treat it differently, and consider it to mean something different. Some countries’ citizenship laws are based primarily on blood, e.g. that if you’re born to Japanese parents, you’re Japanese, but if you’re born to non-Japanese parents, in Japan, you’re still not Japanese. Some countries grant citizenship based on place of birth – if you’re born on US soil, regardless of the citizenship of your parents, you’re a US citizen. Some permit people to claim citizenship relatively easily based on ancestry, regardless of where one was born or grew up, and some do not permit people to give up their citizenship very easily. While this last situation can, understandably, provide a logistical headache for those seeking to avoid having to pay taxes to their home country, for example, while simultaneously paying taxes in their country of residence, in terms of ethnic, cultural, and personal identity, I can appreciate the logic behind this. While taking a citizenship can be primarily for logistical reasons, and I have no ideological problem with that, it does make a great deal of sense to me that renouncing one’s citizenship should be seen as a dramatic political act, and should be therefore taken extremely seriously by nations expecting their citizens to renounce any other citizenships. Renouncing your citizenship means formally cutting ties with that country, refusing to any longer be associated with that country. It means, on some level, no longer being allowed to consider yourself Polish, or British, or whathaveyou, at least in the eyes of that country’s government. And, so, I have an extremely difficult time with countries that force one to renounce all other citizenships when naturalizing.
I have a friend who lives in Japan, and has every intention, it would seem, of living there the rest of his life. It makes a whole lot of sense for him to formally become a Japanese citizen. This will absolve him of having a visa that can ever expire or not be approved for renewal, entitles him to various societal/governmental benefits, and will make it a lot easier (in theory, at least) to get jobs, apartments, etc., i.e. to not be discriminated against as a foreigner. Yet, this also means he will have to give up his US citizenship. Now, I don’t know all the ins and outs of precisely how that works, whether or not the Japanese government can officially look into whether he has renounced that citizenship, or the various ways that he might be able to surreptitiously maintain both citizenships, since each citizenship is wholly outside of the jurisdiction of the other country. But, officially, according to Japanese law, he would have to renounce his US citizenship. This is a big deal. This is a bold political statement saying that one severs all formal connections with the United States, that one officially no longer has any allegiance to the United States, and that the US should from now on consider one to be a foreign national. This means, in essence, no longer being an American at all, but only being a Japanese who comes from, or was born in, the United States. And, it means that every time he wants to go home to visit his parents, or other family & friends, every time he goes home on business, or on vacation, he will have to stand in the foreign nationals line at Immigration. Now, this in itself doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it happens that the US & Japan have agreements such that one does not need a visa in order to simply visit the other country. But, if he ever wanted to (or had to) move back to the US for any real length of time, and if he wanted to ever work in the US, he would need to apply for visas just like any other foreigner. I, frankly, simply cannot do that. I cannot see myself ever doing that.
Whatever your political leanings may be, and I certainly am not the most 100% gung-ho yahoo woo-ee “Go America” type, still I am an American, and the idea of being a foreigner in my own country, of having to deal with immigration and visas and whatever as a foreigner, as if I had never been born and raised here by American parents to begin with, as if I don’t belong at all, is just unbelievable to me. I could never do it. Being American is not the same as being French or Italian or Polish, Chinese, Korean, or Japanese, in that American is not an ethnicity, and the US is not a nation-state in that sense of the word. But, even so, it is an identity, and one that will always be a part of who I am, no matter where I choose to live and work, no matter what affiliations with other countries I may add on in future. As Peter Spiro, a law professor at Temple University, writes:
Acceptance of the status allows the many individuals with multiple national attachments to actuate those identities. In this respect, dual citizenship represents a kind of freedom of association, a form of voluntary affiliation to be protected, not condemned.
In his brief essay in the New York Times today, I do not believe there is a single statement with which I disagree. I encourage you to read it (and to read all of the opinion pieces, as they are indeed quite brief), as I think he says precisely what I would have liked to say, and likely says it better.
David Abraham, a law professor at the University of Miami, argues that for the vast majority of people who are not so socio-economically privileged to be a member of the jetsetting cosmopolitan elite, “the weakening of the nation state and its command of singular loyalties is a loss, a loss of the only kind of tie and commitment that might counter the money and influence of elites — namely, the potential equality and commands of citizenship.” He alludes to an important point – that as nation-states grow weaker, multi-national corporations and the like grow stronger, and this is something we desperately need to be on guard against. However, his argument falls apart when we consider the numerous cases of people from poorer countries coming to a wealthier country to seek better opportunities. Obtaining US or UK citizenship (for example) is an important step for these people to obtain monetary and material benefits, including public education, Social Security, and health insurance (and, yes, I know that in many countries, non-citizens, even illegal immigrants, enjoy many of these benefits too. But, nevertheless..), and perhaps most importantly the benefit of being able to stay and never fear deportation, visas running out, being denied the renewal of a visa, etc. Yet, retaining one’s “home” citizenship is crucial as well, in terms of the strength of identity, the strength of national and nation-state identities. To my mind, it is the denial of citizenships, the forced renunciation of citizenships, the forced severing of ties to one’s homeland, that threatens to weaken the nation-state, not the retention of one’s national affiliations (identity) while one seeks a livelihood overseas.
It is surely a very complicated issue, and I wonder what your opinions and experiences are. Have any of my readers obtained (or been born into) multiple citizenships? What do you think about your own complex personal identity, and about how that complex identity is officially perceived or recognized by national governments?
Image Above: Chinese investiture envoys (冊封使) arrive in Ryûkyû. Detail from a scroll painting by Yamaguchi Suiô. Sakamaki-Hawley Collection, University of Hawaii Library.
I don’t know how new a development this is – there have probably been people here and there saying things all along – but in recent days it has become a lot more prominent in English-language news that some Chinese nationalists1 have been calling for Okinawan independence from Japan. Some have gone further, saying Okinawa should be “returned” to China, a truly absurd concept, but I’ll get to that. Of course, much of this comes out of pro-PRC nationalist fervor, anti-Japanese sentiment, and a desire to further the PRC’s national interests. There may be Chinese citizens with a genuine sympathy for the Okinawan people, and an interest in seeing Okinawan independence for the benefit of the Okinawan people, but I don’t think those are the Chinese we’re talking about here.
Chinese/Japanese sovereignty disputes over the Senkaku Islands (C: Diaoyu Islands) have heated up a bit recently, and it would seem that these ideas about Okinawa have come along with it. Many Chinese, it would seem, figure, as long as they’re pushing for Chinese claims to these tiny, insignificant islands that happen to be surrounded by great fishing waters and underwater natural gas deposits, they might as well push further, to argue Chinese claims for the whole Ryukyu Islands chain as well.
I should point out that, in the words of the Financial Times of London, “the Chinese government has offered no [formal/official] endorsement of such radical views.” This is all just individual nationalists expressing their own personal views, not, as yet, anything representing the official position or attitude of the Chinese government (except, of course, insofar as that the government determines the curriculum, and through that citizens learn a twisted version of history, and then speak or act upon the attitudes and understandings obtained through that education). Yet, these do include military officers and government officials, not just random people on the streets.
A week ago, RocketNews24, a sort of aggregator site of Japanese news translated into English, reported on comments made by one particular Chinese officer, a Major General Jin Yinan. Jin speaks of “China’s rightful ownership of all Okinawa too.” What exactly his logic is, is left unclear, but one can easily imagine that he is not alone in holding these opinions. He is not quoted in this article as going so far as to say anything about former Chinese direct control over the Ryûkyû Islands (which China, in fact, never exercised or claimed to), nor even explicitly saying anything about the tributary relationship between the Ryûkyû Kingdom and Imperial China. However, he notes that when Japan formally annexed Okinawa and abolished the Kingdom in 1879, “they threw out all links to China like the Qing Dynasty [dating system] and the Chinese writing style.” These two points are true, as this event severed Okinawa’s tributary relations to Qing China, and with no Ryukyuan king any longer, ended the tradition of the Ryukyuan King being formally invested by the Chinese Emperor. All of Japan, including Okinawa, was now under the Western calendar (albeit with Japanese imperial year).2 With the kingdom abolished, the bureaucracy of the royal government went with it, along with the scholar-aristocrat-bureaucrat class, steeped in the Confucian Classics and models of Chinese government, which ran it. It makes sense that writing in Chinese would have severely declined in Okinawa at this time, though I don’t recall reading anything explicitly discussing the matter; as the scholar-aristocrat class was abolished, they all became equal “citizens” with all the former peasants/commoners, and as the nationwide Japanese national education system was put into place in Okinawa, everyone would have begun writing more exclusively in Japanese.
But, getting to the point, the idea of Chinese historical claims to Ryûkyû is essentially absurd. China never landed troops in the Ryûkyûs, never deployed Chinese bureaucrats/administrators to administer the islands as a colony or a province, but only received tribute from a kingdom that paid ritual obeisance to the symbolic authority of the Chinese Emperor. Even in the 1870s-80s, the pro-China faction in Okinawa was never arguing that the Kingdom “belonged” in any way to China, or that they wanted to be annexed by China, but only that they wished to be allowed to continue their traditional tributary relationship. I’m not positive exactly what kind of rhetoric was used at the time by the Chinese, though, who might in fact have claimed back then as well that the Ryukyus “belonged” to China.
Not that I am saying that the samurai domain of Satsuma in 1609, or the Empire of Japan in 1879, were morally or ethically in the right to do what they did, in 1609 militarily invading Ryûkyû and subordinating it to Satsuma’s authority (controlling the kingdom’s foreign relations, demanding taxes, etc.), and then in the 1870s abolishing the kingdom, annexing its lands, sending mainland Japanese administrators to govern the islands, and imposing various sorts of assimilation policies aimed at wiping out Ryukyuan identity, transforming the Ryukyuan people into homogeneous Japanese citizens. If we want to talk about formerly independent kingdoms that have been conquered, Japan has no more “right” to the Ryukyus than England has to Wales and Scotland, except by law of conquest. The Okinawans have been wronged by Japan, most certainly, historically, and if anyone were arguing for Okinawan independence on the merits of that Okinawa used to be independent, and should be again, for the rights and benefits of the Okinawan people, that would be one thing.
But, here we are talking about arguments made for Chinese national interests, and I don’t think that the interests of the Okinawan people really enter into it, in the arguments of these Chinese nationalists. The Financial Times of London reports on and discusses a more widespread, and varied, set of arguments, in an article entitled “Chinese Nationalists Eye Okinawa,” focusing not only on Major General Jin. (My thanks to Tobias Harris for pointing out this article to me.)
They quote one Japan specialist from a Ministry of Commerce think tank, a Mr. Tang, who says, “When I was in Japan, I didn’t even know that the Ryukyus were once ours.” This goes back to what I was saying above, about how China never actually owned or controlled or even claimed to administer or govern the Ryukyu Islands. It was merely a tributary relationship. Fortunately, the Financial Times is on top of things, and makes the counterpoint that needs to be made:
“Once you start arguing that a tributary relationship at some point in history is the basis for a sovereignty claim in the 20th century, you start worrying a lot of people,” says June Teufel Dreyer, a China and Japan specialist at the University of Miami. “Many, many countries had tributary relationships with China.”
Of course, in light of Chinese control of Tibet, Uyghur lands, and numerous other lands that historically belonged to other peoples, Chinese arguments that Japan has no “right” to Okinawa and should return it seem especially hypocritical. If Okinawa deserves independence based on the fact that it was independent prior to 1879, then what about Tibet, which was independent up until 1959?
(1) Not “Nationalists” as in the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang), who opposed the Communists in the Chinese Civil War in the 1930s-40s, and who fled to Taiwan in 1949, but ‘patriotic’ Communists expressing ‘nationalistic’ sentiments.
(2) Japan adopted the Western calendar in 1873. Gone were the days of “the 3rd lunar month, 13th day, day of the ox, hour of the rat [３月１３日丑・子の刻].” Now, when it was Tuesday January 15th, 1879 in London, or in New York, it was “the 12th year of Meiji, first month, 15th day, Tuesday [明治１２年正月１５日火曜日]” (Or 16th day, what with time zones and all that).
It’s wonderful, of course, to see the Church of the Nativity named a World Heritage Site, as it deserves, for its incredible, incomparable, historical and cultural (and religious) importance. But, there are some problems with this development.
Firstly, the Palestinian bid for UNESCO membership after being repeatedly denied “normal” membership as a UN member state was an obvious political ploy to gain power and influence against Israel, and the acceptance of that bid likewise was a decidedly political move for an organization that is supposedly to be apolitical and devoted to cultural concerns of importance to all humanity. Palestine should be working with Israel to achieve a peace solution, rather than going around. All of this just continues to show the decidedly anti-Israeli leanings of the United Nations.
The very fact that the inscription of the Church of the Nativity was “a move that was celebrated by Palestinians who hailed it as a significant political and diplomatic achievement” indicates the politicized nature of the Palestinians’ bids and efforts in these matters. As the New York Times reports, and I agree,
Israel has said that it is not opposed to the church’s listing as a world heritage site, but that it objects to what it calls the Palestinians’ using Unesco as a political tool against Israel.
“This is proof that Unesco is motivated by political considerations and not cultural ones,” the Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement after the vote. “Instead of taking steps to advance peace,” it added, “the Palestinians are acting unilaterally in ways that only distance it.”
The head of the PLO’s Department of Culture and Information has praised the listing as “a welcome recognition by the international community of our historical and cultural rights in this land,” again showing the political, and not altruistic or purely cultural, motives of the Palestinian administration. The idea is utter and complete nonsense, furthermore, since at the time of Jesus’ birth there were no Muslims, no organized/unified conception of “Arab” identity, and certainly no Palestinians in the modern, 20th century sense of the term.
The Palestinians’ bid blames the Israeli Occupation for damage and threats to the Church, and for the Palestinians’ inability to undertake conservation efforts. No one can deny that these are factors. For nearly 65 years, Israeli efforts to combat Palestinian terrorism have restricted the free movement of people and goods, and have damaged and destroyed much of the West Bank. However, given that all of this has been done in response to Palestinian terrorism, the blame rests squarely on the Palestinians, whose continued support of terrorism has made such Israeli actions necessary.
The Palestinian bid would have us believe that the Palestinians have always worked to protect and conserve the church, and that it is Israel which represents the threat. However, as an Israeli official statement correctly points out, “the world should remember that the Church of the Nativity, which is sacred to Christians, was desecrated in the past by Palestinian terrorists,” an event completely ignored by Palestinian official statements. In 2002, Palestinian terrorists took hostages and hid from Israeli forces in the Church of the Nativity, as part of a pre-meditated scheme inviting the Israeli troops to violate the sanctity of the Church, by attacking them in that holy space, or damaging the building. Such a thing would have been a PR nightmare for Israel, which is, of course, precisely what the Palestinians would have wanted. For them, this sacred, holy, historical spot was merely a political tool, something to risk, and to even let get destroyed, if it meant causing trouble for the State of Israel.
It’s great that the Church of the Nativity has been named a World Heritage Site. It would have been nice, though, to see it identified as belonging to Israel, or at least shared between Israel & Palestine. While they’re at it, maybe UNESCO can name Israel (or Israel & Palestine) as the country controlling the Old City of Jerusalem, which was named a World Heritage Site in 1981 without any country named.
I will be beginning a PhD program in the Fall, studying under Prof. Luke Roberts, whose newest book, Performing the Great Peace, just came out a few months ago, and is now sitting on my shelf. I hope to be reading it before the summer is out. I had only a very vague sense of what it was about earlier – something about Edo period politics, and the relationship between shogunate and daimyo – and while I knew that basically anything I were to read would likely be useful information, expanding my understanding of the period, I was crossing my fingers that it would be interesting and exciting, and relevant to my own research.
There is always a danger when writing this kind of “first impressions” post, that the book may still yet turn out to be quite different from what I expect, but, having now read the first few pages, and a Japan Times review of the book, I think it’s safe to say that I do have a better sense of what it’s about. And, I am happy to say that I am actually quite excited to read this, and think it will have great relevance to my research, and to my understanding of Edo period politics in general.
In summary, Performing the Great Peace analyzes the ways in which the Edo period political system allowed, and indeed expected, daimyo to “perform,” on the surface, all due obedience to the shogun(ate) and his/its laws, while at the same time, beneath the surface, doing things very differently. It is about “open secrets” – doing one thing, and pretending to be doing another. As the Japan Times review cogently explains,
Two key terms that must be mastered for a proper grasp of Tokugawa rule are omote and uchi — roughly “outside” and “inside,” “surface” and “beneath the surface.” Omote was the ritual subservience a subordinate samurai owed a superior. Uchi was the willingness of a superior to allow subordinates to do pretty much as they pleased within their own jurisdictions — on one condition: that no semblance of disrespect or disorder breach the surface.
This seems like it could be extremely enlightening, a new seminal book for everyone’s understanding of how politics functioned in the Edo period. And, it could provide some interesting insights into the logic of Japanese administration and governance today. As events developed at Fukushima on & after 3/11, and as details have emerged in the fifteen months since, we have seen how the government, TEPCO, and other institutions tried to make sure that “no disorder breach the surface,” “performing” the proper obedience to order, to protocols and policies, while in fact, under the surface, in certain respects, chaos reigned. In applying the topic to contemporary behavior, we come dangerously close to getting involved with the discourse on Nihonjinron, something that I would prefer to not touch with a ten-foot pole. I would not be surprised if Dr. Roberts feels much the same way, and if he were to hesitate to say anything much about the relevance to today’s situations. Yet, perhaps there is something of value here for students and scholars of contemporary Japanese politics and sociology.
The topic of “open secrets” is an extremely relevant one for understanding the Ryukyu Kingdom’s relationships with Satsuma, with the shogunate, and with China, in the Edo period. It is something I have long known is important, but never really understood, or investigated, sufficiently, and something on which I therefore stumbled in my recently completed MA thesis on depictions of Ryukyu and its people in Japanese visual culture of the Edo period.
The Ryukyu Kingdom, then semi-independent, ruled over the territory that today constitutes the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa. The kingdom enjoyed a great degree of independence in its domestic affairs, but had been invaded in 1609 by forces from the Japanese domain (han) of Satsuma, and was throughout the remainder of the Edo period subject to Satsuma’s control in certain respects. I am still working out what are precisely the right terms to use when discussing this. Should we say “subject to” and “Satsuma’s control”? Should we say it was “subordinate” or a “vassal state”? In any case, Satsuma dictated Ryukyu’s foreign relations, and exacted tribute, or taxes, from Ryukyu. Ryukyu also sent occasional “tribute” missions to the shogunate, processing through the streets of Edo in colorful parades.
Getting to the point, I think that in these parades, and in many other facets of Ryukyu’s interactions & activities in this period, there was a great degree of precisely the kind of “performing” that Roberts talks about. Ryukyu’s relationship with Satsuma was one of these “open secrets”, and a big one. At this time, China refused to engage in any formal diplomatic or trade relations with Japan, because the shogunate refused to pay tribute or formally acknowledge the Chinese Emperor as suzerain over Japan. Thus, in theory, China should have cut off relations with Ryukyu, if Ryukyu were controlled by (or part of) Japan. Instead, it was somehow in Beijing’s interests to look the other way and pretend that it didn’t know about Satsuma’s control of Ryukyu. And so, it played out like this: Ryukyu played the part of being a wholly independent & loyal tributary to China, performing all the proper ritual obeisances, and making efforts to hide Japanese influence in the islands, while continuing “under the surface” to pay taxes/tribute to Satsuma, to send missions to Edo, and to otherwise serve as a vassal, or subordinate, or whatever we wish to call it, under Satsuma (and by extension, the shogunate). At the same time, despite the Japanese influence in Ryukyu (the extent of which is still debated by scholars), Ryukyuans traveling to & in Edo on these missions were encouraged to play up their foreignness, and to hide their knowledge or understanding of things Japanese. What the commoners thought about Ryukyu remains largely unclear, but I think it not unreasonable to think that many shogunate officials would have been well aware of the Japanese cultural influence upon Ryukyu, yet all played the game of pretending that Ryukyu was more fully foreign and exotic in its ways – in short, the fact that the Ryukyuan ambassadors (to some extent) spoke Japanese, observed (to whatever extent) Japanese customs, and were aware (to some extent) of Japanese culture, was another one of these “open secrets.” Everyone knew, but everyone pretended not to know, for the benefit of “performing” the proper relationships. Finally, there is the matter of the actual economic & political relationships between Ryukyu and Satsuma & the shogunate. I know very little, actually, as to the fine details of this relationship, but it has been made clearer to me that in Ryukyu’s relationships to each Satsuma, and the shogunate, the “performing” of proper rituals of obeisance was paramount. The tribute missions to Edo were not diplomatic missions in which any serious policy discussions took place – it was all about ritual performance of subordination.
It is my hope, and my expectation, that Luke Roberts’ new book, Performing the Great Peace, will help illuminate these interactions, as they took place between the daimyo and the shogunate, and that it will help me to better understand, and articulate, how “open secrets” and omote/uchi functioned in Ryukyu’s relationships in the early modern period. Once I have finished the book (hopefully by the end of the summer), I shall post a more proper book review.
Living in Honolulu the last few years, I’ve heard bits and snatches of talk about a proposed (and apparently already underway, though widely opposed) rail line connecting Kapolei, Waipahu, and Pearl City (to the west and north of Pearl Harbor) with downtown Honolulu to the east.
Today, Archaeology.org’s daily archaeology news roundup links to a KITV (Honolulu local news) video report about a new obstacle to the project. A Native Hawaiian woman by the name of Paulette Kaleikini has brought a lawsuit claiming that the full route needs to be archaeologically surveyed before construction continues, since there may be Hawaiian burial sites along the route. It is unclear from the article & video report what, if any, connection Ms. Kaleikini has to larger Native Hawaiian advocacy groups, or on what grounds she claims to be either a spokesperson for the Native Hawaiian community, or an archaeology/heritage expert.1 But, since the honored remains (known as ʻiwi in the Hawaiian language) of Native Hawaiian ancestors are scattered throughout the island, and very very frequently found when attempting a construction project, it does seem, on the surface, that there is indeed a high likelihood that the route will run across sacred burial sites.
Part of what makes this difficult is the fact that, unlike many other cultures, Native Hawaiians traditionally did not concentrate their burials in a single location (i.e. a cemetery), nor mark burials in any way. To the contrary, burials, especially of people of high birth or great power, known as aliʻi, were deliberately hidden and kept secret, so that no one could steal the ʻiwi (the bones) and in doing so steal the person’s mana – their power. When I first arrived in Hawaii, I thought the whole thing more than a little absurd; firstly, if you didn’t even know it was there, how can it be a sacred site? And secondly, if you value all the land (ʻaina) in the islands as sacred, then how is anything supposed to be built, ever? I have since learned to appreciate the Native Hawaiian culture, heritage, and beliefs a lot more, and feel bad for my prior attitudes. Still, these questions remain. Native Hawaiians enjoy the benefits of “modern” life just as much as the next person, and so they too must negotiate (and I am sure they do) for themselves where they stand in terms of there being a balance between protecting the ʻaina and allowing roads, buildings, and perhaps railroads to be built.
Now, in theory, as in any other archaeologically rich part of the world, the railroad route could simply be altered to go around any burial sites or other archaeologically significant sites that may be uncovered. The question is whether the planners will actually do that, whether they will choose to invest the time and money to do what has to be done to respect these sites, or whether they will (pardon the pun) rairoad right over Native objections, as has happened so many times in the past. Since this is a State Supreme Court case we are discussing, of course, there is also the technical legal matter of whether or not it is legal to do the archaeological survey in phases (as is being done, and as federal law allows) or whether it must be done along the entire route first, before construction can continue (as Kaleikini alleges is mandated by state law).
It remains to be seen whether the railroad project will go forward without a full archaeological survey being completed first. But, in the meantime, I think there is a lot of need for it, and at the same time a lot of very appropriate and correct-minded opposition.
Earlier this week, Honolulu was announced to have the worst traffic congestion in the US. Congratulations! It was obvious to me almost from the moment I stepped off the airplane three years ago that Oahu residents love their cars, and love driving, and that despite (a) it being a small, relatively compact town with the perfect climate for walking, biking, or skateboarding, (b) everyone’s desire to preserve and protect the beautiful natural environment, and (c) the terrible congestion on the freeway, in Waikiki, and elsewhere, there is little impetus to change. It is in fact an extremely unfriendly city for bicyclists, chiefly in terms of drivers’ complete disregard for bicyclists in terms of sharing the road, in terms of looking out for bicycles and not hitting them, and in terms of just generally being good drivers and acting in a predictable manner. I know numerous people who have gotten hit on their bicycle or moped and either seriously injured or killed.
So, yes. We absolutely need a railroad. However, while I do believe that there must be plenty of people who are simply bullheaded about their car-centered culture and who would oppose any improvement or expansion of public transportation2, the opposition we hear the most about focuses instead on the incredible monetary cost of the project, and on the allegation that the technology and design were already on the verge of being outdated before construction even began – by the time it’s complete, the whole thing will be even more outdated. If you’re interested in seeing more specifically what reasons people are giving for their opposition, I invite you to Google it.
Meanwhile, while I do support the expansion of public transportation – specifically of the railroad variety – on Oahu, I think it positively asinine to build it where they are planning right now. The proposed line runs from Kapolei to Ala Moana, in downtown Honolulu. It does not connect to the University, to Kaimuki or Hawaii Kai, or any other areas I have ever been, or needed to get to, or where anyone I know lives. Kapolei, I am told, is a relatively wealthy neighborhood, full of the kinds of people who have the kind of influence to bring a railroad out to their neck of the woods first, rather than to anyone else’s.3 These are, of course, the same kind of people who can afford the nicest cars and (for some reason, somehow) would never “stoop” to riding public transportation.
Personally, I say screw Kapolei. They can drive in. Or they can move somewhere more normal. Meanwhile, it’s the people all the way on the other side of the island, in Kailua and Kaneohe, who could really use a train, so that they don’t have to deal with the traffic on the Pali Highway, and with having to drive all the way across the island, each way, every day. And so that people like me, who don’t have cars, don’t have to deal with the ridiculously long bus ride to get out there, to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. A train over to Kailua/Kaneohe, connecting to the University (hard to bike to because it’s up in the mountains), Kaimuki, and Waikiki (hard to get to because there’s only two bridges over the canal), would be wonderful.
Finally, since so much of the opposition centers on the cost of the project, I don’t really understand why they’re building an elevated rail line. Yes, admittedly, ground-level train lines would cut up the road network, making it harder to walk, bike, or drive anywhere without having to go out of your way to get to a crossing. But, we have that problem with the freeway already anyway, and I don’t see anyone complaining that we should get rid of the goddamned freeway. Ground-level rails would do less damage to the skyline, would avoid the problem of putting areas into shadow (under the tracks), and would cost a lot less. Hawaii has had railroads before…
Whatever happens, I hope that a positive resolution is reached. If they do go ahead and build the railroad, I hope that they do so while properly respecting Native Hawaiian burial sites, and that the railroad ends up seeing strong ridership, and a significant easing of congestion on the roads. If it does well enough, they might even expand it out to some more actually useful places. Frankly, I’m pessimistic about either of these things happening, but we shall see.
(1) Interestingly, Kaleikini seems to have also been one of the primary people opposing the construction of the Wal-Mart on Keeaumoku St in downtown Honolulu some years ago. This was a fairly major issue at the time, and remains a prominent oft-discussed example today.
(2) People often talk about Honolulu’s creatively named “TheBus” being already the best public transportation system in the country; therefore, they argue, what do we need a railroad for? However, being named “America’s Best Transit System” in 1994 and 2000 doesn’t make it true today; furthermore, trains, especially elevated trains, don’t get stuck in traffic the way buses do. I cannot count the number of times TheBus was late, or didn’t show up at all. Note also that whatever issues the NYC subway system may have, it runs 24/7 and compared to the incredible infrequency of Honolulu buses along most routes, that has got to count for something. I’ll take the subway over a bus any day. And, if in a bike-friendly city like Kyoto, I’ll take my bike over public transportation.
(3) Reminds me of Japanese Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei who arranged for the Shinkansen (bullet train) to go out to his home region of Niigata when there was (and remains) much more demand for it to go elsewhere first. Even today, certain major cities like Kanazawa still don’t have a Shinkansen station.
I have just returned home to New York after completing my MA in Art History at the University of Hawaiʻi. I really cannot believe that chapter of my life has closed – it doesn’t feel like an ending, like it should, but only a break. The people and places and feel of Hawaiʻi are already starting to fade from my mind, as I so wish they wouldn’t. I eagerly look forward to a summer in New York, to enjoying the very different energy here, and of course spending quality time with family and friends. But I so wish I were going back to Hawaiʻi after that. I’m not ready for that to be done and over. But, on the positive side, I do expect to go back for conferences, research, and the like, to stay closely in contact with friends from there (I hope!), and to retain the valuable life lessons I learned there. I have become a very different person, in my outlook and attitudes, since first leaving for Hawaiʻi, and I hope that I do not fall backwards.
Photo taken myself, at an International Food Festival in Yokohama. What is “ethnic” food? What isn’t?
The first link in today’s post addresses precisely the sort of post-colonial and intercultural issues that I gained such a new, more nuanced, perspective of during my time in Hawaiʻi.
*A writer for Maori/Pacific Islander magazine SPacifik mag complains about the use of the term “ethnic,” and about the language and approach otherwise, in discussion of so-called “ethnic foods” or “ethnic restaurants.”
“Ethnic” here is used to mean exotic, Other, non-white. The obvious issue with this is that it involves an Othering, an exoticization. See “Orientalism theory.” But what is ironic is that in order to argue against the use of the word “ethnic” as applying only to non-white cultures, the blogger has to argue for the validity of European cultures as being distinct ethnicities and cultures, something that I feel few non-whites readily admit or acknowledge. In order to eliminate the white / non-white binary, and the colonialist Othering and exoticization it involves, we need to acknowledge Spanish, German, Irish, and Italian cultures (and their food) as being just as cultural, just as traditional, just as interesting and “ethnic” as Chinese, Maori, Kenyan, or Persian cultures – rather than seeing the one as a generic White, a generic colonizing, oppressing, majority culture lacking in heritage, tradition, or “ethnic” diversity and flavor.
This article touches upon a great many very complex, nuanced, problematic issues. I think it addresses them in perhaps too simplistic a way, speaking out for the minorities against the white voice, attacking colonialist discourses from within the duality rather than trying to break it down. But the points it makes are nevertheless very much valid and important. This is a discussion we need to be having more and more, in order to eventually work out a solution, or at least a sea change.
Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, surrounded by Ginowan City. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.
*The National Bureau of Asian Research has an interview with government/politics professor Jennifer Lind of Dartmouth College about Okinawa and the Future of the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance. In the interview, Dr. Lind provides an enlightening overview/summary of the basis of the US-Japan Security Alliance, why it exists, and how it functions. We talk so much about post-colonial legacies, or US neo-colonialism, that we forget there are very real political reasons that this situation came into place and remains in place. That the US bases are not in Japan simply because they are, but rather that there is a give-and-take, an exchange, of land (bases) in exchange for protection (i.e. US military protection of Japan). It is good to be reminded.
I don’t tend to read that much politics / economics / contemporary policy stuff. There’s just so much out there, it’d be impossible to keep up with; and, besides, I’m much more inclined towards cultural topics & affairs anyway. So, for me, reading about the Okinawa bases issue from a more upper-level political/military point of view, rather than from an Okinawan popular point of view, is both jarring, and new and interesting for me. What does the US presence really stem from? What is its purpose? How do Washington and Tokyo each benefit? Important aspects to understand.
But, returning to the aspect that most interests me, the cultural/lifestyle impact on the ground in Okinawa, I think one of the keys to a viable solution, perhaps, is the idea that “we need excellent leadership at these facilities to ensure that every soldier, sailor, and Marine knows that his or her daily conduct with the Japanese has a big effect on the U.S.-Japan relationship.” And, taking that further, we need to ensure that every soldier, sailor, and Marine has a respect for the Okinawan people as people, as individuals, as equals, and that they know the impact their daily conduct has on life in Okinawa. The military, both as an organization, and on the individual level of individual military men & women, is I think fairly oblivious as to its impact. Either that, or it is too self-important or uncaring. Soldiers, sailors, and Marines need to relearn to think like civilians, and they need to consider what it would be like if the tables were turned. What would life be like in your hometown in Ohio if half the town were a Japanese military base? What would it mean to be from Ohio if 20% of the state’s land were taken up by foreign military bases? What would it mean for Ohio’s history, its culture, its identity? These are the things we need to remember.
Rapes and helicopter crashes are isolated incidents, but the overwhelming presence of the military in everyday Okinawan lifestyle and culture is not. It may not seem as heinous on the surface, but the US military presence has dramatically and irrevocably altered the image of Okinawa in the minds of its people, countless Japanese, and numerous Americans. The association of Okinawa with the US military – rather than associating it with its own “native” or “traditional” culture – is evident, for example, in the innumerable military-relatedT-shirt designs that can be found just about anywhere in Okinawa, and in websites like Remembering Okinawa, which focus not on “remembering” an Okinawa inhabited by Okinawans, or one defined by Okinawan culture, but rather on “remembering” Okinawa as “The Rock,” that is, as military base. I have a whole post dedicated to this website, and this concept, which I’ve been working on (or, rather, sitting on), which might get put up soon.
In short, we take it far too much for granted that these bases are our territory, our land – that we belong there, that we’re allowed to be there. We must remember that we are guests in a foreign country, invited not by the local people but by the geographically distant national government, and we need to start acting like it.
*Finally, for today, a 48-minute documentary about tens of thousands of books taken by Israelis from Palestinians in the course of the 1948 War, and never returned. Is this stealing? Looting? Cultural protection? From what little I see here, and not knowing much more about the situation, I cannot 100% defend or justify such relocation of materials, such “taking” or “appropriation,” however much I should like to. The more I learn about 1948, and the events leading up to it, the more embarrassing and regrettable episodes I discover. I will always be pro-Israel; I will not, cannot, ever see Israel as anything but the “good guys,” so to speak. But, boy have we done some seriously inappropriate and regrettable things.
Did we think we were “rescuing” books from destruction in the war? Were we right in believing that? Certainly, as an Okinawan Studies person, I mourn the loss of so much historical materials in the War of Okinawa, and wish we could have rescued more of it. Of course, even if we had, to then keep all those rescued materials in an American archive, and not in a Japanese or Okinawan one, would be terribly wrong. So, maybe we were “rescuing”, or maybe we were just “looting,” in 1948. It’s hard to say. I would rather not jump to conclusions, to praise or to condemn. What exactly was the intention? Would the books have been lost if we’d not done this? What were the Palestinians (the Arabs) doing to protect their own books during the conflict? When and why and by whom was the decision made to launch this systematic acquisition of Arab books?
And, perhaps most importantly, what are the details behind why the books were never returned? Certainly, it may have been far too logistically difficult to actually return these thousands of books to the individual homes and individual people from whom they were taken. But could we not have given the books to a Palestinian university or library or archive? Perhaps it is here where the key stumbling block lies. After all, the Palestinians are known to put far more energy and money into destruction than construction. I firmly believe that if they’d put the kind of energy into wiping out Arab terrorism that they do into wiping out Israel, we’d see a much more prosperous West Bank & Gaza today. But I fully admit that I don’t know the details of whether or not there are, or have been in the past, safe places in the West Bank, well-maintained libraries, to which these objects could have been returned.
Certain phrases in this documentary annoy me. One woman questions whether she should consider the Israeli occupant of a home in her town to be the “owner.” It would have been so simple to just call him the Israeli owner, and move on. “The current owner of the property won’t let me into the house.” Period. But this she refuses to say. Instead, she insists at poking a jab at the idea that any Israeli could be considered to legally or rightfully “own” property in this town (or at all), seizing any and every opportunity, it would seem, to remind us yet again of Palestinian suffering and Israeli wrongdoing – that is, of the pro-Palestinian narratives and discourses she and so many others wish us to believe.
An Arab man’s comment that the term “Israeli Arab” is “a repulsive concept,” that it means something like being owned by Israel, being “Israel’s Arab,” annoys me in a different way. This man obviously does not understand, or appreciate, the meaning of citizenship. Now, granted, if he were to go into detail about Israel using Arabs for discursive purposes, treating them in some way as “our” Arabs, that would be one thing. But he doesn’t say that. Instead, he denies, refuses, spits on the very concept of the modern international concept of citizenship, saying that to be “Israeli Arab” somehow is an attack on his identity as an Arab Arab.
Look, you don’t have to politically favor this or that Israeli policy. Plenty of citizens of plenty of countries around the world disagree vehemently with their governments’ stances on this or that issue. But to enjoy the benefits of citizenship in a first-world, advanced country while at the same time spitting on the idea of belonging to that country… that, to me, is a “repulsive concept.”
Everyone in the United States, and I am sure a great majority of the people all around the world, negotiate with multiple identities. I am myself both Jewish and American, while others are both British and Indian, both Okinawan and Japanese, or both Chinese and Christian. Thousands of Japanese Americans worked, spoke out, and fought on battlefields to prove their loyalty to the United States in the early 1940s, and people of all stripes continue to do so today, fighting with words and with actions to prove their identity as American, or as British, as members of Japanese society, for example, despite their lack of Japanese ethnic (racial/genetic) background, to fight for their right to be considered French, etc. I sincerely hope that not all Arabs think the way this man does. Imagine someone sitting there saying “Arab-American – it’s a repulsive concept. As if we are owned by America; as if we are America’s Arabs, rather than being Arab Arabs.” It would go against everything the Japanese-American community (and countless others) have fought for, and would only serve to solidify the idea that Arabs have no love for America, no loyalty to the place they live, the place they grew up, to their neighbors…
He claims that the severing of Palestine from connections to the wider Arab world has left him without a cultural space, without the connections that once existed to Beirut, Cairo, and Damascus. This, I can appreciate; I can sympathize. You used to feel connected to the cultural activity of these places, and now Arab Palestine has become Jewish Israel and it is no longer an Arab space, and it is no longer as easy as it once was to feel connected to these other places. As if New York had suddenly become a different country, and I found myself suddenly in a foreign place, no longer in the same country, the same cultural space as Boston and DC. Sure. But, if you miss the cultural scene in Beirut, go there. No one is stopping you. And, more importantly, you say that you cannot redefine your identity here in Israel, that you feel disconnected from the ability to have an Arab cultural space? Why? You’ve had 60 plus years to create or recreate Palestinian identity within Israel. This is no different from the formation of a Jewish-American identity (as distinct from Jewish or Israeli identity elsewhere in the world), or the formation of a distinctly Arab-American or British Arab identity. If it can be done by these other groups, why can it not be done for/by you? There is so much scholarship out there on diasporas and identity formation. I can appreciate the frustration with being in, in a sense, a diaspora, in a place that is no longer wholly or chiefly an Arab place when once it was, but that does not mean you cannot redefine, recreate, or relocate an identity. Jewish-Americans did it; Hawaiians under occupation have done it; peoples define and redefine their identities every day. If you have not found it, it is because you are not looking, or are unwilling to accept what you have.
Returning to the matter of the 1948 “looting” of Arab books by Jewish (Israeli) soldiers, at 20 minutes into this 48-minute documentary, these questions I have posed above remain entirely unanswered. These seem to me the most key questions about this situation, and yet, the documentary seems to have some other agenda – namely, to take it as a given that it’s a crime that these were taken, and that they ought to be given back. We finally begin to see in the last 10 minutes, some answers to some of these questions. We learn that many of the books were taken from empty homes, not stolen from owners who were present; we learn that there were Arab students working with the collections, and that there was never any intention to “hide” the books, nor in fact a belief that they had in fact been hidden – there were Arabs who knew quite well where they were, and how to access them. We learn as well that the goal was very explicitly to safeguard and protect these books from destruction, but also that there was a hope that many of the books would end up being kept by the Library and not returned.
It would have been nice to see a documentary explaining, in more objective, historical detail, why this was done, what was the thinking at the time, what efforts were made to return the books over the years, and if not why not. But, so it goes. Some reports are better than others… at least, I think it valuable and interesting to have learned about this collection, to learn that it exists, and that this “acquisition,” “looting,” whatever we want to call it, happened. I’d had no idea.
I am glad to see that these objects are accessible to the public, and are not simply “locked away” in archives as the film states them to be. I hope that a solution can be reached – either that the collection be relocated to a Palestinian National Library, or that the Palestinians should (god forbid) start considering the Israeli National Library as their own as well.