Middle East – the short circuits of war

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By FLAVIO AGUIAR*

The semantic and syntactic operations specific to Israel's war against Palestine, depending on the side of observation.

Prior methodological observation is necessary. I'm not a specialist in the Middle East, Zionism, Judaism, Israel, Palestine, Hamas, Hezbollah, although I have a slightly broader and deeper knowledge of all of these and related topics than is superficial. Although I have long experience in analytical coverage of wars, from Vietnam and the protests against it, when I worked as a writer for United Press International in your São Paulo office, I also do not consider myself an expert on the subject and its connections.

But I am a specialist, by profession, in semantic and syntactic constructions and manipulations around these and other social phenomena. And that's what this article is about: language. Nothing more, but nothing less, than this.

Every war has its own semantic and syntactic operation(s), depending on the side of observation.

In the Vietnam War, for example, on the Western side, the transformation of civilian victims in South Vietnam into “Viet Cong guerrillas” predominated, which swelled the statistics in favor of a supposed efficiency of the “defenders of democracy” (USA and its puppet ally in Saigon) against the “invading communists” on the other side. Curious “invaders”, who “invaded” their own land! The deception lasted until the My Lai scandal, the strange “battle” in which hundreds of “Viet Cong” had perished against no casualties – not even a scratch – on the side of the “democratic forces” of South Vietnam and the USA.

The “battle” had taken place in March 1968. The deception continued for some time, since the accusation in November 1968, that the supposed “battle” was in fact a massacre of hundreds of civilians, most of whom were defenseless elderly people, women and children, until the massacre of defenseless North American students who protested against the war in Kent State University, state of Ohio, committed by National Guard troops on May 04, 1969, leaving a trail of four dead and several injured by bullets. Since then, the rhetoric in the media has changed. mainstream North American and worldwide.

Coming closer, let's look at the war in Ukraine. Previously, the dominant rhetoric in the Western media exposed the coup d'état that overthrew the pro-Russian government in Kiev, led by paramilitary groups of mixed Nazi and nationalist inspiration, in 2014, as a “popular revolution” led to cable by the “heroes of Maidan Square”. When Russian troops invaded Ukraine, this media not only took its side, but also began to openly present everything Ukraine did as a “victory” and everything Russia did as a “defeat”.

The rhetoric lasts to this day, although the vaunted Ukrainian “counter-offensive” has hit a dead end. At the same time, the Ukrainian action was covered with a semantics derived from the anti-Nazi Resistance during the Second World War and the Russian operation with all the possible refinements of cruelty and acts of barbarity – as if only the Russians committed them. Everything Kiev said was true, everything the Russians claimed was a lie. For reasons of professional conscience I was able to access reports from the other side, released by the Moscow Armed Forces: it's another war.

It appears to be a true “denazification” tour in which the Ukrainian troops suffer astronomical casualties and the Russians relive the glorious days of the Red Army, although it no longer receives this name, as today's Russia has very little of the old Soviet Union, despite what the Western media trumpet about it. Where is the “truth”? On one side or the other, in the middle, at the base of the in medium virtus? For now, it is only possible to say that the “truth” lies in doubting everything you read or hear, since very little is seen about this war, as insane as wars tend to be.

Well, after all we got to where I wanted to get to: the Israeli government's current war against Hamas, and vice versa. In addition to the atrocities committed, the Hamas attack against Israeli civilians on October 07th and the atrocities that have been committed by the Israeli government against the Palestinian population in Gaza and to a lesser extent in the West Bank, a peculiar characteristic of this war is that of a semantic atrocity, an operational short circuit that tends to decapitate any effort to reason about it.

This short circuit can happen during a reading, in a telephone conversation or live and in color, in an email, etc. It works like this, as I describe below, in several ways.

If you don't say, write, or podcast in the first place that the Hamas attack on October 7th against Israeli civilians was a terrorist attack, regardless of what you consider afterwards, it is because you are a lifelong anti-Semite, an enemy of people of Israel, etc. Worse: if you criticize the far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu with his gang of crazy Zionists who want the destruction of the Palestinian population, criticize the criminal bombing and assault against the population of Gaza and the West Bank, you are also an irremediable anti-Semite , an enemy of civilization and friend of anti-Western barbarism, and also more etc.

Now, if you criticize the terrorist attack committed by Hamas on October 07th against the Israeli civilian population, it is because you are a soulless Zionist, a friend of North American imperialism, an enemy of the right of the Palestinian people to an independent State and are in favor of crime against humanity that has been committed daily by Israeli bombings and assaults against the population of Gaza and the West Bank. Oh yes, also regardless of what you write afterwards. In short, the analysis doesn't matter, because what matters is the label you can fit into.

There are variants on these short circuits. There are those who say nothing, but whose silence is not at all obsequious and is simply the curtain of iron, kid or smoke that covers the pigeonhole in which you are framed and placed, with no way out.

Such cases, the second one above all, are dramatic here in Germany, where I live at the moment. A friend, to whom we expressed our repudiation of the Hamas attack, our appreciation for the Palestinian cause, our concern at the everlasting and recrudescent anti-Setimism in the Germanic shores, said, modestly, that he also didn't like Benjamin Netanyahu's government, “but I don't it was time to talk about this”, it was time to “stand by Israel”, as if Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu were synonymous, and the criminal bombings against the civilian population of Gaza meant nothing. Another reproached me because I consider the United States “an imperialist country”. A third person told me that Israel was right to bomb hospitals because “Hamas terrorists” were hiding there.

Conflicting sides in language battles mobilize prestige terms. Terms such as “apartheid”, “genocide” and even – this I consider somewhat out of place – “holocaust” are being used against Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies. On the Israeli side, terms such as “civilization against barbarism” are being used and some of the most excited people have compared their enemies to “animals”. There are more successes than mistakes there; Here, error without success prevails.

The position of the Israeli government and its Western allies and leaders is increasingly isolated. Tel Aviv diplomacy has been making clumsy gestures with negative repercussions, such as its ambassador to the UN speaking with yellow Stars of David on his lapel, something condemned by Jewish associations, or its representative in Brasilia appearing at the Brazilian National Congress in the company of Jair Messias, the persistent but failed coup plotter of Bolsonaro.

This is the situation: around the world, thanks to short circuits, old friendships and even consolidated marriages are shaken. This had already started before. In Brazil, between Bolsonarists and Democrats. In broader geography, between deniers and friends of Covid vaccines. Then, in the complicated folds of the war in Ukraine, where speaking badly about NATO or the United States automatically turned you into a pro-Putin authoritarian, in the eyes of the short circuiters. But now, with the sensitive topic of the Middle East and its geographical and historical surroundings, the harmful practice of anti-intelligence has expanded and – worse, Benjamin – is consolidating itself.

The word “peace” is as isolated as it was in the trenches of the First World War. So she would sometimes take refuge in the lights of some tavern, like the Café Voltaire, in No.o. 1 am Spiegelgasse in Zurich, Switzerland, founded in February 1916 by the German playwright Hugo Ball, attended by a cohort of pacifist intellectuals from very different national origins, but convergent in their repudiation of violence. Just to remind you: a little further away, on the second floor of number 14, lived an obscure Russian refugee called Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov and his wife, Nadezhda Krupskaya.

The word “peace”, as fragile as a Picasso dove, today the flag of, among others, the Brazilian government, has its unknown and unforeseen powers.

* Flavio Aguiar, journalist and writer, is a retired professor of Brazilian literature at USP. Author, among other books, of Chronicles of the world in reverse. Boitempo, São Paulo: 2011. [https://amzn.to/48UDikx]


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