Hanin Alyan Elholy | 19-06-2017
For how many years have we all attended school? How many lectures have we heard? How many theories and rules have we learned? How good were our marks? But the most important question is this one, I think: To what extent have we been affected by what we have studied, and how beneficial were those years of studying?
Last year, I enrolled in what would become my two favorite two courses: Shakespeare and contemporary critical theory. Although one (critical theory) was a bit difficult and I didn’t get a good mark in the other (Shakespeare), I can’t deny they had an impact on who I am and how I think.
For example, we studied the work of French philosopher Jacques Derrida, who developed one of the most revolutionary theories, and also the one that fascinates me the most: the theory of deconstruction. Derrida basically said that language has no inherent meaning; our interpretation flows from the context in which words are used. Applied to the way we see the world, this philosophy says nothing is stable or fixed. There are no specific rules to follow, and those that exist are there to be broken. Of course, there is a lot to protest about this theory when it comes to the creeds and beliefs around which we shape our lives. Nevertheless, it's fascinating to explore, and is very useful when preparing to debate someone with an opposite point of view.
Here are a few examples of how this theory applies to life—including religion, politics and art.
“We can't live without evil and we can't live without Trump.”
This sentence sounds a bit odd, doesn’t it? We immediately want to disagree! But it is not odd at all. Once the first part is proven, the second part follows: We wouldn’t be here on earth without evil. For those who are religious, consider the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. The couple enjoyed their time in heaven until Satan tempted them to eat the prohibited fruit. God punished them by sending them to earth, but at the same time, granted them the land and whatever else they needed to implement a system of justice and good conduct. In other words, God sent them to spread goodness. So, from a religious point of view, goodness on earth came as a result of evil; without that event, every good deed here on earth wouldn’t have existed.
Using the Israeli occupation as another example of evil, we can ask, “Why do Palestinians sacrifice their bodies and futures to protect and maintain their claim to their land? Why do so many Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank continue, year after year, to resist their oppressors in an attempt to change their reality, rather than just giving up? Where does this courage come from? The more the Israeli government becomes arrogant and oppressive, the more Palestinians resist. When Israel destroys a house, the people try to rebuild it. When Israel closes the border, the people of Gaza build tunnels. When Israel kills a man, his wife remarries and gives birth to more children, even knowing their risk of being sacrificed as well is high. Palestinians’ legendary “sumud” (strength and solidarity) is a result of Israeli oppression. Thus, can we say that the evil of occupation has given birth to something good?
The theory of deconstruction also asserts that everything is relative and nothing is completely certain or absolute. Let’s return now to the second part of the statement above: “[Trump is evil] and we can’t live without Trump.” We can't really say that Trump is categorically evil or bad. He is perceived that way from a Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and refugee point of view. However, among those who elected him, he Is seen as an intelligent, successful person who has his country’s best interests at heart. It's okay, in their eyes, that his frankness shocks and offends people. In fact, they consider that to be a refreshing strength.
Even some liberals who did not vote for Trump believe his presidency may have positive effects. It will, they say, push those who are against him to mobilize in ways they have not in the past, becoming much more unified and effective.
Art and poetry
While surfing Facebook, I found a two-line post and I liked it so much. It reminded me of this topic and how evil sometimes can produce a good result. I looked for the whole text, and surprisingly it was a song:
Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.
This song (“The Future”) was written by Leonard Cohen, and the last two lines focus on the idea that cracks (obstacles in our life) bring us enlightenment and growth.
What would happen if there were no “cracks”? Certainly, there would be no learning that helps us grow stronger.
Pity would be no more
If we did not make somebody poor.
And mercy no more could be
If all were as happy as we.
William Blake, one of the romantic poets in the early 1800s, wrote these lines. Both pity and mercy are great virtues in Christianity, yet they are only possible unless we witness poverty and misery. We pity poor people, leading us to thank God for being successful or healthy or comfortable. And witnessing poverty means, for most, that we are more merciful to those who have less than us.
We see the same theme played out in Shakespeare and other great works of literature. In “Othello,” without the malevolence of Iago, we would not have such a masterpiece and learn about the evils of jealousy. And can you imagine Hamlet without Claudius? What about Macbeth? If there had been no desire for political power for its own sake, there would be no lesson learned. In fact, it might be a good idea for Trump to read the play.
Come to think of it, We Are Not Numbers, the project that has brought you my essay and so many others, would never have been inspired if the 2014 war on Gaza had not occurred!
The battle of evil versus good is never-ending. Will we learn from the lessons of the past? Are there consequences for the people who do evil? In Othello, all of the “good” characters die at the end, except the devil, Iago—who lives on for the sake of inspiring goodness once again.
Posted: June 17, 2017
Mentor: Greta Berlin