I seem to find myself saying that we need to give love and then having to explain what that means, so I may as well start with it. Love is moral consciousness, that being loving is having the awareness and the need to create what is both right and good to all. Each time I wanted to write about forgiveness, it felt inappropriate as though I were not allowed considering that I still felt resentment, still fought with people, or that people thought I was bad or weird and therefore I did not have the authority to discuss such a subject. To be angry is wrong or as the Stoics believe ungoverned anger begets madness, and while the idea that anger and love are mutually exclusive, is there no such thing as injustice? The term humanity explains our capacity for benevolence, propriety and loving-kindness, but there are crimes against humanity and gross injustice that demonstrates our capacity for evil, to look the other way, to hate or abuse those who are vulnerable. There are many layers to anger, one being the socially constructed character where ‘masculinity’ is defined by this permission to display aggression while ‘feminine’ is restraining such emotions, thus when a woman displays anger she becomes ‘crazy’ because of this contrast just as much as a quiet man is labelled cowardly. The other is anger as primitive, egotistic, an unauthored state of mind that rises like steam in the heat of the moment from the reservoir of our deepest emotions and fears especially when we lose control, giving us a false sense of empowerment. Does a person scream because they seek to display power and dominate the situation, or do they scream because they feel they are not being heard or acknowledged?
Unrequited feelings of rejection is one thing, but having the person that you have feelings for mistreat you is another. The hurt is considerable. I felt incredibly small and worthless, shrinking into the shadows that it soon became clear that my life was withering away. ‘Stop. Leave me alone,’ I would mutter in desperation when his taunting became unbearable. I could no longer fight against all the games he played and the pretending he did that quite simply broke my heart. I needed him gone so the hurt could go with him. He was another monster in a series of people who had let me down, including my father. My father was a very aggressive man and his aggression stemmed purposefully because he was raised in an environment that told him how he should treat women, his wife and children and his fellow men and my father was the type to do what he was told. It is unfortunate that in the Turkish culture that he grew up in, what he was told to do were all wrong and where masculinity and ‘being a man’ were defined by your capacity for violence. The survival of the fittest. He often ruminated, however, how much he wished to have been educated and you could see deep within him that longing to shatter the chains of the cultural repression that forced him to be a monster and normalised and accepted his bad behaviour.
My mother could never tell my father that he was a monster that she instead took her aggression out on me and she would always do this when no one was around to witness her behaviour. Words like ‘slut’ and ‘bitch’ were hurled in my direction, opinions like ‘you are worthless’ and ‘never come to my funeral when I die’ were consistently launched before she would go to my father and others and claim that I abused her. I was mistreated and then blamed as though I deserved the mistreatment. It was much worse from my siblings who constantly taunted and belittled me in much the same manner, my eldest brother violent and my sisters cruel. I was ugly, stupid and had no purpose in life other than to serve and as this occurred from such a young age being the youngest in my family, I came to believe it. Violence is both physical and psychological.
It is incredibly difficult finding dignity and self-respect when people directly or indirectly tell you that you are not good enough and it is especially worse when it comes from the people that you love or admire, from your parents or siblings, your lover and your friends. We are taught from a young age that receiving any love or approval is conditional, that we need to obey and do what we are told, that right and wrong behaviour is defined by others, to make decisions and appear a certain way that is approved of by society that our identity is determined by this approval. We build on that, our efforts become all about performing the best according to what our environment dictates, to appear popular and congratulated and so we work hard trying to receive the love from others. When others tell us we are good, that must mean that we are good. When others tell us we are bad, we must be bad. It is about quantity, the more people like us or agree with us then we become more right and more worthy.
But what happens to our identity within all of this, what happens when we realise that all our efforts are simply trying to get other people to tell us we are good and it does not matter how artificial we are in our attempt to attain this? Do we exist, or is our real identity a Jungian ‘shadow’ or the unknown part of our personality that even we don’t completely understand? To realise that we – who we really are – does not actually matter, we come to see that our efforts is vanity, our relationships artificial, and that we are in fact alone because you cannot satisfy something that is insatiable. That is, within that existential nightmare where hedonism and aggression are suddenly permitted, can people recognise who we really are, can love – moral consciousness – be possible? If so, if we create meaning consciously and if our humanity is dependent on our moral fibre, how do we reach out and find that capacity to work against the grain? How can we give, rather than try to receive, love?
In Plato’s The Republic, Socrates explains the individual soul by dividing its purpose into a triptych of 1. rational, 2. emotional and 3. instinctual or the appetites that compel us to pursue our desires. The analogy of the soul is an attempt to demonstrate that while we have those three functions, an individual is capable of being just or moral when they can find an equilibrium or balance between all three. This psychological account of the subjective self is similar to the Freudian division of the psyche, that to repress or restrain our desires can lead to a tumorous pathology elsewhere. Socrates further explains that the soul of the individual or what makes the individual capable of being just is aligned in similar vein to the function of a city or a state. Thus the individual represents the state; murder and mass murder function in much the same way, but on a larger scale.
The Palestinian/Israeli conflict epitomises continuity of aggression and violence and with the diplomatic difficulties between both parties when attempting to find a solution, forgiveness at political level becomes all the more difficult. Following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the United Kingdom gained administrative control of Palestine under the 1922 mandate that formalised British rule in the region by the League of Nations. The violence between Jews and Palestinians occurred at this time as decisions of who will sovereign the region became announced as discussions on the subject ensued. Palestinians were ignored until the British finally announced that it will be a place for Jewish settlement at a time where the Jews themselves were – through Germany and the holocaust – required protection. It did not help that Palestinian leadership under al-Husseini decided to strengthen relations with Germany, a British enemy at the time. When World-War II was over and the United Nations forged, the General Assembly Resolution 181 (II) Future Government of Palestine was articulated as a way to divide the territories into what is known as the two-state solution, something that continues to be rejected by Palestinians. At the time, it was largely rejected by the Arab world that led to Arab-Israeli wars of 1948 and 1967, the former leading to ‘The Catastrophe’ or An-Nakba that resulted in what remains the longest refugees without a homeland in the world.
What happens to the identity of the Palestinians in all of this? The lack of acknowledgement, impoverished without proper leadership and guidance? The rise of the Palestinian Liberation Authority further perpetuated the anger and aggression, where the conditions within the occupied territories worsened to a point of leading to several ‘Intifida‘ or an attempt to remove the powerful grip that Israel had on the Palestinian people. In the context of international law, sovereignty is limited to a state with geographical boundaries, recognised by other states as having stable governance and a capacity for diplomatic relations defined by a permanent population or citizenship. Israel has successfully done this and have the right to be there, but symbolically they continue to struggle justifying – other than through a historical and religious context – their reason to be there. They have adequately and successfully developed a stable polity and society but borne out of aggression and violence such as building settlements in illegal territories. The victim – the Palestinians – are socially and politically in disarray and without adequate leadership and proper legislative boundaries that enable a ‘natural balance’ of the political soul to form a just society, factional differences such as that between Hamas and Fatah will continue to cause delays in reconciliation. They are left with the symbolic right to determination without any practical or organised capacity in our contemporary legal definition of statehood.
To Fight The Good Fight
How do you proceed when you have been hurt so much? How do you find forgiveness? When I experienced the violence both verbally and emotionally, that feeling of emptiness and heart-ache made it difficult for me to function adequately. I was sad and emotional. I lost a lot of weight and became very sick. I had to take care of myself through the difficulties and that resilience through the mental and physical difficulties is hard, because as the victim you should not be the one making the effort to improve. You took it from me and I want it back from you. Until I was able to find that inner voice and function with a healthy mindset, forgiveness within an unstable and unsettled subjectivity is impossible. As Tracy Chapman perfectly said, “unsettled hearts promise what they can’t deliver.” When I reflected on most of the hurt that I experienced from others, from those who were responsible to care for me and those who were irresponsible as people while my own personal life was in disarray, I was not able to see things objectively.
It was only after this, after having lost so much and building myself up again through all the hurt that I was able to understand why my parents and others mistreated me. They have the same pressure as everyone else, to work for and try and impress the people in their social environment or culture in order to gain their approval and recognition so as to form that meaning and identity. While they were making every effort to be recognised by their society, they were failing and became resentful themselves, attacking others in this highly competitive social dynamic thinking that by bringing other people down, they can climb up higher and feel greater worth. It is an artificial sense of empowerment where they feel some control because they feel they have no control. They become destructive and cannot articulate or explain their frustrations because they simply do not understand it.
Just like capitalism, aggression is as Rousseau claims, namely that people are good by nature but are corrupted by society. The Judeo-Christian concept of evil is this considering it opposes authenticity in moral consciousness and thus evil is our failure to think for ourselves and this is the root of our aggression and hatred. The narration by Jesus that “small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” is an explanation of just how difficult it is to recognise yourself and overcome the anxiety of letting go of social norms that stops you from ever finding the capacity to create meaning for yourself. It is in morality and creativity that meaning can be formed and why Kant concludes God as necessary (although I actually believe in the existence of God). It does not, however, suddenly mean those who have mistreated and wronged me are no longer responsible for their actions given the fact that they are ignorant.
I realised that I first needed to apologise to myself, to forgive myself for failing to find my own voice, my own identity through all that I had experienced. Despite the difficulties, when I reflect I see that most of the struggles that I endured were really my own self-defence mechanisms refusing to let go and move forward. Acknowledgement is something that is given and I needed to acknowledge myself through the echoes of all the hateful comments and attacks and transcend all that to appreciate myself and find that dignity and self-respect. To give love does not suddenly exclude you, you too are as much a part of humanity as anyone else and that enabled me to see me as a part of the world around me, to recognise and appreciate my consciousness and freedom to create what is beautiful; that is, what is good. I began to commit myself to helping people as I was taking care of myself at the same time, learning and increasing my knowledge or as said in Isaiah, “lengthen your cords, strengthen your stake.” I am still learning and I have indeed a great deal to learn, but it is a process that creates and improves, something aggression cannot do.
In doing so, I recognise all the suffering my mother went through, and I began to feel compassion for my mother and can see why she struggled, what she experienced and went through, all her hardship. It does not change that she wronged me, but I found forgiveness as though I could see a little girl in my mother and despite the tantrums, I wanted to hug her and kiss her. I saw in my father the intensity of the constructs of masculinity coerced by his environment that obstructed his genuine identity and a little boy afraid that he is not strong enough in a violent society that continuously threatened him and suddenly I wanted to embrace him and read him a book, to keep him safe from that harmful and toxic culture. Despite my father’s violence toward me and my mother, even he deserves the acknowledgement and by giving both of them that acknowledgement without giving up on me but that together we are a part of something bigger, the attitude of forgiveness is solutions-focused, forward or future-thinking to improve a situation and something aggression will never do.
Palestinians need to improve their government and themselves through the hostility and aggression, that despite the symbolic right to the land and a past laden with violence, they need to work through the reality that Israel is there and there to stay, to form a solid government toward the formation of a recognised state as accepted by international law. Palestinians need to acknowledge Israel and the Jewish people, however hard that may be. There is an absence of rationally defensible moral ideals that has made reconciliation and the effort to overcome the resentment in the region difficult. Working through the numerous issues takes time, but the primary effort relies on the Palestinians despite being the victims. They will then see with justice the reasons why Israel exists, why they needed to form a homeland, the history of the Jewish people and the reasons for their hostility. In the process, however, their conditions will improve and justice will be established. Love is something that we give and justice is something we create.