Democracy, social justice, freedom, cultural refinement and pleasure, all, along with their opposites, are to be found in the detailed meetings and avoidances, engagements and disengagements, comings and goings of everyday life. The politics of small things has been our theme of the week.
Adam Michnik and I decided to try to organize our friends in a common discussion. Despite the workings of the security police and his jailers, and despite the hard realities of the cold war, we created alternatives in our own lives, and this affected many others. Although I am not informed about the specifics, I am sure that such things are now happening in China.
But I should be clear. I am not saying that therefore, the People’s Republic’s days are numbered, or that liberal democracy is just around the corner. Escalation in repression is quite a likely prospect. Michnik’s life after receiving our honorary doctorate did at first lead to a prison cell. Shirin Ebadi is in exile today, as was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn after his prize. But people continue to interact around the shared human rights principles to which these people dedicated their lives, and this has persistent effects, at least for those people, but beyond their social circles as well. As Michnik put it “the value of our struggle lies not in its chances for victory but rather in the values of its cause.” My point is that if people keep acting according to those values, they are very much alive and consequential.
And it is in this way that I applaud the Afghan Womens Soccer team and understand its significance. That these young women manage to play their game despite all the horrors of war and occupation, despite the persistence of harmful traditional practices and inadequate implementation of the law on elimination of violence against women in Afghanistan (this was the subject matter of the UN report that Denis Fitzgerald referred to in his reply to my post) is their great achievement. We have to pay attention to such achievements, and not reduce everything to simple slogans: whether they be “US and NATO forces out,” or “the Taliban must be defeated.”
And of course, the soccer team is an example of a general phenomenon, which may or may not prevail, of the empowerment of women that is developing in Afghanistan. That there is such a struggle must be noted, even by opponents of continued American engagement in the war, such as me and Alias. His assertion: “The plight of women in Afghanistan has always been a coy political tool to advocate war and nothing more,” I think, is deeply problematic.
Paying close attention to the details, the small things that make up a war, as the documentary Restrepo does, is also clearly important to orient informed action. The film reveals the backstage of counterinsurgency, not a pretty sight. Michael points out that the film is not political, but it does reveal important facts upon which our politics should be informed. The film makes clear to me that a war without end, such as the one we seem to be in, is also deeply problematic.
For a Jew, who grew up meeting people recently arrived from Europe with tattooed numbers on their arms, the idea of a Democratic and Jewish state has been appealing. But what does this mean in the detailed interactions of everyday life? That is the crucial question, from the point of view of the politics of small things. In the details, great injustices can be created, revealed in the letter we posted by Amal Eqeiq, begging for a resolution that provides respect, dignity and justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike. This does require close examination. So in our next post, Iddo Tavory will provide a translation of the Rabbi’s edict with a short commentary to encourage careful deliberation.
And then there is the issue of pleasure and its social construction. Pierre Bourdieu studied how cultural sensibilities position us in the social order. But it is not only class that is so determined, so is pleasure, as Iddo’s reflections on his trip to MoMA reveal. We learn to have pleasure by developing pleasures in our youth. Working on such details and providing the opportunities for them is an important part of a democratic education and culture. I think I will return to that issue sometime next week.
Does thinking about the details we’ve considered this week lead to ready answers about the pressing issues of our times, or even of the week? Clearly no. But with reflection upon the details, we can critically judge more seriously President Obama’s continued war strategy announced on Thursday. And we can understand that the status quo in Israel – Palestine is not acceptable, even if we don’t have at hand an easy solution.