The collective WE in a struggle that exists among a single people

Re: the functions of collectivity in instances of struggle
I agree, in cases where the enemy is readily visible the interests of the “collective We” (freedom from the source of oppression) outweighs the interests of the individuals that make up that WE. In the context of a single people, I think two things are detrimental to the success of collective WE in the struggle against the oppressor: 1) SELF-INTEREST and 2) PASSIVITY due to the “illusion of hope”. The first, self-interest, will always weaken the WE because those in positions of power and/or privilege will do what it takes to remain in that position.  Likewise, the incentive for the proletariat and poorer class to engage themselves in the WE to counter oppression is reduced when these engagements potentially cost them their life, source of income or basic needs. The second weakening element of the collective WE is the passivity due to the “illusion of hope” which is nicely illustrated in Darwish’s poem in the following lines:

“The siege will last in order to convince us we must choose an enslavement that does no harm, in fullest liberty!

Resisting means assuring oneself of the heart’s health,
The health of the testicles and of your tenacious disease:
The disease of hope.”
Under Siege, Mahmoud Darwish

Where “the siege” can be interpreted as follows from Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Karnak Café:

“I asked her what she had to go through during her short time in prison, but she assured me it had all been short and trivial. From this point on, our beliefs in the revolution were contaminated by a deep-seated anger. We were much more willing to listen to criticism. The enthusiasm was gone; the spark was no longer there. Sure enough, the basic framework was still in place, but what we kept saying was that the style had to be changed; corruption had to be eradicated, and all those sadistic bodyguards had to go. Our glorious revolution had turned into a siege.”
Karnak Café, Naguib Mahfouz

The “illusion of hope” is basically being satisfied with the idea of being freed from oppression without getting involved, without being willing to make sacrifices.

“Here at least I can discover a crazy illusion, one that offers an occasional glimmer of hope”
Karnak Café, Naguib Mahfouz


I see what I see
Without noticing
And since I don’t see what I see
I get in a mess
And live
As if I am me
Or somebody else
And don’t notice
Mahmoud Darwish, from “If I were a stone” translated by Catherine Cobham

This illusion of hope can also be likened to blindness. Khalil Gibran nicely illustrates the people’s willingness to continue to live under oppression as a result of their blindness.

I love freedom, and my love for true
Freedom grew with my growing knowledge
Of the people’s surrender to slavery
And oppression and tyranny, and of
Their submission to horrible idols
Erected by the past ages and polished
By the parched lips of the slaves.
But I love those slaves with my love
For freedom, for they blindly kissed
The jaws of ferocious beasts in calm
And blissful unawareness, feeling not
The venom of the smiling vipers, and
Unknowingly digging their graves with
Their own fingers.
Khalil Gibran, from Secrets of the Heart

On the subject of those in power, Khalil Gibran nicely writes:

“Selfishness, my brother, is the cause of blind superiority, and superiority creates clanship, and clanship creates authority which leads to discord and subjugation.
The soul believes in the power of knowledge and justice over dark ignorance; it denies the authority that supplies the swords to defend and strengthen ignorance and oppression – that authority which destroyed Babylon and shook the foundation of Jerusalem and left Rome in ruins. It is that which made people call criminals great men; made writers respect their name; made historians relate the stories of their inhumanity in manner of praise.”
Khalil Gibran, from Tears and Laughter

Finally, I would like to end of with a quote from Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Karnak Café. I definitely recommend reading it. The story is narrated after the Egyptian revolution post June 1967 six day war. He attempts to address the following question: What kind of governement could and should now take over the reins of power? While bearing in mind the added concerns about in what way the new regime should use and/or react to the different social, political, and religious elements within society.

“In our country there are the religious types. Their interest is in seeing religion dominate every aspect of life −− philosophy, politics, morality, and economics. They are refusing to surrender or negotiate with the enemy. For them a peaceful solution is only agreeable if it achieves exactly the same results as an outright victory. […] “And then there are the Rightists of a particular stripe,” he continued. […] Their dream is to get rid of our current regime and return to a traditional form of democracy and liberal economic policy. […] They would be quite happy with a peaceful solution in spite of all the painful and humiliating concessions we would inevitably have to make. […] “Next the Communists −− and the Socialists are a subdivision of the same group. They’re interested in just one thing: ideology−− strengthening our ties with Russia. They believe that the national interest and progress are best served with ideology, even though the process may involve a very long period of waiting. […] I’ve emerged from the defeat, or let’s say from the past life, strongly believing in a set of principles from which I will never deviate as long as I am alive. So what are those principals? “Firstly, a total disavowal of autocracy and dictatorship. Secondly, a disavowal of any resort to force or violence. Thirdly, we have to rely on the principles of freedom, public opinion, and respect for our fellow human beings as values needed to foster and advance progress. With them at our disposal it can be achieved. Fourthly, we must learn to accept from Western civilization the value of science and the scientific method, and without any argument. Nothing else should be automatically accepted without a full discussion of our current realities. With that in mind, we should be prepared to get rid of all the fetters that tie us down, whether ancient or modern.”
Naguib Mahfouz, Karnak Café

True Democracy
“Democracy means accepting a certain national consensus, yet also being allowed to differ.” Elias Khoury, Gate of the Sun (Bab al-Shams)

About radiaj

I am a Research Scientist & Bioinformatician who specializes in Immunology and Cancer Biology. I routinely use R and other programing languages to explore genomic data of cancer cells to identify molecular changes and risk factors that contributes to cancer development.
This entry was posted in Mahmoud Darwish, Naguib Mahfouz, Poetry, Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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