We Require More Than Just Respect

Response to: Respect Requires Real Understanding

Opinion by Christian Cullen, Staff Writer

Over the past few weeks, the world has seen a bounty of opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Countless takes, informed or otherwise, have been made on the topic, and it feels like every other Instagram story I see is an infographic about the situation in Gaza and Israel. Problematic issues with the compression of massively nuanced information into Instagram stories notwithstanding, I feel it is important to be mindful of how we are voicing our opinions and the implications we implicitly assert within them. 

The general point of the article “Respect Requires Real Understanding” is innocuous enough: America must work to heal its political divides on the basis of respect and a mutual understanding with each other. However, the process towards this faulty conclusion is somewhat problematic. The impetus for this discussion is the current events unfolding in the Gaza Strip. This conclusion brings about two issues. 

Firstly, the need to contextualize world events in an American lens instead of separating the conflict into its own light speaks to Western prioritization. Secondly, the conflict itself is nowhere close to the events unfolding in America today.

There is a tendency within the West to take our biases to an extreme point when discussing world events. This tends to create an implicit superiority complex that admittedly many of us — myself included — may not notice. The line “I appreciate living in a country where speech and assembly are protected in the country’s Constitution” from the article distracts from the conflict itself and the necessary discussions about them. 

We consistently take world events and compare them to America, as the author does. The Troubles, the Yugoslav Wars, the Rwandan Genocide and the Serbian-Austro-Hungarian conflicts are not just mere divides, but rather the endpoints of centuries of nationalism and racism, beliefs in superiority and oppression. They should not be used as examples or correlates of the American political scene because to do so is to equivocate them. They each deserve their own context of discussion without the Western influences or need to Americanize the problem. We must respect the boundaries of a conflict and strive to understand the deep roots behind them before we rush to compare it to our own situation. 

The author of the previous article takes the current conflict out of its own deserving context. The dynamics of the region are not merely what happens “when division is allowed to run rampant,” but instead the culmination of centuries of political, social, economic and religious turmoil. There is a stark divide between the degradation of American political discourse and the conflict between Israel and Palestine. There is a difference between the difficulty in reaching across the political aisle and the oppression people in Gaza have experienced. There is a difference between the performative actions of congresspeople to rile up their base and the reality that Israelis deal with everyday fears about terror attacks. These two situations are not in the same ballpark of discussion. Division does not make a comparison. Israel and Palestine are not treating each other as “inconveniences,” but both sides believe they are locked in a war of survival. The prior peace that had been achieved in Palestine did not erode because people lost the ability to have rational political discussions. 

There is also the matter of the article’s conclusion. The author asserts that the path to political peace for America is upon the road of “challeng(ing) viewpoints” and that we must not let “the disagreement in opinion or ideology… divide or separate our society into an us versus them.” This line of reasoning works when you are discussing matters of things like trade or tax policy. However, that’s not the case that America is dealing with. The rise of right-wing authoritarianism in elements of the American political system is one of the major causes of the rusting of the American political machine. 

You cannot try to find a common ground with a political foe that may not even assert your right to exist, in the case of transgender people in their fights against many state legislatures. You cannot argue your way out of a discussion with an authoritarian. We can strive for idealistic values of respect and understanding; they have their place in a functioning society. However, limitless tolerance breeds a ground for intolerance, against which we must be vigilant. 

History is rife with examples of descents into totalitarianism due to a lack of forceful response used against those wishing to subjugate and bring American democracy to its knees.