Monday, January 05, 2009

From the East to the Middle East

In looking over the offerings on television tonight, I decided to watch the first two hours of a six hour presentation on the origins and the history of India. It is not a new subject for me; I came to the study of the subcontinent first as a major part of the World War II theater "East of Suez." A more in-depth appreciation had to wait a few more years until I studied the religions of India -- Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism -- and by extension, the cultures of India.

As I watched the first 90 minutes of the program, which carried the story up to the death of the Buddha circa 483 BCE, two points came to mind. First, the subcontinent had powerful and populous states based on the indigenous cultures and belief systems of the subcontinent. Second, virtually every exogenous culture -- from the Aryans whose origins are lost in the mists of unrecorded time to the 20th century British Empire -- that entered India to conquor and rule it inevitably lost its own identity in the vastness of the subcontinent.

India, in a phrase, is constantly evolving. It is always in flux, never static, never defined because it is never done.

And then it occurred to me that the very absence of this ability to remain flexible, to not become "done," lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides have come to define themselves rigidly in a zero-sum contest on one issue to the exclusion of all else: the land. To lose this is to lose their identity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some years ago at meeting we were talking about this ancient conflict and someone quoted an acquaintance of his who calls that land the Israelis' Golden Calf. The acquaintance is Jewish.

When--if?--both sides' extremists can quit worshiping the land, perhaps they can see each other as the human beings who inhabit it. I wish I knew how to hasten that day.

Claudia Wilson in Fort Worth TX

7:29 PM  

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