Thursday, December 23, 2004

Of violins and violations 

A few weeks ago this picture of a violin violation of human rights at an Israeli Defence Force border checkpoint made its rounds of the world media:

We know that Wissam Tayyem, a 29-year old Palestinian from the West Bank was stopped at the checkpoint by Israeli soldiers and made to open his violin case, a reasonable precautions on the part of soldiers who probably grew up on American gangster movies.

After that point the stories diverge. According to the soldiers, Tayyem took out the violin and started playing of his own volition. Not so, according to the Palestinian, who says that one of the soldiers told him to "play a sad song" before he could pass into Israel.

We're unlikely to ever know which version of events is true. Depending on your position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict you're either likely to believe it's yet another case of a Palestinian playing a martyr to the court of world opinion, or another case of an Israeli occupier humiliating his Palestinian victim. In a region suffocating with hatred and drowning in blood this incident, if it happened, would strike one as a relatively minor and insignificant violation of human rights or, perhaps more accurately, human dignity. Yet, as the "Jerusalem Post" writes, it struck a raw nerve within Israel:
"The incident at the checkpoint was filmed by a Machsom Watch [Roadblock Watch] human rights volunteer. It triggered major criticism of the army and shock among Israelis who were reminded of stories of Jewish musicians forced to play for Nazis."
The "Israelis=Nazis" crowd, I'm sure, would have had a lot of fun with this story, though as I wrote not that long ago, the comparisons between the Holocaust and the "Palestinian genocide" are not only morally repugnant, they also fly in the face of facts and logic. The story of Wissam Tayyem, however, has a postscript:
"The story was read by Ofer Mendelovitch, an administrator at the Keshet Eilon Music Center in northern Israel, who decided to invite Mr. Tayyem to participate in the institute's master violin class. Mr. Mendelovitch got permission from the army for Mr. Tayyem to enter Israel and remain at Eilon, a collective kibbutz, for the three-day seminar.

"Mr. Mendelovitch was not put off when he learned that Mr. Tayyem had been playing the violin for only two months, although he has been playing guitar since age 15.

"The master class is for more experienced musicians. Almost 50 violinists, from ages 6 to 29, will participate, with their teachers. 'His level doesn't matter,' Mr. Mendelovitch said. 'We just want to give him a concert stage to play on instead of a roadblock'."
I mention all this not to pass judgments upon the actions of Wissam Tayyem, Israeli soldiers or Ofer Mendelovitch, but to make a general point that bears repeating over and over again: Western societies are not perfect, their citizens are not all angels, and there are always people capable of committing crimes and human rights violations. But by contrast to other, non-free or less-free societies around the world, our Western societies possess powerful self-correcting mechanisms, such as the democratic system of government with a vigorous political opposition, free debate and free media, independent judiciary, and constitutional checks and balances, which mean that such aberrations from the generally high standard we all aspire to live up to are quickly identified, isolated and punished and the wrongs redressed and compensated by the authorities, the citizens or both. This doesn't happen in every single case, and not necessarily as speedily and thoroughly as some would want, but it holds well enough as a general rule.

Abu Ghraibs happen occasionally, but the abuses - relatively minor compared to what happens in other parts of the world - are exposed are their perpetrators punished. Palestinian violinists are stopped at a checkpoint and made to play (of that's indeed what has happened), but then they are invited by the concerned citizenry in the spirit of good-will and reconciliation to share the stage with other musicians.

The self-loathing "blame America/the West" crowd does a huge disservice to the cause of human rights around the world by maintaining that abuses are systemic in our own societies because it diverts the attention from those parts of the globe where such abuses are truly endemic and it downplays the suffering of all those who have to live without the benefit of all the self-correcting mechanisms we in the West take for granted.

It's a moral vanity that's insulting to anyone with an ounce of moral sense, and barely comprehensible to the millions of oppressed and the suffering in dark corners of the world barely illuminated by the angry glow of the left's self-righteousness.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?