Two weeks ago, I posted on my blog a statement by my son-in-law Peter Cole and his Yale colleague Feisal G. Mohamed, a Canadian-Egyptian member of the English faculty, about the Israel/Gaza War. The statement resonated with a lot of you – a measured cry of pain for all the victims of this nightmare. The reaction was similar at Yale and in the wider academic community. As a result, The Yale Review asked the two authors to reflect on the experience of composing the statement and looking back on it in the light of the ensuing developments in the war.
I had actually prepared a different posting for the week, but it pales beside this topic which has come to occupy so much space in our public discourse. So, I’m putting the smaller, more private on hold to make room for this more timely exchange. You’ll find here, in this order, Peter’s reflections, my note to him in response, Feisal’s article and some final words from me. Your comments and reactions are welcome. Unfortunately, this war and its aftermath is not going away any time soon.
You may not know from aircraft carriers, but you do know from poetry. It was so wise of you to center your piece on that knowledge. The quotes make up a powerful tapestry about the failure of death and destruction to produce any kind of positive result.
It’s hard now to call up any degree of sympathy for the trauma the Israelis have suffered at the hands of Hamas. It’s all buried under the rubble of Gaza. Yesterday we saw a scene that I’m sure is being repeated on college campuses all over the country. We took a walk on the UofC campus where the walkways are covered with chalked slogans: Zionism is Racism; body counts of the dead in Gaza; slogans so foul I have suppressed them. But the problem is that they’re all true in their way and I can’t stand against them simply by citing October 7th. It’s not about proportionality, but basic morality. It would be no less a crime if we killed ten innocent Gazans instead of 10,000.
Some students were manning a table near the chalked sidewalks. None of them was Palestinian. Just the usual mix of today’s diverse student bodies. We’ve lost all of them. They’re not open to hearing about the underlying complexity of the conflict, not willing to hear that they’re supporting a terrorist organization that cares as little about the citizens it’s supposed to be representing as their opponents. And maybe they shouldn’t be open to hearing any of that. Right now the moral rot out of which the war has emerged may be the only thing worth focusing on.
Thank you for this piece. Love, Marv
As I said earlier, in the time that has passed since the original statement, Peter has moved from his very temporary role of public spokesman on the political issues to his more familiar role as poet, using his powerful poetic sensibility to shine a light on the moral tragedy of the war as it has escalated. Feisal has chosen a different path, equally understandable, yoking his legal training to the moral outrage that was latent in the original statement, but which has become a cry from the heart as the death tolls have exploded.
I find both of their statements worthy of your attention.