Institute of Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: So break that down for me, what does that mean, cognitive blindness?
A: I just don't see something. Well if you say, Dennis you are an Israeli Jew and I am Palestinian don't you see that after 50 years of occupying my people, coming in, invading us who were occupied, attacking people in the market place with heavy weapons provided by the US. Don't you think that somebody might get angry? We should be angry we have been disposed, displaced, we are no longer in our homes, and because Israel is the creation of Europe. The dominant Jewish group in power is European Jewish, Ashkenazi from Poland from Russia, etc. You know invading the Middle East, that's ok you are coming back to where the Jews lived in great abundance 3,000 years ago. In the process you are displacing us and it is worse now, now you are doing it with the settlers in the place where we are supposed to be living under your occupation. Of course we are going to be frustrated. The Jewish person says, but you are Arab. You are Arab and the Israelis has to worry we are the minority in the region.
It is like the Protestants in Northern Ireland talking to the Catholics. We are the minority because you have got the Catholics in the South. The 26 counties of Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland has only 6 counties. From the Protestant point of view they are the minority and they give it to the Catholics in Northern Ireland, they have double minoritiness. Israeli Jews feel the same way. Based upon the Holocaust and that tremendous sense of historical outrage they don't see that they are doing the same thing to the Palestinians that has been done to them and that the Palestinians are not just normal Arabs who can go anywhere. If they were then there wouldn't be 4.5 million Palestinians living in refugees camps in other Arab countries. They would have been integrated.
Other Arabs don't like Palestinians. There is no homogenous Arab. They are very tribal. We even hear about Saddam Hussein from Tikrit, the city where he is from, it is very tribally based. You get these words in Arabic that refer to his tribe, his clan, we don't get that here. We are all American. You are either goodies or badies, democrats or commies, Catholic or Jewish. There are some subtle nuance differences between people amongst Arabs. The Israeli-Jews don't see that even within Israel you have Jews from 80+ countries, you have black Jews, Oriental Jews, Arab Jews. There is such a thing as a person who is both Arabic and Jewish. What is being Arab? You are from the Arab peninsula. If you look at the creation of Islam, there were Arab Jews fighting along side with Mohammad against other Arabs many of who converted to Islam. All those Jews in Iraq, in Egypt, in N Africa, they are Arab Jews whose first language is Arab. When you eat their Jewish food it is not rye bread and knishes, it is pita, and you know it is wonderful. It is not accident that being kosher is the same as hillel. Hillel is the Muslim version of kosher. I remember vividly living in London years ago in a very good friend/ student of mine was from Egypt and he used to go to a kosher butcher to buy his Muslim stuff whose dietary laws were the exact same.
Q: So cognitive blindness?
A: You just lock a concept that would enable you to see something as somebody else sees it, like occupation. I don't see that they are occupied. I don't see that they are dispossessed. I don't see that they have any right to this land because they are Arabs and can go some place else.
Q: You have two parties that are blind to
A: each other.
Q: to each other, to the injustices that they are imposing on each other?
A: I have actually talked to some Arabs and Palestinians, and when you mention the Holocaust to them it means nothing to them. So that would be a starter for many Jewish people. I mean, there are actually some Arabs, Palestinians, whether they are Christian or other wise who would sound disrespectful with regard to the Holocaust. It is almost as if it was contrived by Jews as part of the global Jewish conspiracy. Many Arabs talk about the Jewish global control of the media, etc. As you hear in anti-Semitic literature and read. Once I was approached by a Muslim woman in Malaysia, and she began saying, "Before the Jewish invasion of the middle east ." I said, "the Jewish invasion?" "Well, yes, that is how Israel came about." This country was created by the Civil War, we know that, from 1861-1865. If you go to Mississippi it is not called the Civil War, it is called the War of Northern Aggression. Up here it is equal, there was a war between the states, the North and South. Down there the North attacked the South. The North pulverized the South. The North was the source of the carpet-baggers that still keeps that south in captivity to this day, etc, etc. So London, Derry Derry ? In N Ireland, which is it? It could get you killed with how you answer that question.
We lack a concept in terms of which we can offer sense of our opposition to the adversary. Not only can we not make sense to do them but we infuriate them with our, what I want to call epistemological innocence, which is a euphemism for ignorance. One of the reasons we preach on cultural sensitivity is to cut down on our epistemological innocence for conceptual, historical ignorance. We don't know how to talk to people who are outraged at us. We don't know what to say without making it worse. That is where a third party is supposed to be skilled and that is why we have to know about ourselves before we can walk in to that mine field and keep people from setting off the mine fields. So cognitive blindness is that people don't see something, not because they're stupid, not because they're outraged but because they lack a corresponding concept that would enable them to see the reality of occupation, the reality of cultural violence, the reality of structural violence, the reality of marginalization.
There are people in this country who are European American who do not see those terms with regard to affirmative action, as playing a role in why affirmative action is necessary. Maybe the way it has been implemented can be reviewed and improved upon, but the concept itself that people who have been structurally disenfranchised for 300 years should finally have a break to get through the door. They don't see that. They say, well, my people came here and had to bring themselves up by the boot straps. Why can't these other people do this? Why do they have to have Spanish speaking, bi-lingual education? I would say that was the language here before the Anglo Saxon Europeans came, the Spanish Europeans came before the English and many of these people are from Spanish speaking America were already in Colorado, California, New Mexico, that's is why we should let them speak their language. It should be co-equal. Like in Canada. It is not like Italians. The Italians weren't here the way these folks were, or the Irish or the Germans. A lot of people don't see that, they say why do we have all of the special education? Why do we have all of these special programs? People develop a dependency relationship, like the welfare queen. My people didn't access to this. They are not stupid. They are a little outraged. They are Republicans, and they don't want to be Democrats because Democrats are the ones that do this. That is an example of cognitive blindness, like the death penalty. People say that you have to kill people who kill people.
I can understand the outrage. Have you looked at the evidence; have you looked at the research? Are you aware of the fact that we could not become a member of the Council of Europe because we are the only Western state that still has capital punishment? The Europeans have gotten rid of it and they have lower levels of crime then we do. That should be a profound source of dissonance because many people here think that Europe has found a nice balance between a good life and the need for discipline.