Jay Corwin: The Convergence of the Native American and Jewish Narratives in our Times

 

From Israzine Nov., 2014: "Zionism, An Indigenous Struggle: Aboriginal Americans and the Jewish State"

 

 

In considering the convergence of Jewish and Native American experiences, I may be uniquely suited to this task because my mother was Tlingit of the eagle moiety and the kaayaash keiditaan clan, and my father was Jewish.  His father was from Brzesko and his mother from Sniatyn in Galitzia.  I am acquainted with both cultures but was born and brought up in Lingít áani, Tlingit territory in Alaska, with my maternal family, and that is my home.  I have deep feelings for Jews and for Israel, as relatives and as part of my ancestry.  I am also an academic, specialized in Spanish and Latin American literature, and it is from a literary sense that I view these convergences of culture and experience.

 

The first commonalities that come to mind naturally are mass deportations, genocide, harassment and victimization of all types.  Native Americans have for some time been projected as exotic philosophical victims of their own timeless reality.  According to a student of mine at University of Cape Town, Native Americans perceive time differently from Europeans.  His professor of Anthropology had stated as much, quoting from some particular expert on the subject.  I mentioned that the Mayan calendar is more accurate than any other, which contradicted his professor’s idiotic visions of a people living in a time zone that doesn’t exist.  I mentioned that my mother and my grandmother didn’t have that peculiar perception of time, to which he answered that that they must have been westernised.   It took me a few minutes to understand how he could have been so lacking in scepticism and reason that he could look at someone with obvious Native American features but deny him his personal experience.  It was because he was misled by the romantic fantasies of a third-rate thinker with the title “professor.”  It is on this point that contemporary Jewish and Native American experiences converge wherein professors, journalists and politicians present a condescending pseudo-anthropological vision of both groups without questioning their presumed unspoken right to pontificate about every aspect of both peoples’ existence, including where they should and should not live.  I believe the real nature of this pathological desire to issue decrees stems from a simple religious narrative, the Christian depiction of Jesus, and the subsequent roles assigned by Europeans to themselves and others in our contemporary political reality.

 

Native Americans are seen by liberals as the perpetual victim, the sob story of the Americas, the gentle red-skinned people who met Columbus and the Mayflower Pilgrims, whose hospitality was recompensed with treachery and violence, the long dead heroes of Thanksgiving.  And then there is the grand Hollywood narrative of the Great Plains, replete with Italians in cheap wigs and bad makeup that evolved into the equally dreadful “Dances with Wolves,” that self-serving fantasy of “the Good White Man” who has come to save the people.  Transfer the characters to another place and time, and we have “Lawrence of Arabia,” the British equivalent.   Both are recycled Lord Jim fantasies wherein a god-like European finds himself revered by little brown people.  And both are reinventions of the Jesus story, European style, in which the blonde haired, blue eyed Jesus is killed by the people he has tried to save.

 

Martyrdom is evident in the story of Jesus, and it has crept into fiction, where it is a sin that condemns a novel or short story to second rate status.   It also constitutes a kind of generic formula in the media.  There are probably many reasons for that. I suspect that the main one is that media moguls and journalists understand that to make money their task is to manipulate the naïve, not to record history as it occurs. It is an infantile polarization of Good and Evil, a reductionist, condescending narrative technique that serves as a basis for mass media reports.   One may only be a hero, a victim or a villain in the comic book realm.  In popular media, victims and perpetrators are presented, and the journalist and activists assume the role of Superman.  And the media is well aware of it.  It feeds on the public’s longing for a dark, simplistic narrative strategy, inducing in the audience the cheap middle class thrill of righteous indignation.

 

In today’s narrative, Native Americans are placed on the margins, perhaps beyond victimhood.  Native Americans are not allowed an equal voice, and never equal footing.  I recall a conference in Spain on the indigenous mythology in Latin American fiction, my precise field of expertise.  A professor and keynote speaker, a European, had in the course of his presentation presented an analysis of an aboriginal work of literature, most of which hinged on the meaning of a Quechua word.  After he finished speaking, a Peruvian professor challenged his interpretation, explaining that the Quechua word, upon which it was based, had more than one meaning.  Another Peruvian concurred and the two began discussing the point in Quechua, their native language.  The keynote lecturer turned red and in an angry hostile tone rejected their correction, stating that he had worked with “those people” for over ten years, of course taking ownership of the word and the people.  He had probably not counted on the presence of native Quechua speakers in the audience, for how could such humble people be educated, let alone equal to other literary scholars such as himself?  I was disappointed to find at such a conference that not one of the keynote speakers was indigenous.  What I witnessed was likely a direct result of the European narrative, possibly because that speaker had been induced into this version of literary reality as a child through Karl May’s eponymous fantasy novels of a romanticized Navaho named Winnetou.

 

I am certain that the man who offered the correction was aware of my unique background.  Just after this exchange and without his having asked, I brought him a bottle of water from a vending machine.  That isn’t something a European would very likely do.  (For aboriginals, doing so is a sign of respect for someone who is older as well as an acknowledgement of his linguistic expertise and his rank as a distinguished professor and authority on his language (Quechua).  Simply nodding is not enough whereas bringing someone a drink in this context is a sign of servitude.)  This was also a subtle nod to him that I also acknowledged his victory over an under-prepared opponent.

 

That anecdote is also illustrative of the victim/perpetrator narrative.   Because, while the victim is pitied, he may never be equal, and for him to ask for or demand equality means the end of victimhood.  The speaker’s refusal to acknowledge the correction was not just an indication of his arrogance (after all, how could he be wrong, as he had studied and therefore owned those people) but a reminder to us aboriginals that we are only to be pitied.  In a sense, this is a repetition of the story of the crucifixion, the religious subtext to all contemporary European political thought.  In other words it is simply not possible for ethnic Europeans to remove themselves from their depiction of Jesus.  Victims are not allowed to play any other role, because then it spoils the entire fantasy, and moreover, he is not entitled to be Jewish: to skirt that minor problem he is relegated like Native Americans to the mythological realm of a non-existent time zone, ascending to Heaven and returning, and presented as one who is closer to God than others and therefore no longer human.   The image of the crucified Christ, a misunderstood philosophical being who lived in his own timelessness, is identical to the insulting mythologized cliché of Chief Joseph, who said “I will fight no more forever.”  The false ascription of a lyrical philosopher comes through people too thick to understand that the man was only saying “I will not fight any longer” in a language he hadn’t mastered.

 

Of course in this narrative and in European passion plays evil is incarnate in the Jews.  It is the basis of much small-minded European racism.   Europe could not have Jews in it, and now, since the establishment of the State of Israel, it cannot allow Jews the sense of equality that all people who live independently in their own land must have.  It sometimes seems as if the entire planet has been given carte blanche by Europeans to express its opinions about Israel. The subtext to those who live in the Diaspora is, “We will only like you and let you into our social circles, you bad Jews, if you condemn Israel.”  This, though, is reminiscent of the hollow promises of the Spanish Inquisition: you will only be equal if you accept our religion and condemn your people.  It is an empty promise, of course, but foolish people still fall for that promise, which is very close the Euro-American history of broken treaties with Native Americans.  After the Spanish Inquisition and over three hundred broken treaties one would expect us all to wake up and reject the tainted promises of European racists.

 

The condescending treatment of Jews, forged in Europe, was passed from European Socialists and the All-Embracing emancipated promises of Soviet Socialism to academics and journalists all over the world.  In place of Christianity there is a false, comic-book version of humanism that is broadcast via the mass media that seeks to convert its readers and viewers into the Cult of Righteous Indignation.

 

A good academic might rather question why others are trying to press a particular agenda and then consult histories.   My impression is that today’s journalists have no concept of world history, nor do left-leaning University professors.  Instead of reading canonical works they, like Soviet socialists, have created new versions of history, and cite from the babbling brook of postmodern-speak in, like the works of professors who oddly have no formal training in history.  Citing them, the academic left adorn themselves with the socialist Rosary in the face of the vampire Zionist: “How can you say we are anti-Semitic when the people we are quoting are Jews?”  Similarly, the Crow were used by Europeans who knew they would gladly help defeat their enemy, the Sioux.  These tacticians understand that Jews also have their philosophical divisions and employ the likes of Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler to cite as righteous Jews.   And their new faith of Righteous Indignation allows them a platform to unleash ethnic hatred, as long as it masquerades as criticism of Israel.  I have noticed that the word “Zionist” is used by cult members as a curse and an insult.

 

In North America, anti-Israel demonstrations are all the more absurd.  To hear people scream things such as, “Get off their land!” makes me wonder how these people could not be aware of whose land “they” are on.  Has post-modern education erased pre-contact American history? A prime example of this sort of blind hypocrisy can be found in the drama of Rachel Corrie, the American anti-Israel activist who fell under an IDF bulldozer on March 16, 2003. Rachel Corrie lived in Olympia, Washington and attended Evergreen College.  Her professors had obviously encouraged her misconceptions and half-cooked visions of Righteous Indignation and social justice, revolving around a notion of occupation and stolen land.  Some of them have publicly claimed she was murdered by Israel.   In other words the Jesus narrative is their way of understanding the zoned-out girl whose friends had time to snap photographs of her falling under a heap of earth as a bulldozer ploughed over her, but didn’t have time to pull her to safety.  Without the crucifixion there is no passion play, no climax to the narrative, and no means of blaming Jews for the murder of a Holy Martyr.    The best analogy I have read compares Corrie with Mary McGregor, the dim-witted school girl in Muriel Sparks’ novel The Prime of Miss Jean Brody, who is brainwashed by her teacher and dies volunteering in the Spanish Civil War, for the wrong side. 

 

I see Rachel Corrie, her professors and allies as hypocrites of the greatest magnitude, as Olympia, Washington was ceded by treaties backed by false promises and lies.  In short, the Coastal Salish were defrauded of their land in the 1850s.  On that land sits the Corrie family and Evergreen State College where Rachel Corrie was a student.    As far as I am aware, no one has yet made this point.  While screaming about how Israel mistreats Gazans, Corrie’s mere presence on requisitioned (stolen) Coastal Salish land invalidates any claims to martyrdom that her family, political cohort or Arab Nationalists may proclaim.

 

I often suspect that such people understand fully that they are guilty of land theft, or at the very least know they are benefiting from bartering in stolen property.  To attenuate their guilt they divert their attention and the attention of others to a mythological version of Gaza. It is much easier to live in a comic book fantasy than to reconcile oneself to the most difficult questions of justice in the present. For me, the Rachel Corrie story represents the convergence of the Native American and Jewish narratives in our times.  It is the point at which European myth-making has reached its climax and implodes under the weight of its own stupidity.  It is a story of media generated heroes, villains, and victims, which to any thinking person should recognize as hollow and transparently stale as a Hallmark card.

 

Much of academia is perverted by left-leaning social activism whose proponents have been busy rewriting history or reinterpreting it according to a Soviet-style party line.  It calls to mind the anger I felt when reading Tzvetan Todorov’s Conquest of America, which alludes to European cultural superiority during the fall of Tenochtitlán by conveniently ignoring the fact that Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City) was not conquered, as is claimed, but was abandoned by its population who fled a horrific plague, probably smallpox, that ran rampant and killed people in droves.  It was likely carried by one of Cortes’ co-conspirators.  It was an accident of nature and not a victory of superior technology or martial tactics that allowed history to unfold as it has, and to claim otherwise is simply a lie.

 

The Leftist Academic narrative which serves as the intellectual force behind BDS is trapped in an infantile phase of development.  Leftist academics pretend to reject Christianity while stuck in its mythological mind set, and its need for Jewish villains only reassures us that they are Christians without God, who maintain their form while rejecting the spiritual content and replacing it with a false humanism (though maintaining an overtly Calvinist brand of sanctimonious grandstanding).  Replace “Jesus” with “Palestine” and voila, the new religion! I would suggest that the real centre of academic leftism is its propensity for dispensing pity to the victims it creates, for without those victims there can be no object for their pity and no feeling of superiority issues as a by-product of acts of Righteous Indignation, like the bad aftertaste of an artificial sweetener.

 

I would contend that Native Americans and Jews have been victimized in the same terms by Europeans who are unable to extract themselves from the perversion of their desire to be good human beings.  This desire has been manipulated by the media, by the socialist inheritors of Soviet anti-Israel propaganda and by Arab nationalists, who along with the Soviets invented a false analogy to Native Americans, based on a desire to dominate Jews rather than coexist.   In these terms our peoples are inextricably bound until we are able to abate the mythologies that fuel the false Righteous Indignation that impedes us all from progress in the modern world.

 

Born in Wrangell, Alaska, Jay Corwin has a doctorate in Spanish and Latin American literature from the Florida State University and is author of many pieces of criticism of Latin-American fiction. He is currently head of the Spanish programme at the University of Cape Town.