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The “Settlements” Obsession

Posted on November 29 2010 10:00 am
Phyllis Chesler is an Emerita Professor of Psychology and Women's Studies at City University of New York. For extended biography visit The Phyllis Chesler Organization.

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I recently spoke at length about Islamic gender and religious apartheid in the Arab and non-Arab Muslim world. This was, perhaps, the first time that anyone had ever focused on this subject at this distinguished Ivy League university.

I described both the level of poverty and illiteracy in the Arab and Muslim world and the absence of a free press, independent judiciary, human rights, and of the increasingly savage persecution of women, infidels, dissidents and homosexuals; about the prisons teeming with thousands of Muslim political prisoners who had been kidnapped and were now being tortured for “thought crimes.”

I described a culture in which women were arrested, whipped, gang-raped, and then either hung or stoned to death for alleging rape or for daring to leave dangerously abusive husbands; a culture that has spawned death-eating terrorists who have exposed Muslim and Arab civilians to permanent, bloody danger; and about how these cunning, brazen jihadists have now expanded their global reach and unleashed their bombs and suicide killers against the entire world.

And then I committed a serious “thought crime” of my own.

I argued that, in effect, the demonization of Israel by the media, by governments, international bodies, human rights organizations, and university professors allowed the world to self-righteously bypass, minimize, avoid, utterly disappear Muslim-on-Muslim and Muslim-on-infidel tyranny and torture. Scapegoating Israel is what focuses attention away from the larger suffering in the Middle East and in the Muslim world in general.

And then a young, well-spoken, earnest, curly-headed college student asked this question: “You are talking about diverting attention away from the real issues, right? But, if we focus on the absence of freedom or the absence of women’s rights in the Middle East won’t that divert our attention away from the Settlement issue?”

For a moment, even I was startled. This may have been the first time this student had ever heard my point of view and yet he immediately subjected it to his ruling obsession, his guiding paradigm. To him, and to so many others like him, when it comes to the Middle East there is no greater issue than that of the “settlements.”

And so I told him that whatever he or I think about “settlements” or “communities” that what happens in Israel concerning this matter does not affect the entire world and is not coming America’s way in the form of jihad. The settlement of the “settlement” issue will not open a single jail cell in Egypt, Yemen, Iran, or the disputed Palestinian…territories—dare I say the Palestinian “settlements”?

He was not moved. He had come to ask—or was honestly driven to ask—this single question. His young mind was not open to a different perspective, not even for an hour. Rather, whatever he heard had to be immediately subjected to how it might affect the issue of the Israeli “settlements.”

Yes, the young man also looked Jewish.

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