Jerusalem Chalk Circle

Violence: Six Sideways ReflectionsJust to give you an idea of the greatness of Slavoj Žižek, his approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict is remarkably innovative and compassionate. He suggests that both parties should renounce political control of Jerusalem and turn it into an extra-state locale of religious freedom. Doing this would have many advantages. It would turn Jerusalem into the truly sacred site that it cannot be in the middle of a war. It also allows the Israelis and the Palestinians to see that both sides would be gaining.

It wouldn’t be easy. Žižek write, “Each of the two sides would have to realize that this renunciation of the ethnically ‘pure’ nation state is a liberation for themselves, not simply a sacrifice to be made for the other.” And that is the crux of the problem: self-identification. Every religious group thinks it is special and cut off from the others (the great “unwashed,” for example). Thus, I think that solution is great, but it does beg the question: if they were tolerant of dissent and open-minded about other religions, there would be no problem.

Still, Žižek shows he understands the situation:

Let’s go back to the story about the Caucasian chalk circle on which Brecht based one of his late plays. In ancient times, somewhere in the Caucasus, a biological mother and a stepmother appealed to a judge to decide to which one of them the child belonged. The judge drew a chalk circle on the ground, placed the baby in the middle and told the two women to take one arm each; the child would belong to the one who pulled him out of the circle first. When the real mother saw that the child was hurt by being pulled in opposite directions, she released her hold out of compassion. Of course, the judge gave the child to her, claiming that she displayed true maternal love. Along these lines, one could imagine a Jerusalem chalk circle. The one who truly loves Jerusalem would rather let it go than see it torn apart by strife. Of course, the supreme irony here is that this Brechtian anecdote is a variation on the judgement of King Solomon from the Old Testament, who, acknowledging there was no just way to resolve the maternal dilemma, proposed a two-state solution: the child should be cut in two, each mother getting half. The true mother, of course, gave up her claim to the child.

It is interesting how people are inclined to use their religious identities for political goals while ignoring what wisdom is to be found in their religions.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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