The “Othering” of the Arab World

So far, I’m particularly interested in Kushner’s treatment of the “other-ing” of the Arab world.

The Homebody has completely romanticized Afghanistan. When Edward Said wrote about Orientalism, he included an exotic portrayal of the Middle East as an example of such a literary phenomenon. But Kushner is sort of turning that idea on its head here — The Homebody’s idea of Afghanistan is stereotypical, and completely indifferent to reality in its exoticism. Other characters, though, present a more accurate depiction of the country. Quango even spouts a bunch of statistics about death and starvation, amidst which is his claim that Afghanistan is “not really a state at all, it’s a populated disaster” (51).

But what I’m sort of curious about is whether or not that sort of dialogue actually helps alleviate or further perpetuates the Western “othering” of the Middle East. I mean, as far as I can tell, The Homebody is dead because she was brutally murdered by a group of men for not wearing a burka in public, and for listening to Frank Sinatra. It’s a heinous and barbaric punishment for something that seems so very inconsequential.

Particularly in post-9/11 America, the prevailing idea of the Middle East seems to be one of a place of moral bankruptcy; of a people that are nearly sub-human. This mentality manifests itself in Western media’s representation (or perhaps more accurately, misrepresentation) of the Israel/Palestine conflict, which Kushner touches on in the play’s afterword. Kushner writes:

“I deplore suicide bombings and the enemies of the peace process in the Palestinian territories and in the Arab and Muslim world. I deplore equally the brutal and illegal tactics of the IDF in occupied territories, I deplore the occupation, the forced evacuations, the settlements, the refugee camps, the whole shameful history of the dreadful suffering of the Palestinian people” (146).

I have followed this conflict closely, and for a long time, mostly because I am so fascinated and disgusted by America’s role in the conflict and the media’s portrayal of it. As a people, Western society has turned a blind eye to the number of Arab deaths in Gaza and the West Bank. The American government, far from turning a blind eye, has been looking very closely at the death tolls of Arab civilians and, in its own special way, condoning them.
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Here are the Israeli and Palestinian death tolls since September, 2000. As the website states, “American news reports repeatedly describe Israeli military attacks against the Palestinian population as ‘retaliation.’ However, when one looks into the chronology of death in this conflict, the reality turns out to be quite different” (n. pag.).
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There is a common misconception in modern-day America that equates any sort of sympathy with the Palestinian population to anti-Semitism, or to support of terrorism. (Noam Chomsky is regularly accused of being a self-hating Jew, which is not only inaccurate but also entirely ridiculous.) Being anti-civilian death does not an anti-Semite make. I hate the thought of civilians dying on either side. But I think we have a responsibility as humans to speak out against the discrepancy in the apparent “values” attached to the lives on either side. To say that Israel’s actions against Palestinian civilians are any less deplorable than Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians is, in effect, to place a higher value on the lives of Jewish people than on the lives of Arab people. And I can’t help but wonder if perhaps Western society, and the American government, would be more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians (what should I even call them, when Palestine isn’t actually a state?) were they not Arab.
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I know, it sounds harsh. But I stand by it. Post-9/11 America seems to have “othered” the Arab world to an unprecedented degree. The United States continues to send an immense amount of aid to Israel, despite the IDF’s slaughter of Arab Palestinians. Israel has perpetrated acts of violence against the Palestinian people that qualify as acts of terrorism (if the 2008-09 bombings of the Gaza Strip don’t qualify as such, then I don’t know what does). And I get it, Hamas is technically a terrorist organization (although after winning a free and open democratic election, the party is now a legitimate government head) — but we’re not exactly funneling money into the hands of the Palestinian Authority.
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I would be hard-pressed to believe that if on both sides of this conflict were white, western-looking people, the US would have such staunch alignment with either side. The US government is in a position to insist on and facilitate peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but instead it continually aids in the unmitigated, indiscriminate slaughter of Arab civilians. But the US and the IDF have something in common —  a common enemy. Arabs, or the “them” in the “us vs. them” dichotomy that has taken such a strangle-hold on the collective American psyche in the wake of 9/11.
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Kushner’s commentary on the Israel/Palestine conflict is powerful and thought-provoking, and I must admit I was startled to find it tucked back there in the afterward. Rarely are such voices given much attention or credence in Western media, but I think Kushner’s point is an important one, and one that more people need to hear: our intensified “othering” of the Arab world since 9/11 has left us completely unsympathetic to the suffering of the Arab Palestinian population.
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If Americans Knew. “Israelis and Palestinians Killed in the Current Violence.” ifamericansknew.org. n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2012.

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Kushner, Tony. Homebody/Kabul. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2004. Print.

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