Cosmopolitanism

A discussion elsewhere, provoked by the Israel–Gaza conflict, has moved me to recall one and then another article in Katrina vanden Heuvel, ed., The Nation, 1865-1990: Selections from the Independent Magazine of Politics and Culture (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1990). As I recall, I ordered this anthology, having recently started subscribing to The Nation. I found the best way to read the anthology was backwards, thus starting with what I knew best.

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Having now transcribed passages from the anthology, I record them here also.

Here is Emma Goldman, from “The Tragedy of the Political Exiles,” October 10, 1938:

The lot of political refugees, even prior to the war, was never free from stress and poverty. But they could at least find asylum in a number of countries. France, Belgium, Switzerland were open to them. Scandinavia and the Netherlands received them kindly. Even the United States was hospitable enough to admit some refugees. The real haven, however, was England, where political rebels from all despotic lands were made welcome.

The world carnage put an end to the golden era when a Bakunin and a Herzen, a Marx and a Kropotkin, a Malatesta and a Lenin, Vera Sazulich [sic], Louise Michel, and all the others could come and go without hindrance. In those days who cared about passports or visas? Who worried about one particular spot on earth? The whole world was one’s country. One place was as good as another where one could continue one’s work for the liberation of one’s autocratic native land. Not in their wildest dreams did it occur to these revolutionaries that the time might come when the world would be turned into a huge penitentiary, or that political conditions might become more despotic and inhuman than during the worst period of the Czars. The war for democracy and the advent of left and right dictatorships destroyed whatever freedom of movement political refugees had formerly enjoyed. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children have been turned into modern Ahasueruses, forced to roam the earth, admitted nowhere. If they are fortunate enough to find asylum, it is nearly always for a short period only; they are always exposed to annoyance and chicanery, and their lives made a veritable hell.

For a time expatriated Russians were given some protection by means of the Nansen, or League of Nations, passport. Most countries were supposed to recognize that scrap of paper, though few did, least of all when politically tainted individuals applied for admission. Still, the Nansen passport was better than nothing at all. Now this too has been abolished, and Russian refugees are entirely outside the law. Terrible as was the Czarist time, it was yet possible to bribe one’s way across frontiers. That is possible no longer, not because border police have suddenly become honest, but because every country is afraid of the bolshevik or the fascist germ and keeps the frontier hermetically sealed, even against those who hate every form of dictatorship.

The other passage is from five years before the 1929 Hebron Massacre, and a year and a half before a letter to the editor from one Adolf Hitler, complaining that The Nation had understated the severity of his incarceration: it was not six months in a palace prison, but thirteen months, and All privileges theretofore granted the prisoner were either abridged or wiped out—though as vanden Heuvel points out, in prison he was still able to write a good deal of Mein Kampf.

Here is Chaim Weizmann, “Zionism—Alive and Triumphant,” March 12, 1924:

But the idea that England should give Palestine to the Jews is particularly crude and Utopian when it is linked up with the suggestion of expropriation or removal of the Arabs. Fortunately no such suggestion has ever come from a responsible Zionist leader. For apart from its inherent impracticality and immorality, the idea again betrays a complete dissociation from the realities of the situation. England would not commit such an act even if the Jewish people were to demand it. And the Jewish people would not demand it because it realizes that, in laying the foundations of its old-new home, it must not tolerate even a suspicion of faith in those vicious imperialist principles which have been the source of half its woes.

If there is any significance at all in the rebuilding of a Jewish homeland, it must be made evident first in the attitude of the Jewish people toward the nations in the midst of which that homeland is being built. Friendliness with the Arabs is not simply a matter of convenience of expedience; it is a cardinal doctrine; it is an essential part of the Jewish outlook, an aspect of the spiritual dream which the Jewish homeland is to embody. If we reject the vicious shifts and tricks of what is inaccurately called Realpolitik it is not only because of its essential stupidity and ineffectiveness, but because our entire history has been a living protest against it. To solve one problem by the creation of two others is a method which is not unapproved in the world of practical men. Perhaps it pays in the case of fly-by-night nations, though even most of these live long enough to witness the undoing of their practical wisdom. In the case of the Jews, who are, as it were, a permanent institution, there is a reputation to be cherished and maintained. Nor is Jewish-Arab cooperation a new concept. The ideal already has an illustrious history. It is not so long ago—as history, and particularly Jewish history, goes—that Jews and Arabs worked hand in hand from Granada to Bagdad in founding and spreading one of the most brilliant civilizations: when the rest of Europe was still steeped in the dark slumber of the Middle Ages, Spain, Mesopotamia, and Northern Africa were brightly illumined by a great Arab Jewish culture. that culture has never disappeared; it survived, transmuted and disguised, in the Renaissance to which it contributed generously; its unacknowledged issue today forms part of our Western civilization.

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