SermonsIsrael

I want to have Noam Chomsky’s baby (Yes it’s a metaphor)

When I first started working in Hebron with Christian Peacemaker Teams, from the beginning, we networked with Israeli human rights and peace advocates. These Israelis took for granted that the reports of abuses we witnessed Israeli soldiers and settlers inflicting on the Palestinian residents in the Hebron area were accurate. They had witnessed similar abuses themselves. When I had returned from my first stint working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Haiti, most people assumed I was telling the truth about the abuses I saw paramilitary thugs committing in 1993-94 (after the first time the Haitian military overthrew Jean-Bertrand Aristide.)

indexI wasn’t prepared, then, for the accusations from Jewish and non-Jewish partisans of Israel in the U.S. telling me I could not possibly have witnessed what I had witnessed in Hebron. That was the crucial point at which Noam Chomsky came into my life.* I was talking to a Jewish friend in Hebron about these partisans making feel as though I were crazy for simply reporting what I was witnessing and he told me I needed to read what Chomsky wrote about Israel and Palestine. I did, and I was hooked. If you take a look at my annotated history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (to which I stopped adding in 2002 because of an eye condition that makes reading normal-size fonts too painful) you’ll see he’s heavily represented.

So that’s the primary gratitude Chomsky compels from me: he confirmed I wasn’t crazy. He made me feel like I could trust my eyes and ears, and that I was witnessing virulent racism on the streets of Hebron, even though, back in Rochester, New York and other places around the U.S. where I spoke, people told me I was mistaken, or that I needed to provide “balance.” (Once, when I was speaking at Chautauqua, during the Q&A, a person told me that if he had come from outer space and heard my presentation, he would have a very unbalanced idea of what was happening in Israel and Palestine. I said that if I knew I was going to be addressing space aliens, my presentation would have been very different, but I assumed people at Chautauqua were already familiar with what got reported in the New York Times, etc. Learning experience? Clever retorts are never a good idea during Q&A.)

I am also impressed by his graciousness. Every time I have written to him, he has always responded to my letters. When I have gotten back from trips to conflict zones I know he monitors and had illuminating conversations with people there, I have sent him letters about these experiences, because I know from reading interviews with him he values eyewitness accounts of situations that are not being reported in the news. I always add the tagline, “I know you always respond to your letters, but as a sign of my gratitude for all you have done for me, I would prefer that you not respond to this one.” He always writes back anyway. And Chomsky, in general, makes time in his extremely busy schedule for small organizations who are working for justice. Recently he did an interview with our CPT interim assistant director, Tim Nafziger and even though he is not religious, if he believes that religious organizations are putting out better information than the New York Times, as was happening in Central America in the 1970s and 80s he will cite the information from those organizations.

And then there was the time four of my colleagues were kidnapped in Iraq in 2005-06. Chomsky was among the first of a group of intellectuals to sign a petition calling for their release and during their captivity, he said that our work there—when we sent people with the Iraq Peace Teams to camp out at water treatment plants, hospitals, and other vital infrastructure so they wouldn’t be bombed during the invasion—gave him hope.

So that’s why I want to have Noam Chomsky’s baby. And no, my husband is not jealous. index His metaphorical love is NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

________

*Well, actually, we had met in Haiti. A friend had brought a copy of Deterring Democracy with him, and as all literature was in short supply, I was reading that, while my friend was reluctantly trudging through my Jane Austen. I had been involved with Latin American solidarity movements in college, so it wasn’t news to me that the United States was supporting fascist regimes in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. However, I was impressed at how coherently he laid it all out, with all the footnotes (oh, he made me a sucker for the footnotes), and I thought, “You know, if someone were just going to read one book, to see HOW the U.S. has prevented democratic regimes from gaining a foothold, this would be the one.”

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Help! My novel’s narrator is a sexist jerk!

If you have read my previous postings, you know that my novel, Shea, switches the gender roles in the biblical narrative about the prophet Hosea and his wife, Gomer the prostitute. Instead of having three children by other men, my main first person POV character, Islam Goldberg-Jones (Iz) has three increasingly heart-breaking affairs. (Actually, upon rereading, I realized that only the first child is by another man. The paternity of the other two isn’t specified. So I’m saying, let’s cut Gomer some slack, people, and assume they were Hosea’s, and let’s wag our finger at Hosea for giving his children names that probably got them teased on the playground.)

A google image search of "sexist jerk" got me Mad Men's Don Draper.  "Sexist creep" got me Rep. Louie Gohmert.

A google image search of “sexist jerk” got me Mad Men’s Don Draper. “Sexist creep” got me Rep. Louie Gohmert.


The novel never tunes into a jocular “boys will be boys” vibe. I have been on the receiving end of infidelity and it brought life as I knew it to a crashing halt. Literally decades passed before I felt stable in a relationship again. I knew from the beginning that Shea, the prophetic character in my novel, was not going to tolerate Iz’s behavior. She was going to be stronger than I had been when she responded to Iz’s infidelities, although the political circumstances of bringing down the fascist regime ruling the United States and the fact that she had adopted his daughter as her own child would get in the way of her writing him out of her life.

And yet…I kind of love Iz. Of course, I knew at the beginning he was going to undergo a transformation, and perform a major sacrifice that would redeem some of his skeeviness. That redemption, of course, is a major theme in Hosea: he said Israel could still turn away from its idol worship and save itself, just as Gomer chose to leave the man she ran off with and return with Hosea when he came to fetch her (As it happens Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire in 722, but never mind.)

The problem is, will people be willing to wait for the transformation to happen? The head of the first literary agency I sent a query for my current novel manuscript to, praised the query and asked me to send the manuscript to one of her underlings. The underling, after Iz had his second affair, decided she just couldn’t stomach him.

I’ve been following with interest commentary by agent Sarah LaPolla and writer Seanan McGuire on sexism in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genres (see esp. McGuire’s blogs on cover art and rape.) While my novel, Shea , is not hardcore Sci-fi, more Speculative, I had to set it in a dystopian future, because I needed a theocratic government to make it work (I’m a little afraid of Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale comparisons, actually. For my Christian Republic setting in the U.S. 2065-2087, think Atwood’s Republic of Gilead, but with empowered women like Michele Bachmann taking part in running things.) I work for a human rights organization, Christian Peacemaker Teams, that takes Undoing Oppressions seriously, and my colleague, Tim, who has been one of the greatest encouragers of my fiction writing, told me that he also finds Iz’s whoring around distressing, and wonders whether I am not promoting sexism by allowing Iz to do it for as long as he does.

On the other hand my very feminist friend in Jerusalem feels strongly that Iz needs to stay the way he is for his redemption to be meaningful at the end (of course, we dated the same guy for awhile…). My other seven readers are more or less fine with Iz and the pace of his transformation.

My writer friend, Sara Selznick has another suggestion. Between chapters, I have inserted little fictional nonfiction news items, e.g., this:

LCC HOMES REPORT HUNDREDS OF CHILDREN FINDING SALVATION

U.S. Christian News Service

January 15, 2053 YOL
Washington, DC-A recently released study by Christian sociologists shows that children placed in Let the Children Come (LCC) homes outperform their peers in all areas, including sports, academics and mental health. LCC children are also twice as likely to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior as the average American child.

LCC began three years ago as an initiative developed by the U.S. Department of Christian Affairs (DCA) to provide a safe haven for children suffering abuse from deviant parents—usually Muslims, atheists, sexual perverts and anti-U.S. terrorists.

While the parents spend time in rehabilitation, their children receive superior education, nutrition, and recreation. The ultimate goal of the LCC program is to reunite families and give adults the psychological and spiritual tools they need to raise healthy, patriotic, Christian children.

“Before I came to LCC,” fourteen-year-old Alice Christian (formerly Alia Tamimi) said at a press conference held to announce the release of the report, “my parents would beat me if I did not worship their false god. At LCC I finally felt safe and loved. I’ve made so many good friends in my home.” Smiling broadly, she concluded, “But the best friend I’ve made is Jesus.

Sara is suggesting I put in more of these, from the viewpoint of other people that know Iz, who is writing a jailhouse memoir as an old man, riddled with guilt about what a sexist jerk he was (although he doesn’t use those words.) She thinks that if I share other POVs that show what people found lovable about him, it might break up the long narrative of his philandering and insensitive fathering. Trouble is, the novel is already over 100,000 words. Since, as I reported earlier, Sara’s is over 200,000, she doesn’t think this presents an obstacle!

Thoughts?

Oh, and for Christian friends who might have been offended by the above news item, Shea, the prophetic figure in the novel is a devout Christian, but I believe, with her, that when you mix religion with government it pretty much messes up both.

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