Defeating the geopolitical mindset

Through the Wall of Fire: Armenia-Iraq-Palestine - From Wrath to Reconciliation
Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Frankfurt/Main: edition fischer, 2009
Pp. 38

The parents of Muriel Mirak-Weissbach were both orphaned in the Armenian genocide of 1915. This set her on a path of discovering how to survive war and genocide, and go beyond to work for a better world where peace and social justice would preclude such atrocities. Her book is the culmination of insight gained from years of journalistic work and organising support for war victims.

The title, “Through the Wall of Fire”, refers to an episode in Dante’s “Divine Comedy”. Only by putting aside his fears and self-obsession, and reaching out to the other, can the pilgrim pass through the “Wall of Fire” to enter Paradise. It is Mirak-Weissbach’s belief that a similar process is required to solve the conflicts of Armenia, Iraq, Palestine and elsewhere. The fact that her own parents, along with thousands of Armenian children, were saved by ordinary Turkish citizens led her to reject the concept of collective guilt, and seek the real causes of war and genocide in “the geopolitical mind, a mode of thinking which disposes of peoples and nations as mere objects”, in its pursuit of wealth and power. (p. 15)

Mirak-Weissbach writes extremely well and her account of events leading up to the Armenian genocide is fascinating. She combines the machinations of the Great Powers on the eve of World War I, the rise of the Young Turks and their relations with some Zionist leaders, such as Vladimir Jabotinsky, with a focus on how these events impacted on ordinary people, especially children. She also focuses on children in the sections on Iraq and Palestine, for as she says: “It is only by grasping the deep psychological impact on the children that others may understand how prejudices, hatred, and the thirst for revenge can be passed on from generation to generation, until it may appear that no solution is in sight.” (pp. 9-10)
This vantage point seems relevant to the Armenian-Turkish conflict where the author sees hope for reconciliation due to the regional shift that occurred after Georgia’s 2008 move into South Ossetia, and Ankara’s subsequent initiative to encourage cooperation between Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey and Russia. “But this will require that both sides go through the Wall of Fire”, and “strive to overcome the bitterness, fears, and, yes, deeply engrained hatred, that the events of 1915 engendered”. (pp. 90-91)

Despite its desirability, Mirak-Weissbach’s concept of reconciliation seems less applicable in Iraq and Palestine where war and ethnic cleansing are not historical events but ongoing. For the Palestinians, it is not a question of hatred being passed on from generation to generation, but of daily siege and attacks that keep the conflict boiling, as the book describes very accurately.

Nonetheless, the sections on Iraq and Palestine are very informative. The author is merciless in exposing the US and Israeli governments’ false justifications for their genocidal policies. Particularly interesting is the account of how massive airlifts of humanitarian aid to Iraq were organised in the wake of the 1991 war, and how injured Iraqi children were sent to receive medical aid abroad. This was no small feat for the citizens’ movement initiated by the author that managed to overcome numerous restrictions imposed by the US, UK and UN sanctions regime, as well as a host of unexpected logistical problems. The author’s narration of the suffering of individual Iraqi families restores humanity to the statistics, while the Iraqi children sent abroad for medical treatment “turned out to be the most effective ambassadors for their nation”, charming hospital staff in Germany and America alike. (p. 144) Moreover, this is one of few books published in English that evaluates Iraqi officials according to their actual performance instead of dismissing them out-of-hand with stereotyped labels.

The strength of the section on Palestine lies in its economic analysis. According to Mirak-Weissman, the Oslo process failed because “it did not suit the tastes of powerful financial and political interests situated in the US, UK and Israel, who militantly opposed the birth of a sovereign Palestinian state with a thriving, advanced industrial economy”. She shows in detail how funding was engineered via the World Bank so as to make Palestinians “agree to work as slave labour in South African-style Bantustans”. (p. 219) In the ensuing situation, new outbreaks of violence were inevitable.

This is an outstanding book for the author’s ability to combine personal narrative with political analysis, to bring out previously unnoticed historical facts, and show the way forward to a better future.