Dr. Ramzy Baroud
How are you? How has the newest book tour been? How many countries have you visited to talk on Palestine? Where are you off to next?
I am happy with the way ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ has been received. It is clear that there are many who appreciate the centrality of the Palestinian story to the overall narrative. I am glad that the work and time invested in the book is paying off. It was a group effort which we hope to build upon in the near future.
So far, I visited 8 countries and still have South Africa and other US states, including Hawaii to cover. Once other language editions of the book are published, I will have to tour again, but next year.
When and why did you decide to dedicate your education and career to Palestine?
I was born and raised in a refugee camp in Gaza. It was there that I experienced a level of human misery that I have never witnessed anywhere else. I have visited nearly 40 countries, including many poor or war-stricken regions since then. The nature, severity and consistency in Palestinian suffering, and the unfairness towards the Palestinian people is appallingly unique. It is as if nothing changes, ever, except in the degree of misery. Somehow it manages to worsen.
Palestinians are kind and generous. They refuse to internalize a victimhood complex. They are driven by hope and faith. In some way, their tragedy resembles the zenith of colonialism, imperialism, and the moral and legal decay of the international system - a world order led by morally-bankrupt US government and self-serving western governments. Palestinian resistance exemplifies the last bastion of true popular resistance, in its most true, awe-inspiring form.
The so-called ‘conflict’ there is driven by misconceptions, misinformation and willful ignorance. There is much history that needs to be rewritten, new analysis that must be offered and a whole new discourse that should be articulated. To truly understand what is underway in Palestine, is to truly understand the nature of power and to appreciate the Great Game that continues to wreak havoc in the Middle East and beyond that strategic, rich and troubled region. I would go even further to suggest that Palestine is the ideal place to understand, and defeat imperialism.
I really think structures for world-wide peace are being built quicker than ever before. The increasing individual convenience of mass-communication and world trade contribute most for this, I think. Also, I think the chickens are coming home to roost for a lot of narrow-minded, large-scaled public policies and institutions. Armed with all this information and capability, it seems to me that it's becoming a lot easier for people to separate the wheat from the chaff - and are then able to choose good over evil more effectively. Would you agree? Do you have any thoughts on this?
Even if facts are presented with irrefutable evidence, it is not always easy for people to simply choose to separate good from evil, wheat from the chaff on their own. This becomes particularly complicated in issues in which collective understanding have been hammered thoroughly through years of unrelenting media coverage, movies and television programing. Examples range from the constant infusion of so-called ‘Palestinian terror’ and ‘Israeli democracy’ type discourses. Despite its horrific record of wars and military interventions, the US has painted itself successfully to its own people as a source of global stability, a fighter of terrorism and a defender of democracy. Most Americans, even those who decry Trump’s policies actually understand the world based on this distorted view.
A revealing article in the New Yorker (Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds. Feb 27, 2017 Issue) uses science to help us understand why obvious facts rarely alter our thinking. “Thousands of subsequent experiments have confirmed that reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational,” it relays. How we come to be this way ranges, according to research from the ‘confirmation bias – the fact that we agree with views, however erroneous that supports our pre-existing beliefs - to an evolved trait that we inherited from our ancestors over the course of history.
But I think there is more to it. Many Americans are invested in the idea of Israel’s infallibility for reasons that are bigger than Israel itself. There are entire political, religious and social discourse that feeds on the idea that Israel is the biblical land of the Jewish people, that Israel is doing the work of God and that the US is ordained to ensure its survival by any means necessary. I am not just talking about evangelicals here. It is a belief that is embedded deep in the heart of the system and embraced, however unconsciously by millions of people who might not wish to be classified as religious fundamentalists.
Many of the people I have met throughout the years speak of altering their views on Palestine and Israel as if a revelation, a spiritual journey even. That realization changes them in many ways that goes beyond politics and ideology.
Other people refuse to change their views because they fear for their class and social position in society. It takes a particularly courageous group of people, intellectual pioneers, to champion and lead a movement of change. Still, it takes years for a societal critical mass to be achieved and there are no guarantees. But what other option do we have? To be intellectually-stunted and morally petrified? Where is the virtue in that? Is that truly a life worth living? I believe that standing up for what is right, for what is moral, opposing wars, racism, apartheid is a moral calling for any society that refuses to degenerate into morally bankruptcy and fascism.
The access to new platforms, digital media and such is a huge opportunity to reach out and to engage with people, but we must connect with people at a higher level than simply proving them wrong. We have to relate to them as human beings first who are collectively invested in a better world for all. This was the main reason of why I devote much of my time and research to the study of ‘people’s history’. I found it effective and rewarding in creating awareness based on facts, but also understanding common human struggles and experiences. True, emotions can be manipulated but can also be used wisely to espouse deeper understanding of ourselves and brethren the world over.
Do you have any advice for young, amateur journalists?
Journalism is both a craft and a calling. Both must go together. To be a ‘good journalist’, one must master and constantly sharpen certain tools (research, writing and re-writing), but should also be driven by a sense of mission: be daring, ask tough questions, take chances and always stay humble. Simply because one has access to a publishing platform doesn’t give one a greater or exclusive access to knowledge. Here are some of the questions that should always be asked before submitting a story to the editor:
* Does the story focus on the elites and ignore ordinary people? It shouldn’t.
* Is there a woman’s voice in this story? If not, why not?
* Does the story offer something new and unique? If not, why should it be written in the first place?
* Is the message conveyed in the article relatable to a wider audience? Often times, it should be.