First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Two Modest Proposals
Here's the fundamental problem in relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
The Arab Muslims believe that the state of Israel has no right to exist.
Never mind that when the U.N. partitioned the British protectorate of Palestine, Jews formed a majority in the portion called "Israel."
The Muslims say Palestine, as a whole, had a Muslim majority, and to divide it artificially in order to create a section with a Jewish majority was an illegal act.
Never mind that "Palestine" did not exist as a political entity until the British empire created it at the end of World War I. Never mind that the "Palestinians" thought of themselves as Syrians. Once the British created a political division called "Palestine" with a Muslim majority, it could never be subdivided in order to create a smaller state with a non-Muslim majority.
All right. Let's accept that principle for a moment. Let's pretend that these ideas really are legitimate.
Let's apply it all over the world.
Let's undo all the subdivisions of units since World War II, provided that they meet the same conditions as Israel's creation:
1. Both the larger entity and the subdivision were created by European powers.
2. The subdivision was designed so that a religious community that formed a persecuted minority within the larger entity would constitute a majority in the new, smaller state.
3. The resulting division caused many who lived on the wrong side of the border to flee or be expelled from their homes.
Is everybody agreed?
By these principles, Israel would certainly have to cease to exist as a state, and all those Jews living there would lose their right to govern themselves. Instead, they would have to be governed by the Muslim majority in a larger Palestinian state.
That is, those who weren't massacred or driven out. What do you think, would there be dozens of Jews left alive in Palestine, or less than a dozen?
But there's a funny thing. If those principles were evenly applied, Israel isn't the only nation that would cease to exist.
Pakistan and Bangladesh would also have to be folded back into India, with the boundaries India had under British rule. All those millions and millions of Muslims in Pakistan and Bangladesh would have to live under the rule of the Hindu majority.
Oh, yes, we'd have to put Yugoslavia back together again. Because the state of Croatia, with its Catholic majority, and the state of Bosnia, with its Muslim majority, should once again be under the tender rule of the Orthodox Serbs.
We know how unkindly Serbs have dealt with Bosnians and Croatians in the past, and how lovely relations between Hindus and Muslims have been in India.
But what's sauce for the Israeli goose is sauce for the Bosnian and Pakistani ganders. The principle that the Muslims insist on concerning Israel must be applied everywhere.
So let's turn the question of Israel over to the vote of the Pakistanis and Bosnians. They are Muslims, so nobody could claim they were pro-Israeli westerners.
Let's let them decide whether this principle should become international law.
If Pakistan votes to rejoin India, to be ruled by a Hindu majority, and Bosnia votes to rejoin Yugoslavia, to be ruled by an Orthodox Serbian majority, then we would have no choice but to dissolve the state of Israel and do our best to try to take in the millions of Jewish refugees ... if we could get that many out before Hamas and Islamic Jihad could get their program of genocide fully underway.
But if Pakistan decides that those borders formed to create a smaller subdivision of India where Muslims have the majority are legitimate after all, or if Bosnia decides that the tiny rump state left to it these days is still better than being part of Yugoslavia again, well ...
We'd have to let Israel continue to exist, too, wouldn't we?
Unfortunately, Arab Muslims don't have any commitment to consistency. There are no principles involved here. Israel's existence is exactly as legitimate as the existence of Pakistan and considerably more legitimate than the existence of Bosnia.
As long as I'm offering modest proposals to solve controversies, let me take on a domestic one as well.
I'm talking about "reparations for slavery."
This is the very recent idea that the descendants of black slaves should be paid money from America's taxpayers to compensate them for the slavery their ancestors endured.
Never mind the people who say we shouldn't use race alone as a criterion, and recipients would have to do the genealogy to prove they had an enslaved ancestor.
Ignore the proposal that any American black whose black ancestors owned slaves should be disqualified.
Forget the protest that most white Americans are descendants of people who never owned slaves or didn't come to America until slavery had been abolished.
These are quibbles designed to cheat as many blacks as possible out of what they're entitled to. There aren't enough genealogists to sort it all out.
Instead, let's accept the general principle that it is legitimate to use tax money to compensate members of one race because their ancestors suffered greatly in the service of another race.
A flat fee would be paid to each and every black American, drawn from taxes paid by all white people.
But wait ... this general principle would have another set of compensations.
Because, you see, about 204,000 Americans died in combat in the Civil War, a war which, despite claims to the contrary, was fought solely over the issue of slavery. (The claim that it was about "states' rights" is specious -- the only "state's right" that led to the war was the right to own slaves.)
(And don't bother writing in that it was also about the "state's right" to secede from the union. The reason states seceded was out of fear that, with Lincoln as president, their right to own slaves was in danger. No slavery, no war.)
Now, 94,000 of those battle deaths were Confederate soldiers, who were fighting to continue the practice of slavery.
But that leaves 110,000 Union dead. Many were draftees. Many did not want to fight to free slaves. Many were racists who detested all blacks. But they fought and died in the cause of freeing blacks from slavery all the same.
We can't compensate the descendants of those who died without children. They didn't have any. But their families were disrupted and grieved.
There were thousands of women who went husbandless because the man they would have married was killed in the war to free slaves.
And many of the dead did have children, who grew up fatherless.
It would be hard to measure the economic loss in the north caused by the failure of so many men to return and live out their most productive years.
There is no compensation for slavery. Nor is there any adequate compensation for the years of segregation, persecution, lynchings, and constant humiliation suffered by American blacks.
To try to put a monetary price on it is ludicrous. It cheapens the dignity of every black who lived through that oppression.
But those 110,000 Northern dead can never be brought back, either. Their blood bought the freedom of the black slaves of the South. And the blood of 94,000 dead Confederates should surely be counted as a bitter payment for the sin of slavery.
After the price these men paid in battle, are their descendants going to be taxed to pay for slavery again?
Let's just pretend that a hundred billion dollars was paid by white Americans to black Americans in compensation for slavery. And then let's pretend that a hundred billion dollars was paid by black Americans to white Americans in compensation for those who died or were crippled in the struggle to end the slavery of blacks.
And then let's get back to searching for real solutions to the racial problems that plague our nation.
Copyright © 2002 by Orson Scott Card.
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