Jordan Times
1 February 2010

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. 380

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.

Sally Bland
1 February 2010
From: Baghdasarian