Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Reflections on the Promised Land

What meaning can be given to the notion of the Promised Land aside from the right to hate in earnest, asks William A. Cook

Al-Ahram Weekly

It occurred to me as I was rereading the 19th-century American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne’s unfinished novel Dr Grimshawe’s Secret, that the good doctor’s grim reflection on the human condition, delivered to his adopted child, Ned, knowing the child was too young to grasp his revelation, might well give us pause as Israel seeks to tether itself by an umbilical cord of self-defence to the United States through a strategic ally agreement.

“‘Then, Doctor Grim… tell me… where I came from…,’ asked Ned.

‘That is a question, indeed, my friend Ned!’ putting forth a whiff of smoke and imbibing a nip from his tumbler… framing his answer in such a way as to let out his secret mood to the child, because knowing he could not understand it.

‘Whence did you come? Whence did any of us come? Out of the darkness and mystery; out of nothingness; out of a kingdom of shadows; out of dust, clay, mud, I think, and to return to it again, whence we have brought a good many shadowy revelations, purporting that it was no pleasant one. Out of a former life, of which the present one is the hell! And why are you come? Faith, Ned, he must be a wiser man than Doctor Grim who can tell why you or any other mortal came hither; only one thing I am well aware of — it was not to be happy. To toil and moil and hope and fear; and to love in a shadowy, doubtful sort of way, and to hate in bitter earnest — that is what you came for!’”

Hawthorne returned from Europe in 1860 having fulfilled his position as United States consul in Liverpool in the UK at the close of president Franklin Pierce’s term in office, followed by two years in Europe. He returned to an America embroiled in an internecine civil war. For seven years till his death in 1864, he mulled and moiled on the life of Dr Grimshawe, unable to bring closure to the work.

But if one speculates on his life, devoted to his tales and novels, to the inner embroilment of the American mind moulded by Puritanical thought, a twisted never-ending battle between God and His creatures, embedded in superstition and myths, shrouded in beliefs that they too were God’s Chosen destined to fulfil a covenant between the Almighty and humankind, given by that very God the Promised Land, here in the new world, driven to command and obey that they might bring truth to a heathen land, then we might understand the gloom that nests in the cobwebs of the doctor’s study, where the ultimate end of us all is “to hate in bitter earnest — that is what you came for!” Thus we find the American Puritans stealing land, enslaving savages, and exterminating tribes to further their hold on God’s gift.

What is it that nestles in Grimshawe’s thoughts but the ultimate psychological sickness that destroys — the fear of all? For if the soul can find no solace in sister and brother, no hope in the community of people, no joy in sharing the fruits of this earth satisfied that this is our purpose, then all of us are victims of perceived hate or the perpetrators of hate, and life has no meaning.

How horrific, then, that the “secret” desire proffered by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Zionist forces in Israel seeks to graft that state to the United States as a “special security ally” to ensure that the US is burdened with their psychological albatross: the fear of all. And so the people of the United States becomes tethered to this fear that finds expression every Passover in the Biblical psalm “pour out thy wrath upon the gentiles”.

America has no need to “pour out its wrath on the gentiles”. It is a nation of gentiles. It should rather return to its founding declarations and express the truth that the laws of nature taught it some 250 years ago: “all men are created equal;” all have rights to life and happiness; all should be free to worship as they desire; all are free to express what they believe and no man can take away that right.

These beliefs contain no fear; they voice trust in all humankind; they enunciate the oneness of all, displacing the notion of exceptionalness, superiority, separateness, exclusiveness and “chosenness” that divides and destroys; and they recognise the rights of all to share the wealth of this earth which sustains all living things and has authorised no select ownership for the few that they may capitalise on the many.

The Promised Land is a fabrication of the tribe that is beneficial to the few at the expense of the many; that is true of America’s Israelites who stole the land from those who lived in New England, and it is true of the New World Order that declares it is America’s responsibility to bring God’s gift to all, when it declares it alone has the right to decide what is the right.

When the many are the chattels of the few, their existence is at the mercy of those few who will willingly destroy their brethren to enhance their own coffers. That’s the world according to Hawthorne’s Dr Grimshawe — a world without understanding, without light, without mercy; a life of nothingness, of mud, clay, and dust; a life of inevitable loneliness and sorrow, and a life without happiness, for it is ruled by those who know no evil and see no evil as the evil is inside them and they do not know it.


The writer is a professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California.

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