Towards Jerusalem, on way to Al Quds

An Israeli colleague asked me, if invited, would I come to a conference at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A few moments of hesitation were the only interlude between his offer and my affirmative response. “Who would ever say no to a chance to go to Jerusalem?” I said. But truth be told I did hesitate.

Earlier on when I forwarded the announcement for the conference to my academic department, I received a series of angry e-mails from colleagues and graduate students for purporting to encourage violation of the boycott against Israeli academic institutions. My response then and now to my colleagues, as an academic, a pacifist (mostly) and a supporter of the Palestinian cause for dignity and self-determination, is that I abhor the behavior of the State of Israel towards the occupied Palestinian populace. I am also no friend of the Zionist movement, and have always maintained that it is one of those insidious European imperial ideologies, amongst many others, which was specific to the cultural and social pathologies of 19th century Europe. It had some appeal in the early 20th century perverse era of European imperialism, anti-semitism and fascist viciousness, but is way past its ‘sell by’ date. But we academics have to defend and maintain spaces of free and open exchange of ideas, otherwise our trade can not exist. We cannot exclude scholars from debate and discussion because of the bad behavior of their governments. If that were to be the criteria then I as a Pakistani, like many others, would probably be one of the first candidates for exclusion. There is no end to these politics of exclusion, and the end result of such politics is fracturing of the very foundations of the academic enterprise. So I will go to Jerusalem—and to Al-Quds I headed.

My reception at the cavernous Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport was less than enthusiastic. I politely requested the very attractive young lady at the immigration to not stamp my passport. In Israel, if you request that, they stamp a piece of paper with your entry and exit stamps and hence there is no record of your ever having visited the country. This is good for me because many of our brotherly Arab countries and Pakistan as well, helpfully for the Zionist paranoid narrative, tend to deny entry to anybody with an Israeli immigration stamp on their passports. What is not good is that that raises all sorts of flags for the Israelis and they want to know why is it that you would rather not have an official record of their hospitality. So as expected, I was ushered into the secondary inspection room, to be interviewed by an immigration officer for about an hour. The officer was all the more excited to learn that I was a Pakistani, traveling on a British passport. Answering questions about everything and anything regarding my family history, friends, contacts, Pakistan and two hours of waiting, finally got me my entry stamps into Israel. I was lucky–there was a young American woman of Palestinian dissent who was sitting in the room for two hours when I got to the inspection room and was still there when I left, as was a French NGO worker.

The interview process for me, was reasonably friendly with some cute interrogative techniques thrown in there for good measure to throw me off balance and reveal the truth about my possible unflattering disposition towards Israel, or inadvertently admit that I was not who I say I was. I guess everybody has to earn his/her living and think that they are damn clever at doing it. But my investigator was as cocksure as one gets when one feels the steely grit of power in one’s spine.

Israeli drivers are generally a cross between a Lahore and a New York driver—that is they are insanely aggressive when they know how to drive—which is not always a given even if one is operating a vehicle in Lahore as in Israel. Forty minutes of a taxi drive contemplating mortality, appropriately instilling the fear of God in me on my way to God’s capital city–finally got me to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is like the Hindu deity Agni. It has two faces—one of immortality—and Jerusalem of the mind, and of this Earth is closer to immortality than any other. And the other of the unknown symbol of life—perhaps an aspirational vision of life different from the one we live in contemporary modernity, for which Al-Quds could be the stage. But more than the two faces, like the fire god Agni who is the messenger to other gods, Jerusalem has plenty of iron and fire in its past and present, and it is after all the staging post for communion with the Abrahamic God. But as a Hindu travel companion in Jerusalem reminded me—“tum sala [You silly] Abraham followers have one God who plays favorites amongst you—there are enough gods and their Jerusalems for us Hindus to not have to fight over them.” True—we Muslims and them Jews and Christians have only one Jerusalem—and it is the tale of my communion with the place and the ideas of it that I will narrate in my next essay.

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1 thought on “Towards Jerusalem, on way to Al Quds

  1. Very interesting looking forward to the next essay 🙂

    On Friday, February 8, 2013, daanishmustafa wrote: > daanishmustafa posted: “An Israeli colleague asked me, if invited, would I come to a conference at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A few moments of hesitation were the only interlude between his offer and my affirmative response. Who would ever say no to a chance to go to J” >

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