Professor Sari Nusseibeh
Professor Sari Nusseibeh

I continue to be completely immersed in Sari Nusseibeh’s Once Upon a Country. I must admit that when I met him once, appeared on a panel with him and spent some time with him I was a little bit in awe and did not know quite what to say. Now that I know the depths of his life, his triumphs and losses, his father, I wish I could speak more to him.

But the one thing that emerges from the reading again and again is the same lesson I have been gathering from all over the globe. I can sum it up in an Aramaic sentence from the ancient Talmud that describes a chaotic world of lawlessness, L’es Din ve’l’es dayyan, which translates roughly as, “There is no law in sight and no judge in sight either”. What amazes me from Palestine under occupation to Rwanda to all the excesses of every colonial outpost in history is that there is no law, no accountability. And this is where and when even the nicest people, who find themselves as occupiers, fall into terrible things. I have hardly ever met a victim of occupation’s ravages more sympathetic than Dr. Nusseibeh to how and why it corrodes the occupiers.

That is why there is no future for civilized humanity other than through an advance to the stage of global citizenship and responsibility, even where national laws are corrupt or in dispute or nonexistent. We must begin to see ourselves as accountable to something beyond our nation’s laws. And I do not speak of United Nations resolutions, but of a set of universal laws to which everyone commits, about life, property, respect, and freedom.

We, who seek peace, should begin to fashion and then voluntarily submit to a set of global laws that we will not transgress, even if ordered to by our country or ethnic group. I see no other way to begin a process of global accountability. I am certain also that it will make our countries, our nations, our ethnic groups, our religions, into something that we can all be much more proud of.

Some will see this as sedition, but I see it as patriotic. I see it as ethical cleansing, as opposed to ethnic cleansing. Maybe that is the stark choice we face. Sari is a philosopher, and he has reminded me of my philosophical roots since I was a child. I had forgotten just how calm and how radical philosophical inquiry really is.

© Marc Gopin