“It’s Land Day. We Get the Day Off.” (Or, The Dangers of Ideology)

“The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology” — A. Solzhenytzin. 

Living in Haifa, there are often days when the malls have many Arab customers — usually, of course, during Christian or Muslim holidays. Recently I was in the mall when I noticed it was one of those days; I innocently asked one of them what holiday it is. Her reply? “It’s ‘Land Day’. We get the day off — everything’s closed in our village, so we go shopping here.”

Similar things are occurring all over the world. Half the holidays in some European countries commemorate how Catholics butchered Protestants or vise versa, and yet, nobody seems to mind too much. Certainly we have not heard of any massacres of treasonous Catholics on Guy Fawkes’ day in England recently.

Ideology is important. Yet it is not all-important. Ideology can be misused terribly, as Solzenychin noted. For this reason I am quite suspicious of groups — on the left and the right, in Israel and the Arab world — that claim to be more purely ideological, more willing to hold fast to unbending truths.

Fanatical ideological groups tend to run roughshod over individuals’ happiness, property, and lives in pursuit of their ideological goal. It is those they describe as lukewarm “traitors” — such as the Arab woman I spoke with, or the judges who just decided an Arab-Israeli woman is Israel’s new “master chef”, instead of choosing a good Zionist (as some angrily criticized them for) — which, to me, are the real hope for peace, if there is any.

But are they really “traitors”? Not at all. Not being a fanatic is not the same, of course, as being without any principles. To exchange the dangers of fanatic ideological devotion with the cold gruel of fake “open mindedness” and “tolerance” which is merely refusing to believe deeply in anything or have any principles lest someone be offended, is just as bad. Indeed, both the fanatic and the complete relativist make the same mistake: they assume that the only way to hold on to an ideology is to be completely fanatical about it. The fanatic sees it as a sign of purity; the complete relativist, in horror, declares that if this is what “ideology” means, he wants no part of it.  

Both are wrong. The real problem is when ideology is misused, not just that it exists. The early Zionists, for instance, those of the first or second Aliya, were as deeply ideological as any Zionist today; yet they hardly thought this justifies them mistreating those Arabs they have met. So are most Zionists today: the judges on “master chef” are, probably, Zionists, but they hardly think this means they must do an injustice to a contestant and not choose her merely because she isn’t. On the other side, the Arab woman I’ve met, just because she does shopping on land day, is not likely to consider (say) Israeli occupation of the West Bank a good idea. Yet she is even less likely to don a suicide vest and blow herself up in protest. She has an ideology. But she is not likely to kill herself, or actual women and children she doesn’t know, for it.

Indeed, a certain degree of ideological commitment is probably necessary for true tolerance. If there is to be any peace, it will be between people of different ideologies — but those who are not fanatical about it.

About the Author
Dr Avital Pilpel is a lecturer of Philosophy at the University of Haifa and the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC). As a hobby, he researches the history of Chess in Israel and the Yishuv