Q- As a leading figure of international relations in the academic world, you are certainly not among those whose outrage in the face of injustice has waned. You continue to urge the West to take into account public opinion in the 'global South' and specifically concerning human indignity. This stance can often attract backlash, ironically at times from "experts" who previously legitimized and supported the Iraq war by propagating the myth of weapons of mass destruction. What are your thoughts on the new phase of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the way it is affecting the French intellectual and media scene?
A- Every event in this conflict has been painful, primarily because of the suffering it has caused, but also because it highlights the profound crisis that promotes the kind of othering that existed in the past, the denial of the other that leads to annihilation. This increasing and deadly tendency is commonplace in a globalized world, where the other is no longer the equal rival of the Western powers, but rather the intruder, whose very right to exist is denied. We are shifting away from the war of rivalry that existed in the past, towards the war of annihilation of those with whom we do not even want to coexist.
This tendency was made clear on Oct. 7, as we saw with the martyrs of Sderot, but it is just as evident in the way all Palestinians are treated today, not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank, Israel and the diaspora. And this also extends to Muslims in general, who are conflated with Islamists and Jihadists, either as a result of strategy or culture.
I would like to add that there is another idea that comes to mind: power and the resources used to achieve it, are useless in the face of a human issue. The force behind this human issue is being unleashed in many forms, which when verging on rage should be condemned. It is being expressed by a people who, for 75 years, have been humiliated and considered, by almost everyone, to be a negligible quantity, a derisory sum in the accounts of history. The Palestinians only matter when they are disturbing others! Weapons are no match for rage which is caused by suffering, and rage is to sociology what weapons of mass destruction are to military strategy!
Q- Does the impasse in the global war on terror waged since 2001, and Israel's inability to defeat movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah, seem to be a new manifestation of what you once called "the impotence of power?" How do you read this inability of Israel and the Western world to learn from the mistakes of history?
A- The mistakes of history always come at a high price, especially when payment is deferred too long and resentment builds up: that's where we are with this conflict! The truth is that those who built the State of Israel never realized the full extent of the Nakba and unwittingly gambled on its gradual erasure from people's consciousness, and on the ability of the balance of power to eventually extinguish this flame of suffering. Both bets were wrong: humiliation cannot be forgotten and the use of weapons can do little but make matters worse! Perhaps the main fault lies in failing to learn the lessons of the wars of decolonization, which long ago established this powerlessness.
This silence on the post-colonial process, whether due to restraint or imposition, has created the conditions for an obvious blind spot to emerge and spread instead of being overcome, and it has come to a rude awakening! I fear that both the current operation in Gaza and the idea of eradicating Hamas have been inspired by this blindness.
Q- As a sociologist of international relations, what do you see as the main differences between this series of events and previous events in the Israel-Palestine conflict?
A- There are many differences: beyond the discovery of the impotence of power, there has been a real collapse of two myths. The first myth is about Israel's invincibility and the second is, the ineptitude of Palestinian organizations, especially those that resort to terrorism. In this respect, the similarities with 9/11 are striking!
But there are also two other aspects that are changing the perception of the international landscape. Firstly, we are clearly seeing the growing inability of the old world powers in the region. At the other end of the spectrum, we are seeing the strength of identity from people of the Global South, who have also been affected by all kinds of suffering and who are making the Palestinian cause their own, something that is currently being echoed by the United Nations.
Q- Given the inertia of the United Nations Security Council and the inability or refusal of the major Western powers to exert real pressure on Israel, do you think that the two-state solution is now definitively dead and buried? Has it become even more of a utopian fantasy than the binational solution?
A- There has never been so much discussion about it since there has been after Oct. We have now realized that this solution is perhaps the most diplomatically challenging…except for all the others!
Change in the world is always driven by two forces: fear and greed. In this case, fear is high and the incentive is also persuasive. However there is still a long way to go: if this solution is to succeed, the United States must be prepared to exert strong pressure on Tel Aviv on the grounds of fear. Is an American president in a position to do that? If not, I fear that the descent into hell will continue!
Q- As a "French-Persian," to quote the subtitle of your book (Vivre deux cultures, Odile Jacob, 2022), you must be watching in horror as the fault lines between the West and the rest of the world deepen. Do you think the rupture has now fully taken place?
A- Let's not go that far, that would please Samuel Huntington too much! We are in this terrible period of transition between hierarchical inter-statism and globalization that requires horizontality and interdependence. Those nostalgic for the past who are afraid of globalization feed on nationalism and the stigmatization of others. But their line of thinking has been overtaken by young people who understand what globalization means, and who know that behind it lies the identity of humanity as a whole. In the long term, globalization can only prevail in the same way as Victor Hugo’s "sympathy of souls." Fortunately, both cynical usefulness and genuine emotion work together here!
Q- During his 2017 election campaign, French President Emmanuel Macron said he wanted to return to the Gaullo-Mitterandian line, denouncing the neoconservative tendencies of his two predecessors and claiming to reject unbridled foreign interference. Yet, at least initially, he seems to have aligned himself quite unconditionally with Israel. What do you attribute this to?
A- Probably some initial blunders, driven by legitimate emotion. That was the case for the disastrous proposal for an "international anti-Hamas coalition," for which there was no material or strategic feasibility, diplomatic or legal basis, or chance of success nor were there conditions for its acceptance by Arab governments or public opinion!
His recent position shows that he has moved past this stage and that he must now come to terms with the fact that France alone cannot, any more than the United States, take immediate action. We are no longer in the era of General Gouraud! We need to know how to swap megaphone diplomacy for modest diplomacy, in which multilateralism is the only realistic way forward because it is the only way to eliminate any unilateral power!