Lately I’ve been proofreading an upcoming Cascade title by Michael McRay, Letters from “Apartheid Street”: A Christian Peacemaker in Occupied Palestine. McRay’s book is a passionate account of his two-month stint in Palestine with the Christian Peacemaker Team. After many wrenching and moving accounts of the oppression Palestinians suffer in the Holy Land, McRay closes the book with a penetrating reflective essay on peacemaking and what he’s learned about the plight of Palestinians. The following comments about the mistake of wishing for “perfect victims” as the only deserving candidates for our sympathy appear in that context.
The West, particularly many Christians in the United States, have bought into the mentality of the necessity of the “perfect victim”—that is, “the other” must be without flaws or vices if we are to promote a cause, support an oppressed people, or reverse a prejudice. Perfect victims are necessary for solidarity, it seems. I have found, for example, that if I try to provide another perspective of Muslims to a person who condemns Islam, I must essentially ignore every problem within Islamic society, because the moment I acknowledge a fault, the conversation ends. The same is true with Palestinians. We Westerns justify our Islamophobia because we have read in the news that stoning still occurs in some Islamic countries, men beat their wives and force them to cover almost every inch of their bodies, and many suicide bombers claim to be devout Muslims. We justify our support of Israel because Palestinians violently attack Israelis (even though the United States most certainly would declare war on Canada or Mexico if either attempted a military occupation). And now look, we might say, the Palestinians are even fighting each other!
But again, this is unfair. Individuals who verbally attack Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, or those societies seem to forget the profound imperfections in their own countries. Those of us in the United States must exercise great caution before condemning the domestic problems of other nations and societies. Given that the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world, internal Palestinian disputes should in no way hinder us from advocating for their liberation and the end of the occupation. Those of us claiming Christianity should remember that Jesus said we should first deal with our own faults before we worry about our neighbor’s shortcomings. I am not suggesting that the U.S. (or any country in the world) should be flawless in order to offer a voice into the conversation, but rather that the U.S. should not condemn the Palestinians for their imperfections. They should not expect flawlessness from the Palestinians or anyone else in order to stand in solidarity with their suffering. In other words, perfection should not be a prerequisite for freedom.