Everything is ordered in Vienna where I gave two talks on the popular resistance in Palestine. Rows after rows of colorful buildings all with 5-8 floors with housing complexes and offices. Public transportation and public housing in a socialisty city that seems to function uniformally in many ways. But ofcourse this is a city that also generates out of the ordinary characters. My thoughts wonder on the variety of those sons of Austria: Mozart, Hitler, Hertzl, Scwarzenneger. They were/are extraordinary individuals that went beyond other countrymen. Perhaps each individual has those two sides, the angel and the devil whispering in our ears. Ordinary people live ordinary lives not having the courage to pursue the whispering dreams of their angels and/or devils. The exceptional individuals go for the maximum deams some of them in the most creative and positive way while others in the most destructive ways.
|A walk through the buildings of Old Wien in the medieval part of the city.
We pass by the Landstmann Café where Theodore Hertzl sipped his coffee and planned to create a Jewish state. Most Viennese pass by hundreds of plazas and their names evoke no emotion and most indeed today do not know who is Theodore Hertzl or what he stood for. Like that other Austrian Adolf Hitler, Hertzl built a reputation by playing to the most basic and banal of human emotions: fear, greed, hate, tribalism.
Other Austrians built a career appealing to the most uplifting of human emotions: love, hope, generocity, humanism. We are always inspired by the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Johan Strauss. We are blessed by Austrian inventors like Josef Madersperger (invented the sewing machine in 1818) and Peter Mitterhofer (inventor of the typewriter). And I am hardpressed when asked to name decent politicians from anywhere but the very few names that pop to mind certainly include the Austrian Bruno Kreisky, Chancellor from 1970-1983 and the first Jewish Austrian in that office who opened Europe to the PLO in the early 1970s to the chagrin of the Zionist movement.
|Opera House on the Ringstrasse
There are controversial Austrians who come to mind and would receive mixed reviews: Kurt Waldheim, diplomat and politician, Secretary-General of the United Nations 1972-1982 and President of Austria 1986-1992; Martin Buber, and Jewish philospher.
But as a scientist, I have always admired Karl Popper a philosopher of science who was born in Austria, became British and developed some of the best description of what constitutes scientific methods. When I wear my geneticist, Gregor Mendel coat there with me and when I put my Zoologist hat, I cannot help but think of Konrad Lorenz.
But back to Hertzl who contributed to 110 years of conflict and suffering for millions of people. Hertzl wrote in his diaries that “Anti-Semites will become our surest friends, anti-Semitic countries our allies.” Instead of working to better life for all people, he chose to mimic ethnocentric chauvinistic nationalism in Europe and export it to another land whose people had nothing to do with what was happening in Europe. Another famous Austrian Jew, father of psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, rejected Zionism because it has within it the same seeds of human frailty that he could easily comprehend. To wit, Freud wrote once to a Zionist who tried to recruit him:
“I cannot do as you wish. I am unable to overcome my aversion to burdening the public with my name, and even the present critical time does not seem to me to warrant it. Whoever wants to influence the masses must give them something rousing and inflammatory and my sober judgment of Zionism does not permit this. I certainly sympathize with its goals, am proud of our University in Jerusalem and am delighted with our settlement’s prosperity. But, on the other hand, I do not think that Palestine could ever become a Jewish state, nor that the Christian and Islamic worlds would ever be prepared to have their holy places under Jewish care. It would have seemed more sensible to me to establish a Jewish homeland on a less historically-burdened land. But I know that such a rational viewpoint would never have gained the enthusiasm of the masses and the financial support of the wealthy. I concede with sorrow that the baseless fanaticism of our people is in part to be blamed for the awakening of Arab distrust. I can raise no sympathy at all for the misdirected piety which transforms a piece of a Herodian wall into a national relic, thereby offending the feelings of the natives. Now judge for yourself whether I, with such a critical point of view, am the right person to come forward as the solace of a people deluded by unjustified hope.”
Thus, as we leave this beautiful orderly city that generates amazing characters of all sorts, we reflect on the brilliance of insight and ingenuity of its people as well as the common human frailty which still infects our species today. Those like Herzl and Hitler and Netanyahu who build careers catering to the worst of our characters (greed, racism, fear) and those brilliant individuals who go after their dreams of leaving the earth a little better. Creating something that is beautiful instead of ideas that lead to hate and wars. Unfortunately most people are apathetic and choose neither course. But those that go after the positive energy leave us with something to celebrate. Those that create systems based on fear and greed create conflicts and war and history only relegates them to the dustbin of infamy. The Austrians I met with were ashamed of Hitler and Hertzl and justifiably proud of Mozart and Freud. There are more of the latter in every country today than in the dark days 100 years ago.
PS: Thank you to our wonderful hosts in Vienna especially Frigga Karl and Dr. George Nicola. And we were honored to meet so many good people who enriched our experiences. Thank you all.
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
now in Parma
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