“The Weighing of Feathers and Gold”

Monday, November 20, 2023

Fifty years ago, I was circulating a full-length play I had written about Frantz Fanon and the Algerian war for independence from the colonial grasp of France. I wrote the play soon after acting in John Groves’s award-winning play, “A Circle on the Ground,” which focused on Ghandi’s quest for India’s liberation, and which ran at the Gallery Theater, on Santa Monica Boulevard, in the winter of 1972. Fanon was the opposite of Gandhi; for Fanon, the oppressed could only exorcise their abjection through a willingness to rebel in a violent manner. Colonial masters, of course, only regarded such extreme insubordination as a justification for merciless retaliation. As the film “The Battle of Algiers” made clear, this was a conflict in which the French felt perfectly comfortable with using torture to maintain their empire.

In doing research on the Algerian war, which resulted in the deaths of as hundreds of thousands of people, I happened to find a comment that was made by one of the French settlers in Algeria, in which he summed up the value of Arab lives: “They weigh in the scales as feathers against gold.” When one considers the predations of several major European powers, as well as the United States, over the past five centuries, that disproportionate assessment seems to have been applied to each instance of appropriation and exploitation, whether it was Great Britain in India or Belgium in the Congo, or the United States in the Philippines, or Spanish in the Caribbean or South America, or the United States against the indigenous people in their enclaves and nations. The close to ten to one death ratio of Arab women and children in the current conflict reeks of the same hierarchical racism.

Even as the Kurdish and Ukrainian people deserve political autonomy, Israel has both a right to exist and to defend itself. It does not have carte blanche to commit war crimes. Since those who are suffering this pulverizing revenge will never forget what has taken place, it makes no difference if Hamas is “destroyed.” Another organization will emerge from the rubble, and the cycle of hideous attack and counter-attack will continue until the planet itself finally “loses its cool” and becomes uninhabitable by any human. Couldn’t happen to a nicer species!

We are all equally feathers, but as a species we have deliberately chosen to ground ourselves in debasing narratives.


“”Far more children have been killed in Gaza in the past six weeks than the 2,985 children killed in the world’s major conflict zones COMBINED — across two dozen countries — during all of last year, even with the war in Ukraine, according to U.N tallies of verified deaths in armed conflict.” — page 1.

So how much of Hamas has been destroyed, in turn, for exacting the lives of 5,000 children (aka “feathers”)?
Ten percent of Hamas?
Twenty percent?

If 20 percent, does that mean Israel is prepared to murder 25,000 children to make certain that Hamas will not attack again?

I am utterly certain that no one in Israel is willing to answer those questions. With a straight face, the uniformed authorities will say, “We cannot comment on ongoing operations.”

Of course, any estimates of Israel’s “success” might be reviewed within the context of how the United States grossly underestimated the actual situation on the ground in Vietnam, even as it enforced a policy of “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

Perhaps, indeed, a ceasefire might enable those in Israel responsible for the above obliteration of life to ask themselves how far they are willing to go before they define an exit strategy. The United States’ invasion of Iraq ultimately generated the extremist factions that made up the Isis Caliphate. Israel should not pretend that its current military path is exempt from that outcome.

Meanwhile, in Tehran, those responsible for assisting Hamas sleep well, and eat well, knowing that they will never be held responsible in any court of international law for the events of October 7th. Their culpability is fomenting this conflict is all too easily reduced to a footnote, whereas that regime’s blatant anti-semitism needs to be categorized as a choice indulged in as if it had smirking impunity.


In posting these observations and comments, let me emphasize that I don’t believe I could safely live in any nation in which the governing apparatus is permeated by the influence of the Islamic religion. In Iran, for instance, I have no doubt that I would be summarily tortured and executed. In Saudi Arabia, why would I not be subjected to strangulation and dismemberment?

Human dignity on this planet at this point is in a no win situation. To pretend that meaningful, consequential civil discourse is even remotely possible is to be egregiously self-indulgent and sentimental. Survival is a matter of random contingency; and as Brecht (whose use of songs in his plays influenced my script on Fanon) said in his poem “To Posterity,” “If my luck deserts me, I am lost.”

It is also worth noting that large-scale massacres are not limited to “white” civilizations. Extermination projects, whether of populations or cultures, have been launched in recent decades by governments in China, Burma, Rwanda, Nigeria, etc. etc.; and how could it be possible to overlook the Turkish atrocities to the Armenians, or the Russian pogroms, or the German-led genocide of Jews and Romani. See the final sentence of third paragraph and repeat it as a mantra.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer species.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer species.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer species.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer species.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer species.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer species.


Wednesday, November 22nd update:

“The (ceasefire) offers only temporary respite for Gaza’s 2.3 million residents, half of whom have been forced to flee their homes by ferocious Israeli missile and artillery fire.

Once the prisoner releases end, “we will continue the war … until we achieve all our objectives,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his government this week”


The phrase “all our objectives” is particularly noteworthy in its vague comprehensiveness. The 9/11 attacks on the United States ended up with the Bush administration expanding the goals of its counter-attack at a great cost to the people of Iraq, who were not in any way part of that attack, despite GWB’s claim in a debate with John Kerry that they were.

Anyone who accepts the justifications for what is happening to children in Gaza as being based on Israel’s right to attain “all our objectives” cannot evade indefinitely the retribution that is inevitable. Maybe not next year. Maybe not in five years, but I flinch to think of its ineluctability, just as I flinch to think of how Israel will strike back ten-fold, once again. And again. And again. And again, each side will show no compassion or kindness.

I join with Bernie Sanders in calling for a restoration of sanity.



I wish I were a poet capable of writing a poem that catches the self-deceiving logic that is at work on the part of all the protagonists in this debacle.

There is a poet, however, worth reading in this regard: the late Tom Lux.

See how poem, “The People of the Other Village”



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