Russell Jacoby says violence is more often found between parties more at home with one another than it is between strangers.
The romance with the “other,” the Orient, and the stranger, however, diverts attention from something less sexy: the familiar. For those concerned with strife and violence in the world, like Said, the latter may, in fact, be more critical than the strange and the foreign. If the Lebanese Civil War, which lasted 15 years, can highlight something about how the West represents the East, it can also foreground a neglected truth: The most decisive antagonisms and misunderstandings take place within a community. The history of hatred and violence is, to a surprising degree, a history of brother against brother, not brother against stranger. From Cain and Abel to the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries and the civil wars of our own age, it is not so often strangers who elicit hatred, but neighbors.
This observation contradicts both common sense and the collective wisdom of teachers and preachers, who declaim that we fear—sometimes for good reason—the unknown and dangerous stranger. Citizens and scholars alike believe that enemies lurk in the street and beyond the street, where we confront a “clash of civilizations” with foreigners who challenge our way of life.
The truth is more unsettling. From assault to genocide, from assassination to massacre, violence usually emerges from inside the fold rather than outside it. A Hindu nationalist assassinated Mohandas Gandhi, the “father” of India (as Nehru called him). An Egyptian Muslim assassinated Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. An Israeli Jew assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister and also a recipient of the peace prize. Each of these assassins was a good son of his country and his religion.