BENGALURU: Israeli scholar Rafi Nets-Zehnguts, who works on collective memories of conflict, likens cross-border or ethnic conflict to two friends getting into an argument and standing their ground.
But if, according to Nets-Zehnguts, one suddenly admits ‘I acted badly’, it stops the negative cycle and moves towards a positive direction.
The admission is part of ‘positive transformation of memory’ — or clearing biases from historical facts, he said in an exclusive interview with CE during a visit to Bengaluru over the weekend.
Post-WW II, Japan and Korea did it, he said, with the help of Historians Commission — wherein scholars from both sides sat together, reviewed their textbooks and changed the inaccurate narratives in them. Students from the age of six, start reading more accurate, less antagonistic and biased narratives.
This raises among them a more positive attitude towards the rival party, thereby promoting peace and reconciliation, he added.
But what if the effort is not two-sided?
According to Nets-Zehnguts, Israeli Jews unilaterally positively transformed their collective memory of the conflict with Arabs and Palestinians since the 1970s.
They accepted narratives that were less biased, admitting wrong-doings like partial expulsion of Palestinians, and Israeli army’s amorality in battlefield, even while the other side was yet to admit theirs.
“Israeli scholars felt secure and strong enough to adopt Western values of scholarly work to be accurate and not to be mobilised in the interest of the country — so unilaterally the collective memory was transformed to be more accurate, less self-serving and zionist... The scholars included critical narratives about various topics, and the media disseminated it and this influenced the popular memory of the Israeli Jewish people to conduct critical narratives,” he said, adding that 30 years later, formal institutions like the education ministry, national television and archives too began addressing this critical narrative, featuring Israel as being critical, self-reflecting and promoting peace.
"Each party acted positively and negatively at times. “But when you selectively choose good things about the rival party and critical things about self, then it’s positive,” he added.
A good example of using collective memory for peace in India and across the border, he said, would be to admit acting improperly on some instances — not stopping a massacre, for instance.
By this, the rival group may say, “Look at the other side, they are not selectively presenting us negatively or them positively,” Nets-Zehnguts explained.
They might start a reciprocal process, of admitting and encouraging trust — thereby promoting peace and reconciliation, he added.
Promoting and disseminating selective narratives about Pakistan in media, academia, textbooks, and speeches, he said, would “install in popular memory a negative image of the people of Pakistan.
This promotes aggression, lack of trust, violence and so forth, because you selectively choose to address negative aspects. The worst example is when you disseminate something that is fabricated.”
Dynamics of memory, he said, are similar throughout the world, which is why it’s important to learn what happened in other countries and see how you can best promote your country.