July 23rd, 2005
Passionate Nomad -the debate continues

To fill you in on the debate thus far:
I started reading the book Passionate Nomad -the Life of Freya Stark, about a famous travel writer and one of the first women to travel the world alone. ‘Candace’ commented with information that Freya Stark was a “masked anti-Semite”. Which started a whole questioning process for me. I find it so very interesting that I thought I would write more about it here. (you can read the comments in the previous post). I wrote:
It seems sad (and surprising) to me that a woman who traveled the world, spoke 7 languages, made a living out of learning about and understanding different cultures would be so exclusionary in her political beliefs (or should I say religious beliefs?).
So I put this out there…
As a reader of biographies (and as humans), do we discredit someone who has lived an interesting and powerful life and contributed much to our own learning and growth when we discover a hurtful and disturbing dark side, one that we were unaware of?
Do we all not have our own darkside?
Or do we look closer at it and try to understand it’s reasons for existing? Thereby making peace with the thing that is hurtful?

I’ve been digging a bit more into this controversy and was relieved to find this passage, (since Freya’s voice has been noticably absent in the debate)…
“Although detractors periodically surfaced to accuse Freya of anti-Semitism, she was both comfortable with and accepting of the great varieties of people who always made travel a fascination for her. She believed, she said, in “pluralist societies”, and she disliked any form of “religious extremism.” Her objections to Zionism were philosophical and political, NOT racist, and she pointed out that it was unfair to equate her anti-Zionist position with anti-Semitism. She was sympathetic to the Zionest dream of a homeland for Jews, safe from a world that repulsed, isolated, and ultimately murdered them, so long as, she would point out, it were not exclusionary. She foresaw that the creation of a Jewish homeland that displaced Arabs to fulfill the dream would spawn a legacy of violence lasting for years to come.”
excerpted from “Passionate Nomad -the Life of Freya Stark” by Jane Fletcher Geniesse
Candace, you mentioned that Freya was “feeding the flames that Jews are once again responsible for so many of the world’s problems”, could there not be another side to this? I have not yet found any evidence that she was ever inflamatory. Why do you feel that she was a “masked anti-Semite”? In my reading it seems that Freya was only trying to look for the best possible solution for everyone involved. Yes, it would seem that she might have had loyalties to the Arabs because she had lived, worked and written about middle eastern culture at length. But from what I read she was only trying to educate the rest of the world, (particularly America) about the dangers one culture being displaced for the benefit of another. She was against violence of any kind on both sides, (of which there was a lot at that time, around 1943).
It is not my intention to enter into an Israeli Palistine debate, I am certainly not equipped or positioned to do so. But I do think it important to look closely at both sides of a debate, especially when someone’s character is at stake. According to the book Freya was devastated by the criticism she recieved and found that she had been greatly misunderstood.
If anyone has information contrary to this I would be interested to hear it. I have no loyalties to the character of Freya, aside from the fact that I find her to be an interesting human. I am open to the possiblity that there are ‘ugly’ things that I do not know about her.
I find this learning process extremely fascinating and it brings up many issues applicable to my own life.
How much of it ideally comes down to perception? What are those perceptions shaped by? Do we have the courage to examine our own perceptions?
Often when I have had arguments/fights with friends or family there is the initial “feeling” that I am correct and that there is intent to harm on the other side. But on closer examination I might start to see that that perception has been tainted by some of my own stuff, (anger, fear, ego, etc.)
(On a related note there is a interesting book on the topic of ‘what is an extremist?’ entitled “Them”. It appears that most extremists do not see themselves as doing anything of an extreme nature, it is a label given to them by others. Interesting.)
addendum… it occurs to me that I may have opened up my own can of worms here, as well as a chance for others to misconstrue my words. I do not mean to imply that there are no situations in which a person might be “wrong”, indeed there are, (i.e. violence, etc.). I only meant to share my learning with regards to how I have found my own perceptions to have been tainted, (which have been numerous.)

Jul 23 2005
10:01 pm
keri Smith writes:

That was great! Thank you Candace for sharing your thoughts in such an honest and detailed way. You bring up some interesting points. I am learning through you.
My initial thoughts after reading your words,
It is really hard for me personally to really understand or comprehend what it was like to be a Jew in Europe during that time (or now for that matter), I could only get closer to it by reading extensively on the subject. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge in this area.
from the book, “If they continued to allow the Jews to flood into Palestine, the resident Arabs would be overwhelmed by refugees far better organized, funded, and equipped to struggle over possession of the land.”
So it seems that Freya had the percpeption that they were in a better position to dominate the area regardless of the fact they were a minority in terms of numbers.
One thing I responded to was Freya’s resolve that, “We musn’t impose solutions”, she advocated that nothing should be done without the Arabs consent. I believe that this is very applicable today with regards to America’s foreign policy.
I find it a bit of a leap to say that because Freya appeared to be rooting for the underdog (as she saw them), and consequenty questioning the Zionist agenda that she was anti-Semetic. She did not seem to be in conflict with anything other than the fact that they could potentially displace yet another group of people (as they themselves had been displaced.)
There is the potential that there is more involved with her decisions, though I have yet to read anything inflamatory. I wonder is it possible to get into the mind of someone only having read their biography? (which is tainted greatly by the biographer’s viewpoints.) I wish it were possible to go right to the source.

Jul 23 2005
10:01 pm
keri Smith writes:

That was great! Thank you Candace for sharing your thoughts in such an honest and detailed way. You bring up some interesting points. I am learning through you.
My initial thoughts after reading your words,
It is really hard for me personally to really understand or comprehend what it was like to be a Jew in Europe during that time (or now for that matter), I could only get closer to it by reading extensively on the subject. I appreciate you sharing your knowledge in this area.
from the book, “If they continued to allow the Jews to flood into Palestine, the resident Arabs would be overwhelmed by refugees far better organized, funded, and equipped to struggle over possession of the land.”
So it seems that Freya had the percpeption that they were in a better position to dominate the area regardless of the fact they were a minority in terms of numbers.
One thing I responded to was Freya’s resolve that, “We musn’t impose solutions”, she advocated that nothing should be done without the Arabs consent. I believe that this is very applicable today with regards to America’s foreign policy.
I find it a bit of a leap to say that because Freya appeared to be rooting for the underdog (as she saw them), and consequenty questioning the Zionist agenda that she was anti-Semetic. She did not seem to be in conflict with anything other than the fact that they could potentially displace yet another group of people (as they themselves had been displaced.)
There is the potential that there is more involved with her decisions, though I have yet to read anything inflamatory. I wonder is it possible to get into the mind of someone only having read their biography? (which is tainted greatly by the biographer’s viewpoints.) I wish it were possible to go right to the source.


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