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Last Updated: 11/25/2003
Laughing it Off
Nicholas Reader

Nicholas Reader looks at 235 ways of dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

I am supposed to be reviewing Michael Ignatieff’s most recent book Empire Lite this issue. No disrespect to Michael but I’m not going to. It’s just that when I sat down to start writing on Tuesday evening my girlfriend bought something that might not be better but certainly offers more suprises.


Adorned with peace signs and cartoons Gary Bray’s ‘235 Ways To Solve the Conflict Between Israel & Palestine’ resembles a cross between a 1960’s Ban the Bomb campaign pamphlet and a more jovial version of what I envisage Karl Marx to have been distributing in the 1870s. As well as writing, drawing the cartoons and presumably operating the photocopier Bray also handles distribution, beating the streets of suburban Montreal. The lone ‘granola man’ (my girlfriend’s description not mine). “Big googly eyes, glasses, tall, skinny. No beard,” she tells me.


Bray’s compendium does exactly what it says on the cover. 235 ways to… solve the Middle East conflict. My favourites include: ‘Replace the Statue of Liberty with Sharon and Arafat holding hands in women’s underwear’; ‘Copyright war. And if war breaks out send an army of lawyers’; ‘Make the news into a cartoon. With all the violence watch how fast parents get it taken off the air’. And so it goes on.


So what is it about these rather lame ditties that impressed me enough to put down Ignatieff and turn on my computer? They reminded me of something I think the peace studies, conflict resolution, international peace and security business is prone to forgetting.


At the most fundamental level the root cause of conflict is the dark side of human nature. The serious side. The side epitomised by the two gentlemen, one holding an RPG the other a Kalashnikov assault rifle studiously observing a combat helicopter, depicted on the cover of Empire Lite. The side seemingly often forgotten by the ever burgeoning ranks of academics and experts filling our shelves with tomes about the complex root causes of war. There are even mathematical equations that can supposedly be used to analyse conflict. The problem is you genuinely do need an advanced degree to understand them.


Reading 235 Ways made me stop for a moment and consider the way I look at peace. I prefer suits to sandals. I’m too young to remember let alone have taken part in the flower power age. Had I been there I probably would have hated it. Too frivolous, too abstract I would have said. These are serious things.


And serious they are. But it did me good to consider the sheer absurdity of over serious men and women killing each other in the name of nothing, pursued by hordes of equally over serious men and women who want to understand the over serious men and women making war, adding further weight to the sheer seriousness of the situation.


Whatever you do and wherever you come from nothing justifies, or is serious enough, or ever going to be solved by, war. It does exist and it always will and that’s why Ignatieff et al will keep writing books and I will keep putting on my suit and reviewing them. But let’s not forget how fundamentally ridiculous war is.


I’ll review Empire Lite next time I promise.

Nicholas Reader is an award winning freelance journalist.