What is an "invented people"?

Foolishly, I watched the Republican debate last night. There was little of interest said, but perhaps the most useless question was about Newt Gingrich’s statement that the Palestinians are an “invented people”.

First of all, this statement has almost no relevance to anything. The group that calls themselves “Palestinians” will continue doing what they have been doing, regardless of what Gingrich says. Gingrich said that the Palestinians “are in fact Arabs”. Well, that doesn’t alter anything meaningful. In that case, the people formerly known as Palestinians will just say it’s part of Arabia and that “Arabia’s for the Arabs”. (Where have I heard that before?)

But what is an “invented people”? Perhaps an even better question is: what is a non-invented people? For instance, you could argue that Americans are an “invented people”, coming as they do from all different parts of the world. One might even wonder if the American identity was invented so the colonists with an interest in opposing the British Empire could have a label to unite under. But that would be very cynical, so I will not pursue it.

I am hard-pressed to think of a people that was not, to some extent, “invented” for the purpose of presenting a united front in pursuit of something. That does not mean that all such groups are equal, of course, because some groups have been united in the pursuit of noble goals, and others in the pursuit of ignoble ones, but whether “a people” is invented and what it was invented for are completely different questions.

President Reagan, who is much admired by all the participants in the Republican debate, including Gingrich, once said:

“In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” 

Just so. People will unite when faced with an external threat, or, if not a threat, then a common problem. Arabs who may have very little common may easily be united by their shared desire to take what land Israel currently possesses. This does not, of course, make them “right” or “legitimate” or in any way give them some sort of moral advantage. But they are going to do it anyway, so to actually solve the problem requires a bit more serious thought than Gingrich seems to have applied.

I’m pretty sure you will come to the same conclusion regardless of your opinion on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It does not matter whether they are an invented people or not. No matter what your answer to this is, it changes nothing about the actual situation. Newt Gingrich’s statement is almost meaningless, except that it reveals he doesn’t much like the Palestinians, which everyone already knew, because that is a standard Republican position.

Which begs the question: why is everyone talking about it?

1 Comment

  1. The term transliterated as "Peleset" is found in Egyptian documents to refer to a neighboring country from around 1150 BC (the Assyrians called the same region "Palashtu" ["Pilistu"]).The first specific use of "Palestine" to refer to that specific region was by Herodotus, writing in 5th century BC, writing about "a district of Syria, called Palaistinê" in The Histories.The people called Palestinians are descended from the people of the Southern Levant, and genetic studies have indicated that they've been there since prehistoric times.So it's good to know that Newtie is continuing to lie. I'd be disappointed if things changed that much in the world.

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