Oded Na’aman: “The Checkpoint: Terror, Power, and Cruelty”

The current issue of the Boston Review features a piece by my friend and colleague Oded Na’aman (Ph.D. candidate, Department of Philosophy, Harvard) on the experience of working at a checkpoint in the West Bank. Besides the obvious political significance of the piece, it should be of interest to anyone concerned with the problem of other minds, reciprocal recognition, and the conditions of speech. You can access the article here. This is how it begins:

One morning, when I was about four years old, I proudly announced from the back seat of my family’s car, “Mother, I want you to know that I am the first kid in my whole kindergarten to think inside my head rather than out loud.” The car slowed to a standstill as we waited for the light to change. My mother turned to me, smiled, and said softly, “How do you know you’re the first?”

I was speechless. With one brief question, she had made the world a stranger to me and made me a stranger in my own world. She unveiled a universe of goings-on, a whole new brand of human activity that everyone I knew—the friends I played with, my sisters, even my parents—was engaged in, which I could have no access to. I sat on the staircase that day in kindergarten, observing the other kids play. Using my recently acquired skill, I wondered silently, with unmistakable trepidation, “Who knows what they are thinking?”

I soon regained my trust and grew up believing in the people around me. I knew there were dangers, but I felt certain I was not alone and therefore not helpless in facing them.

Fourteen years after my big kindergarten discovery, I was conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). At the West Bank checkpoints, the terror of other minds took over again. It occupied my soul.

-B.D.

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