The Kites are Flying by Michael Morpurgo; Because They Say So by Noam Chomsky

I grabbed this book at the Library Book Sale 2015 when I saw the name Morpurgo.

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Because I bought so many, most of them were shelved, and I only recently chanced upon this one again, and realised that neither K nor I had dived into it yet. She wasn’t very interested, so I appropriated it.

I know Morpurgo books are hard-hitting, but my tears at the end still surprised me.

The Kites are Flying is a haunting book, and the initial chapters read like scenes in a movie, cutting back and forth between British film journalist Max and 8 year old Palestinian shepherd boy Said. Given the setting, I was prepared for the story to be disturbing.

Personally, I felt that it contains enough tragedy for it to be unsuitable for a child under age 8 or 9, yet has an ending that carries sufficient hope for it to be suitable for those under 12. I suppose every child is different, depending on innate emotional maturity, and the maturity borne out of what his/her parents discuss with her. So do read it first, to ascertain whether it’s suitable for your child.

It is definitely a book I’d like both my children to eventually read. The Middle East impasse is an issue close to my heart. I do hope that one day, as Shimon Peres envisioned, science and technology will make people so interconnected that physical borders no longer matter as much. How wonderful, when wars and strife cease, and man need not harm man. Perhaps not an easy eventuality on this side of heaven, but hope springs eternal, doesn’t it?

I visited Israel as part of a work trip more than 10 years ago, even making a land border crossing between Jordan and Israel. There is nothing quite like seeing the geography where Palestinian Jew Jesus once walked, the Jordan river, the Sea of Galilee, the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, going from Beersheba to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv to Haifa.

However, it was not as meaningful as it could have been, as compared to my then-‘dream trip’ – a journey led by songwriter-theologian Michael Card, with time set aside for biblical devotionals and sound theological guides to sites, as opposed to a surfeit of icons and superstition.

But a book I read in Sept 2015, drastically changed the way I viewed the Middle East. After reading Because We Say So by Noam Chomsky, I decided to shelve that trip for the foreseeable future. There would be no sense of peace, travelling in a land that propagates so much violence.

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I hadn’t read Noam Chomsky since my university days, but remembered him as an intelligent, coherent writer. I picked up the book expecting new findings on language science. So I was somewhat surprised when I realised this was a book on the Israel-Palestine issue. Initially I was taken aback by the vitrolic tone some of the essays in Because We Say So took, but Chomsky does have a reputation for bold statements and withering scorn as he puts across his views.

Chomsky’s scathing yet somewhat irrefutable discourse, published in various major news agencies in recent years, compiled in this book was refreshing, and provoked intense reflection in me. As someone who was voted the world’s leading public intellectual (The 2005 Global Intellectuals Poll jointly conducted by American magazine Foreign Policy and British magazine Prospect), his work was certainly a good read. His views on plutocracy (society governed by the wealthy), who really ‘owns’ the world, who the real threat in the Middle East really is (contrary to the frequent posturing we hear on mainstream media), and the electoral circus in the USA, were all educational, if not enlightening.

Interestingly, even though he was raised Jewish, he learnt Arabic, as well as personally travelled and witnessed the impact of Israeli military occupation in the Palestinian territories. However, as a result of his criticisms of Israel, Chomsky was barred from entering Israel from 2010.

I cannot but respect his work that focuses on revealing the manipulation by corporate interest and corporate elites in systemically distorting the truth about political realities. Although he has lived all his life in America, and spent much of it being a professor in MIT, Chomsky is now labelled by some as trenchantly anti-American.

I guess as with all books and worldviews, one should read every word with a discerning eye, sifting out possible biases in those who write to expose bias. It is only through reading widely and with discernment, can one seek to inch closer to forming a coherent worldview of one’s own, based on the best available information compiled by those who have extensively researched what they write of.

All in all, I do highly recommend both reads to the young and the not-so-young.

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