Star Trek and the End of Occupation

Part 2

See Part 1.

Back in the 1960s, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry depicted a 23rd century future where the bridge of an Earth spaceship had an African, an East Asian, a Slav, Anglos, and a half human/half Vulcan crew exploring the galaxy together in — for the most part — respectful harmony. In the 1980s, Roddenberry was behind the series Star Trek: The Next Star Generation. The spaceship Enterprise again had a diverse crew. By the 1990s, TV executives felt comfortable enough to allow a Black captain on the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 series and a female captain on Star Trek: Voyager series. The Federation was an extremely tolerant place in the Trekverse.

Human rights, equality of opportunity and equality of conditions for all humans, peace, anti-poverty, anti-racism, and anti-capitalism are important to me, so I was deeply drawn to a television series that posited such a future. The science-fiction escapism, adventure, and promise undoubtedly attracted many progressivist-minded viewers and hence its half century of popularity. So it was only natural that Manu Saadia’s upcoming book Trekonomics on the progressivist economics of Star Trek would pique my interest.

Saadia covered trekonomics admirably. However, some of the digressions from trekonomics gave me pause.

Bajorans executed by Cardassian occupiers

Bajorans executed by Cardassian occupiers

Central to the DS9 story arch is that Bajor was a planet that was bloodied by a half century of Cardassian military occupation. The Bajoran people suffered genocide, slavery, debilitating work in the mines, and enforced prostitution at the hands of Cardassians.

A Bajoran resistance arose and fought against the Cardassian occupiers using guerrilla tactics. Eventually the resistance wore down the occupiers. As a weapons merchant pointed out in the DS9 episode “Business as Usual”: “They [the Cardassians] underestimated the Bajoran thirst for freedom.”

Based on topics broached in Trekonomics and the narrative on occupation and resistance as portrayed on Star Trek, I sought clarification from Saadia.

Kim Petersen: Do you see an Earth parallel for the Cardassian occupation of Bajor?

Manu Saadia: a loaded question. There are undeniable and intriguing hints of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in there. Remember that DS9 started right around the time of the Oslo accords. On the other hand, I would argue that DS9 was trying to be more generic and archetypal, and in a way more universal. You could draw parallels with any defeated occupying power (Cardassia) and any victorious national liberation movement (Bajor), either past or ongoing: Kurdistan, Tibet, France or Yugoslavia during WWII, Algeria, Kenya, Haiti, and so forth. Also, the story arc of liberated Bajor is indeed interesting: it shows the pitfalls and challenges of victory. Not everything is rosy right away, unity in the struggle has broken down once victory has been achieved, rebuilding an entire society is never easy, there are corrupt and power-hungry people. That’s the part I find the most engaging – what happens after the victory.

KP: I thought that was a very open question. On p 18 you mentioned “Israel’s war of independence.” I wonder why you use this term since the war was fought by European Jews against the indigenous Palestinian people. Would not a more accurate moniker have been “war on historical Palestine”?

MS: This is how it was related to me. That particular section of the intro takes the point of view of a wide eyed and largely ignorant 8 yr old. As for my CURRENT opinion of Israel, Zionism and Palestinian and Arab nationalism, it’s not really germane to the book (although I’d say it’s not that hard to figure out – my dad left, and I don’t live there, do I?)

KP: On p 17 you wrote, “Thanks to science fiction I could renounce my French citizenship in all but the paperwork.” So you disavow a nationality, but you offer that you are of the Jewish tribe. Yes, in Star Trek nationality is a relic of Earth’s past, maybe tribalism is less so. But isn’t Star Trek’s message that in Earth’s context we are all humans and that identifying as in-groups and out-groups runs counter to a shared humanity? In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Bonding,” Commander William Riker tells Data: “Maybe if we felt any loss as keenly as we felt the death of one close to us — human history would be a lot less bloody.”

Vulcan greeting

Vulcan greeting

MS: I was raised in a particular, overdetermined environment. I can’t undo that nor would I want to. My name itself is as Jewish as it gets (ancestor was one of the 3 great Jewish Arabic philosophers of the Middle Ages). So whether I self-identify as Jewish or not is moot. It’s following me everywhere I go. Furthermore, Judaism does have some bearing on Star Trek, because of the cultural contraband that is the Vulcan hand greeting. Finally I do not view cultural heritage as standing in contradiction to cosmopolitanism or progressive politics. And neither does Trek.

As far as “Israel’s war of independence,” it was not a quotation. Despite it being a debatable phrasing, Saadia wrote this without quotation marks; neither did he preface it with “so-called.” Israel’s so-called war of independence, a designation from the Zionist lexicon, led to the dispossession of indigenous Palestinians, i.e., the Nakba, constant massacres of Palestinians, and the establishment of a brutal occupation. Saadia writes that of his “CURRENT opinion of Israel, Zionism and Palestinian and Arab nationalism, it’s not really germane to the book.” I fully agree that such topics are not germane to trekonomics. But I wonder why he raised the topic of “Israel’s war of independence,” and why he boasted of the number of Jewish Hungarian Nobel prize winners in Trekonomics. Are these topics germane to Star Trek or, more specifically, to trekonomics? If such topics had not appeared in a book on trekonomics, then I would not have questioned him about them.

Ferengis.

Ferengis.

Trekonomics also brings Ferengis into the Jewish conversation. Saadia opines that the Ferengis’ “avaricious character and grotesque, swarthy physique, smattered [sic] with untoward sexual appetite directed at alien females, sometimes hew uncomfortably close to age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes. The association of greed and exaggerated facial features and bodily deformity runs deep in western iconography” (p 190).

Outside of Der Stürmer, however, such depictions would be rare in “western iconography.” Ferengis serve as a character prop to poke fun at the absurdity of capitalism — not to besmirch any specific group, as such would blatantly undermine Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future. The Ferengis speak to the present-day cupidity of many humans. To be fair, despite raising the topic of Ferengis and anti-Semitism, Saadia did dismiss it.

Ending Occupation

Today, Palestinians resist a brutal, murderous, racist Zionist occupation of historical Palestine. The Cardassian occupation of Bajor mirrors much of what is being done to Palestinians by Israeli Jews.1 It mirrors much of what has been and is being done by European settlers/colonialists throughout the western hemisphere and in Oceania.

In Star Trek there are no countries, and it doesn’t/shouldn’t matter where one hails from or what one looks like. There need not be an Israel, Canada, or any other state. There is no need to wait for the 23rd century, it is past time to elevate humanity and diminish nationality, ethnicity, and tribalism. The sooner borders are erased and people freed, the better.

Manu Saadia does indeed capture the quintessence of Star Trek when he writes: “In the final analysis, people are the true wealth of the Federation, and the source of its tremendous power” (p 65). People, all people. It doesn’t matter whether male or female, or any other gender. It doesn’t matter if white-, brown-, black-, or blue-skinned. It doesn’t matter if Catholic, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, Shintoist, or atheist. The emergence of ultimate power is impossible when one group of people occupies another group of people. The tremendous power, the ultimate power of people will only emerge when all peoples unite as one and share the power.

• First published at American Herald Tribune.

  1. Look no further than Israeli media, e.g., Tair Kaminer, “No One Would Serve in the Israeli Army if They Knew,” Haaretz, 29 March 2016: “The army is a political tool that enables the government to continue the occupation of another nation, and for years its main task has been control, not defense.”
    Haaretz Editorial, “Israel’s Chief Danger,” Haaretz, 29 March 2016: In addition to expressing ugly opinions, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef also interferes in various issues that are completely beyond his jurisdiction. “If our hands were firm, if we had the power to rule, gentiles shouldn’t live in the Land of Israel.” He went on to say that the reason gentiles live in Israel is to serve its Jewish inhabitants: “Who will be the servers? Who will be our assistants? Therefore, we leave them here in the land.” []
Kim Petersen is an independent writer and former co-editor of the Dissident Voice newsletter. He can be emailed at: kimohp at gmail.com. Twitter: @kimpetersen. Read other articles by Kim.