In his foreword to Carlos Fraenkel’s Teaching Plato in Palestine, Michael Walzer writes, “Fraenkel aspires to an Athens where the people don’t kill Socrates but imitate him.” This classical aspiration could also serve as the book’s theme.
Fraenkel, the author of Philosophical Religions from Plato to Spinoza (2013) and a teacher of philosophy and religion at McGill University and Oxford, spends the first part of his book describing his attempts to encourage this Socratic imitation in Palestine, Indonesia, New York’s Hasidic community, Brazil, and the Akwesasne Territory, which straddles the US–Canada border and is “one of the largest Mohawk reserves in North America.” In the second part, he argues his case that “making philosophy part of our personal and public lives is something worthwhile.” As he puts it in his preface, the first part of his book is an “intellectual travelogue,” while the second presents a “more systematic argument.”
As part of the travelogue, Fraenkel goes to Israel to teach philosophy at the Jerusalem campus of a Palestinian university, Al-Quds. There, he works with the Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, who believes “even if the Middle East isn’t yet ready to be saved, philosophy can make an important contribution.” Fraenkel and Nusseibeh use the Socratic method to get their students to think about al-Haqq, which means “the truth” in Arabic and is also one of the names of God as entered in the Qur’an. Nusseibeh is a heroic figure. His own political party has physically attacked him for collaborating with Israelis, and he now goes everywhere with bodyguards. In the tradition of Socrates, he is paying a price for his practice of philosophy.