Q:First, I just want to say I love the show and Krista you deserve a noble peace prize for the work you do. I have been really enjoying all the pieces stemming from your trip to the Middle East. I just read an editorial from the NYT that resonated with me and just wanted to share it with you'all :-)
Here is the link : http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/25/opinion/25friedman.html?_r=1&smid=fb-nytimes&WT.mc_id=OP-SM-E-FB-SM-LIN-LFT-052511-NYT-NA&WT.mc_ev=click
Thank you for saying so. We’re working hard at presenting many voices from this region and hope we’re adding value to the news reports and political discussions taking place. But, when it comes to shows featuring Israeli and Palestinian voices, the metrics for visits to the websites and podcast downloads for these types of shows dip — often quite dramatically — in the weekly trending graphs.
We realize numbers aren’t everything, but we do ask ourselves how we can frame and promote these shows differently to attract more ears and eyeballs because we know that these alternative perspectives are worth hearing. Plus, they are so very interesting and relevant to our own lives.
If you have ideas, please help us. We are game for great ideas.
With regard to Thomas Friedman’s column, his idea of West Bank Palestinians peacefully marching all the way to Jerusalem is talk that ignores the realities and logistics of the situation. Mr. Friedman admits that it’s crazy (sorta?), but it’s even crazier than it sounds. But his larger point of building on the idea of Tahrir Square and the Arab Spring is not lost on us either.
—Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The Literature of Conflict in the “News” Lags Behind the Human Story
by Krista Tippett, host
Since we went to Israel and the West Bank, I haven’t been able to read the news from those places in the same way. Before, it generally depressed me. Now I find it painful with a more personal edge.
But on a profounder level than that, I am made crazy by the incompleteness — the narrow lens through which reality in this most intense of human and religious places is filtered. We often only get one side of something that has countless sides, at least more than two. Or we get the tail end of a story that is multi-layered and can’t be told validly without something of its beginning and its middle. And always, in the West, we are focused on what is happening at the tip of the iceberg — the high-level, political arena of negotiations, of votes, of posturing.
So there were big news flashes recently that Fatah and Hamas are resolving to work together. But that did not happen because they had a change of heart. While we were there, thousands of citizens marched on streets of Palestinian cities, inspired by the Arab Spring in Egypt, calling on their two governments to grow up, talk to each other, and better represent their people. That story was buried, understandably, under other unbelievable headlines that week: a Japanese reactor that looked ready to melt down, Saudi tanks rolling in to squash demonstrations in Bahrain, the early days of a Libyan revolution.
I’ve started to look with extra vigilance for pieces of writing that tell more of the truth and suggest more possibility.
This commentary in the Guardian, while fiercely partisan towards the Palestinian cause, also reveals that what we digest as “news” lags behind the real human story on the ground. I’d also recommend a slim, remarkably thoughtful and readable book in a very different tone by the Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, What is a Palestinian State Worth? (I also interviewed him, in East Jerusalem, and we’ll turn that conversation into a show later this year.) As one reviewer wrote about Nusseibeh’s book, “There is nothing like it in the literature of this conflict. Every year thousands of articles and blog posts are produced about how to end the conflict. They all feel stale. This book does not.”
The truth is, the “literature of the conflict” is limited by its focus merely on conflict and high-level solutions.
A larger truth that increasingly grips me, as my Israeli conversation partner Yossi Klein Halevi says, is that there is something at stake in the Holy Land that gets at what makes all of us human. It matters, and it matters that we aspire to see it with greater nuance.
About the image (bottom): Sari Nusseibeh during our interview in his office at Al Quds University. (photo: Trent Gilliss)
Ronan Kerr Was Not a Judas: Betrayal and Peace in Northern Ireland at Lent
by Pádraig Ó Tuama, guest contributor
Police officers carry the coffin containing the remains of Constable Ronan Kerr to the church of the Immaculate Conception in Beragh, Northern Ireland on April 6, 2011. The First Minister of the British-controlled province, the Protestant Peter Robinson, broke with decades of tradition to attend his first ever Catholic mass as Constable Kerr was laid to rest. (photo: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
While working with Holy Family Parish in North Belfast over the last few weeks, I have encountered much wisdom. One woman, Ann, quoted one of her university professors who said, “Any ideology carried to its logical conclusion is a dangerous thing.”
Now, I am sure that there are library shelves worth of arguments that could add nuance and subtlety to this statement. However, the death of Constable Ronan Kerr on April 2nd has given us something more weighty than a library to consider when reflecting on Ann’s quote.
Ronan Kerr was 25, involved in Gaelic Games and a member of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). A Catholic, he was part of the growing sea change in the active members of the Police Service that was set up in response to the reports and enquiries and settlements and agreements of the 1980s and 90s. The organisational predecessor of the PSNI had a significant imbalance — for a 52 percent Protestant to 45 percent Catholic population, there was at times over 90 percent representation from the Protestant community. In an effort to redress this, the PSNI (formed in November 2001) had, up until two weeks ago, a 50-50 recruitment policy. A huge majority of Catholic/Nationalist/Republican groups have given backing to the organisational structure of the PSNI — but a fractionally small minority, allegedly including those who planted the bomb that killed Ronan Kerr, objected.
Ronan Kerr was possibly understood by this small minority as a traitor — someone who had abandoned the values of what it means to be Irish by joining the police service that serves a jurisdiction of Ireland that is not part of the Republic. I am guessing that this combination of Gaelic Games, formed with the dual purpose of promoting traditional Irish sports and culture, with active service as a policeman was considered a juxtaposition too far, and a contradiction that needed to be met with force.
The force that met him was placed under his car, in a small plastic container, and it exploded, killing him. The following day, on Mother’s Day, I thought about his mother. She spoke out last Monday with dignity, strength, and conviction.
Thousands of people walked in the “March for Peace” rally in Omagh, Northern Ireland on April 10, 2011. Commemorating the death of Ronan Kerr, a woman holds a sign reading “Not in My Name” with a photo of the murdered police constable. (photo: Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty Images)
It is Lent and, as part of my work, we are looking at unusual relationships in the gospels. This was how I met Ann. She is part of a parish group examining how Jesus of Nazareth related to people who were different, people who were marginalised, people who were on the fringes, whether because they were lowly or because they were haughty. As we meet together to discuss these narratives, we examine the characters involved and consider the question of to whom these stories might speak today, and how we might demonstrate the subtlety of relationship depicted in the interactions of the text.
Last week, a group of us considered Judas. Judas is depicted as a traitor. Matthew and Mark’s gospel accounts introduce Judas as the one who betrayed Jesus. Luke’s first mention of Judas paints him as a traitor, and John, in addition to calling him a traitor, calls him a devil.
It is safe to say that the writers of the gospels inherited the outrage of the original disciples — that one of them should betray Jesus. Yet, there is a story of Judas that we must consider. When he betrayed Jesus with a kiss, Jesus called him “Friend.” Following the death of Jesus, Judas repented, saying, “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood” before ending his own life.
As we discussed Judas, we thought that his agenda may have been a more political one — to begin a revolt, to start a flame with the small spark of an arrest of Jesus of Nazareth. That he was disappointed by the outcome of death is evident. And so, we gave time to widen the character of Judas in our imagination, seeing him beyond categories.
Irish society, north and south of the border, has at times been characterised by people who have loudly declaimed each other as traitors. In order to consider the question of who the character of Judas is in the gospel, we have had to pay attention to his own actions and his own words, not just the words of those who caricature him. If we are to apply something from a close narrative reading of the text, we must recognise that the term “traitor” is too easily used, and too easily thrown.
Ronan Kerr was not a Judas, he was not a traitor. With his life, words, and body, Ronan Kerr was holding within himself identities that are symbolic of a shared and peaceful future for all on the Island of Ireland. He was one of many, Catholic and Protestant, who embody within themselves the delightful and radical combination of identities that one time were considered juxtapositional.
I believe that the character of Judas had lost his own self. He had forgotten what it meant to be in relationship with real people because his relationship with his ideology had become supreme. In some ways, I consider those responsible for the death of Ronan Kerr, who as yet have not yet claimed responsibility, to be addicted to the chaos that for so long dominated the life of society in the north of Ireland.
In light of Ronan Kerr’s death, we spent a long time speaking in a congregational group about how Jesus would speak to the bombers. We have outrage, fear, protest, desires for justice, and desires for peace each speaking loudly within us. If we are to learn from Judas, we can learn that an ideology, taken to its logical extreme, removed from the narrative of everyday, ordinary people who wish to live a peaceful life, is a frightening and dangerous thing.
About the image, middle: Members of the public write in a book of condolence for police constable Ronan Kerr. (photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Pádraig Ó Tuama, a native of Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland as a faith & peace worker of the Irish Peace Centres. His poetry and writing can be found at Hold Your Self Together.
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West Bank Killing No Reason to Stop Talking
by Andrew Khouri, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
A family was killed Friday night. A husband, wife, and their three children died in Itamar, an ideologically driven Jewish settlement deep inside the West Bank. In response to the suspected terrorist attack, Israel approved 500 new housing units inside the occupied territory.
Peace isn’t a popular conversation topic at the moment. News of the stabbing has dominated the news here, and thousands flocked to Jerusalem Sunday for the funeral.
Saturday night, well-known Israeli journalist Yossi Klein Halevi said the latest violence was shocking in its brutality. “This will have, I suspect, a long-term imprint on Israeli discourse and how we view trusting the Palestinian side,” he said.
But both sides can’t now retreat into their separate corners, especially among everyday people. That was the message of Aaron Barnea and Siham Abu Awwad during an hour-and-a-half discussion over their attempts to finally bring peace among the two peoples.
Both Barnea and Abu Awwad lost family members to the conflict. Those losses pushed them to join Parents Circle, a grass roots organization that seeks understanding and peace through dialogue. Members have all lost loved ones to the violence.
“When an event of this kind, this quality happens … then we have to find the words and to find the ways how to translate actually our rage into human words,” Barnea said.
The key to solving the conflict, Barnea and Abu Awwad say, is reconciliation between individual people. Abu Awwad mentioned when she speaks to Israeli children, it is often the first time they have met a Palestinian. One boy was even shocked she didn’t have horns. Even Barnea only interacted with the other side during army patrols before protesting with Palestinians the occupation of southern Lebanon, where his son Noam was killed.
Barnea cautioned Israeli political leaders not to inject Friday’s horrific killing into a larger political debate over Israel’s presence in the West Bank and the two state solution. That, he said, should be decided on a “human basis.”
Of course, Friday’s killing was not the first, and sadly won’t be the last from either side. But Abu Awwad said, despite this, the choice to continue is simple. “What else can we do? We have to keep talking.”
Editor’s note: Krista and the On Being team are in Israel this week and working with Diane Winston’s graduate students from the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication & Journalism. We’ll be sharing some of these students’ reports as part of our collaboration and to add to the diversity of observations of this complex place.
The Plight of the “Distant Stranger”
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Many of us have read Nick Kristof’s columns over the years. And, perhaps, like me, you’ve been moved by his words, shaken by his stories, struck dumb with melancholy and grief. But, inevitably, the “plight of the ‘distant stranger’” assumes its role in feeling the events happening over there.
The HBO documentary, Reporter, will challenge you to come closer, to care, to take action as he pursues uncovering the truths behind human rights violations and personal suffering. With Kristof leading the way, the viewer bears witness alongside his two traveling companions, a med student and a teacher, to the tricky trail the journalist walks when reporting in war-torn Congo.
The film portrays some of the ethical and moral dilemmas of being a reporter in a conflict zone. When Kristof encounters a 41-year-old woman of 60 pounds lying at the edge of a village about to die, he acts. When a warlord responsible for the raping and pillaging of thousands gives thanks to the Lord, he bows his head; when that same man, General Nkunda asks him to eat with him, he dines. Few of these decisions are made without some type of deliberation — a grimace, a pause, a controlled look. But, in the end, he always writes.
He perseveres and tries to understand the underlying aspects of the people involved. And, he asks the difficult questions that have gotten other journalists killed. I’m not trying to saint him, but I now better appreciate his work as he attempts to discover a fuller aspect of all the human beings involved. He continues to tell the difficult stories of a region that gets covered during catastrophic events, and then forgotten within a blink’s time of a celebrity foible or the next breaking news event.
I hope we can interview him for the show some day in the future and hear how he wrestles with these difficult choices — and how he continues on.
A New Dialogue?
Colleen Scheck, senior producer
In preparation for this week’s program, “No More Taking Sides,” we’ve been following the recent developments in Robi Damelin’s life. Our show includes this film clip from the documentary Encounter Point of Robi reading the letter she wrote to the family of her son’s killer.
In 2005, just a few months after Ta’er Hamad had been arrested, she wrote:
After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation…
…I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people, he is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another may not be the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace.
Over three years later, Robi indirectly received a defiant, militant reply from Mr. Hamad via its publication by a Palestinian news agency:
“Just as I refused to directly address the soldier’s mother, I cannot wish to meet her. I cannot meet with the occupier of our land on the same land. I carried out the operation as part of the struggle for freedom, justice and the establishment of an independent state, not out of a lust or love for killing. Acts of violence are a necessity imposed upon us by the occupation and I shall not abandon this path for as long as the occupation continues.”
“Ta’er, how ironic, the people who most wanted to protect me from the words in your letter were my Palestinian friends and other bereaved parents in our group. They of all people have the right to talk about my actions and who I am for we have worked together for more than 6 years to try to end this terrible conflict and to give both sides a chance to live with a sense of dignity free from the terrible fear which engulfs us and gives us all the excuse for violence. The tears I saw in the eyes of my Palestinian partners in the Parents Circle when they met me after you chose to publish the letter were tears of understanding and yes friendship and love…”
“… The wisest reaction I had to the words of your letter came from my wonderful son Eran, who I thought would be terribly angry. Well he said, listen mum, perhaps this is the beginning of a dialog.”
In the audio embedded up top, Trent recently spoke with Robi from her home in Tel Aviv to learn more about how she’s reflecting on this exchange, and what it means for her work with the Parents Circle - Families Forum. It’s worth a listen to hear her ongoing tenacity.
Memories of a New Associate Producer
Shubha Bala, associate producer
As the newest addition to Speaking of Faith, my first task has been to prepare the show “No More Taking Sides” for rebroadcast in a couple of weeks. Listening to Ali say “Nobody want to be honest. Everybody want to be right,” reminded me of working in Gujarat when “state-sanctioned” violence, torture, and rape broke out across the state, primarily with Hindus attacking Muslims.
Although Hindu by birth, I was working there for a non-denominational organization. I was 20. Under 24-hour curfew, the media were saturated with images of brutality happening just down the street. More importantly, the dialogue of friends and colleagues concentrated on “us” versus “them.”
Recently, a friend read my personal narrative and asked, “Didn’t the Hindus realize the irony that came with attaching terms of violence to the Muslims?” Well no. Not the Hindus that took a side. They felt they were right and all Muslims were wrong. As for me, in addition to coping with the sheer force of violence, I was equally faced with a personal crisis — the Hindus I met believed I was part of “them,” but I just wanted to be human and I wanted the brutality to stop.
Robi and Ali’s story makes me imagine that organizations like Parents Circle - Family Forum can break down the centuries of opposing sides that have persisted between Hindus and Muslims.