“Akkodhena jine kodham, asadhum sadhuna jine.”
[“Conquer anger by the power of non-anger and evil by power of good.”]
—Rabindranath Tagore, from a 1919 letter to Mahatma Gandhi in which the Nobel laureate offers these and other words of advice cautioning Gandhi on planting the seeds of intolerance.
In light of the horrific stories coming out of Gaza and Israel, I’d encourage all of us to listen to this interview we did with two remarkable human beings: Robi Damelin, who lost her son David to a Palestinian sniper, and Ali Abu Awwad, who lost his older brother Yousef to an Israeli soldier.
Makes me think of an interview I witnessed with Robi Damelin and Ali Abu Awwad. Knowing how they lost loved ones to enemy fire and then seeing their friendship and love for one another made everything possible and any petty animosities of my own seem frivolous.
The Queen shakes ex-IRA commander/current Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland Martin McGuinness’s hand. No small moment right there, one that not so long ago would have been considered more than impossible. (This is not the initial handshake, which was private.)
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Who Germany Wants to Be
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Zoe Chace’s report for Planet Money on the budgetary meltdown in Greece has got to be one of the better pieces of information journalism I’ve heard on NPR’s morning air. Lost in the debate of bailout-no bailout over Greece’s debt — and the necessity of Germany floating it — runs an undercurrent: the narrative of belonging to a unified Europe, and the varying perspectives of Germans on their responsibilities and the kind of community they want to be part of.
Chace’s focused narrative and inclusion of the voices of Germans from several walks of life deepen our understanding of some of the motivating factors driving this debate. She gives the listener a sense of history: how that past is living forward in the German psyche and how their identity — as a broken people, a vibrant culture, and a affluent nation — is predicated on the past and on whom Germans want to be in the future.
My only regret is the reporter’s use of “Kumbaya” in the piece. As I’ve shared before, I’ve taken Vincent Harding’s story to heart and will never use that reference again in such a way. Nonetheless, it’s a slight quibble and this type of reporting on thick subjects is something I long to hear more of.
Did anybody else listen to this? What’s your take? I’m also thinking through this as we push forward with a more ambitious agenda for On Being online in the coming year. Let’s talk.
When I go to a campus where the Muslim Student Association and the Hillel are not talking to each other, my question to them is, ‘Who did you feed in Ramallah by not talking to Hillel? Who did you keep safe in the south of Israel by not talking to the M.S.A.?’
—Eboo Patel, from "An Effort to Foster Tolerance in Religion" in today’s New York Times
Eboo Patel is one of the busiest, most energetic people we know. We produced a show with him as the featured guest several years ago and titled it "Religious Passion, Pluralism, and the Young." It’s definitely worth a listen.
Photo courtesy of Elmhurst College
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Nonviolence seeks to ‘win’ not by destroying or even by humiliating the adversary, but by convincing [the adversary] that there is a higher and more certain common good than can be attained by bombs and blood. Nonviolence, ideally speaking, does not try to overcome the adversary by winning over [them], but to turn [them] from an adversary into a collaborator by winning [them] over.
—Thomas Merton, from Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice
~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
When a Jewish Kibbutz Neighbors an Arab Village: 50 Years of Cooperation in Israel
by Bethany Firnhaber, Rosalina Nieves, and Robyn Carolyn Price
The relationship between Arabs and Jews in Israel has been strained by failed peace agreements, suicide bombings, and the construction of a separation wall — all which have fostered fear and anger on both sides.
Since Israel became a state in 1948, the road to peaceful coexistence has been, as many people in the region describe it, complicated. Somewhere in the midst of the conflict, however, are two communities — one Arab and one Jewish — that for years have shared a well, harvested crops together, and attended each others’ weddings and funerals.
Their relationship began in the early ’50s when Kibbutz Mezer was established. Unable to find a viable water source of their own, the new kibbutz relied on the generosity of its Arab neighbors, who allowed them to share their own small well. In gratitude, Kibbutz Mezer shared with Meiser tips for navigating the new Israeli bureaucracy.
Both communities say that, in time, respect and even friendships grew. And not even the murder of a family at the kibbutz by a Palestinian extremist on November 10, 2002 could dismantle the peaceful relationship the two communities share.
The video above is a tale of Mezer and Meiser, communities that have lived side by side for over 55 years, offering a model of what peaceful coexistence in the region might look like.
Bethany Firnhaber is a Los Angeles-based freelance reporter and photographer who recently received a master’s degree in Journalism from the University of Southern California. She is most interested in reporting on issues of social responsibility and human rights, especially across cultural and international borders.
Rosalina Nieves is a master’s degree candidate in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Southern California. After graduating from Purdue University, she began her career at WFLD-TV (FOX) in Chicago. Since that time, she has worked at KABC-TV and is currently an assignment editor at CNN’s Los Angeles bureau.
Robyn Carolyn Price is native of Los Angeles, California. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from New York University, and studied in Florence, Italy. She is currently a master’s degree candidate in the Specialized Journalism Program at the University of Southern California. Her specialization is American politics and its effects on marginalized communities.
Read more about their reporting in Mezer and Meiser on their website, We would also like to include a link to the projects’s website, Coexistence in Israel: A Tale of Two Cities.
The Violence We Live By
by Debra Dean Murphy, guest contributor
"I Think I’m Ready to Fly Away" (photo: DiaTM/Flickr, by-nc-nd 2.0)
"However much we try to distinguish between morally good and morally evils ways of killing, our attempts are beset with contradictions, and these contradictions remain a fragile part of our modern subjectivity."
—Talal Asad, On Suicide Bombing
You can often detect it when a politician or journalist uses a word like "barbaric" to describe the actions of any suicide bomber before, on, or after 9/11: the assumption that “Islamic terrorism” represents an uncontainable hostility toward modernity.
The extremists, on this view, are primitive; we are civilized. They are irrational; we are people of prudence and reason. This is the “clash of civilizations” narrative that has held sway in the West for generations, but with a special power in the last decade.
Yet as anthropologist Talal Asad points out, the histories of Europe and Islam are not so neatly separated and thus the clash of civilizations rhetoric ignores a rich legacy of mutual borrowings and continuous interactions among Christians, Jews, and Muslims. More than that, though, the very selective heritage that shapes a people (that strange, unknown hybrid called Judeo-Christianity, for instance) often bears no relation to the hard facts on the ground — to the way people self-identify, to what they do, how they negotiate the world, and so on.
The concept of jihad is a case in point. Asad notes that the term is not central to Islam, but Western histories of the religion have made it integral to an Islamic civilization rooted in religion. In fact, jihad has been a subject of centuries-long debate among Muslim scholars of different historical and social contexts. It is simply not part of a transhistorical Muslim worldview but rather belongs to, as Asad writes, “an elaborate political-theological vocabulary in which jurists, men of religious learning, and modernist reformers debated and polemicized in response to varying circumstances.”
All of which is to say that the West’s tidy narration of Islam vis-a-vis modern liberal social orders has posited a set of very persuasive yet fictive binaries: freedom vs. repression; savagery vs. the rule of law; legitimate warfare vs. terrorism. So much so that in the deeply partisan, brutally contentious world of American politics, both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, routinely employ a model in which, Asad says, “rational democrats in the West react defensively to destructive terrorists from the East.”
The point here — mine and most certainly Asad’s — is not to condone or justify atrocities committed by extremists. Osama bin Laden was a bad guy and the violence he was responsible for indefensible. Period. The point, instead, is to question the moral high ground America regularly claims in response to criminals like bin Laden and to ask the difficult questions that arise from inhabiting such a lofty perch.
The point also is to be willing to entertain unsettling answers to these questions — to name the contradictions that beset our attempts to rationalize, and celebrate, state-sponsored violence while we categorically condemn, and punish, rogue terrorism.
Can we begin to acknowledge that violence is embedded in the very concept of liberty that lies at the heart of liberal social orders like the United States of America? As Wendell Berry puts it in a poem, “When they want you to buy something they will call you. When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.”
Can we begin to acknowledge that there is no moral difference between the horror inflicted by state armies and the horror inflicted by insurgents? Shot-off limbs, dead babies, destroyed livelihoods — these are the on-the-ground realities whether the munitions come from teenage suicide bombers or the U.S. military.
Can we begin to acknowledge that Americans seem to take a de facto stance in which war is condemned only in excess but terrorism in its very essence?
Can we begin to acknowledge that terrorists often talk about what they do in the language of necessity and humanity (as do five-star generals and American presidents)? But, as Asad notes, the banal fact is that “powerful states are never held accountable to [war crimes tribunals], only the weak and the defeated can be convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Can we begin to acknowledge that, as Asad perceptively puts it, “human life has differential exchange value in the marketplace of death when it comes to ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ peoples” and that “this is necessary to a hierarchical global order.”
Can we begin to acknowledge that events in recent days ought to disturb us sufficiently to resist the prepackaging of acceptable responses by corporate-controlled media outlets?
To entertain the possibility that the violence wrought in the name of “liberty and justice for all” bears a moral equivalency to that waged by operatives of al-Qaeda is not to impute sinister motives to the American military or its leaders. Not at all. That’s the easy, cynical view born of occupying the moral high ground on another plane.
But the uneasy truth remains: Osama bin Laden is dead, and we have killed him. And the story of violence continues — his, ours, and the inextricable link between the two.
Debra Dean Murphy is an assistant professor of Religion and Christian Education at West Virginia Wesleyan College and serves on the board of The Ekklesia Project. She regularly blogs at Intersections: Thoughts on Religion, Culture, and Politics.
We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
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.