A brief message to myself more than anyone else.
Recent events and communications have focused my attention on “the other” and the world’s intolerance for “the other”.
Some concrete examples might help.
A Palestinian-American author condemned an Irish-American author’s book about Palestine. Colum McCann‘s novel (Apeirogon) is about two families (a Palestinian family in the occupied West Bank and an Israeli family in Jerusalem) who each suffer the death of a child due to the violence perpetrated by the other side. The Palestinian-American author criticizes the book:
Along comes a novelist, who is so moved by this unusual friendship, the story behind it, and what he feels it represents of hope for the future of the nation that he decides to write a book about them. It is a kind of amplifying-the-voice-of-peace endeavour (sic), born from the stubborn belief that anything can be solved by the benevolent enthusiasm of well-meaning folks.
I do not know McCann, though I suspect he wrote this book with a sense of solidarity and a desire to foster “dialogue”. But it is possible to do great harm with the noblest of intentions. The rhetoric of dialogue can be alluring – the idea that talking to find common humanity is all it takes to dismantle structural racism and notions of ethnocentric supremacy. It can make all kinds of people, even victims themselves, become purveyors of injustice. (emphasis added)
The second example is a Palestinian activist in Gaza (Rami Aman) who was recently arrested by Hamas for engaging in a Zoom chat with Israeli peace activists. Perhaps naively, it appears both sides were hoping to understand “the other” better. I’ve written about Rami and normalization here and here.
Both examples illustrate one of the biggest impediments to the future survival of the human species.
!*!*!*!*! Are you serious? !*!*!*!*!
Here’s my thesis in a nutshell. (I’m giving a lot of thought about how best to elaborate on the thesis, and hope to in the future. InshaAllah)
Humans face many challenges today, and they will continue to face many more which are arguably life-threatening. (Take a minute and think about the challenges —- from the small to the existential.)
How have we made it this far? Those among us with a good dose of testosterone might conclude that it was the spear, sword, gun, and the individual’s strength that ensured “survival of the fittest“. I disagree.
I believe it’s our ability to cooperate and empathize with “the other” that has allowed humans to achieve much, and ultimately to survive.
I can hear the howls of protest and derision even as I write. I will summarize what I hear simply by saying that cooperation and empathy are not qualities of weakness or naivety, and they certainly don’t require anyone to ignore danger posed by “the other”.
However, survival requires that each one of us recognize our self in “the other” — and accept “the other” is a part of me. (A LOT MORE ON THAT IN ANOTHER POST)
Sadly, our human species seems to be evolving in the opposite direction, ultimately a dead end, and a path destined to bring much suffering along the way.
It’s far easier for me to conjure up “the other” than it is for me to conjure up “the larger family” … “we are one”. I can see our differences and easily ignore our similarities.
So what does this thesis have to do with Israel – Palestine and the two examples I set out above? Don’t be fooled. It is
- not to forget who is the occupier and who is the occupied
- not to forget the past and current injustices
- not to equate all voices and all perspectives as valid
It is simply to see “the other” as a member of “the larger family” … “we are one” … flaws and all.
We are losing that ability to see “the other” in this evolutionary way every time we dismiss “the other” — such as Colum McCann’s book and Rami Aman’s Zoom chat.
McCann’s voice contributes a meaningful perspective about “the other” regardless of whether you are an Israeli considering your Palestinian neighbors, or a Palestinian considering your Israeli neighbors, or anyone else in the world considering the human suffering in the Middle East.
Aman’s voice on that Zoom chat contributed a meaningful perspective about “the other” too—as did the young Israelis on the other side of that chat.
When anyone attempts to shut down these examples of seeing “the other”, he or she is simply trying to redirect the human species down the dead end cul-de-sac. It saddens me and I pray they don’t succeed.