Tag Archives: The Atlantic

Bridges

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A Muslim-American journalist has recently been the target of serious anger and hostility by some other Muslim-Americans who claim he was wrong to visit the West Bank and sit down with Jewish settlers to hear their side of the story, the Zionists’ perspective. They claim he was a stooge for the Zionists, manipulated into presenting the two sides (Israel and Palestine) as equal and equally justified. The term of art is a “false equivalency”.

Wajahat AliWahajat Ali’s article in June 2018 issue of The Atlantic is long, but well worth the time to read carefully before delving into the controversy. I read it two times and was starting on my third time around when my attention was redirected elsewhere. Maybe I’ll go back to it.

 

I found his story interesting, illuminating and nuanced. I’ve heard that some pro-Palestine activists on the other hand consider Ali’s article “problematic,” one-sided (the Zionists’ side), normalizing the occupation, and promoting false equivalencies. Read the article for yourself and be the judge.

(I first heard that term “false equivalency” from a Zionist family member in 2001, complaining about something I said about Palestinians. I came to realize that people who hear two very disparate perspectives/sides discussed in the same breath might be offended because they don’t believe the other perspective deserves to be included or they believe their side was unfairly treated in the discussion.)

The unintentional beauty of this current ‘controversy’ — Muslims attacking a Muslim for meeting and writing about Jewish settlers in the West Bank — is that it highlights the challenge of understanding the ‘other’ (whether the ‘other’ is a Jewish settler, a white nationalist, a refugee or a migrant).

If half the energy expended by many who are dissecting The Atlantic article was directed, instead, to building bridges with the ‘other’ (whoever that may be in your life) …. the energy might have made a real difference.

Some may object and say “[t]he problem is that one cannot build a bridge to those who have consistently demonstrated in actions that there are no bridges to even be considered. Zionists will not change their attitude in the same way as those who endeavor to support justice will not change their’s. They are not, however, equal. Justice does not equate with continued, unmitigated oppression. It is fantasy to believe that this can be done.”

  • My notion of bridge-building does not envision a bridge expanding the wide divide separating us so that I can drag the ‘other’ back to my side.
  • My notion of bridge-building does not require me to accept or believe the ‘other’ perspective, it only gives me a channel to learn more about the ‘other’.
  • My notion of bridge-building does not weaken my convictions and beliefs; in fact, it may strengthen them because I will have the opportunity to examine my beliefs in the context of the ‘other’.

In my first year of law school, I took a criminal procedures class with 100+ other students. One day, Professor Kreitzberg asked me to stand up and argue in favor of the death penalty. (She knew I strongly opposed the death penalty).  I was shocked but I did as I was asked and mumbled through some half-baked ideas in favor of the death penalty. Then she turned to another student and asked him to speak in opposition to the death penalty, knowing full well that he personally supported it. He also did as he was instructed.

The lesson that my classmate and I both learned (and maybe some of the other students picked up on it too) was (1) it’s really tough to get in the shoes of the ‘other’ and (2) we are stronger advocates when we understand and can express the position of the ‘other.’ The same may be true in the Palestine-Israel conflict. Since Wajahat Ali is a lawyer by training, this lesson has probably been drilled into him too. His article in The Atlantic helped me understand the perspective of the Jewish settlers in a way that I never could have on my own. I don’t have access to the settlers. I can’t sit in their kitchens to talk with them, as Ali did.

Some argue that Wajahat Ali’s article about the Jewish settlers speaks over (perhaps drowns out) the voices of the Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans who are the ‘legitimate’ voices that the West needs to hear. I simply don’t buy it. The whole notion of ‘legitimate’ voices (implying that others’ are illegitimate) is very problematic in itself.

In the marketplace of ideas, competing voices and ideas are valuable and should be valued. Certainly, the Western narrative of Israel-Palestine has been heavily skewed by Israel’s Hasbara for many years, and push-back is warranted to influence and educate public opinion in the U.S. and elsewhere. But let’s not fall for the mistaken belief that there’s a monolithic Palestinian narrative, or a monolithic Muslim narrative. There isn’t. Maybe this fact is creating some angst for those who would like to control the Muslim narrative.

Wajahat Ali’s article has done a great service in furthering the art of bridge-building. Sadly, many on his own side of the bridge may not appreciate that fact yet.

 

 

 

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Filed under Media, Occupation, People, Settlers, Uncategorized, Video

Allowing space for conflicting narratives

My son’s high school classmate, many years ago, recently visited the West Bank. Wajahat Ali has visited the Middle East many times and is quite knowledgeable about the history and the current political strife. His feature length piece in the June 2018 issue of The Atlantic reflects his insights from the people he met on his journey.

Wajahat Ali

Wajahat Ali

A Muslim Among Israeli Settlers — What happens when a Pakistani American writer goes deep into the West Bank?  is a gift and a pure joy to read.

The reader might immediately draw assumptions and put Wajahat, an American Muslim, into a box.  The box that describes how Muslims are suppose to feel about Zionists and which side (Palestinians, of course) they naturally can be expected to gravitate towards.  Wajahat doesn’t fit into any boxes.

I know he will receive criticism — probably from many different boxes (errr……sides) — dissecting the fine points in his long article. People won’t find fault with the facts — facts are facts and I’m pretty sure that Wajahat and his editors have fact-checked his paper thoroughly. Instead, they will argue about his emphasis or lack of emphasis, about his opinion or lack of opinion (“why didn’t you say this or that?”), and about his (gasp!) objectivity!

“As a result of engaging with Zionists, I found that once you allow a space for conflicting narratives, even those that might repulse you, the characters take up room in your mind and your heart. You can no longer unsee or unfeel them. You have to negotiate their presence without compromising your core principles.”

Of course, the same can and must be said about engaging with Palestinians, with Hamas, with anyone we consider the “other”.

If everyone in the region has a shot at interpreting God’s will, then I’ll offer my own vision. I believe that Jews and Palestinians are religious cousins, more alike than different. They have lived together in the past, eaten each other’s olives, worked each other’s fields, married each other’s family members. Learning to live together again should not be impossible. But this isn’t happening, not anytime soon.

Thank you, Wajahat, for your clarity of pen and clarity of heart. We need many more writers, and leaders, who have the courage to step outside of their boxes and allow space for the conflicting narratives.

Be sure to read Wajahat’s article here and watch this short 14 minute video.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Peaceful, People, Settlers, Uncategorized, Video