StopHate 2000 Newsletter
"I may not have gone to school, but I met the scholars coming out!"
- William Edward Moran (1884-1949)
Our starting quotation refers to a certain movie, of which more later. For the most part we haven't seen it, although we've heard a lot from those who have.
There have been a number of sad events to speak since we last wrote. When we first began writing this letter, the biggest event of note had been the bombings in Madrid. Other events have taken center stage since, what with the horrors of war and the consequences of being televised, with some considerable searching of consciences, and some finding one atrocity a reason to commit another.
With that, and the terrible anniversaries which come back at us each year, it can be easy to lose hope. We have to fight that tendency, even when it can be a great effort. And we'll want to dwell a little at some hopeful things in all of these events.
So we begin with the Madrid bombings. For our readers in the United States, it's important to remember that the bombings there had at least as large an impact as the attacks on September 11, 2001 had on the people of the United States. Many of the feelings and reactions of the Spanish people will be very familiar to Americans.
As before, we're reminded that nearly everything that happens in this world affects all of us. If there ever was a time that one could flee from an unsatisfactory world to a new and unspoiled corner, unaffected by the rest, that time has long since gone by. Strangely, those who have understood this best are the solitary monks and nuns of any and all religions: such callings are only possible by living in solidarity with all humanity (and, indeed, more than humanity), and not in solitary isolation at all. In a world where we all affect each other, we have to be all the more aware of how each other thinks, acts, and believes. More than that, we have to learn how to accept them as they are. When we do that, we may succeed better in persuading them of our opinions - and we may just learn a little from them to our benefit.
So we must see what we can learn both of the people of Spain, and of their neighbours, a few of whom attacked Spain so harshly.
The attacks took place shortly before a national election. No doubt, the attackers took that into account, and perhaps thought they could affect the result. Many who were not there have not hesitated to draw conclusions which would have seemed strange to Spanish voters of all party allegiances. We will try to avoid that trap. We would say that the most crucial thing is that the elections went ahead, and that the people of Spain voted with determination and consideration. In the end, the best reaction to terrorists is not to be terrorized.
We are reminded that it is useful to know exactly who is responsible. It is a basic function of not being terrorized. We recall that after the September 11, 2001 attacks, one's looking vaguely "foreign" in any way could get you into trouble. We quickly add that it could have been much worse: it was much worse on past occasions. But there were still enough incidents to remind us that we have to be on guard. In this late tragic case, the news is largely good. The clear and unfeigned sympathy of Spain's Islamic neighbours, particularly Morocco, mattered a lot. It also helped that the Spanish authorities were able to identify most of the responsible people quickly, or that the Spanish people felt reassured that they had.
Sometimes we forget to learn from the things which went right. A very great evil occurred, but additional evils did not follow from it.
And it is also well to recall that what is true in our personal relations is equally true in national and international relations.
If we pause to think through that last sentence, we may begin to understand the nature of terrorism. It is extending national and international relations to personal ones. The apology made for it is that terrorism is the sole weapon against the powerful. This may be true: the distinction between a terrorist and a freedom fighter can be very, very fine indeed. There seems to be enough truth to it to create some sympathy with the imagined powerless. We could concede all of this, and yet we see a very great danger in that mentality. It reduces individuals to a faceless mass representing an enemy. Reacting in kind simply perpetuates the process.
That dynamic is now playing out between the occupiers and the occupied in Iraq, and an even more vicious circle is playing out in the same way in Israel. One atrocity is the pretext for the next, and we begin to fall into the habit of finding differences which will justify our atrocities as less appalling than the others'. Again, there are efforts being made to break that circle, and we must hope they succeed. It is no denegration of those efforts to point out that the cycle is there, and ahs been made very public in recent times.
We would like to focus on a less well-publicized event which occurred in Saudi Arabia on April 21. In Riyadh, a massive car bomb went off in front of a government building. Comparisons with a bombing in Oklahoma City come to mind. Fans of the death penalty will be pleased to learn that the bomber most agreeably accepted that penalty: suicide bombers do that. The police were also fortunate in seeing the approaching car for what it was, and were able to keep the death toll down (although the number of injured was very high). The casualties otherwise would have been as discriminate as they were in Oklahoma City. Worse carnage happens daily in Iraq, which admittedly is a war zone, so this one's easy to pass over. Which is why we want to mention it.
A somewhat less deadly example (so far) has been a resurgence of an old hatred in Western Europe and North America: anti-Semitism. It progressed over two months from painting swastikas on people's houses, to vandalizing Jewish cemetaries , to the firebombing of a Jewish elementary school. Some of it is a classic example of hate finding a socially acceptable mask. The thinking works like this. The present government of Israel does some bad things. All Israelis must support the state of Israel, and therefore all must support their government. All Israelis are Zionists. All Jews are Zionists. Therefore, any attack on a Jew is simply a legitimate protest against the policies of Mr. Ariel Sharon. Which, in this state of mind, makes firebombing a school largely occupied by elementary school children a laudable act. It is sufficient to respond by denouncing the real or imagined iniquities of the Sharon government.
While there have been some radical Muslims involved (and some radical Christian Arabs), the Islamic communities in the places affected have recognized the attacks as coming from a very different source. They see these attacks as an older dislike of anybody or anything who is different. The perpetrators are not leading into Muslim communities, but old-fashioned white supremacists. For the most part, these attacks have driven the Jewish and Islamic communities together, and both with the larger community. In a bad time, we find some source of hope.
It is not difficult to imagine incidents about a year ago in the United States if Frenchmen were easy to identify. To outside observers, there seems to be a flourishing industry in the United States dedicated to the sole purpose of establishing the treachery, stupidity and iniquity of any American who does not accept a prepackaged agenda. Listen to talk radio some time. And it cuts both ways: a number of Americans have been very unfairly treated too as a result of similar popular ranting.
Mention of talk radio brings us to media of expression, and so to a movie which most of us haven't seen (but see our opening quotation). At a time when there seems to have been a new wave of anti-Semitism about, the real or imagined anti-Semitic messages in Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" were bound to create a lot of controversy. Most of us think that those who like the book will be better advised to see Garth Drabinsky's "The Gospel of John", but leave that to one side. As far as we can gather from those who HAVE seen it (several Jews included), the controversy seems to reflect an old and painful dynamic. For the most part, Jews who have seen the movie did not think it was anti-Semitic, but have said that they could see other Jews might feel that it was, or that people already inclined that way would use it to confirm existing prejudices. Certainly, as far as the latter goes, one may cite some Middle Eastern sermons (by non-viewers). Christian viewers have largely taken the film to reproach humanity generally, and themselves personally. Christian viewers tend to love it, or really, really hate it. The latter opinion seems to be the general view of non-believers, who find it to be a gorefest without any good explanation of why it's supposed to matter. Presumably, it helps if you liked the book.
Such are the dynamics of so many things. What can be deeply moving and meaningful to many people in itself, without reflection against anybody else, can be too often turned against someone else by people inclined to dislike (or even hate) the someone in any case. being used as the excuse , the "someone" reacts in a way which ranges from sensitive to defensive. In the end, there are certain words guaranteed to cause hurt feelings in some quarters. The effect of the term "Israel" among Arabs, "Jesus" among Jews, and "Bible" among gays tends to be pretty similar. The Irish are beginning to get over the term "England", although we suspect the Scots haven't.
Well, that's enough gloom for one newsletter.
Noting the passing of another anniversary, the death of Bill Clayton in early May, must seem like adding further to the gloom. But the work Bill's family, especially Gabi (his Mom) has led to a lot of good in Bill's memory, and we hope you'll look in on her website. We've been linked to it since this site first started.
We've pulled the following name almost at random, and the individual will have to speak for many others who go unnamed and unnoted, but whose devotion to right and duty becomes heroic when placed in extraordinary circumstances.
Mr. Fadi Fadel was born in Syria, but his parents migrated to Canada when he was 19. He has been working for the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund for some time. This led him to Najaf, Iraq, where life for children and young people had been very bad under the regime of Saddam Hussein, and which had not been improved by wartime conditions. He was there for several months before an unknown group kidnapped him, apparently as a bargaining tool. With the help of God, and the efforts of quite a few diplomats and clerics, he was released after a few days. For the present, he is spending time with his family, but he wishes to return to Najaf as soon as possible to continue a lot of unfinished work.
Mr. Fadel is one of many who, in trying to do something for others, find themselves trying to do the best of things at the worst of times. Noticed or not, may we do so well.
By way of anti-climax, we would like to announce another addition to our website. We are beginning a section for reviewers of books, etc. which might be of interest for the purposes of this site. What gets reviewed may not be new, and it may not be good either, but it seems important (at least to us). We VERY DEFINITELY invite all contributions!