I was privileged to recently attend a one-woman play called My Name is Rachel Corrie, about a young American tragically killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she protected Palestinian homes from destruction. Art-upon-art lavishly swirled in layer upon layer, as a dedicated actor-artist nurtured a compelling script crafted by two talented playwright-artists from the lyric insights of writer-activist Corrie—herself one of God’s great artistic creations….
After the play, I was grateful to Rachel and her parents, to the actor and playwrights, to the director and leaders of the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for collaborating so beautifully to share Corrie’s insights as she matured into a loving, idealistic, modern-day David out to slay her Goliath-of the-moment.
Rachel Corrie had no affection for bullies. Burning with a wish to stand up to power and deadly violence, she seemed born to resist injustice. I think she would have been just as eager to oppose Palestinians attacking innocent Israelis, were she drawn to their plight first.
I was saddened to think that some who cherish holocaust narratives like The Diary of Anne Frank would try to censor Rachel’s inspired voice and words for partisan reasons. I doubt any peaceful Jew seeing this play would urge such censorship.
But after it opened successfully in London, extremist Jewish organizations protested its further production, and it was dropped in New York City, Florida, and Boston. The Shepherdstown festival lost a $100,000 pledge and risked a boycott for their decision to stage it. During production, the protest in West Virginia continued in several purchased and prominent playbill pages presenting the Israeli-extremist side of the story, including six touching photos of Israeli “Rachels” tragically killed by Palestinian violence (implying an erroneous six-to-one death toll of Israelis to Palestinians,) along with a dehumanizing and demonizing suggestion about how all Palestinians want only to kill Israelis and put an end to Israel, while all Israelis want only peace.
Christians, Jews, and Muslims have found relative safety from prejudice in America, and I can understand why each of these groups would want to zealously guard such hard-earned respite, especially in view of their respective ghastly historical memories of exploitation and persecution. Which is why, wherever Muslims in America gather to air grievances, polite, respectful Jews show up to tell their side of the story.
American Muslims, however, rarely feel welcome to speak at Jewish events which accede to violent solutions in Israel/Palestine. In both America and Israel, the Jewish-extremist viewpoint is so well-funded and orchestrated as to saturate media and government; it also has much to answer for, in egging on the Bush administration’s current war on Islam, or should I say on Iraq, or should I say on terror…all of which have worked out to be pretty much the same thing. To the extent that nearly every influential comment opposing extremist policies in Israel is instantly reprimanded, often with accompanying accusations about the speaker’s anti-semitism—to that extent is the Palestinian/Islamic world-view grossly under-represented and out-of-balance in America, and of course in Israel/Palestine.
Considering all the pre-play controversy, I was nervous myself about attending it, and hoped I wouldn’t be thought anti-Semitic. I still hope to avoid that charge, although I welcome the labels of pro-peace and anti-violence.
The voice in the Israeli-Islamic conflict consistently drowned out in America and Israel is the moderate/peaceful Islamic voice, although peaceful Muslims are working hard to change this. AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, and other American Jewish organizations are too vigilant for their own good, defending themselves too assertively against slights both perceived and real, and attacking perceived attackers. An anti-Jewish backlash in reaction to such strategies, and to Israel’s typical knee-jerk disproportionate violent responses to aggression seems sadly inevitable.
Peaceful Christians, Jews, Muslims, and other Americans are often so aggressively intimidated by their own extremist factions that they rarely speak out publicly against the vengeful actions, bloody rhetoric, and sheer barbarism of all they see, on all sides. Caught within the context of a violent century’s heightened emotions, most moderates—peaceful Jews and Christians and Muslims and citizens of all nationalities everywhere—are too frightened even to say “Enough” to the extremist voices within their own groups.
As long as demagogues and partisan extremists freely pressure and intimidate moderates, worldwide anti-Islamism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Americanism will continue to grow. And if the hot-blooded AIPAC successfully pushes extremists in America and Israel into another bloodbath, this time against Iran, the potential for anti-Semitic, anti-American, and anti-Islamic blowback upon moderates in all these groups everywhere will be as terrible as the cataclysmic impact upon the direct victims of the war.
The Bible does not say “the lamb shall lie down with the lion,” but,“ the lion shall lie down with the lamb”—meaning, the powerful shall offer peace to weaker opponents as a wise first step toward peaceful resolution of conflicts. Even the mega-powerful United States is finally learning that everyone’s interests are best served when the mighty dare to humble themselves to acceptance and generosity toward weaker “others,” and truly begin to see—and treat—their neighbor as they would want to be treated, to love their neighbor as their own self. Our learning curve in America, meanwhile, has been excruciating for Muslims worldwide.
In the peaceable kingdom, the powerful will “lie down with” (a tender, intimate metaphor) all their lambish neighbors. This means that the biggest and toughest of the terrorizing thugs on every block, whether they be the American or Chinese nations, whether Iranian, Jew, or Muslim, Irish or British, a strong band of criminals, a tough group of insurgents, whether militias, tribes, national armies, navies, air forces, or even the marines, all the mighty and powerful will come to realize that their job is to protect the weak from those who would hurt them, and not to push the weak around in order to prevail in conflicts, however troublesome or longstanding.
Lambs, too, are opening their eyes to the fact that the terrible lions they so fear may in fact be more fearful themselves than fierce, and desperately in need of peaceful perspectives from ancient cultures and wise elders willing to patiently remove the painful thorns of ignorance and fear from their dripping paws.
Extremist Jewish leaders preaching the wisdom of ten-eyes-for-an-eye, and depicting Israel as a tiny beleaguered island within a vast sea of murderous Muslims all wanting to kill Jews and “erase Israel from the map” (please see the writings of Arash Norouzi) are as repellently manipulative as extremist Palestinian leaders claiming to be nothing more than a defenseless band of ragtag refugees confronting the combined wrath of the world’s largest and most powerful military forces, or American Christian-extremists sounding the alarm of American invasion from rapacious outsiders and infidels, or American patriots bristling with nuclear arms, self-righteously claiming to be the potential victims of nations working frantically to develop even a single one.
Violence, or violent extremism, or terrorism—that is, resorting to violence to resolve conflicts—turns out to be “the problem” itself, and not, as many have tried to persuade us, any particular ideology, ethnicity, religious tradition, or national affiliation. The burning question is always: who is committed to non-violent resolution of conflicts, and who isn’t?
Whether Bin Laden or Bush, Communism or Capitalism, Shiite or Sunni, Hamas or Abbas, Judaism or Islam, the U.S. or Iran, Saddam or Arafat, Hirohito or Mao or Eisenhower or Hitler—it is increasingly evident that “the good guys” are the ones who are committed to resolving conflicts non-violently, while “the bad guys” are the extremist zealots who turn to the use of violence to resolve their conflicts, whether through conventional warfare, street-fighting, or assassination, whether by suicide-bombing, napalm, nuclear weapons, torture, or IEDs. The choice of violent extremism IS the problem; and violent extremists ARE the terrorists.
Disproportionate retaliation against aggression makes sense only for cornered wild animals fighting for survival against overwhelming odds. Unfortunately, this is the very vision offered up by violent extremist leaders, regardless of affiliation, who deliberately stoke up fears and urge violent responses by perceiving all situations through dire scaredy-cat doomsday lenses.
Fortunately, the world seems to be developing new improved crap-detectors, and violent tactics in our small, interconnected, and media-rich world don’t play so well in Peoria anymore. People now recognize man’s-inhumane-violence-to-man for what it is, regardless of context, and despite all the varied ideological, ethnic, religious, and national colors and flavors that violence so often comes wrapped up in—whether it be bulldozed homes, the shattered bodies of innocent children, or maimed and traumatized young soldiers from every land.
The sanctity of human life has finally emerged to be the world’s highest human value, rising ever more clearly above even the most rabble-rousing words of demagogues and ideologues bent upon stirring their fellow-citizens to torture and murder.
In the promised land we are approaching, constructive criticism of the policies and actions of various peoples and organizations won’t be called anti-semitic or anti-American or anti-Islamic or un-patriotic. Instead, powerful, messianic, moderate voices of Jewry and Christendom and Islam and all other isms will speak freely and softly of peace, cooperation, and compromise in all our holy lands, where we will all work side-by-side, undivided by ancestry or belief or tradition, letting go of old grudges and offering olive branches of reconciliation, as we non-violently resolve each day’s natural conflicts freshly and openly, as they arise.
May we learn without having to endure more lessons from ever-greater tragedies, wars, and environmental catastrophes, and may we all awaken together to begin with a convert’s zeal our great shared task of peacefully saving our tiny blue planet, and all our brothers, every one.
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