There are sacred grounds for all of us. Sometimes literally, as in own country, religion or family. At other times they are less obvious, such as our support for a political party or even a football team. The fundamental error in reacting to the validity of this alleged sanctity, will always be our inability to comprehend how on earth can any of these things be taken seriously if they mean nothing to us, personally? How on earth can an atheist talk about the Word of God with a straight face? To an atheist there is no God. Why in the world would a devout Catholic be expected to reject the divinity of Jesus? Jesus is the Son of God. And how in the name of all things sacred can a Muslim- or a Jew for that matter- not flinch in horror at the last phrase? Allah/Elohim is One (Ahad) and the mere suggestion of anything remotely variable on that would leave someone like me trembling in fear for even thinking it. And it is of no use ramming our own convictions, validated by whatever proof we can gather, down someone else’s throat. They are just going to choke on it. And I am not going to discuss the merits of any of these claims/beliefs for a simple reason: They are all true. To those believing them, they are the only truth. The trick is to understand what they mean, not to us but to someone else. And that is where most of us fall flat on our faces.
We do not fail to understand points of view of the “other” because they are just illogical and wrong, we fail because we do not try. We do not try because most of the time, at face value, “different” translates to “opposing”, opposing is a threat, and a threat is something we must defend ourselves against. And by default, if there is a need for defense there is at least an implied “attack”. The word for those who attack us is never “friends”, it is “enemies”. No one trusts an enemy. We are told that enemies are bad and we are good, so let us fight that enemy. Communication terminated!
Everything that worries me, saddens me, even terrifies me every day falls along these lines. And naive as I am, I do still believe there is a different way. It started as a wish, a wish that those who cannot see my point would try a little harder to listen, to see what I am seeing. Then I could see the truth. The truth was that I was only looking at what I was already seeing, what I already knew and believed. There are a couple of words for this way of thinking: selfish or hypocritical, or both! How and why would I demand an impartial look at my belief if I do not even know the beliefs of those I am demanding this from?
At first, this train of thoughts was confined only to religion. So I picked up a couple of sacred texts that were not mine. The first reading was a waste of time. If I am honest, I was only looking for weakness, points to validate my own preconceived ideas. I found plenty but I learned nothing. A long time and a small miracle later, I took a leap of faith. Faith in my faith. What constitutes the Divine in me was deep enough and strong enough for me to dare consider all that is “different”. My second reading took not days, it took years, and I was looking for nothing. I was just reading and asking questions. Not to prove anything, but to learn what everyone else believed and why. I won’t burden you with the details of what I have learned. There is but one detail that really matters. I understand what the “other” believes. Just that, nothing else. I understand, respect, and to a point share some of what was prior “alien” to me.
Then I did the same with politics. Israel was an abomination, an extension of imperialism, a threat to me and my people. We are the good guys, they are the bad guys, full stop. A zillion publications and much listening later I can see what they see. It changes nothing in the way I am, the belonging I feel to my country and to the Arabic cause, but it is no longer a one “good” and the other “bad” scenario. Now try to apply the same principle to “nationalism”, “patriotism”, “Arabism”, “Zionism”, or any other -ism you like or don’t like! It really is the same principle. The starting point is always the same: “You know what you know or think you know. You are right and anything different is wrong by default. You view even the consideration of anything different as treason even blasphemy and you would not dare venture in the land of either.” But until you dare to listen with an open mind and try to see and truly tap into what someone else is feeling – even if you completely disagree with their reasons – then we are all doomed to be locked into this absurd reality that is draining all that is left of our humanity.
And here is the good news, or a very scary thought depending on how strong your beliefs are: only true faith, be it in a God, a nation, political views, or simply one’s own self-esteem, can and does survive. Trust.