Unenlightenment and the ‘Holy Land’
(CNN) — As a global community, we would probably like to believe that our ongoing human experiment has been driven by the enlightened advancement of collective human thought. Because as Mahatma Gandhi said, “I have nothing new to teach the world….Truth and nonviolence are as old as the hills.” Yet the current mix of perpetual war and poverty, extremist terrorism and global racism raises the question of whether the human race has completely lost its collective mind.
This sobering condition is no more apparent than in the ironically named “Holy Land” — Israel and Palestine — where civilized humanity has seemingly gone to die a very painful death.
Jerusalem holds a place of sanctity in the Abrahamic heart of every Muslim, Jew and Christian around the world. In the city where David ruled, Jesus taught and Mohammed ascended to heaven, for centuries, Christians, Jews and Muslims have lived in relative harmony, able to peacefully practice their faiths and adhere to their cultural traditions side by side.
Sadly, although we claim to live in an enlightened millennial age, we seem to be acting more savagely and unenlightened toward our fellow human beings than ever before.
The Middle East continues seems to elicit extreme feelings. The Gaza flotilla debacle with the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara was simply the most recent example, as the spinmeisters from both the Israeli and Palestinian camps try to frantically justify or condemn the killing of nine civilian activists within international waters.
Two outlandish statements emerged in the media in the wake of the flotilla tragedy from polar opposite sides of the global political divide. They show how each side tends to demonize the other without regard for basic human decency.
On one hand, neoconservative extraordinaire Charles Krauthammer made this ridiculous assertion on Fox News: “What exactly is the humanitarian crisis that the flotilla was actually addressing? … There is none. … There is no one starving in Gaza,” as he conveniently overlooked that Gaza ranks 187th out of nearly 200 countries on Earth with the highest unemployment.
In an equally stupid, tone-deaf statement, the “grande dame” of the White House press corps — the almost 90-year-old Helen Thomas of Hearst Newspapers — was caught on video stating Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home … to Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.” She has retired from her job in the wake of the outcry.
During his historic June 2009 speech at Cairo University in Egypt, President Obama preemptively contradicted both of those ridiculous statements and perpetual Middle Eastern finger-pointing when he stated: “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well-known. Threatening Israel with destruction — or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews — is deeply wrong.”
“On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — [both] Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. … So let there [also] be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.”
Obama continued, “But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. That is in Israel’s interest, Palestine’s interest, America’s interest and the world’s interest.”
Although the president was ambitiously noble in his Cairo speech, unfortunately the Obama administration has done virtually nothing in offering a peaceful and tangible ending to this violent stalemate.
It should be shouted from the rooftops of the world over and over again: There is absolutely no military or violent solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In explaining the utter simplicity of global pacifism, we should remind ourselves of the words of Albert Einstein: “My pacifism is an instinctive feeling, a feeling that possesses me because the murder of men is disgusting. … My attitude is not derived from any intellectual theory, but is based on my deepest antipathy to every kind of cruelty and hatred.”
As a proud American Muslim pacifist, I am very hopeful that the future millennial generations of Jewish peaceniks, Christian pacifists and secular humanists of our “Jon Stewart generation” will band together as an antidote to the toxic hatred perpetuated by dinosaur extremists like Hamas and right-wing ultra-nationalist Israeli administrations. Both are unwilling and unable to let go of their baggage from the warring ghosts of the Israeli-Palestinian past.
For as noted French author and fellow proud pacifist Albert Camus once said: “I, for my part, will no longer be an accomplice to murder.”
Obama also used his June 2009 Cairo address to highlight his hopes for a time “when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra — when Moses, Jesus and Mohammed, peace be upon them — joined in prayer together” in the holy city of Jerusalem.
Although a noble spiritual parable, it is quite clear that Moses, Jesus and Mohammed each would shed a tear at the sight of the unholy murderous carnage that has engulfed a region meant to bring humanity closer to the Divine.
Until that glorious day when the doves of peace engulf that perpetually troubled parcel of land in the Mediterranean, it will continue to be the place where civilized humanity goes to die. We should all spend a part of our living days wondering if God will ever truly forgive us for what we have done to each other.
Arsalan Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and legal fellow for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) in Washington, D.C.
This article appeared on cnn.com on June 7, 2010: