Apr 16, 2008

Burrowing in Middle East History and a Bright Spot

I have been thinking, reading, and researching a good deal about the Middle East for a project on the Israeli settlements. I am also preparing for a trip there in May with the specific purpose of meeting with Iraqi refugees. Plans will be final soon. Reading as much as I have been about the situation, especially regarding the Occupied Territories, is a roller coaster ride of facts and sadness and misery and anger.

It's a real test for an attitude I have been trying to practice recently. The attitude is based on reading and thinking about the philosophy of non-violence as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk. He has even worked with Palestinians and Israelis. It's a variation on the theme of seek first to understand then to be understood. Violence cannot be overcome unless there is communication. Communication begins with mindfulness of your own pain, and then mindfulness of the pain of others.

Today I worked my way through a set of thirteen historical maps showing the original and the current boundaries of the Occupied Territories. I found myself in such a state of fury when I finished that I had to hold my face in my hands, as Thich Nhat Hanh once said he did, in order to keep the anger from escaping out into the world, in order to hold it within to focus on it, to understand it. If I can get so furious over the "facts on the ground" (as the Israeli government calls them) what must go on in the soul of a Palestinian?

You cannot read the history of the region without having these upwellings of anger and frustration, not if you believe in justice and in recognizing injustice. Then comes a positive note when you think that despite all of this injustice, you can see quiet reconciliations and positive thought as in the statement of Ali Abu Awad, "Everyone wants to be right; no one wants to be honest." That's become a mantra for me.

And then randomly comes another positive note as I take a break from the study and thinking. A dull gleam at the end of a long tunnel. Robin Wright, one of the best of the Middle East journalists, has written a new book,
Dreams and Shadows, which gives a cautiously optimistic thought about the Middle East. Here she is in an interview with Charlie Rose:

So I went back to the region to see if we're back at square one, and discovered, in fact, that there are openings in the region shaping -- people carving out new political space because of the young, because of the soccer moms, because of rebel clerics in places like Tehran, because of the young techies in Jordan. There is a budding culture of change. There is a beginning, and it is only a beginning. But I'm not sure it's the same old Middle East that you and I have covered for so long.
You'll find the quote and more information on the author's website. Wright is a good speaker and good interviewee, especially when someone superb like Terry McNally (not aggressive and egotistic, like Ch. Rose) is interviewing. McNally interviewed her on KPFK and you can scroll down on his web page to find the Play or Download podcast buttons for his two-part interview. You might also book mark the page for his interviews with Dahr Jamail and Joe Stieglitz.

All three writers, and McNally as well for that matter, don't care about being right so much as they care about being honest.

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