10 year old Israeli boy, “I wish the Arabs would all just fly away,”;
If the 80s were fantasy, the 90s were complete denial. All the cards were turned face up in the 90s, but America was playing a different hand. The words of the 10-year-old Israeli boy who wished the Arabs would all “fly away” is a euphemism for “I wish you would die and go away and leave me alone.” Sometimes we call it ethnic cleansing, or genocide, or holocaust, or jihad. These are all a polite ways of saying, “be like me and do as I say or I will kill you.”
Academics insist the conflicts of 90s are not religious wars. Technically I believe they are right, but in fact, with few exceptions, the conflicts can be parsed precisely by religious identification. We call them Muslims, Serbs and Croats. More accurately the media could name them Muslims, Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic. The Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland use the church as an excuse for power plays even though economic development and a sense of security entice many of the younger generation away from war games. Extremists on both sides still try to breathe life into the conflict. Jew and Muslim have spend 40 years elbowing each other in the former land of Palestine. The Jews insist on keeping a party in power that had a hidden agenda toward the Palestinians not unlike the overtly stated Palestinian goal of pushing the Jews into the sea. Rabin’s assassination shows the willingness of some to keep peace at bay. Arafat bumbles into ineffectual senility. The Middle East is a cauldron of fractured Islam, a civil war, which threatens us all. In Asia, Buddhists, Muslims and marginally Taoist Chinese imprison, torture and oppress each other. No wonder the Chinese Communist government is terrified of any spiritual movement such as the Falun Gong.
America is the gold standard for religious tolerance. This is not a small claim to fame. We are too close to our own uniqueness in America to see it. Tom Friedman, in a column in today’s New York Times, pointed out the very ordinariness of his Jewish congregation borrowing facilities from a Presbyterian Church. As an expert on all the conflicts of the Middle East he goes on to say, “Whenever I encounter the reality of religious tolerance in America, it strikes me almost as a miracle. I know that religious intolerance is also alive and well in the country, but it is not the norm.”
Our freedoms make life easier for everyone. It is easy and natural to take much of it for granted. It is folly not to stay alert.
But in the 90s, most of us shopped for a living. And, it was great fun. The only uncomfortable moments came when things happened like my hometown being blown up. The response was immediate, genuine and intense. Americans still come together instinctively in times of war or disaster. But, I question if it is any more lasting than the fake flowers and teddy bears. We would like them to be forever, but such easy things rarely last long.
I read Fr. Pierre Taillard de Chardin’s Phenomenon of Man when it was first published in the 60s. His lucid analogies between science and humanity impressed me, but I remember saying to a friend one day that I could buy all Taillard said until the end of his thesis. I said that when he talked about the Omega Point, all I saw was perfection and I didn’t believe in the perfectibility of mankind. It was sort of an “every day in every way we get better and better” philosophy and I didn’t think that was true. I believed our capacity to do evil grew commensurately with our ability to do good.
I have not changed my mind.