Friday, August 3, 2012
I am sitting on a plane from Perth to Sydney feeling grateful for an amazing week. On Sunday evening, for the first time in the 10 years of seeking to build a partnership between Muslims, Jews and Christians I co-hosted a program in a Mosque with a Shia Muslim Imam. It was a triumph. After so many years needing to respond to the doubts of others, and even my own doubts, about how strongly Muslims favoured this partnership idea we had 600 Muslims show up to an event co-hosted by a Jewish-Christian-Muslim organisation. I also ran professional development days for over 100 educators in Adelaide and Perth. Walked on a beautiful Indian Ocean coast beach at 5:30 this morning and heard nothing but the waves. Yet, just outside this wonderful silver lining is a little cloud called “Compromise”.
Don’t mention the war
The context is important. The situation in the land called both Israel and Palestine is extremely important. The issues are matters of life and death, terrible loss, humiliation, fear, justice and peace, and a lot more that is beyond the scope of this post. At the same time, there are significant prejudices against both Muslims and Jews in Australia and there is an opportunity to address this prejudice by working together on diversity in general. The event on Sunday night chose to focus on the latter issue rather than the former. It included speakers from various faiths, MP’s and quite a few Jewish, Christian and other non-Muslim guests. Being the end of a major Jewish fast day (9th of Av) as well as an evening during Ramadan both Jews and Muslims present broke their fasts together after dark sitting on the floor together. Participants loved it, the vibe in the room and the chatter on Facebook afterwards was overflowing with positive sentiment.
Socialising with Evil
People on both sides of the Arab Israeli conflict have been concerned about interacting with people they saw as justifying evil. One accomplished writer wrote this week about an event like ours (or perhaps it was ours) that she felt compromised by sharing polite conversation with people who advocated on behalf of one side in the conflict. Others chose to avoid the event altogether rather than be in the company or imply approval of people whose views they saw as abhorrent.
While I personally would prioritise the benefit that could be created in Australia through interaction, there are people I would not be prepared to associate with either. I respect the view of people who don’t want to compromise themselves by associating with those they see as evil[i] and appreciate they might have different views to me about who should be avoided.
The theme of Compromise appears in our Torah reading this week, when God warns the people of Israel that if they develop hubris[ii] “and become religiously corrupted, creating an image… then God will scatter you among the nations and there you will worship Gods which are the handiwork of people, wood and stone[iii]”. This outcome is a very severe punishment for a people who passionately advocated Monotheism. “As a result of their terrible suffering, many Jews, the Torah foretells, will be brought to forced conversions, worshipping idols but knowing full well that they are made of wood and stone…this would constitute the climax of their suffering – to be inwardly aware of their true faith and have to pay lip service to idols…[iv]”. This is a powerful articulation of the soul destroying nature of being compromised.
The road to hell might be paved with good intentions, yet I think intent still matters. When a person kills another by accident, the Torah is concerned about whether or not the killer hated the victim[v]. If there was no hatred the killer can escape to the safety of a city of refuge. I think the sincerity of people who hold views other find abhorrent should be taken into account. In some cases it is not a callous indifference to the rights of the victims but a belief in a set of arguments that mitigate the severity of the harmful acts of those they support.
It would seem to me that the benefits of interaction outweigh the downside. If things will ever change, surely interaction can also help that happen. Certainly in my experience my view of the conflict has become far better informed, my understanding of and concern about the perspective of the other side greatly developed through interaction.
Inspiration from people in the conflict itself
Another factor to consider is the amazing example set by people living with the conflict. Most inspiringly, there is a group of bereaved parents from both sides of the conflict who come together. If they can do it there, surely people thousands of kilometres away can also interact.
Compromise as a positive
I think we also need to consider the positive connotations of the word ‘compromise’ which can be very helpful in creating peace. We are taught, “A person should always be as soft as a reed and not as hard as a cedar[vi]”. The Torah teaches us to “do that which is upright and good in eyes of God[vii]”. This interpreted as advocating for going beyond the letter of the law and insisting on rights, instead going with compromise[viii].
[i] This principle is reflected in the verse, “one who justifies the wicked, or condemns the righteous-both are an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 17:15). In Jewish law this principle is expressed in the prohibition against flattery of evil doers (Chanifa). If someone violates certain prohibitions it is forbidden to give them honour or do anything that might imply approval of their deeds. An example of this is a wealthy donor who is involved in domestic violence. An organisation that would give him honour at their fundraising event would be in breach of the laws against Chanifa/flattery. (Ehrman Rabbi A (2002), the Laws of Interpersonal Relations, Artscroll Brooklyn, NY, based on Shaarei Teshuva 3:187-199). One who justifies the wicked, or condemns the righteous-both are an abomination to the Lord.
[ii] The word in the text is “vnoshantem” which is translated by Unkelus as “you will become old in the land” which interpreted by Daat Zekainim Mbaalei Hatosafot as “you will say we have already been settled in the land, there will not be more anger (from God) or destruction, I hereby set heaven and earth which last for ever as witnesses against you that you will indeed be destroyed
[iii] Deuteronomy 4:25-28
[iv] Abarbanel, cited in Lebovitz, N, Studies in Devarim Deuteronomy p.53
[v] Deuteronomy 4:42
[vi] Talmud, Taanis 20b
[vii] Deuteronomy 6:18