Friday, January 16, 2009

SO EXACTLY WHAT TIME IS IT?

“For everything, there is a season, a time for every experience under heaven.
A time to be born, a time to die.
A time to plant and a time to uproot.
A tie to kill and a time to heal.
A time to tear down and a time to build.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh.
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them.
A time to embrace and a time to refrain.
A time to search and time to give up.
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
A time for war and a time for peace.”

That is easily among my favorite passages in the Bible. It’s one of those rare pieces of world literature that is both beautiful and profoundly true. Still, the real feat isn’t just to agree with Ecclesiastes, but to be able to consistently recognize exactly what time it is, and what time it is not.

Fortunately, some moments in history are easier to recognize than others. Take, for example, this past fortnight. Surely, it has been a time to mourn.

Is there any other way to react to the situation in Gaza? Well, I suppose – we can rejoice that Hamas is getting their butts handed to them in the field of battle. To be sure, I’m not exactly mourning when I hear that certain Hamas leaders have met their maker. Just look up “totally asked for it” in the dictionary; you might well see their faces. It wasn’t enough that they rose to prominence by loading people up with suicide bombs aimed at civilians – a sub-human act if ever there were one. Once elected, they have felt compelled to terrorize innocent Israelis with antiquated missiles. There’s no reason Israelis should have to put up with such strikes simply because they’re not exactly surgical. Would we put up with a blind man walking down the street aimlessly firing bullets from a loaded gun? Of course not. In that sense, Israel was completely “justified” in fighting back.

But it’s one thing to fight back; it’s quite another to look like villains in a horror movie. With each passing day, the Israelis look more and more like Freddie Kruger. While Hamas as a movement is alive and kicking, hundreds upon hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians lay dead and thousands more have been injured. Meanwhile, the infrastructure of that 15 by 5 mile cesspool is surely in shambles. The Gaza Strip was a glorified prison colony BEFORE this latest war; now, it is probably best compared to Sherman’s Georgia – only with an extremely high population density … the perfect storm if you want to maximize suffering.

From the Israeli perspective, this episode should be seen as a public-relations disaster. From the Palestinian perspective, the episode has taught one horrifying lesson after another. To begin, it should now be apparent to any sensible Palestinian that they tragically panicked when they voted in Hamas and would be better served in the future by electing leadership that prefers the carrot to the stick. Just as importantly, it should dawn on the Palestinian people that they’re not the only ones in the Middle East capable of panicking. That’s precisely what the Israeli people have done -- they’ve lost patience, and they’re ready to overreact and undervalue the legitimate concerns of Palestinian civilians. Or at least, so it appears.

Mark my words – the war over Israeli and Palestinian real estate will continue forever unless we change the paradigm governing the so-called “peace process.” We must stop identifying ourselves with the interests of one or another of the combatants. Instead of looking at themselves as either “pro Israeli” or “pro Palestinian,” the critical mass in that region must identify themselves as BOTH. In that capacity, my thoughts have been dominated by the fear that we are much further from peace now than we were a month ago. That alone is cause to mourn. So, too, are the thoughts of the mounting casualties. The loss of a Palestinian civilian – child or adult – is every bit as tragic as each life my country lost in 9/11 or my people lost in the Holocaust. Once that fact is taken to heart in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Salt Lake City, and Peoria, then … and only then … will we be ready for a lasting peace.

So … it has been a time to mourn. But what do say we get ready to stop mourning and start dancing? The so-called “Miracle Off 47th Street” was certainly cause for celebration. Whoever heard of a crowded plane crash landing in near-freezing water without a soul perishing? Someone get that pilot a date with the flight attendant of his choice! Or at least get him a front row seat to the event of the new millennium. That’s right – in ranking the most momentous events of this decade … or century … or millennium, there are but two choices: 9/11/01 and 1/20/09. The one is horrific. The other terrific. Take your pick. I’m going with Door Number Two.

As we approach Martin Luther King Day, and immediately follow that up with an inauguration of a man who owes his Presidency to Dr. King, the time has come to exhale and bask in the progress that has been made. I wouldn’t criticize a Republican for preferring McCain to Obama, but even that Republican should revel in what Obama’s election says about my country. We have progressed to the point where, finally, a black American can be judged primarily by factors other than skin color. Better yet, to solidify that progress, we will be led by a man who personifies so many virtues -- class, grace, intellect, inspiration, efficiency, groundedness … you name it. Sure, he’ll make mistakes. But if my instincts are right, his successes will greatly outweigh them. With every instant where he delivers a great speech or shows impeccable judgment, it will represent one more nail on the coffin of American racism – may it soon rest in peace. And speaking of peace, this is a man whose natural tendency is to bring people (and peoples) together in a respectful dialogue, and that is precisely the direction we need to take to jettison our penchant for war.

By the weekend, I intend to be in full “dance” mode, and by Tuesday, I expect that the dancing will give rise to the occasional tear of joy. How lucky we all are to be alive to see this happen.

In any event, I’m looking a bit ahead of myself. First, we need a suitable transition between “mourning” and “dancing.” And yes, between the insanity of war … and the election of a leader committed to peace. Rather than trying to present this transition in words, I have in mind something more powerful – a scene from a movie. This is undeniably one of the greatest scenes in the history of Hollywood. It comes at the very end of Stanley Kubrick’s first masterpiece, Paths of Glory. You need not have seen the movie to appreciate the scene. Just know that it takes place during World War I, and the characters in the scene are primarily French soldiers who have come in to the town from the Front.

Here's the link:

Enjoy.

2 comments:

Betty C. said...

Maybe it's because I'm in France and not the USA, but I'm not feeling so festive. I just keep thinking about the Bush years and how w. is just going to fade into the sunset...

He deserves worse.

Daniel Spiro said...

It will be so nice to work for Barack Obama when I return to work. Bush has done SO much damage to this world -- I can only imagine how our country would demonize him if he were a foreign leader who did this much damage.