There are times when the Empathic Rationalist emphasizes rationalism, and there are times when it emphasizes compassion. These days, the latter is in order.
This morning, I know of but one story in the news that is worthy of spilling ink. Strangely, however, I could have made that same statement this past Thursday morning, and yet, when I turned on the morning cable TV news shows, not one was talking about the story. They were too busy yapping about parochial issues – issues involving American politics, for the most part.
Folks, if you grab a newspaper right now -- or turn on a TV news show – and you’re hoping to hear about American politics, get a friggen clue. American politics can wait. Our elections are 1 ½ -- 3 ½ years away. By contrast, the story of the day, of the week, and almost certainly of the year, is upon us. And boy is it depressing. So let’s get to it.
I must confess to feeling a special kinship with the Egyptian peoples, and the reason is ironic, to say the least. When I was a child and Israel and Egypt were at war, it never occurred to me that the Egyptians and the Jews have something very profound in common. In the Christian world in which I grew up, these two peoples came to be associated with the two great atrocities from ancient times. The Egyptians were said to be the ones who enslaved God’s “chosen people” and then, with a hardened heart, refused to let that people live in freedom. As for the Jews, we were the ones who were said to have killed an incarnation of God. And what’s more, when it became clear to the world that the person we “killed” was indeed divine, we were the ones who – like Pharaoh – were said to be too stubborn to admit the truth and do the right thing (which, in this case, involved worshipping the victim of our murder).
Obviously, I have never bought into that narrative when it comes to the conduct of my Jewish ancestors. But what I came to realize as a young adult was that it was similarly wrong to associate ancient Egyptians primarily with the Exodus story. In fact, I came to commiserate with my Egyptian cousins that their heritage has been so often associated with oppression and savagery, when in truth, they come from one of the great civilizations that our world has known.
Today, I must commiserate with them once again. It wasn’t long ago when Cairo beamed with pride at the ouster of an autocrat (a so-called “modern Pharaoh”) and his replacement by a democratically-elected politician. But it is one thing to have elections and quite another thing to have in place the infrastructure of democratic, republican governance. Quite obviously, Egypt lacks that infrastructure. Its first democratically-elected leader apparently viewed his election not as a mandate to protect the equal rights of his people, but rather as a license to permit himself the same autocratic rights as his predecessor. When the Egyptian military decided to put an end to his tenure by way of a coup d’état, they faced massive protests and responded with unspeakable brutality. The result is a week in which hundreds are dead, thousands are injured, a country’s reputation is in shatters, and many are questioning whether an entire region of the world is ready for the 21st century. This is approaching a tragedy of -- need I say? -- Biblical proportions.
Over the past several years, I have always been blessed to have close friends from Egypt. I rejoiced with them at their nation’s recent accomplishments, and now, I must share in their misery. It would be nice to see a path ahead in which democracy will return, only now with a full respect for the notion that protecting the rights of the minority is an integral part of what is meant by majority rule. But how can we envision such a path at a time of such violence, when not only are the Muslims who are vying for power killing each other, but Christian Churches are being destroyed for apparently no reason at all – other than to demonstrate that human beings are far closer to wild animals than to the God they claim to resemble?
I have no glib answer to that last question. I don’t suppose the Egyptians have one either. Here in America, far from the streets of Cairo, this is not a time to seek solutions – or at least not quick fixes. Rather, this is a time to mourn. It is a time to pray. And most importantly, it is a time never to harden our hearts to either the short-term suffering or the long-term aspirations of our cousins in Egypt.
I have no doubt that the dreamers who gave us the Arab Spring will realize their dreams. There may be plenty of winters in the meantime, but sooner or later, they will know stable, peaceful, democratic governance, with all the checks and balances that those words require.
Patience, peacemakers, patience. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the glory of our grandchildren’s Cairo won’t have been either.