Why Can't I Just Write a Happy "Merry Christmas" Blog From the Middle East? Year Two.
“Our public life is largely premised on an exploitation of our common anxiety. The advertising of consumerism and the drives of the acquisitive society, like the serpent, seduce us into believing there are securities apart from the reality of God.” ~Walter Brueggemann
Once I again, I am writing you from the Middle East! I traveled back a week ago. Travel went smoothly; it just exhausts me. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been suffering with the worst case of jet-lag possibly known to man. I’m not sure what happened or why but I honestly haven’t been able to function. It’s like my body said, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO US?!” But on my very first taxi ride that bleary-eyed Friday afternoon, my soul felt settled. For the first time in months.
I really wanted to write a Merry Christmas blog from the Middle East this month. Doesn't that sound awesome? Wise men, camels, come on it would work. But, I couldn't do it last year either. Too much has been on my mind and the week before I left was discouraging on many levels. I got news of the suicide bombing in Beirut. It happened in an area I know, an area I used to work in. It was a horrifying event. Maybe because I know the area. Mostly residential, Shi’a, and poor, really poor. It is densely populated, so the time the bomb went off was optimal -- kids out of school and families on the streets shopping or going to cafes. It was deeply personal to me and I had to search for news coverage of it. I did see American media covering it as a small blurb, but it seems that most Americans glossed over it. Yes, a bombing in Beirut and then a bombing in Baghdad, doesn’t that happen all time? Isn’t that how the Middle East rolls? Isn’t it just a bunch of Muslims killing Muslims? We disengage so quickly or are so desensitized to violence in the Middle East, we don’t have to see the suffering.
Then Paris happened. Of course, this added to my emotions and had my mind racing. First, I was hoping it wasn’t Muslim extremists. Really hoping because I knew if it was, there was going to be a tremendous backlash against the Muslim population, including refugees, who have suffered more at the hands of these extremists than anyone on earth. So, I grieved that it was Daesh that perpetrated these horrendous acts of violence. I grieved the lives lost and the fear it produced around the world, and I also grieved the repercussions it was going to have on innocent people everywhere.
Then I saw Facebook and the outpouring of mourning for Paris. We should mourn; it was horrendous. But because I had 18 hours of travel by myself I honestly pondered what mourning would really look like. I’m not sure it only includes changing your profile picture. Then, to be honest, it really messed with my heart to see the outrage and fear surrounding Paris when none of it was uttered about those dear souls in Beirut. Immediately following, I saw a huge backlash from my friends in the Middle East about the double standard of Beirut and Paris.
It all seemed too much. It exhausted me and brought up so much emotion in me -- deep sadness and anger. I was upset and I kept quiet as I processed my grief. Keep in mind, I was already emotional and overwhelmed with preparing to leave the US. I felt like anything I would say would seem judgmentalbecause I was still processing and identifying why I was upset. I think that’s why the online dialogue (that might be too strong of a word) irritated me. I think we took our fear and anger on-line to release it, but I wonder if it was healthy for anyone. People have been so charged on this issue, I knew if I wrote anything, it could be taken the wrong way. Debates online only entrench others in their own opinion. It seems to divide us even more. And of course what I feared would happen, did. The Muslim backlash began. Which maybe was the most painful for me to see unfold.
I’m not sure what I want to say on this, since I’m still pretty jet-lagged. And even with the aforementioned 18 hours pondering due to solitary travel, I still can’t articulate an opinion. To makemy confusion worse, I am currently sitting in the Middle East surrounded by Muslims. In community with Muslims, serving with Muslims, and having Muslims serve me. So, I am biased. Very biased because I have practical, hands-on, personal experience with all different kinds of Muslims. Children, women, mothers, daughters, men, fathers, conservatives, liberals, non-practicing, Shi’a, and Sunni. All of these are included in the refugee population that people in my country are so desperate to keep out. And this doesn’t even include the Palestinian refugees I have spent 12 years serving -- not even a question if we are letting them in; we are not. There are over 5 million Palestinian refugees* in the Middle East and now over 4 million Syrian refugees** in addition.
“The overall purpose of human communication is - or should be - reconciliation. It should ultimately serve to lower or remove the walls of misunderstanding which unduly separate us human beings, one from another.” ~M. Scott Peck
I guess I want to make this personal. That’s where reconciliation starts for all us; in our hearts. I can only offer love, peace, and reconciliation if I’ve dealt with my own darkness, my own hatred and fear. If you are against Muslim refugees entering the US, why is that? What are you basing your decision on? Have you had any relationships with Syrian or Palestinian refugees? Have you heard their stories firsthand? Their stories of loss, of pain, and of how they have suffered? Have you asked them why they want to come to America? Do you know from the US government what the requirements are and what the vetting process is? Have you gotten caught up in the trigger words and hearsay? Are you asking people who are qualified (and I mean really qualified) what their educated opinion is?
I question I ask myself repeatedly is “Am I responsible for adding more hate, fear, and division into this broken world? How can my words and actions be used for healing and reconciliation?”
Below I have a few links that I believe are helpful and a video interview from my friend Alex, recorded in Beirut two weeks ago -- a Syrian refugee’s story in her own words. (make sure you click on CC for the English subtitles)