By J.D. Pitts
The first time I visited the small strip of land that lies sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea on her west and the Jordan River on her east, I began to understand how truly complex the Middle East is. That small strip of land is deemed sacred and holy by all three of the world’s Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. To some, that small strip of land is indisputably Israel. To others, that small strip of land is indisputably Palestine. Regardless, too many of the world’s faithful, that small strip of land is undeniably no other than The Holy Land.
Although many people across the globe consider this geographical area The Holy Land, it is at the same time a land that, since its beginning, has remained clasped in the grips of a very unholy and destructive cycle of violence and war. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and pagans alike have claimed, fought for, conquered, and ruled her over and over again, and to this very day, she has found no peace. She is a land with the power to divide and cause strife like no other; a land which not only places religion against religion, nationality against nationality, and ethnicity against ethnicity, but a land which even puts Jew against Jew, Christian against Christian, Muslim against Muslim, Israeli against Israeli, and Palestinian against Palestinian. She is a land greatly divided, where hatred abounds. She is a land that, for those who call her home, be they Christian, Muslim, or Jew, is desperately in need of discovering and experiencing the manifest reality of peaceful coexistence.
However, the reality of peace in the Middle East, by and large, seems like an entirely unrealistic prospect. For the most part, it seems as if it is very little — or more bluntly said, next to nothing at all — peaceful about the Middle East, and during my first trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, this was brought to life for me in a much more vivid way.
It was there I realized how much indiscriminate hatred abounds to this day, just as it seemingly has for much of human history. It was there I began to see how allegiances — political, religious, ethnic, cultural, socio-economic, and everything else under the hotter-than-hell Middle Eastern sun — dictate and control nearly all aspects of people’s daily lives. It was also there I began to understand how incredibly deep and intractable people hold to these aforementioned allegiances and how far they will go to protect, stand up and fight, and even die for them. And it was there I grasped how destructive these allegiances can be when held to whole-heartedly, without reservation, forever.
Because it is so little, if any at all, understanding between the many different religious, ethnic, and social groups in most Middle Eastern countries and people whole-heartedly believe in and hold to their particular religious or ethnic group’s specific beliefs entirely, fear and distrust run rampant between the plethora of different religions, sects, and ethnicities found throughout the Middle East. But what should one expect? Ignorance almost always breeds fear.
Long-term peace will never be possible in the Middle East — or anywhere else in the world, for that matter — as long as people continue to remain ignorant about the beliefs, customs, traditions, and lifestyles of others, especially when they consider others their enemies. Without ever learning about the so-called enemy — which for many people in the Middle East designates anyone who is even the slightest bit different at all — people will always continue to live in fear of those who are different from them. And that is true amongst any people-group in the world. It is, unfortunately, also increasingly true about us here in America as well.
Our cities burn. Our towns are powder kegs waiting to explode. Literal acts of violence directed against “the other side” have increasingly become the norm. And it seems as if the very ones we have elected to lead and unite us are purposefully dividing us; that they are knowingly, for their own self-preservation and interests, turning us more and more against one another. We are, as a nation, in a time where divide et impera, the divide-and-conquer mentality, has increasingly been embraced by both the Democratic and Republican party leaders in order to try and remain in power.
Political party affiliation, religious conviction, societal tradition all have become ways to divide us one from another. But we can rise up, we can prevail, and we can win, but to do so we must first re-discover and re-embrace our God-ordained, unifying force that has made us strong – our diversity.
How much do you and I know about those we consider to be our enemies? How much of our fear of those who are different from us is grounded in a realistic understanding and knowledge of them versus the things of which we are fearful and distrustful? Make no mistake about it; some of those we consider to be our enemies undoubtedly are. However, many are not. And I would be willing to bet that many of our fears would likely go away if we merely spent some time learning about and trying to accept that others’ beliefs may not be as dangerous as we believe them to be and that our beliefs may not always be as divinely-inspired as we believe them to be.
Embracing diversity is a process that we must proactively undertake and one that can be difficult to accomplish at times. However, if we do not focus our hearts and minds on doing so, our nation’s foundation will continue to erode, and our place as the world’s moral leader will be no more, for a house divided against itself cannot stand.
About the Author
J.D. Pitts is Founder and Principal Advisor for Ahlan International, a firm specializing in equipping clients to operate successfully in Arab and Islamic contexts worldwide. Prior to founding Ahlan International, J.D. lived for 15 years in Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Sudan, Yemen, and Mauritania. While there, his professional experience included both the education and business sectors, as well as over a decade of deep involvement in humanitarian work ranging from small, grassroots operations to large-scale, UN-managed operations.
The views and opinions expressed in this paper are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Lobo Institute. For more information on the institute or to get on the mailing list for our papers and LoboCasts, please go to Lobo Institute.