God is not to blame, we are
If this often preached conciliatory statement is true – that Muslims, Christians, Jews, and the rest of humankind are all, metaphorically speaking, the children of God – then we are indeed a bunch of inco
rrigibly spoilt kids with a very bleak future.
True, our 'metaphoric' Father left us His will inside more than one mysterious and ancient covenant. But one thing over which no doubt can be cast is that all have essentially sought to attain the same goal: peace on earth and equal justice for all. It is incredibly ironic, therefore, how these holy scripts managed over the centuries to become so diametrically conflicting with each other to the point that they are today totally irreconcilable.
Even the fundamental shared command against the grave act of taking an innocent human being's life has found its detractors in the very name of the Giver of this life. The resulting endless strife among God's agonizing children everywhere has led this humble sibling to sometimes honestly wish that the Almighty never bothered to entrust us with anything at all.
Before you slit my throat with knives of blasphemy, I invite you to take a quick tour of the world's major conflicts today. Start in Palestine, go east to Afghanistan, take a detour to Chechnya, and then come down to Kashmir and India. Stop over in Indonesia, visit the Philippines, then travel west back to Sudan, and from there on to Algeria. Cross to Europe going over north Cyprus, then passing through Bosnia and Kosovo, head all the way up to Ireland. What do you notice? What lies at the heart of all the persisting troubles that you see? More precisely, what is it that makes all these human beings think they are so different from the people they seek to murder?
As much as this may sound like an oversimplification of history, it is an undeniable fact that for too long man has slaughtered his fellow man over nothing more than the petty differences in the methods and rituals that we follow and the labels that we attach to ourselves in seeking to worship the one and same Creator. Isn't it truly absurd how these unruly children behave under the pretence of pleasing their Father?
One may rightly argue that the problem is not in the religions themselves, but in people's twisted interpretations and applications thereof. I would totally agree with that, but would also add that religions are like nuclear radiation. Of course they can be utilized to engender betterment for humanity, but only if limited to their peaceful usages and isolated under strict precautionary measures. Above all, their practical applications must be subjected to absolute scientific scrutiny. Take these safeguards away, and you will only end up with either one of two fates: an accidental Chernobyl or an intentional Hiroshima.
Yet at their core, all religious disputes are much less sophisticated and are always ridiculously devoid of real substance. In such seemingly insurmountable conflicts, try to understand why the protagonists passionately believe that their spiritual ways and convictions are so superior to those of their opponents. If you put aside the metaphysical details, you will invariably find that the differences amount to nothing more than inherited jingoistic rivalries, or at worst, plain old-fashioned street hooliganism. God, the unseen subject of reverence in all these sorry situations, has nothing to do with the barbarity perpetrated in His name.
A live example of this mockery at our doorsteps manifests itself in the opposing religious claims Muslims and Jews tirelessly assert over Jerusalem.
Here you have two pious and equally stubborn advocates, from extremely similar yet warring faiths, indulging in a typical “this is mine… no it's mine” infantile squabble between two kids over a little toy. I do not attempt to underestimate the importance and symbolism of Jerusalem for both religions; the euphoria and the carnage we are witnessing these days only proves the depth of such passions. However, the problem here is that the real issue of the Israeli illegal military occupation is being largely overlooked by the current emphasis on contentious religious sites, thus diverting the dispute into a pointless “my faith is more righteous than yours” wasteful argumentation.
The trap that some Arabs enthusiastically fall into when they are dragged into these deadlocked religious muddles is to forget that our claim to the land of Palestine, unlike the Jews, stems from over fourteen centuries of uninterrupted habitation of that land, and not necessarily by virtue of any religious significance of a hectare of land around the Dome of the Rock.
In this sense, Jerusalem should not be a sticking point in the peace negotiations any more than the rest of the territories Israel occupied in 1967. Nor should the issue of Jerusalem become holier than the fate of millions of refugees living in unspeakable misery amidst sewers for over half a century. These forgotten victims deserve as much publicity and attention as afforded these days to the issue of Jerusalem. I fear that the present condensation of decades of occupation and dispossession into a dispute over a few square meters is not a coincidence, but is a deliberate effort to undermine the legitimacy of what the Palestinian struggle had been all about during those years.
In fact, using the religious card to assert Arab rights in Jerusalem actually weakens our claim to the holy city. For it is well known that during the early beginnings of the revelation of Islam, when it was first decreed that Muslims shall turn to Jerusalem in their prayers, the Jews were already doing so for some time. By endorsing many aspects from Judaism's teachings, including the holy status of Jerusalem, it was hoped that the Jews of Arabia would be won over to Islam and that the two faiths can blend into one. Such has been the all-encompassing universality of the appeal of Islam, the only religion that recognized all the different prophets before it as holy messengers emanating from the same light, preaching the same message of unity. When this plea for endorsement and amalgamation of religions rang hollow with the Rabbis of Arabia, Mecca, instead, became the central axis of the Muslim faith, and the Ka'aba, its holiest shrine.
Bearing this in mind, we should not over-emphasize that Jerusalem was the Muslims' first 'Qibla' (direction for prayer) when we challenge the Israeli intransigence, since admittedly, we now turn to Mecca. As a matter of fact, we should not drag religions into this issue at all. The mystified look on Christiane Amanpour's face – when an ill-advised and ill-tempered Arafat recently revealed to her and to the rest of the world that Jerusalem is “our Terra Santa” and hence “our Palasanta”, whatever the latter means – says it all. We simply confuse matters and lose the argument once we start rambling on about matters incomprehensible to us, let alone to the ordinary man in the street.
What the Arabs should incessantly point out, however, are the stark facts of the illegal military occupation and settlement of the indisputable Palestinian lands, including East Jerusalem, which must be fully reversed if a peaceful compromise is ever to be achieved. Instead of indulging in childish religious bickering, we must always remind the world of the absurdity of remote land claims made by European settlers; prehistoric claims that have only been recently renewed through wars, massacres and mass expulsions. This is our real grievance, and we must not relent in articulating its simple logic and justice. In its essence, ours is a purely secular struggle, and it should remain so despite the fact that our adversary never ceases to bring God and His alleged promises into it.
In the same vein, instead of denouncing the Jewish attachment to Jerusalem – a favorite pastime of Islamist agitators – we should continually emphasize that under the desired Arab sovereignty over East Jerusalem, the rights of all religions to worship in peace shall be fully protected. In this regard, the identity of the Aqsa Mosque and the magnificent Dome of the Rock will speak for themselves without the need to engage the contrasting biblical narrative. Although such aspirations of sovereignty may not materialize anyway because of the inflexibility on the Israeli side, I can see no other viable basis upon which to advance our claim to the holy city. At the end of the day, we must realize that there can be no winners in this juvenile contest of trying to prove who loves Jerusalem the most, and who is more insanely irrational in refusing to share one inch of its holy sites.
There is no doubt that a lot of growing up is badly needed. Sadly, among God's ever battling children, there are always two kinds. There are strong bullies persecuting weaker victims. Watching the current familiar scenes of soldiers gunning down little kids like wild animals, it is not difficult to tell one from the other. What is very difficult to believe, however, is that these sadistic killers – there is no other description for these cold-blooded snipers – are the same supposed victims who paid a dear price for their own religious disposition not too long ago.
And what is it all for this time? A long lost buried holy temple that cannot be located let alone excavated? Well, shame on the religion that condones murder in the name of rebuilding any temple – no matter how holy – that would be erected to praise and glorify the name of God.