i guess i'd better report back on my trip yesterday. i'd love to report that it all went wonderfully well, and that i've found a new friend and ally. but real life doesn't much work like that, does it. at least i can report that i didn't make an enemy, that the discussion was calm and that i'm sure i didn't make the situation any worse.
i had a long chat with mr s, in which he did manage to concede that all terrorists were not muslim. but he concluded that i just wasn't working hard enough, first in letting non-muslims know about the muslim positions and second in changing muslims so they wouldn't be so backward and conditioned to a midieval mindset. hmm. i suppose i could work harder, if i decided i could do without leisure time and if i gave up sleeping at night. sure i could.
he concluded this, even after i told him about all the public speaking i do, all the opinion pieces i've had published in various media. it wasn't just me, of course, the muslim community is also supposed to be working harder. even though i told him about the work that fianz had done to protect nz trade to the middle east after the danish cartoons were published here, amongst other things. of course, he hadn't heard about that which was our fault, because we weren't letting people know about our position. this, despite the fact that it was covered by pretty much all local news media at the time.
still, he wasn't all negative. he condemned fundamentalism in india from all religious groups, he condemned the publication of the danish cartoons and the destruction of the babri mosque. he talked about religious intolerance and hatred existing amongst all religious groups, and the need for more interaction between the different communities to try to overcome that. and i kept my patience, put forward my own views in as calm a way as i could.
i thought it had ended in a positive note. through our discussions, we came to a conclusion that it would probably be a good idea to develop an indian interfaith forum, which could bring together muslims, sikhs, hindus and christians. we talked about various forms and objectives such a forum might have, but didn't come to any firm conclusions. i asked him to think about it further, and to think about any of his contacts who would be interested in working on such a project.
i then had to rush off to my next engagement. i kept thinking about it during the day, and couldn't make up my mind as to whether i had totally wasted my time or not. i didn't feel, in my heart, that i'd made any kind of impact really, although the interfaith idea did interest me.
then i checked my emails last night, and sure enough, there was one from mr s headed "arab-jews amazing statistics". well this looks promising, i thought to myself. but no, it was a list of nobel prizewinners of the muslim and jewish faiths, and pointed out that there were 1.2 billion muslims in the world, they had won 7 nobel prizes (and the researchers were good, they broke down the prizes in the various categories showing zero prizes in the fields of economics and physics). then there were the list of jewish winners, all nicely categorised, who had received 129 prizes from a world population of 14 million.
it was just like a kick in the guts. was the mesage that muslims are just ignorant savages; that we deserve to be hated? or what? i felt like i had totally wasted my time, and the enthusiasm for the interfaith idea just ebbed away. mostly, i think that i just don't have the intestinal fortitude to deal with this stuff. i don't have the strenght to do this, and to do it again and again, until i win over those who want to hate me. i don't have the diplomatic skills to negotiate these waters. i don't, i can't, it's too much, it's too hard.
well, i've continued to think over this, and decided that there is a more charitable explanation of mr s's behaviour. his message to me, above the list of nobel prize winners, was:
I think that is the best way to win the world,by spreading knowledge and by default,ignorance will vanish and so will may of our prejudices. That goes for all the religions and it is something to mull over by the so-called sentries of all the religions. Let us stop finding faults in others and try to grow all our communities.
i think maybe what he was trying to say was that there is need to put more efforts into education at all levels in the muslim world, and who am i to argue that. it's a definite need, when there's so much poverty in so many muslim countries, and especially for those under occupation, attack or civil war.
i still don't know whether my visit made a difference or not, whether it was worth the effort or not. but i do know that doing nothing is not an option. there's enough of that happening already.
so i'll think more about the indian interfaith group. i'll talk to people i know over the coming weeks and months, i'll see if i can generate any interest. the trick is to get the hardliners involved, i'm not interested in creating more of the type of interfaith activity we have in this country where it's like-minded people continually talking to each other. there must be a way to get those with extreme positions to the table and talking to each other.
i don't know if it'll come to anything, and a lot will depend on my own energy levels which rise and fall, and my ability to bring others on board. i'll let you know if anything develops.
my next engagement that day was the "very angry" gaza protest in auckland. yes, i took part in the march, no i did not take a lead in the protest and i didn't throw any shoes or burn any flags. i can't say i agree with everything that happened there but it was the only protest happening nearby, and as i say, doing nothing is not an option. i really didn't know the shoe-throwing thing was going to happen until i got there.
anyway, the real positive bit of the whole thing was when john minto thanked the members of the jewish community who had come to take part in the protest, for their stand in protesting against the actions of the israeli government. and the funniest bit was seeing the back of national party hoardings being used for protest slogans. while mr mccully has been stumbling and hesitating in getting out a firm national party position, ms judith collins has actively helped to protest against what's happening in gaza - without her knowledge i'm sure, but really, how did the protesters come to have national party hoardings?
and a positive note to end with, i got to finally meet wriggly who is now a 1 year old. he's totally gorgeous & adorable, and we got to spend some quality time together. in fact i might go so far as to say we became good friends, at least for an hour or so. he'll have forgotten me by now but i must say, there is nothing like a happy, gurgling baby to make you forget about all the troubles in the world.