Tribalism

For the last few weeks, I didn’t feel like posting anything here. There was this image in my mind: starving little children huddled next to the body of their dead mother, killed by an Israeli missile. Red-Cross volunteers in Gaza reported a number of incidences like this; by the time the children were found, they were too weak to walk. And then, when all of Gaza was nothing but rubble, two days before the inauguration of our new president, the Israelis agreed to a cease-fire.

The celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday fell in-between these two events. Alternet posted his speech from April 4, 1967, Why I Cannot Be Silent, a compelling and powerful statement for peace and against the devastating effects of war (in this case, the Vietnam War) which is just as relevant today as it was then. In the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict his ideas are poignant and, I’m afraid, way ahead of his and also our time. His urgent admonitions entreat us to look beyond color, race, tribe, religion etc. and instead strive for a true communion of all living beings:

A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept — so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force — has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man.”

An absolute necessity for our survival;  — yeah, but I’m not holding my breath.

Kudos to my friend Peter who found an echo of Dr. King’s urgent advice in Obama’s Inaugural Address:

“And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.”

A glimmer of hope. An example is the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra founded by Argentine-Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim and the late Palestinian-American academic Edward Said. It is a youth orchestra with members from Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria. In an attempt to step beyond the boundaries of their particular tribe, the young musicians participate in a dialog about conflicting view points where they learn from rather than hate each other. As one of the players states:

“It is more important not for people like myself, but for people to see that it is possible to sit down with Arab people and play. The orchestra is a human laboratory that can express to the whole world how to cope with the other.”

If  my identity is culturally and ethnically defined  by my tribe, it follows that anybody outside of my group is  foreign at best and easily becomes the enemy. “Us” vs. “Them” is the ubiquitous formula for conflict, wars, confrontation, hostility, and discord. The old Chinese were pretty straight-forward about this: anybody not Chinese was a “barbarian”, moderately if at all superior to monkeys.

“How to cope with the other” is indeed essential for the survival of humanity, all living beings, the planet. With our new president, we may be making a small step in the right direction.

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