Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Accepting Part Responsibility Brings Credibility

On cross country drives I mostly listen to music, switching between satellite radio and Pandora streaming stations created around favorite performers.

Periodically, I very briefly check in on news and sports, which during this just concluded road trip, brought to mind a book I was rereading, during overnight stops, about Francesco di Petrol di Bernardone, better known as Saint Francis of Assisi.

Outbound, the news was obsessed with the war instigated with Israel by Hamas, a Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is opposed to the two-state solution proposed in 1987 by Yasser Arafat and the PLO, less than a year before I moved to my adopted North Carolina.

As a college student, Arafat had also fought in Gaza during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War which resulted in the creation of the state of Israel on the same day I was born that year to fourth-generation ranchers Idaho ranchers.

While only 1% Jewish (Iberian) by ethnicity and descended from a namesake Knight who fought alongside Richard “the Lionheart” on the Third Crusade, I’ve always favored Arafat’s solution and social justice for Palestinians.

But a good friend, a naturalized Palestinian-American just back from a visit to his native East Jerusalem, has persuaded me that unfortunately it is doubtful this will ever happen.

Nor is it ever likely that Jerusalem will ever become the International “open” city that the United Nations resolved in 1947 when the issue of two states, bound by an economic union, was accepted by mainstream Jews but rejected by Arab states.

My view Hamas may also be biased, in part because according to Article 22 of its charter, as a former Rotary Club president I am targeted along with Lions Club members and Masons, all couched as part of a Zionist Conspiracy.

Arafat and the PLO were nationalistic in aim but Hamas is also neo-Jihadi, although given to terrorism today it seems more exclusively the latter.

Rarely, if ever, have I heard a representative of Hamas present a dispassionate, balanced and introspective rationale for its position, or accept responsibility for its part, a mistake many aggrieved parties often make, undermining their credibility.

African-American friends of mine have agreed on one of the reasons Americans approve of redress such as “affirmative action” (including 40% of Republicans), but don’t when it comes to its execution.

It may also be a clue as to why Americans overall view a tragedy such as the one in Ferguson, Missouri, which dominated news on the return leg of my trip, as a question of police going too far but disagree that it is racial.

Rarely, if ever it seems, do those in responsibility for management of affirmative action come out in conversation or in news reports against its abuse.

Unfortunately, this reluctance to be objective undermines the credibility and ultimately the usefulness of an excellent program.

I heard the mother of the victim in the Ferguson shooting decry those who used it as cover to infiltrate peaceful protests for the purpose of violence and criminal activity such as looting and throwing fire bombs.

Unfortunately, those using the tragedy to score points dominated news reports and seemed more interested in “them and us” agendas than critical thinking or the subtleties of mutual responsibility.

I often saw this when I served on a crime cabinet here in Durham.  Passionate observers who were African-American often undermined the validity of their concerns by refusing to acknowledge personal or parental accountability, while being equivocal when it came to reducing criminal behavior.

I had been home a day from my cross country trip before I heard an African-American who happened to be a social worker in Charlotte, North Carolina quoted by a reporter on statewide cable news outlet for North Carolina acknowledging mutual responsibility in Ferguson:

“I think it hits home because we have a lot of great people who may not know how to deal with a situation, when they approach a police officer, what's proper procedure. So I think we also need to educate our young people.”

It may seem obvious but more than any amount of street protest, his comment, if it had been picked up nationwide would have opened far more minds to understanding the social justice aspects being discussed.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. resonated with people of all races because he was as insistent in his opposition to violence and the responsibility of black leaders to curb it and for all individuals to be judged on the “content of our character” as he was insistent about social justice.

Hamas should take note, as we all could.

A book I read just before I retired at the end of 2009 and again on this trip, as well as parallels in the lives of some my ancestors who experienced officially-endorsed persecution and social injustice was on my mind as I explored a route new to me up the verdant mile-high pastures of the San Pete Valley of central Utah on my outbound route.

At the request of an Ute Indian chief, the valley had been first settled in 1850 by one my great (x3) grandfathers, Charles Shumway who over the next two years also managed to serve as a member of the 1st Utah Territorial Legislature.

By then Charles was 44 years of age.  He had already helped create four settlements including three in the Midwest including Nauvoo, Illinois which was as large as Chicago at the time and served there as a police officer and on a governing council.

He had been a body guard for Mormon prophet and founder Joseph Smith and served a mission to the Cherokee Nation just as factions erupted there in civil war and then another back to his native Massachusetts.

He was driven from his home after the murder of Joseph Smith and led the Mormons across the Mississippi River toward sanctuary in the Rockies, lost his wife along the Missouri River to Diphtheria, and appointed a captain on the vanguard wagon train west from there as well as the first handful to scout Salt Lake Valley.

But he was also outspoken within the Mormon community.  Similar to Muslims after the death of their prophet Mohammed and Crusaders, Mormons had two types of leaders when creating settlements, some ecclesiastical and some secular and some like my great (x3) grandfather, both.

When they disagreed, local ecclesiastical leaders were often quick to trump any introspection or critical thinking by secular leaders with threats of “disfellowshipment”, a form of probation which happened to my great (x3) grandfather once or even excommunication.

No one in my lineage was a saint but The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace by career journalist and SUNY-Brooklyn professor Paul Moses is the fascinating account of a peace mission during the Fifth Crusade by someone who would soon be.

Moses cuts through the agendas of various accounts and omissions over time with a journalist’s critical thinking.

Saint Francis, less than a decade from when he would be canonized, was the same age as my great (x3) grandfather when he was driven from his home by persecution when he traveled to the Egyptian front during the Fifth Crusade.

From a wealthy background and once a Knight himself in battle, he had been a prisoner of war for a year after a bloody battle instigated by merchants such as his father for economic  gain.

Ransomed, he set out to join the Fourth Crusade but an epiphany in his early 20s caused Francis to turn back and devote his life instead to living as Christ-like in every way possible including “love they enemy.”

The Pope at the time called for a Fifth Crusade, an attempt to conquer Egypt this time as a means to drive the Muslims from the Holy Land including Jerusalem.  This was the home of Abraham, the patriarch of three great religions, Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

I’m a life-long Christian but I can see the point that Crusaders such as my ancestor were also Jihadists of their time, even terrorists.

Ecclesiastical leaders were loath to ever admit responsibility, and as in the case of the Fifth Crusade, often pushed for violent win/lose solutions such as Hamas does even when peaceful compromises were on the table.

The ecclesiastical leader on the battlefield, in this case a power-hungry and prideful Cardinal, repeatedly trumped the judgment by military leaders that they should avoid bloodshed by accepting an offer of compromise that for several decades would give them control of Jerusalem.

On the Muslim side, there were also two sets of leaders, one religious - the Caliphate and one political/military - the Sultan, a dichotomy established after the Prophet Mohammad’s death.

A nephew of the great Saladin, Sultan Al-Kamil, also a Sunni of Kurdish descent was fighting increasing fragmentation of the unity the Prophet Mohammad had achieved with Islam.  He also practices tolerance of other faiths as his uncle and the Prophet had and calls for in the Qur’an.

Fed up with the slaughter, Saint Francis walked through the lines of both Crusaders and Muslim armies to spend several days in dialogue with Al-Malik who had been knighted as a boy by Richard the Lionheart during a compromise with his uncle..

Unarmed, Francis intended to convert the Sultan, but it was Francis who was deeply affected and converted to the importance of love and mutual respect and understanding to peace.

Francis must have sensed that Muslim leaders such as Al-Malik who had just survived a coup, feared even more than Crusaders the religious extremists among their ranks, something they prophetically saw as an end to the Golden Age of Islam.

In the end Francis achieved more mutual understanding and mutual respect than peace but his humility and courage set an example for the two military leaders who soon did.

It wasn’t the last Crusade and the Crusaders would have achieved far more by accepting any of the previous compromises authored by the Sultan including the one offered to the Pope that would have prevented any bloodshed at all.

The followers then of Islam were far more given to compromise than neo-Jihadists today.

It is an incredible book with deep insight into the issues of personal accountability, compromise, fairness and understanding faced both here in the West and in the Middle East today.

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