We cannot do “Peace on Earth”?

Posted on December 6, 2008
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            The past two weeks have been traumatic ones for the world and Canada.

            The vicious terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, demonstrates, once again, how deadly religion can be. The words of kind-hearted prophets are easily perverted to justify mass murder.

            In Mumbai, the targets were Hindu, North American and Jewish. Muslim Pakistan used to be part of India. The two countries have been at odds ever since partition in 1947. Both now have nuclear weapons.

            Muslims and Jews have grown increasingly at odds since the United Nations recognized Israel in 1948. Before the Holocaust and subsequent determination on the part of Jews to have their own country, Muslim Arabs and Middle Eastern Jews had enjoyed more or less normal relations.

            Enmity between many Middle Eastern Muslim and Western, primarily Christian, nations has been gradually building for years. Western morals are anathema to fundamentalist Muslims as they are to fundamentalist Christians.

            Western governments have supported repressive and corrupt Middle Eastern governments in the interests of stable oil supplies and cold war jockeying for client states.

Never again

            Mankind, to its shame, is able to demonize others to the point where citizens will not only tolerate but support and even participate in mass murder and genocide. We keep saying “Never again!” but, in fact, it never, ever, stops.

            The weekend before the Mumbai attacks, I visited the Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. I’ve read about the Holocaust most of my life and visited museums in Dusseldorf, Washington and St. Petersburg. I understand why Hitler wanted to use the Jews as scapegoats. I understand how he and his henchmen demonized the Jews using the most sophisticated marketing techniques of the day.

            I have a harder time to understand how people can ignore what is happening around them. I have an even harder time understanding how people can actually do the hellish job. I can never understand what drives the men who initiate and accomplish it.

            As I continue to read and go through the dark rooms of railway sorting platforms, concentration camp barracks, and gas chamber replicas, I also find examples of human heroism that are also hard to comprehend.

            A Belgian teacher, for example, coordinates the harbouring of Jews and even uses her eight-year-old daughter as a messenger. In a tight corner, one day, the little girl manages to swallow the message she was to deliver.

            A Japanese trade consul, in Europe, against the instructions of his government signs passports by the thousands to help Jews to escape.

The Bielski Brothers

            Three Jewish brothers in Byelorussia, then Poland, created a community deep in the forest for the purpose of rescuing as many Jews as possible. Unlike most partisan groups, their first purpose was to save lives. They took children and the aged to their woodland hideout and fortress.

            They were the Bielski brothers. They came from primitive living conditions, survived the Nazi era and two of them went on to live in the U.S. There is film of one of them as an apparently normal old man sitting, talking, laughing, on a couch in his apartment. Thousands owed their lives to him and you would not have noticed anything remarkable about him if you saw him on the street.

            Of course, that is also true of our own war veterans. It is not obvious that they are giants who wrought heroic success that we enjoy.

            Few now actually remember the ones who died in the attempt.

            Sadly, this week, three more Canadians joined that number in Afghanistan. If you lose your child in a smaller war than WW II, it is the worst war.

            Holidays and religious celebrations go by various names – Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanza – at this time of year.

            Jews, Christians and Muslims all pray to the same god.

            Concentration camp execution squads and gas chamber builders attended Christian churches. The suicide squads who attacked and killed Jews and Christians in Mumbai expected their reward from the same God those Jews and Christians prayed to for salvation at the hour of their deaths.

            What part of “Peace on earth. Good will toward men” do we not understand?

            Why can’t we work it out?



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