Tuesday, February 20, 2007

From Boer to Broer*

Two Roads

*Or: From an Afrikaner to his Arab Brothers (and Sisters) in the UAE.

You know, the more I read about your country, the more familiar it sounds. I grew up much like you. Our government was good to its people. They made sure that we could afford a decent living and adequate housing. We enjoyed all the trappings of the modern world.

Yet, we took great care in protecting our culture and our religion from the scandalous practices and influences of the secular West. We believed in God, and He was on our side. History was our proof. And we did not want our society to turn into another New York.

Like you, we had very little separation of Church and State. All our leaders were true believers. We had democracy, but that did not matter since we had an overwhelming majority, and therefore no fear. Our rulers were good people and we loved them. There was no need to criticize our government because we trusted them with our lives.

Despite all this, we firmly believed in kindness and tolerance. We never discriminated against non-believers. Our religious teachings in school were just for us. If you were of a different faith, we would respect your feelings and allow you to do your own thing. (We did however feel it was our duty to warn the unbelievers against the dangers of the Catholic Church and the Jews. And although we fought against the Germans, the English made us do so, and we never made much of the holocaust. Because many of us thought that Hitler was actually doing the world a favor).

The press was free. Government control was only indirect. Admittedly, we had censorship. But only the truly offensive was banned - and stuff that was clearly against our national interest. We actually preferred it that way. Why risk the unknown? For what?

Surely there were some mistakes made, we were not blind. But nothing like the rest of the world imagined. We did not mind change, as long as it was at our own pace. And we definitely did not need the rest of the world to tell us how to live our lives. And by golly, we also had domestic help.

I can go on. But I think that you get my drift.

Apartheid was a sin against humanity. We had our nice lifestyle at the expense of untold suffering of others. The fact that we somehow convinced ourselves that the situation was not that bad did not lessen this evil - it aggravated it.

We also were amazingly naïve. We somehow forgot that the world has always changed and it always would. And not in a way most people would hope for.

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Do you think I judge you? I hope not. But we are living much too close to each other these days to say that the opinions we hold are of no consequence to each other.

Just as you might criticize the behavior of Israel towards the Palestinians, the Chinese are still upset with the Japanese; while the American political establishment always hated the guts of Saddam, Osama, Fidel Castro, Saddam, Bananas, and of course Saddam. And anyone else who happens to disagree.

We all notice the splinter in each other’s eyes, but we fail to see our own. Modern science is just now starting to show why we are like this. It is the simple result of how our brains work. We all fool ourselves much more often than we like to admit.

This ability to find fault with other people is also one of the main reasons why a secular form of government works better than a religious one. It protects us from ourselves. The religious outlook always “knows” the answer, while we don’t. In reality, it has very little to do with the sincerity of the people in charge, or what they believe. Strangely enough, secular government makes us responsible for our own actions. Religious government places that responsibility on those in charge.

This “deficiency” also makes us dependent upon each other. Since none of us know the whole truth, we need each other. No matter what we believe, we all make mistakes. I am sure you have heard the saying about smoking – “10 million blue collar workers can’t be wrong”. Well guess what – they were.

Therefore, to assume that the Muslim viewpoint is the only one that is correct is no different from the idea we had when our church leaders claimed support for apartheid in the Bible. It’s not God who is wrong, but us. Through our interpretation of what he wants. (Think about this. I am not trying to belittle your faith.)

I agree, as a good Muslim it is your prerogative to assume that your belief is right and mine wrong. As a Christian, it is my right to hold the opposite point of view. All the while, our Atheist friends are entitled to think we are both going off the deep end.

But we all should be able to agree that knowledge though faith is different from cognitive knowledge. This is why we cannot assume that we know it all. God does not tell us the secrets of the universe just because we are faithful. If we knew everything, we would have all agreed on everything. We would have had no real choice. No, we have to be very careful when we try to impose our beliefs on others. Think of it this way – maybe God made us like this; with all our mental imperfections so that we have to choose based on what is in our hearts foremost – not our minds.

We all need a big dose of reality. It would make us all much more humble. When we realize how little we know, we also begin to understand why we should take great care less we impose our opinions and beliefs on our fellow travelers through time. And why we should grant them the same human rights we like to enjoy ourselves.

Like our Jewish friend Leonard said, democracy is coming - to the USA. Is it also coming to the UAE?

This article was first published on Thursday December 15, 2005

1 comment:

nikita said...

Do you really think that we thought Hitler did the world a favour? Not me! Not others that I can think of.Beautiful pic!