Showing posts with label Libya. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Libya. Show all posts

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

When Peace is not enough

This morning I was reminded of the time my father collected me from school. During playtime, someone started spreading the rumour that bombs were being dropped in Libya. We were supposed to be doing Arabic but the teacher didn't turn up. I was one of the last to leave Tripoli College that day, took my Arabic text book with me and have kept it ever since. On the way home I was told to look out of the back window because seeing a child might stop people throwing bottles of petrol at our car. This didn't seem to work. We did not wish to draw attention to our home by parking a car outside it, so stopped about 400 yards away and ran. The next couple of months were spent behind closed shutters. My parents listened to the radio all the time. I made a horrible pink pin cushion with lace round the edges that I kept for many years. We had a suitcase packed even though there was no way of getting to the airport, and I could not understand why people hated us foreigners so much.

At times it seems as if a shared understanding may be helpful. At other times however it can be most unkind to imply a comparison with more extreme situations people are going through right now. These days I look back on those experiences which made me the person I am now. They made me realise strength that I did not know I had before. Some of those happenings you would in no way choose but when things are good, happy and peaceful, you tend to appreciate it more. For those caught up in troubles, it must be very hard to imagine good, happy peaceful times ever happening again, but I honestly believe that Light will eventually triumph over darkness.

Until such a time, it does seem so important to remember those who are suffering, likely to be very frightened, and despairing of human nature. George Fox went through such a time. he called it the "ocean of darkness." A Muslim friend called this a time of great 'fitna', the Arabic term for trials and tribulations. When confronted by such suffering, it can be very hard finding the right thing to say.

There may be a temptation to talk about our Quaker peace testimony. We could step in as impartial observers, offer to arbitrate and get people to talk to each other. At times it may be very helpful for a third party to identify some aspect of common ground on which it is possible to build. There will always be room for a foundation. Perhaps because the human race is a family all growing up together, that we tend to fall out most easily with our siblings.

Peace-makers can seem very helpful so long as you are in a good position to bargain. If you are feeling threatened, the very last thing you want is for some do-gooder with very limited knowledge to talk of conflict resolution and bring your enemy nearer.
That brief telling off to the school bully, being told to shake hands to someone who twists your wrist in doing so, bringing the abusive partner home after a telling off and ride in the police car, telling you to vote when there is no guarantee of safety, offering a gun amnesty when there would seem no other defence but to have the means of dispatching a bullet near you. These characteristics among peace-makers can give you nightmares. Human Beings are no different from any other species. Our primary concern is safety. When you are on the receiving end of an injustice, that commodity most necessary to your condition is power. Because we do not have all the evidence or know the answers, it always worries me whenever I see Quakers taking sides.

It would seem quite ironic that one of the usual ways of resolving this situation is by talking about belief. This process can feel amazing, but only if you are the person doing all the talking, or, at the very least, have been invited to do so. Those on the receiving end, experiencing perhaps a very different kind of spiritual journey, may not have the means to imagine quite what you mean by "God." The term "Our Father" can sound very different to the child of an abusive parent. It is possible to leave a victim even more dis-empowered, isolated and unhappy by talking about religion.

The other mistake people often seem to make is by providing the wrong kind of weapon. This process usually involves something to carry about that explodes and may create lots of casualties around you. It may be what people ask for but strength in a human being comes from the inside. In some ways I would liken violence to the use of drugs or alcohol. These provide temporary relief or an illusion of power. They have very little to do with proving a point, providing a solution or making anyone stronger.

It seems helpful to remember that Quakers have always been motivated by stubborn, plain-speaking, uncompromising truth. Strategically we might exploit any point of weakness in the aggressor since those who use violence seem content with second best. Truth however allows for many different perspectives. Those who adopt violence are so often victims themselves. When you are caught up in a cycle it is quite impossible to judge.

Perhaps in our confusion, we step might back, choosing instead to make gestures, rather than try to resolve anything. This would seem to me as being an honest approach and likely to do least damage. Symbols of peace can raise awareness even though we might seem somewhat ineffectual to others. 

Increasingly I have found myself wanting to tell other people how I see then. This morning a picture was conveyed through social media of the old castle on Tripoli sea front. Its a facinating building. There used to be a zoo there. Every sunset during the month of Ramadam a gun used to fire from castle across the harbour. Those hungry and thirsty from fasting must have been so relieved to hear the sound of gunfire but they hear it often now.

I remembered how the old Souq (market) with its narrow streets, and very beautiful houses was situated just behind the castle. The people I saw there used to amaze me with their skill, craftsmanship and patience. I remember the sound of chisels rhythmically tapping away, and the creaking of a wheel turning round as craftsmen put decorations on brass plates.

There were bracelets that I wore made with thousands of tiny beads and so many different things they could make with leather. I had a little braided camel that I loved. The patterned wool rug I have on my floor right now must be over 40 years old and it still looks like new. I remember the place where it was hanging the day that we bought it. I remember Fezzan dates filled with almonds and shaped into a block. They can make the best bread in the world in Libya using clay ovens. If you have ever seen the traditional way of making tea in Libya, you would know how patient Libyans can be. Those who are able to make tea always seem to have a role in a crisis.
Whenever I saw anyone riding a camel it used to amaze me. Humps wobble about a lot and very grumpy camels spit a long way when they don't like you. Its not at all like being on a horse. Those able to ride camels understand the importance of leadership, using the right kind of control on a stubborn, bad tempered, frightened animal. I remember how cleverly Bedouin tents were made, to be put up and taken down so many times, using every available resource. There was the best taxi service ever in Tripoli with beautifully dressed horses who wore hats to keep out the sun. When people talk about armed gangs roaming about the streets of Tripoli, and private armies, I would like the rest of the world to know that the people of Libya are amazing. Those tribes are so interesting, talented and diverse. I wish that I knew more about them. I wish someone would write about them more, but can tell you now, fighting is not the only thing they can do.

As a Quaker, I understand the importance of power. When people say something good or kind about me, I am empowered. In turn this gives me the strength and capacity to pass on power to others. Kindness, is like a car suddenly getting filled up with petrol. Kind words can also travel far.

It would seem to me that Quakers talk a great deal about power. Like so many other faiths, we have identified a limitless resource.
Love allows us the strength to be fully honest, transforms the way we see each other. Love gives us the power to fulfil our potential, Love allows us to forgive. Love mean we can always give away and still find we plenty more. Love allows us to see a way through conflict situations. Love does not need second best.
To me, peace on its own is not enough. When you are up against anything it is necessary to employ power. We may loose our credibility, at times feel pretty daft, but are not supposed to have all the answers, win or try to impress anyone. It would seem to me our role as peace-makers is about giving something of ourselves away, responding to people as they really are, washing the feet of others.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Those whom we choose to love make us who we are.

Each morning I am reminded through watching the television news of how terrible human beings can be to each other. At times perhaps we are misled over what all our different beliefs are for, even through pride associating them with power. To me all our religions are about navigation, helping us define priorities, live with each other in a world of finite resources and make us better at being human.

Suffering appals me, especially when the terrible things we do to each are done in the name of religion. To me, this is blasphemy. I can see how easy it must be for strong forceful characters to persuade others down the wrong paths. There is also that human characteristic that if you are doing something wrong, it never seems quite so bad if you can get others to support you. Through knowing how bad and divisive human beings can be, how we get so narrow minded in our perspective and preoccupied with power, I am very glad that Quakers have always emphasised the importance of communicating with God direct.

This morning I am thinking of Iraq, in particular the many images distributed through national media of so many young men being led away to execution. One of them was wearing a football shirt, with an well known player's name on the back. It seemed only a few days ago he would have been following his team, using the example of this player as a role model. Yesterday he died for religion. Whilst families in this country were celebrating Fathers' Day, I was thinking of families not so very different to my own which through war were now steadily becoming smaller.

Although so much of the suffering that takes place goes unnoticed or unmarked, we are all I believe, loved and known in all our abilities, situations, thoughts and deeds through being without exception Children of God. It is a quite remarkable opportunity being human. When confronted however by the evidence of what we can do to each other, I think Quakers should find themselves challenged. We are not entitled to create divisions and disharmony among ourselves through holding different perspectives on the Truth. Where there is conflict, we have a responsibility to look at it honestly, and then, in the words of William Penn,
"See what love can do."
 Whilst kids in football shirts are being shot in the name of religion, I do not think we should ever believe ourselves entitled to take our peace testimony as a soft option. Instead we have a massive responsibility to live our lives as a pattern, showing absolute confidence that the Source and power of all love is supreme.

A few days ago this news story captured my attention.

This initiative by ordinary Libyan people to picture the best and most beautiful aspects of their country and then share these images with the rest of the world, meant a great deal to me. I was brought up in the country. It has been very sad for me to see all those childhood memories steadily destroyed through military rule and the recent uprising. There were many evenings in which I spent searching for news through the internet and it seemed that almost all of it was bad. At times I would see images of places that I remembered on the news only this time it was because some atrocity had just been discovered. Thanks to this initiative I was reminded of the country’s natural beauty, an amazing culture, the history, jewellery made with tiny beads and leather in the desert, the Tripoli Souq with its narrow lanes lines with merchandise and houses built around courtyards, Fezzan dates (stuffed with almonds and shaped into a block), Italian ice cream after swimming on Kilo 13 beach, The International School where there were 23 different countries represented in my class, the fun of bartering for everything when you shopped, the horse drawn taxi service which was such a treat for a child, riding my new scooter back from Nicola's toy shop, which kept getting stuck in the sand. There was a local supermarket with its own dough-nut making machine, and (because I am English and get very sentimental about animals!) my friends the goats. Some things you can get wrong as a child. There was a place we all called "George-in-popoli" I have no idea who "George" was or what he was doing in "Popoli" and can find no record of this place on the web!

Through #MyLibya I can understand what George Fox meant by describing how
"I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness."

Perhaps those of you reading my blog will feel able to support those living in communities that are not so fortunate as their own. Wherever our starting point might be, I would like to think we are prepared to set an example of the values we consider important, our religion in all its diversity is sincere, and that whatever situation we are in, love has the final say. 

These days it does not seem all that important that I write as the "Secret Quakers". Names are given to us at birth, usually by our parents. The reasons for their choice could well seem quite random, something they liked the sound of, to honour a relation, the prevailing fashion, or even the actual meaning. Most of us have the uncomfortable knowledge that you have been named after someone else, ideally a reputable person! However hard expectant couples scan the dictionaries in search of ideas, none of our names are unique. Some of us have an unfortunate tendency to forget names the moment you are introduced, almost as if other characteristics about that person matter more. Even among those closest to you, names can get confused. I remember at one time my four year old getting very cross with me because I had just called her and instead the dog came running!
Instead of relying upon our names, I think it would be more honest and more accurate to accept that those whom we choose to love make us who we are.