As promised, I’m going to start this week of blogs on observations I’ve made throughout the Middle East, culminating into the Israel vs. Gaza problem we’ve watched on the news for the last two months.
I’ve learned if you want to be involved in and around anything with a Middle East Flare, you have to know about Israel. My first introduction to the Middle East was in 2007, and since then; I’ve learned to love the people in the Middle East, The History of the Region, and I’m intrigued with how the different Monotheistic Faiths work together. (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam)
As a Philosophy of Religion student, I’m intrigued with the history of how each faith came to be, and how people practice their faith in the modern world. So, of course the Middle East was intriguing. It’s the scene where the oldest stories of all faiths converge into one Holy Land.
Since my introduction to the Middle East, I’ve been able to travel to Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. I’ve met some of the top leaders of each country, worked with some of the highest diplomatic platforms there are, and the most exciting part; I’ve met some life long friends along the way. If there is an area of the world I long to know more about, it’s all that’s happening in the Middle East. (an exciting time in history to be intrigued, I know.)
In 2012, I figured I needed to go and probe this region for myself. I’ve read several of the history books, the sections of Presidential Biographies where they’ve all tried to negotiate peace, several retired military books, and what I found seemed like a quagmire of stories. It can’t be all that bad. I mean how hard is it to live in a world where we respect each other? I thought.
Boy, was I naive.
Without writing another Peace in the Middle East Document, I just would like to share a few things I found out about the current conflicts in the Middle East. Israel and Gaze, the issue in Syria, Iraq, and Iran are just a few. But, as a disclosure, I must admit: I’m not a diplomat. I’m not a Middle East Scholar. I’m not an international Lawyer. My professional life is spent working with Global Teenagers in the space of faith. I don’t mean any ill will to either side of the problem, but I do think I can add a different perspective that many aren’t talking about.
The danger in writing posts like this is that readers don’t get the chance to have a conversation.
This is my platform, and I write solely the thoughts I have in my head. I understand there’s a lack of tone of voice, and a discourse to understand each other on this platform. I know there are several who will read this and disagree. That’s ok with me!
I’m simply a journeyman trying to help teenagers understand the world around them. I write from a Western American Cultural point of view, so please issue some grace where I may speak out of turn. I’m trying the best I know how to make sense of what’s going on, and you can rest assured…when you work in and around the Middle East from thousands of miles away, NOBODY is getting the whole truth.
I think that covers as much a disclaimer that I can. For sure, if you have questions, I’d be more than happy to use this platform to discuss the issues, but only in a civil way. If anybody gets angry, or writes vile things out of anonymity, I’ll be sure to throw them out of the conversation. This week I’ll be doing a series on observations, not theology, not prophecy, and certainly not intentionally trying to garner any anger. So, if we can do that; then let’s dive in. If not, well there’s plenty of fodder on the internet for you to play.
The People of the Abrahamic Faiths
The West is confused.
When I talk about the Middle East with my friends, I often find eyes glaze over. Most of them haven’t taken the time to read the history of the Middle East or even keep up to date on Politics of the Middle East. Since 9-11, most of my faith believing friends are biased towards Muslims being terrorists, extremists, and people who ‘hate our way of life.’
Depending on what way you’ve been brought up, I find a differing tone when referring to the three major Mono-Theistic Religion. Some want to side with Christians, others Muslims, and still others Jews. But I think it important to see the region inclusively AND exclusively of what you may think about identifying with religion.
I find many phrases used over and over again in the public square grossly misleading for the majority of people I’ve run into in the region. The racial terms used to describe people in the Middle East on American Media just aren’t helpful. Labels like Extremist, Terrorist, Genocide, are all used to demonize someone we don’t understand. Let me state clearly: there are BAD people in the world, but there are a whole lot of good people living in the same countries we’ll be talking about.
For the sake of this article, I would like to re-think how we talk about real life people, and see why we use the descriptive words we do.
What Lens Do you Use to See the Middle East?
Just like what happens to your sight when you put on colored glasses in the bright sun, the way you approach the world is tinted by life’s experiences you’ve learned. There’s no way I can explain the intricacies of all these different lenses, but I will briefly just show how the lenses may effect our view of current events.
The Zionist Lens:
Maybe you read the course of history through a theistic lens where you see the creation of Israel as a nation as some sort of prophetic fulfillment for the end times. World War II, the Nazis, and the awful genocide of the Jews inform you’re opinion of the region. If you think of the region through the Zionist lens, you’ll see the conflicts one way that is often very different from someone who doesn’t.
The Muslim lens:
There are some Muslims in the world that prefer to live in isolation. They have an idea that the West has taken their culture, history, and core religious values and distorted them to be like America. If you see the conflicts in the Middle East through the Muslim lens, you have to be very attentive to which Muslim group you identify with. Sunni is different than Shia which is different than the dozens of other sectarian tribal groups we could discuss. This world lines up with the next lens, but from a different point of view.
The Protectionist Lens:
If you’re working at Homeland Security, you’re going to be worried about all the threats someone may pose from the Middle East to America under the backdrop of a post-9-11 world. Of course you’re going to filter all the news you hear about the Middle East through a protectionist lens using America as the core idea to protect.
The Religious Lens:
If you’re a theologian, you’re working within the backdrop of what God your serve and how you think He is in play in the most Holy Sites in the World. Most often your paradigm will be contextualize by how you read the sacred books. You’re view of the Middle East will be different on all sides depending on the religious tradition you come from. Jews see the Middle East very different from the Christians who see it very different from the Muslims. There is a worldview that informs us all, and we have to be careful to admit and understand each other’s lens.
The Political Lens:
If you’re a Politician, you’re beheld to the opinions of the people who elect you. Whether you’re in Washington, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, or Tehran, your view will be coupled with the popular mandate of whatever tribe or nation you serve. A Politician’s lens is very different from approaching global situations from humanitarians, religious people, or cultural ideas.
The Business Lens:
If you’re a business person, the story takes a wildly different turn. You may see the issues in the Middle East through the lens of Profit Margins, and be blinded to another segment. There’s no question the rise of energy addiction to cheap oil has made parts of the Middle East very wealthy for some, and for others; a grand opportunity. If you see the world through business, the stories may give you opportunity to grow a business, a partnership, or even engage in the oil and gas industry.
If you’re a local person trying to raise a family, get a good job, mentor your kids, and survive, the conflict looks entirely different. You may not identify with any of the other people religiously, politically, or economically. You just wake up and try to live the life you’ve been given.
So for our first lesson on my observations of the current problems, we need to identify which lens we’re going to see the problem through. And let it be known, if you’re looking through the lens of the 24 hour news cycle, you’re seeing a different picture than maybe those on the ground.
KIVU in the Middle East
Last year I started inviting some of my KIVU students and their families to engage with all of these lenses. We travel through the region talking with religious leaders, political leaders, and every day people while we journey through the Holy Sites. Much to our surprise, many people saw the Middle East issues through a variety of lenses. Some were only politicians. Some were only religious. Some were religious and everyday. Some were business and religious.
It was an amazing experiment to see how easy we see the world through our traditional make up.
Where we grew up.
Where we learned our version of truth.
How much time people spent living on the ground versus those who just pop in and out like me.
These are all important parts of the mix when trying to understand the greatest questions I’m being asked, mainly, “Why?”
When our tradition is challenged with other people looking through life with a different lens, we see quickly there are people living in the Middle East, just like us. The daily lives of most people living in the Middle East doesn’t look that different from our lives.
Sure they speak a different language.
Sure they see the world through their particular lens.
But the majority of people are just people.
I tend to look at the region through the lens of “In the Beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) And then later, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26)
I see the world through the lens that God created all mankind, and as we have a common creator we can see the world through God’s eyes.
First Lesson: From what Lens are you looking at the issues in the Middle East?
Let’s look at the people groups. After all, that’s really what matters.