Sunday, January 02, 2005

Reality versus World Leaders and the News

Two months after 9/11, I caught a plane for the Middle East, flying out of Newark, just across the river from Manhattan with its conspicuously missing twin towers. Somehow it seemed so appropriate that we swung over the Statue of Liberty on our way out of town.

In the airport, there had been delays. Heavy security measures were in place for the first time and nervous passengers were backed up most counters and gates. Passengers were missing planes trying to get through the long lines at the new security checkpoints, and uniformed military toting what looked like AK-47s traveled on foot throughout the airport. There was an aprehension I'd never experienced in the air.

Waiting for my flight, I ended up in an ingeniously circled row of rocking chairs, just like someone's front porch. In that setting, people naturally relaxed and got to talking.

One woman who sat down next to me was from Tehran, Iran. A grandmother, she was leaving for the U.K. to see another child and grandchildren after spending a few months in the U.S. with a child and grandchildren here, visiting and helping out.

She talked about her life in Iran, and the lives of her children and grandchildren in the three different nations. She seemed like a very "solid" grandmother type, not a bit slowed down and very up on her current events.

The only thing she regretted, it seemed, was her government. She seemed to feel like she had to apologize for her country. She explained that "they" (those in power) didn't speak for most people in Iran.

She said the average person in Iran was not against Americans or even Jews. But that radicals made a point to grab control and then "tell" the rest of the country who they would fight and what they would do. And who, she asked, could do anthing about them? They had the power.

She decried the news media as continually reporting the radical few in lieu of the more peaceful majority, inciting rather than simply reporting.

It was a pleasant and insightful interlude on the way to my flight.

Two weeks later, flying back, I was asked to give up my aisle seat to a nice looking middle-aged woman who turned out to be a grandmother from Israel, headed to the U.S. to spend time with her children and grandchildren, to help out.

Midway through the 10 or so hours, this grandmother got to talking about how she and most of her neighbors didn't hate anyone and actually Jews in her town had historically gotten along with the Arabs near her home in Israel, until their radical leadership sent agents in to threaten their lives for cooperating with the Jewish neighbors.

She didn't see why there always had to be fighting and felt that if the radical leadership and rabid news media would just back off, all would get along just fine again.

These two similar incidents were not quite déjà vu, but fascinating bookends to an educational trip. Predicatably, I've thought a lot about these two encounters since then.

Today, thanks to the availability of blogs and other first-person reports, we are hearing the same kinds of statements coming out of every nation in the Middle East.

When will the majority, desiring to live peacefully and get along, pull the plug on radical leaders and inciteful news media?

Soon, I hope.


Blogger Eric Collazo said...

I would like to begin by saying that the story you tell is a common one. I spent the better part of my youth (17-30 years old) serving in the military and intelligence communities and I have seen the average person caught in the middle of a conflict that they neither understand nor want. Over time I came to realize that if you are a student of history (which I would suggest everyone aspire to be) you will soon realize that the story is a recurring one. War is as natural a part of human existence as birth, marriage and taxes. There has never been a significant portion of time in which there was no war somewhere in the world. The issue is not whether people will "come to their senses" and stop fighting, but rather why war occurs in the first place. The underlying nature of war is disagreement. I know this may sound simplistic and obvious, but it is actually a rather profound concept that must be understood in order to deal with the reality of the issue. The short version is, if you want to eliminate war (or even reduce it significantly), everyone (or mostly everyone) must agree. Therein lays the problem. Each person’s sense of reality is a by-product of their experience and understanding of the world around them. Since no 2 people can have exactly the same parameters dictate their sense of reality, they can't possibly agree on everything. Even people raised in the same household by the same parents will find reasons to disagree despite having an overwhelmingly homogenous environment. If you extrapolate that to the community, nation and world scale you soon realize that it is a small miracle that we as a species can agree on enough issues in order to maintain an orderly society. And even that is in question from time to time. These varied points of view inevitably lead to disagreement on large scales. Now this might not necessarily lead to an armed conflict if we can agree to nothing other than a forum for settling our differences that don't require violence. But even this can never be achieved. The reason is that unless EVERYONE agrees that violence is not necessary to solve problems, the system breaks down. When even one party decides that violent measures are an option, then everyone else must adopt similar measures to protect themselves or face exploitation or even extermination. This is where we are today and in truth have always been. Despite our efforts at becoming a "civilized" society, there will always be at least one person who sees non-violence as a weakness and decides to exploit their position. The answer then becomes evident: In order for there to be peace on a large scale, people must be made to agree (whether they like it or not). This approach has been tried (never successfully) in several social experiments such as Communism and Fascism. The only other alternative is what we have today, nations that whish to maintain any degree of civilization must be prepared to defend it with un-civilized behavior (military/police). It is inevitable that these measures become necessary. Of course, this is only my point of view, and I could be wrong. :)

January 2, 2005 at 2:59 AM  

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