One of the most telling scenes in the film, Lawrence of Arabia, occurs when the British overrun Jerusalem and the Arabs are upset that they have been swindled. "Unfair!" they shout. As portrayed in the movie, the British are conducting themselves in an orderly fashion, carving up land while leaving the Palestinians stateless. The Arabs, on the other hand, are seen yelling at each other about who is more legitimate than the other, unable to construct any effective or meaningful opposition. Rather, they leave angry and resentful against one another. Notwithstanding its racist depiction of Arabs in the film, that scene has continued to play over and over again, both between political leaders and within communities. Tribalism and infighting have plagued and continue to hamper progress on issues close to our hearts, issues like Palestine.
Case in point today is the invitation of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Speaker John Boehner to address our Congress, the legislative body of the most powerful country in the world, "The People's House." Unfortunately, many Americans are not aware as to how a foreign leader pushing out our Commander in Chief to speak to the country from the chambers of the US Congress undermines our own sovereignty and national interests. This is divisive and smacks of scandals rather than reasoned discussions.
Instead of addressing these pressing matters together, our Facebook pages and Twitter feeds are filled with the latest brewing controversy, with American Muslims trying to one-up each other over who is suspect. First, it was ISNA's 2014 Convention that was the target of boycotts. Now, a group called the Muslim Leadership Institute (MLI) recently traveled to Israel and the response has been that Muslims have started using BDS, (a very powerful weapon of non-violence that should be directed at those who benefit from the Occupation) to attack those Muslims who participated in MLI. "We should boycott MLI," they say. I have even received a petition that we should oppose MLI because its participants are against the Quran. This needs to stop.
Let's first take a dose of humility. No one has a monopoly on the best way forward to end the Occupation. Armed with good intentions, we are all trying different methods, and no one can claim their method is the best or only way forward. And no one should or is in a position to say that those who utilize other means are taking the satanic path. Divisiveness and chaos is what is satanic. What is Godly is coalescence and order. Instead, we have political takfirism on steroids, tarring and feathering accused infidels in the public arena.
So let everyone do what they think is best--meet with public officials or protest public officials, write articles on recommending solutions or articles condemning unjust policies, encourage businesses to help the Palestinians or boycott those that hurt them, try to reason with American Jews and Israelis or rebuke them. That energy should be directed at influencing those in power, not aimed at each other. Notwithstanding our serious differences of opinion, we all have a united purpose to end injustice marked by oppression and occupation. For American Muslims, it is our American duty, as well as our Islamic duty.
I have been told by people working in Congress and the White House that whenever the Israeli government commits atrocities against the Palestinians in Gaza or elsewhere, they receive letters in support of "Israel's right to defend itself" by a ratio of 100:1 over those protesting Israel's atrocities. They don't hear us because there is too much shouting and not enough effective work. I can see why. In this latest episode, rather than focusing our outrage at Speaker Boehner for inviting Netanyahu to discount and disrespect the President of the United States, we are entangled over a stand vis a vis MLI.
When we deal with the likes of Netanyahu, let us remember that they are obstacles to our pursuit of justice. We must look inward and understand that our two real enemies are anger and arrogance, leading to the mishandling of practically every important policy issue while international powers carve up more land and pit one group against another.
Anger leads to infighting, and arrogance leads to blindness. The Quran is meant for introspection and inspiration, not to act out our anger against one another. It warns us: "Are they, then, not aware that they are being tested year-in, year-out? And yet, they do not repent and do not bethink themselves [of God]" ( 9:126).
Between now and the 2016 elections, leadership within our community will be facing more external pressures including election rhetoric which will fuel anti-Muslim sentiment. Rather than draining our resources and partaking in cannibalism through shouting matches, let us find common ground and realize that we are working toward the same goal.