I had a long conversation with a very upset Palestinian girl recently. The issue of conflict resolution was our lesson focus, but some of the case studies we looked at were centered on Gaza. She assumed that her classmates would have settled opinions on the topic, and became anxious in anticipation of someone putting forward a view with which she could not emotionally agree or deal with.
When we spoke later she made it clear that her anticipation had been based on experience not just on fear. She had suffered verbal abuse based on her religion and ethnicity in the past. True enough, their are those who make striking assertions and broadly cast stereotypes about Islam, and of religion more broadly. But, this does not mean that open, constructive dialogue is impossible.
Interfaith dialogue opens doors between communities. It promotes understanding where knowledge is limited. It helps us move from stereotype to a familiarity with diversity.
This is best done with candid open expressions of one’s own position. Surrendering you own beliefs is not what it is about. It is about sharing what YOU believe. This does not mean there will not be differences of viewpoint. It does not mean we wont in fact have major points of disagreement. Nor does dialogue say, we will not have areas that can’t be readily resolved. But, the way forward is still through communication. One way to sum this up is with a motto of the US Navy Chaplains Corps, “Cooperation without Compromise.” It is about empathy, and our common humanity. Let us seek what unites us, not what divides us.
[Just a personal point, after years of religious dialogue (within Christianity and beyond), I am no less committed to my faith than when I began. In fact, by explaining the reasons for my faith to others, it has become clearer and dearer to me].
I have written on several previous occasions about the loss of a child, and the trauma and mourning it brings. Ariana Grande’s tribute concert will be in Manchester this evening to remember the terrible atrocity there on the 22nd of May. Such a tribute is right and good. It is a positive reaction to aid grieving families (emotionally and financially) and for the survivors to have an opportunity to begin overcome their fears.
Such ephemeral tributes as concerts have an impact. But their are other longer term, emotionally enduring tributes to lost children as well. I have visited several of these over time, and have found two of the most evocative to be the children’s memorials at the Vught Concentration Camp in The Netherlands, and at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
The eight simple columns of the Vught memorial topped with Stars of David in itself is of affect as most Holocaust tributes do. It is the names of the children, and their ages sometimes recorded in days or months rather than years that is the most unsettling. Add to this the sculpted toys and left tributes that make it truly emotional.
Yad Vashem’s memorial is even more emotive. From the sun-drenched white and cream of the surrounding stone, one enters into a dark tunnel. Here you are confronted with emotional vocal music which is a strange mix of the sublime (snippets of heaven) and of lament (truly a feeling of loss). As you pass photos of “lost children” you see a sea of pin point lights (representing the lost). These are produced by only a handful of candles, but the refraction of multiple mirrors gives a cosmic field of light against the all pervading darkness. When at the centre of the monument the names, nationalities and ages of children are solemnly recited on a seemingly endless recording. One then returns to the dazzling brightness of the Jerusalem sun.
The power of such memorials is intense. Hopefully the effect will be equally memorable with Ms Grande’s tribute tonight. Some may balk at my linking of the Manchester attack and the Holocaust. To this I can but paraphrase Yehuda Bauer, that we cannot compare people’s suffering or loss. The pain is uniquely their own. In the end, all attempts of memorisation pale to the loss of such innocents. May God be with their friends and families, and grant them peace.