"…what happens when this narrative isn't true?"

A most thoughtful piece has been posted at Whosever Desires by Anthony Lusvardi deserving of your attention.  Teaser excerpt follows:

In the spring of 2000 I spent a semester in Jerusalem, taking classes at Bethlehem University (a Palestinian institution) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  Shortly before becoming a Jesuit I made another pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in the spring of 2006.

While in the Holy Land the second time I heard two Western tour guides, on separate occasions, tell an encouraging story about inter-religious cooperation.  When Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square in the spring of 2000, the guides said, the mosque on the edge of the square silenced the call to prayer it normally broadcast at noon so as not to disturb the papal liturgy.  According to the guides, doing so was an unprecedented gesture of goodwill.

There’s only one problem with this cheerful tale:  it isn’t true.

I was in Manger Square that morning when the pre-recorded call to prayer came blasting over the Mosque of Omar’s loudspeakers midway through the Prayers of the Faithful.  The lector paused, everyone stared at their feet in embarrassment for a few moments, and, when the recording finished, we went on with the Mass.  When I visited six years after the fact, I had a conversation with a local Christian who told me that the interruption of that liturgy is still seen as a painful reminder of that community’s minority status.

Last week’s discussion of the proposed Park 51 mosque reminded me of the tour guides’ story.  The original post argues, quite rightly, that a greater knowledge of Islam and of things religious more generally, would be a good thing.  But underlying this argument runs an implicit narrative that goes something like this:  we’re all pretty much decent folks and share the same basic human values regardless of superficial differences (say race or religion) and once we learn more about each other our suspicions and conflicts will melt away.

This story is one of the late twentieth century’s great narratives and is implicit in many of the stories we read and movies we see.  It’s present, in slightly different ways–to pick two recent films at random–in Invictus and Avatar.  It’s the “story” implicit in John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  It’s a particularly powerful story because quite often it is, thankfully, true, and it certainly shapes the way we understand our own history.  The civil rights movement–the great national story for many generations of Americans–is a version of this narrative.

This narrative is a good story in every sense.  When it’s true, then things turn out better for everyone:  prejudices are overcome and we take a step toward a more peaceful world.  The narrative is a good story in the other sense of being a compelling tale:  there are both internal and external struggles to be waged and usually there are Good Guys and Bad Guys it’s easy to root for or against.  (The villain in the Park 51 posting isn’t too hard to spot, is she?)

But what happens when this narrative isn’t true?

Finish this up at the link then consider passing it on… it’s well worth the time it’ll take.

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