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perspectives

from the Secretary General

Middle East Story

by Robert L. Stern

Maybe because I’m a native New Yorker, I really like the Leonard Bernstein/Stephen Sondheim musical, “West Side Story,” a contemporary adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.”

In the play (and film), two young people, María and Tony, with ties to two rival street gangs fall in love. The hatred between the gangs shatters both their lives.In one song, Anita warns María:

A boy like that who’d kill your brother,
Forget that boy and find another,
One of your own kind,
Stick to your own kind!

This could be the Middle East’s theme song. Don’t get involved with – don’t join forces with – don’t build relations with anybody except your own kind.

But, here’s the rub: Who are my kind?

If I’m a Lebanese named Ahmed, are my own kind fellow Muslims, but not Christians and Druze? Or are my own kind Sunni Muslims, rather than Shiites?

If I’m a Shiite, are my own kind only Shiite Arabs, or do they include Shiite Persians too?

If I’m a Shiite Arab in Lebanon are my own kind Hezbollah, but not fellow Shiites who are members of Amal?

Stick to your own kind!

If I’m a Palestinian called Nabil, are my own kind Christians, not Muslims and Jews? Maybe my own kind are Orthodox, but never Catholics and Evangelicals?

If I’m Orthodox, are my own kind just Greek Orthodox or Syrian and Coptic Orthodox too?

Stick to your own kind!

If I’m a Israeli named Esther, are my own kind Jews, as opposed to Christians and Muslims? Or, are my own kind Ashkenazi Jews, not Sephardic or Ethiopian?

If I’m an Ashkenazi Jew living in Israel, are my own kind Ashkenazi Jews from Austria and Germany, but not Jews from Russia?

If you keep this up long enough, it boils down to “If I’m me, I’m not you!”

It’s absurd. It’s illogical. It’s counter-productive. Even so, we pick and choose sides and groups, clans and tribes – and then insanely let rivalry and hatred allow us to demonize the other and force us further and further apart.

It was the rabbi from what is now Turkey who tried to persuade his fellow Christians, whatever their background, that

you are all children of God in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

May the Middle East story not always be about shattered lives nor conclude like the Shakespearean tragedy:

A glooming peace this morning with it brings.
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished;
For never was a story of more woe…

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Msgr. Archimandrite Robert L. Stern



Tags: Middle East Religious Diversity Religious Taxonomy