"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle..."
- Philo of Alexandria
Imagine a world where everyone suspended judgment for ten minutes. Ten seconds. An eye blink.
On September 21, 2004, Zeinab Ali Isa Abu-Salem was one of the hosts of a television show called, "The Children’s Club".
She was called quite attractive on September 22, 2004 as two Israeli soldiers stopped her from getting onto a crowded bus. A beautiful Palestinian woman everyone felt, as the soldiers wrestled with her while she threw her head back, and then staring at the sky, killed herself and the two men who prevented her from taking out the bus full of passengers with the bomb, passingers who wondered how a beautiful woman could do such a thing.
The message of the children's TV show was to endeavor to die for Allah. Shahada.
There were songs and puppets. Games. Join the shahids. Don't be afraid to die. A child killed in the crossfire sings: "I am waving to you not in parting, but to say, 'follow me.'"
Yassir Arafat proclaims on screen that the dead Palestinian children are the greatest message to the world.
Imagine for a moment a world in which you could learn of this and not judge. To receive the information without feeling a surge of the need to become angered, patriotic, or active.
What if you tried? What would you lose? Would you stop the sun from rising, or crash the moon into the ocean?
The soldiers and the bomber, were all barely into their 20's. The soldiers, knowing the dangers to themselves, kept the bomb away from the men, women, and children on the bus.
The bomber felt killing others through her own violent death was the only way she could contribute to the well-being of her people.
Two thousand years from now, none of this will be remembered.
A few million years from now, the sun will consume the earth. And these three people will have been gone all that time, along with the rest of us, who upon learning of their deaths, take another breath.
The moon still circles the earth. The sun will rise.
What if we didn't care which God our neighbors worshipped? What if we didn't care how they had sex? What if we didn't care what our neighbors watched on television, or who they voted for in the elections? What if we simply presumed they loved each other and their own children?
What if we honestly believed each human brought to life on the Earth was capable of deep and abiding love. What if we understood?
What if we never said to anyone, "If that was me I would..." or "If that was me I would never..." and instead said, "If she was me." "If he was me."
If one of those soldiers was me, he might not have been brave enough to wrestle a suicide bomber to the ground. If the bomber was me she might never have felt the need to take such drastic steps. If those people were me, they would have known a different life.
If those three young middle-eastern people were me, they might be sitting in Starbucks together, laughing about movies and telling stories about their friends. They might get married and have children of their own. They might live to be grandparents.
Instead, they're dead. Never to return.
And few of us in my country have experienced anything similar to the events that brought them to that terrible explosion on September 22, 2004.
What if we believed our not knowing invalidated our right to have an opinion on what they did that day?
There are people in this world who have obsessive compulsive disorder. They might repeatedly say or do things. It's having to switch a light on and off five times before leaving it on. Having to walk through every door six times before completely entering a room. Having to repeat someone's name three times every time the word passes their lips.
People with this disorder feel that if they don't do these seemingly senseless, ineffective things, that something unnamed and terrible will happen to them. They simply must repeat your name three times every time they address you, because if they don't, they'll die in a car accident on the way home. Or they'll burst into flames. They feel the horrible pressure they bear like the weight of a terrible impending test, like a death sentence scheduled to be carried out that they postpone hundreds of times per day by spinning in their seats, or scratching their ears every time they sit.
It may seem silly to us. How does scratching your ear five times every time you sit, or jumping up and down in place ten times before getting into bed keep the sun rising and the moon circling the earth?
We think it's silly, but we're not them. They know they keep us safe.
On September 11, 2001 people in New York City with obsessive compulsive disorder were convinced they forgot to scratch their head the fifth time, or missed the twelfth twirl before sitting, or misaligned the forks and knives in the drawer of silverware.
And some people were sure they'd forgotten to pray correctly. Or that God had been angered, and it was someone's fault.
And thousands of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, imagined to themselves what it would be like to have the ceiling fall in, crushing them to dust and rubble. They played the scene inside their minds over and over. Compulsively. Obsessively.
What were their last thoughts? What were their last feelings?
Why wasn't it me, instead?
Three days ago a U.S. pilot flying a mission over Fallujah dropped a bomb into a crowd of thirty unarmed people running down the center of a street where a fight was raging. He was following orders. The official military commentary was that the people were combatants rushing to reinforce a group attacking U.S. forces. But the ground troops knew that insurgents wouldn't run down the middle of a street. That they were probably just people, which is why nobody was shooting at them.
When it was over, the pilot said, "Aww, dude."
If they were me, those people would be walking their dogs in the park. They'd be picking up Chinese food for dinner. They'd be renting DVDs for the weekend.
Millions of years from now, none of this will matter.
I don't know what it's like to have my office collapse on me and kill me. I don't know what it's like to have an F15 drop a bomb onto me, or to have to pull the trigger to drop the bomb, or to love something so much I'm willing to strap a bomb onto myself and walk into a crowded bus, or to love something so much I'm willing to dive onto someone wrapped in bombs. I don't know what it's like to have my heart so filled with pride or grief or hate or love that I would hijack a plane and fly it into an office building.
I don't know how any of these people feel.
And I don't know how to stop it.
But I know that no additional anger, no additional blame finding, no additional name calling or shouting or fighting or killing is going to make it better any more than spinning three times before walking through a doorway.
It's time to stop spinning, and try something else. The moon will stay in the sky. God will still love us. Maybe even more.