A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Good Samaritans, May Day Demonstration, Mutilation for Thieves, and the Walk to Tahrir Square

I heard a story from a friend here in Cairo.

In a very poor neighborhood here, three Salafist Muslim men were riding in a small three-wheeled taxi called a 'tuck-tuck'. The tuck-tuck passed by a Christian woman whose hair was uncovered, and one of the men shouted, 'Atheist!', and grabbed her by the hair. The woman was dragged down the street until a group of  veiled Muslim women held her and pulled her away from the men in the tuck-tuck.

Three Muslim men claiming to know God were, at that moment anyway, the atheists. The Muslim women who rescued the victim, on the other hand, knew the will of God. They were the 'Good Samaritans'. They helped who they saw as a fellow human being. They were able to transcend the tension here between Muslims and Coptic Christians.

As for you Muslims and Coptic Christians who commit acts of violence on one another, quit dragging others into your hell. You can still pull yourselves out of hell by finding God within yourselves, and in everybody else.

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I'm presently in an internet cafe near Tahrir Square, which became world famous with the recent revolution here. I came here to see if there was a May Day demonstration, but saw only two middle-aged men holding flimsy signs in Arabic. A bystander explained that the signs demanded justice for people imprisoned by the current regime, calling for non-violent resistance to free them. I admire these two men, who were being ridiculed by some bystanders, for protesting on their own.

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I met a young man from Cairo recently, a recent law school graduate, who believed not only in the death penalty for those who have committed murder, but in mutilation for those who repeatedly steal. I asked him if stealing included the theft by government officials through corruption, or the theft by deceit that seems to be prevalent here. Who would cut off the hands of those thieves?  I asked him if there was some similar punishment for those who refuse to help those in poverty, which condition, fueled by a sense of hopelessness, creates an incentive to steal. After all, half the population of Egypt lives on 2 US dollars a day. A friend I was with added that dismembering those who steal would hinder, rather than help to create a productive society.  Of course. While our friend conceded that social change was necessary  he also said that social change would take too long.
In the end he was not convinced by our arguments.
He was a really nice guy otherwise. I hope he doesn't get his way.

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Last week I did the walk from where I left off at the outskirts of Cairo to Tahrir Square. I walked with Taqwa, Olfat and Shehab, who were good walking companions and guides. We stopped at a mosque where Taqwa and Olfat prayed, and where Shehab and I took refuge from the heat and traffic. Later, as we approached Tahrir Square I had a conversation with Shehab about the revolution. He conceded that there was some violence on the part of the demonstrators in reaction to the much greater level of violence on the part of Mubarak's people.
"So the demonstrators weren't fully committed to non-violent resistance?"
"They were," he said. "Whatever violence was on the part of the demonstrators was only self-defense. They came to demonstrate peacefully."
"But if they reacted with any sort of violence, they weren't really committed to non-violent resistance."
I explained Martin Luther King's precepts for non-violent resistance: first, to ascertain that there is real injustice, second, to address that injustice through conventional legal channels, third, when that fails, purification, and finally, non-violent resistance.
"An important step in this is purification; the individual's inner preparation not to react with violence in any way."
"Like Gandhi?"
"Like Gandhi."
"Our culture isn't prepared for that," he said.
"Yeah, maybe I'm not prepared for that either. But if I have the opportunity to take part in a planned act of non-violent resistance, I'd better try to purify myself. Otherwise I just become part of an angry, violent mob."
We also talked about the one-sided loss of life that can result from non-violent resistance.
"It's not a quick fix," I said. "Anyone who's committed to non-violent resistance has to be prepared to take a beating over and over. But it's more effective than violent resistance in the long run. Syria began as non-violent resistance, and some 5000 people were killed. Then the rebels took up arms. Now over 60 000 people have been killed. In the long run there is far more death and suffering in violent resistance. And non-violent resistance is more likely to convert your enemies."
I pointed out the building that Mubarak's political party used to be housed in. It is now burnt and abandoned. I asked Shehab what the story was. Some anti-Mubarak people had set fire to the building, but many more had formed a human circle around it, and around the Egyptian museum to protect the buildings. That was truly non-violent resistance.
We also spoke about the situation in Israel and Palestine, and how the IDF knows exactly how to respond to violence, but is afraid of non-violent resistance. A small violent reaction on the part of Palestinians gives the Israeli military the justification it needs to respond with tanks and airstrikes, at least in the eyes of many in the world. Non-violent resistance gives no such justification.
Shehab agreed, but mentioned that maybe I shouldn't refer to Israel in Cairo. The word, 'Israel', seems to be taboo. Better just to say 'Palestine.'
"They're both here to stay," I said. "Trying to delete one or the other, even if only by avoiding any reference to them, helps to perpetuate the conflict there."
Once we'd reached Tahrir Square, there was a small demonstration going on by the socialist party. Shehab had said there was no longer any unity among demonstrators anymore; that every party or interest group acts on its own. The week before there had been a demonstration in Tahrir Square where gunshots had been fired, so my three companions didn't relish the thought of hanging around.
But the demonstration remained peaceful, and I left satisfied that it had been a good day.

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