So my pal SS organized an interfaith peace service, for Jews, Muslims and Christians to get together in the middle of a big public square to pray for peace in Israel and Palestine, and to commemorate all the victims of the conflict. Making that happen took a lot of effort and skill at both logistics and diplomacy, so much kudos to him for doing it. He asked me to represent the Jewish contingent, so with some reluctance I agreed to do so.
The event took place on Monday evening, with a tenuous tie to Martin Luther King day in the States. It was snowing, but we had several dozen attendees all the same. And the event went off amazingly well; everybody managed to be sincere, even passionate, but kept within the spirit of the occasion, expressing nothing but respect and solidarity without politics or sectarianism. I am really proud to have been involved, and incredibly proud of SS for making that happen. And it was genuinely moving, not just warm and fuzzy as these things can often be (if they don't err the other way and use the prayer as an excuse for political soapboxing).
The Christians had the most varied contributions. One woman played a wind instrument of some kind, basically a horn made out of straw or light wood, longer than her arm's reach, and without any keys or holes, yet she got a tuneful melody out of it. They had a priest (who by the way comes from a rather well-known Jewish family) who read one of the fluffier, more universalistic bits of the Gospels and a prayer, and a young, self-described "radical" Christian who had helped organize the event and gave a really impassioned speech. And a Taizé style song something like So may all people live in freedom / into ploughshares their swords be beaten / the art of war no more to be teaching.
The Christians of course aren't so directly implicated in the issues, but tend to be pro-Palestinian politically; someone commented that our radical friend's speech / prayer was perhaps 52% slanted towards the Palestinian side, which was pretty good going in terms of putting common goals over political beliefs. They all wanted to pray for the oppressors as well as the victims, in a delightfully Christian way. Thanks in particular to smhwpf for turning up; sorry I had to run away before I could speak to you.
The Muslims provided the MC, a young woman who gave a very good introductory speech and ran the event capably, and a second who gave another passionate and moving speech; the former covered her hair and the latter wore secular dress. Also a sweet fluffy imam who chanted a section from the Qu'ran about how Muslims should respect the revelations given to Jews and Christians and live peacefully together.
The Jewish participation was SS, who was breathtakingly brilliant with both his introductory speech and his summary; and me. I wasn't very brilliant; I expressed some worry that I couldn't speak Swedish well enough to be a good spokesman, but was reassured that they only wanted me to read in Hebrew as the Muslims were going to read in Arabic. This turned out not to be the case, as the Muslims in fact did everything bilingually, so I felt a bit embarrassed just reading some mumbo-jumbo in Hebrew, but never mind. The initial brief said I should read a prayer for peace, but I felt uncomfortable picking a random bit of the liturgy to read out of context, and there isn't so much liturgy that would be appropriately sensitive for an interfaith service anyway; praying for peace for Israel would really be against the spirit of the event! So in the end I picked an obscure Psalm, 37, exhorting people to trust in God to defeat the wicked rather than resorting to violence and anger, and with lots of juicy mentions of justice, righteousness and peace.
We got a fair bit of media attention, including a report on the public radio (the radio journalist tried to provoke SS and his Muslim co-organizer into a fight, but they stuck to their line that they were trying to cooperate and rise above their political differences), and some decent write-ups in the Swedish media. (The linked article is from an online newspaper.) They report:
Muslims, Jews and Christians gather for a peace demo While media reports from wartorn Gaza was showing destruction, on Monday evening about a hundred people gathered in [the big square in the trendy part of] Stockholm to pray and demonstrate for a lasting peace.
The demonstration, intended to bring together Christians, Muslims and Jews in a united act, was a reaction to the way that people often talk about peace without following up with any action. The idea was the brainchild of Sebastian, a young man from the Stockholm Jewish community, who explains: 'Instead of grumbling I thought it would be better to try to do something concrete.' He created an announcement on Facebook, and the result was a a demo with a great outcome, which brought hope for peace and light in the miserable January darkness in central Stockholm...
Mind you, 5000 people turned out to protest against Israel on Sunday, which makes our effort look a little feeble by comparison, but there are a lot of reasons for that. I think it was worth doing if only to provide some sort of counter to the media stereotype that trouble in the Middle East always leads to hatred and violence between European Muslims and Jews.
By the way, if your conscience forces you to respond to this by claiming that all the war and violence in the world are caused by evil Israel with its evil empire of evil child-murdering ways, you're entitled to do that, but I'm afraid I'm not going to engage. Anything that even slightly hints at islamophobia will get deleted, though. I didn't take part in a hard-won interfaith initiative to encourage ignorance and prejudice.
Yes and no. Israel is a mostly democratic country that does to some extent respond to international pressure, particularly if it takes the form of serious trade sanctions. So I think it is worth "pointing the finger" when Israel perpetrates injustice, (also for the moral reason that decent people shouldn't be indifferent to injustice) but it needs to be done in a constructive way. And complaining at me that I shouldn't do interfaith stuff because Israel is evil is not particularly constructive.
I think this is a situation that needs more than platitudes about common humanity, basically. That's a good place to start, but if it's just words, it's rather empty. (I don't think I have the power to do much about the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, but I think that a massive conflagration between Jews, Muslims and everybody else in Europe is possible but preventable. And I want to do my bit for preventing it, which I think needs to be more than just saying that we're all human under the skin, so none of it is really important.)
Okay! That's rocking. And exactly what a peace gathering should be. There can never be any peace or resolution to any form of conflict, if people aren't able to see other people as people and not as sides in a cause.
People always think that getting a batch of people together and praying for/talking about "peace" doesn't do anything. People always think that direct action, or protesting against stuff is the only way to get things done. But if you go on a political protest march, you're mostly going to meet people who think the same way as you. And if you meet people who disagree with you in that context, they're there because they've got a point to prove, so you're usually meeting them at their worst. Things like inter-faith peace services are a great way for people to stand up and say, "okay, so we don't all think alike, and we've got radically different viewpoints on some things, but you know what we're all human and we prepared to learn a little bit about each other. And none of us really likes the idea of conflict". And that's really really rocking.
Anyway, well done for getting so many people there -- 100 people isn't a bad turn out. Glad to hear it went well.
Oh, thank you so much for this comment. I really appreciate hearing from you, because you have a pretty good idea what it's like to have a personal stake in a horrible messy conflict that every idiot on the internet has a simplistic opinion about. I love your response post, too, thank you. (It's so cool having poets on my flist!)
I really like what you said about the difference between a peace meeting and a protest march. I'm not a protesting / demonstrating / direct action kind of person, though I sometimes will show up if I believe strongly in the cause (and don't feel scared of participants who are supposed to be on my side). I'm pleased about this event partly because of the symbolic value, but more than that, because in order for it to be organized, a bunch of (mostly college-age) Christians and Muslims had to work closely with SS, and work through immediate emotional reactions and thrash out some really delicate compromises about what they could subscribe to politically and religiously. That was powerful, but out of the eye of the media and passers by. Now it's true that Jews and Muslims in Stockholm are not as heavily segregated as Irish Catholics and Protestants, and the fact that we're both minorities here definitely makes it easier in some ways. But still, a lot of Muslims don't ever meet Jews personally, and there can be awful propaganda on both sides.
I'm really pleased with the hundred, if the journos aren't exaggerating (my rough estimate was 60 to 70). I don't take any credit for it, it was all Sebastian and Anwahr and Ylva, but still, they did a great job. Most people here are going to avoid anything to do with prayer at all, and most people either don't agree with dialogue because they think the situation in Gaza is about good guys and bad guys, or else think that people getting along is boring and un-newsworthy and not as thrilling as violence and confrontation. Plus, it was snowing, and at least half the Jewish attendees we had slated had to cry off because they were sick, so I'm sure the other two communities were missing people too.
Oh that wasn't really a response post, that was an "I'm going through my hard drive and recycling old stuff atm, and my LJ's been quiet too long and you made me think of something" post.
Actually, I have been a protesting/demonstrating/direct action kind of person at various points of my life. I've even ended up stewarding at various events of that nature. Sometimes it is about just standing up and being counted, and saying "not in my name", or whatever. And I'm not dissing that at all.
in order for it to be organized, a bunch of (mostly college-age) Christians and Muslims had to work closely with SS, and work through immediate emotional reactions and thrash out some really delicate compromises about what they could subscribe to politically and religiously. And that is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. And that's why these sorts of things are so cool.
recently i've been following this: http://talestotell.wordpress.com/ blog of an english bod mostly shadowing paramedics. of course it is one side, but i have found it interesting and moving, human stories. i found the news here frustrating... sorry, distracted there for a moment. it sounds like a really good event. i know i can't appreciate it fully without faith, but it still sounds like a good thing, to communicate with others and to meet them and spread a little, not exactly understanding perhaps, but a sort of anti-hatred, and in prayer do something too.
I sometimes read eye-witness accounts from Gaza, most often not, because horrifying myself with reading about how nasty war is isn't actually helping anyone. I agree the news is frustrating; it's a hard thing to report, because basically nothing new happens, there are more rockets and more army actions and more people die, and then the audience want an analysis of the political situation, and there's almost nothing to analyse, it's the middle of a warzone. So the media end up trying to pick sides, just to have something to report. And blog discussions are even more frustrating because half the people participating are trying to win debates, and the discussion's in the public view so random racists show up and make everybody miserable. At the same time, I obviously do want to be informed and not bury my head in the sand.
Thanks for saying nice things about our event. In some ways, yes, it was a religious thing; the Christians talked a lot about "the power of prayer". But the trouble is that the thing we're fighting against, the possibility of the Gaza situation spilling over into hatred between Jews and Muslims, is about two groups who are defined by religion, but who are also divided by culture and ethnicity. SS, the organizer, is a pretty religious guy. But a lot of it was more about solidarity than religion, I think.
to be honest i find politics generally rather overwhelming in the bear-of-very-little-brain kind of way. i like that blog because it isn't really a debate or analysis, just a description of events, and i like the way it's written. Solidarity - i think what was key to your event was that as these groups pitched against each other you were showing solidarity with each other (not only with the Palestinians), face to face, and as you say there were difficult moments making that happen behind the scenes.
It was good to be there, and well done for helping organise it (and a lovelily recited prayer).
I've heard the English language version of that song before, in Christian peacy circles - that one goes "And every man 'neath his vine and his fig tree, shall live in peace and unafraid (x2); and into ploughshares beat their swords, nations shall learn war no more (x2)". Which is (as far as I could make out with my gradually-improving-but-still-limited Swedish) not an exact translation but fairly similar, and certainly the same tune.
I'm afraid I didn't manage to get it publicised at St. Eugenia's - rather short notice, and I was heading off to England, and only had one number to call to try to start tracking down whoever might be the notice sheet person, and that didn't get a response.
I didn't really see it as a 'demo'(you seem to imply similar in comments). Demos (and other forms of protest action) and prayer meetings for peace are different objects, both having their place IMO.
Did I hear right one of the Muslim speakers mentioning an attack on a synagogue in Helsingborg (checks internet: ok, yes) and saying (to the effect of) we must oppose demonising communities, and not blaming Jews for Israel's actions just as Muslims shouldn't be blamed for 9/11 etc.? If so, good for her, something I think the pro-Palestinian campaign should be saying more loudly in general (for all that it has significant numbers of Jews prominently involved itself).
The peace song I translated pretty literally; in Swedish, if you'll excuse minor errors of memory and probably major errors of spelling:
Och alla människör ska leva i fridhet Till plogar ska alla svärden smidas Människör ej ska lära sig strida
There are probably lots of versions of half-Biblical peace statements set to simple melodies, though, so your English song probably is related.
It was great you could come, especially as you'd just got off a plane that afternoon! Don't worry about publicizing; the word seems to have got out pretty well, in that the organizers didn't know more than half the attendees personally. Thanks again, and for saying nice things about it from a participant's point of view.
I didn't call it a demo, the newspaper article I translated did. We called it fredsandakt; they called it fredsmanifestation. I was trying to give an accurate impression of the sort of coverage we were getting, even though I do in fact disagree with some of the journalist's language choices. And I discussed with redaloud why this event was rather unlike a demo.
Yeah, synagogues have been attacked, Gothenburg too, though I think it was more minor there. And yes, the Muslim participants said very wise things about that. I'm not sure the people campaigning for Palestinian rights should keep making a point of saying, by the way, don't blame European Jews. Firstly because it's not that important on the scale of the stuff they're actually campaigning about, and secondly, because nasty ears will hear it as encouragement to do exactly the opposite. But in this particular event when we were trying to show publicly that Jews and Muslims don't have to hate eachother because we may disagree about Gaza, it was a really generous gesture.