Dispatches from the Front

Today we offer the first in a series we’ll call

Dispatches from the Front

 Each will offer a fresh perspective on issues raised in How Maps Change Things.  Each will come from someone actively engaged in moving us from the-world-as-it-is to the-world-we-want. Enjoy this one; anticipate others to follow. And feel free to comment, please. 

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 While some examples in the blog “No Issue is an Island” focus on caring for the environment, Dr. Harold Vogelaar invites us to consider another issue affecting us all:

 What hope is there for peace in the Middle East today?

Based on 24 years of experience in the area – including 15 years teaching at the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo -- he sends this “dispatch.” 

First, check maps. I repeat: check maps! Note the borders that separate people, and ask when they were drawn, by whom, for what purpose and at what price.  The collapse of the Ottoman Empire following WW I and the division of spoils is a good place to begin -- though other possibilities date back much further.  For example, the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) claims as its goal restoring boundaries as they were back in the 8th Century CE.  If that’s too far back, consider the great recent ingathering of Jews seeking to resurrect biblical Israel!  Memories in the Middle East run deep. 

Why are ancient boundaries and the land claims of some people deemed more important/sacred than others’?  Why is it that headlines and recently drawn maps capture attention, while layers of grief and grievances embedded in the hearts of people who have lived there for generations go unnoticed?  Whose history and whose stories deserve study and attention?  Is everything to be determined by might and ‘facts on the ground’?  Winners take all.  Losers get over it!  Or is there a place for forgiveness, reconciliation and new possibilities?  Maybe when the history and stories of all who live there are taken seriously, we will begin to understand the strong undercurrents of feelings and actions. Heartlines have at least as much staying power as headlines! 

Of this we can be sure, the bitterness behind the turmoil of today has deep, tangled, interconnected roots; a lot of unsavory history on all sides needs to be unpacked.  In this conflict no one has clean hands.  The process will take time and patience, but the alternative is bleak, very bleak. Peace will surely come but only if and when issues requiring truth, justice, and integrity are openly and honestly addressed.  The saying “no peace without justice” is much more than an empty slogan in the area. It is pregnant with possibility!  All who approach the ME will probably find what they are looking for:  gloom and doom (the end of time scenario, i.e death throes) or hope and new life (birth pangs).  The choice is in the world’s hands.  Muslims (and Christians) living in the midst have a wonderful expression: Allahu akbar, meaning however great the crisis or tragedy, God is greater!  It is a fitting phrase to echo, especially with hands and hearts wide open, not clenched in anger, not frozen in fear. 

It is said “the eye altered, alters all”.  The following URLs may ‘alter’ what the eye sees.

Churches for Middle East Peace

World Council of Churches Kairos Palestine Document (PDF version here.)

Americans for Middle East Understanding offers Israel and Palestine, an Animated Introduction.

Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding - while there, follow links to Thoughtful Christian Response to ISIS and A War of Choice in Gaza.

Dr. Vogelaar also relates experiences he and his family had on returning to the U.S. I include them under “Dispatches from the Front” to underscore that in today’s global village, we are all, no matter where we live, on the front lines of attitude formation and therefore of shaping the future. Beyond the humor, what meaning do you find here? What do these anecdotes say to us about the maps we use? About our level of world understanding?

  • Our son came home from school visibly shaken.  His teacher had asked students to choose a country and write a brief report on it to share in class the next day.  Our son chose Oman; the teacher doubted whether such a country existed.  She had never heard of it.  When she handed him a map they used in class and asked him to show where it was, he couldn’t.  It wasn’t there. Another map, same result!  His teacher reprimanded him in front of class and told him to choose a ‘real’ country.  Our son refused, insisting it was real.  Agitated she told him to choose a different, known country.  But I lived there! insisted our son.  The teacher would have none of it.

    That night, we found an old globe that showed Oman.  Cheered, our son carried it to school next day and triumphantly showed it to his teacher. It seems the company that created the school maps had somehow left off the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula!
  • In Bahrain we bought our son a cheap plastic globe.  He had to inflate it.  After puffing for some time with no success he/we noticed that the state of Israel had been nipped out.  A piece of Scotch tape repaired the damage.
  • When our National Geographic issue on “The Holy Land” arrived, I turned first to the maps it presented.  Sure enough, the borders of Israel encompassed the West Bank and Golan Heights.  People unaware of the issues would simply assume these were part of Israel proper, not occupied lands. When I wrote NG about this I never received a reply.  I cancelled our subscription.  I think later issues made the appropriate changes.