The Truth in the eye of the beholder?

...While the story is apocryphal is not less true in more than one way. The story is told of a Bishop who decided to expel the Jews unless somebody from the Jewish community could defeat him in a public disputation to be done only through gestures.

No Jew wanted to be put on the spot, but they finally convinced Mendele the shuster to do it. The day of the event, the Bishop came in showing off the importance of his office; a large entourage, rich vestments, etc. Mendele came in in his work clothes after he closed the shop.

The disputation started with the Bishop drawing a large circle on the ground. Motele responded by stomping in the ground. The Bishop, who appeared weary at the answer, followed by raising three fingers, and Motele answered by raising one. At this point the Bishop looked definitely nervous and he took a loaf of bread and a wine cup and swallowed them. Motele took an apple out and bit into it. At this point the Bishop thru his arms in the air and said: "I've been bested...let the Jews stay".

The onlookers didn't quite understand what had happen, so they were naturally curious. A group of monks approached the Bishop and asked him to translate the disputation for them. So the Bishop explained: "I draw a circle to signify that God is everywhere, and he stomped in the ground to point out that God is not in Hell; then I held up three fingers to signify the Trinity and he held one reminding me that the three are really one; finally I ate the bread and drank the wine to symbolize the suffering of Our Lord, and he countered by eating an apple to remind me of the original sin that made it necessary"

Accross town, at the synagogue, the Jews asked Motele to tell them what did he say to the Bishop...Motele explained: "He draw a circle, telling me that he wanted us out of the city, and I stomped the ground to let him know we are not moving; then he held three fingers to tell me that we had three days to leave, and I held one to let him know that not one of us was moving; finally he took out his lunch, so I took out mine..."

As with so many stories in Jewish tradition, the amusement hides a truth. As Jews and Christians lived in those days in different worlds that rarely intersected, their understanding of the world around them was radically different, and that shows in their different perspectives and understanding. Ironically, in some ways not much has changed and the difference in perspectives is still with us in many ways.

Take the Egyptian elections...the results are clear: about 60% of the Egyptian voters chose an Islamist political expression, 40% the Muslim Brotherhood and 20% the Al-Nour Salafi Party.

When you look at the elections from an Egyptian perspective, it looks like a vote expressing the frustration and disillusionment with the secular options in Egyptian politics, often identified with the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 which brought Nasser to power, followed by Sadat and Mubarak. The common folk in Egypt voted to have a different option, and the Islamists promised change and a more just society.

According to the statements of the State Department, the very same results have been hailed as a "Triumph of Democracy", even when the parties that won the election are intent in curtailing individual freedoms in favor of the rule of Shari'a, severely limiting women's rights and the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

From an Israeli perspective, it means a future government in Egypt that will align with Hamas and probably be as uncompromising regarding Israel as the government of Gaza.

From a Palestinian perspective, an Islamist government in Egypt means a rise in the power of Hamas at the expense of the PLO, thus making a deal with Israel less feasible, and puts Abbas in the position of trying to include Hamas in the Palestinian Authority to reinforce his position - hence the need for a Unity deal.

From a Hamas perspective, the very same situation leads them to be more uncompromising in their conditions for a Unity deal, leading them to believe they can impose their own political agenda on the PLO.

From a European perspective, the very same results are a red flag of what can happen in the Muslim immigrant enclaves in European cities.

Same movie - different stories.

The lack of a universal set of values that can be applied to evaluate situations is behind the differences, and values are defined by the culture in specific societies or groups. For the Egyptian common folk, the culture is one of disempowerment and oppression by the ruling group, which they see identified with the government of Mubarak and his predecessors as well as with the military. Change for them can only be seen as something good, or at least not worse than what they have - so they followed those who promised a new start.

We could analyze the different reactions of the different groups in a similar way, but it all boils down to the fact that people have short eyesight. They see their own needs and situation at the center of events and have difficulty de-centering to gain a different perspective. It is a sign that in spite of what so many optimists appear to believe, we are definitely not ready for a unified World with no national States. Boundaries are still necessary to preserve a sense of security and worthiness to those who live within, and its dissapearance could mean violence born out of fear.

One day, the dream of our Prophets might become reality and the world might indeed become one, with one God called by a single name. Maybe the lion will lay with the kid side by side...but that day is obviously not today; there is till a lot of work to do to get to that day.


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