An article by Sarah Honig this weekend shed a disturbing light on the prospect for true peace in the Middle East. In it, she tells the story of her daughter’s American-raised, cosmopolitan, Jordanian pen pal, Naima.

“Naima is the quintessential antithesis to a Muslim fundamentalist. A young adult, she’s hardly religious, fanatic only about soccer, a confirmed feminist and an outspoken supporter of gay rights,” among other endearingly Western qualities. “She’s everything Shimon Peres could envision as enlightened denizens of his “New Middle East.” Indeed, hopes for peace are pinned on young Arabs like Naima.”

Yet, when last summer’s Lebanon war broke out, the type of dialog the girls were having sharply shifted. “As the first shells started raining on northern Israel last July, Naima advised my daughter to “stay safe.” But a few sentences afterwards she added: “I’m a full supporter of Hizbullah. I don’t consider them to be terrorists. I believe all Israelis involved in this war and in this conflict are terrorists.” ”

The dialog continued to go the route of ‘Israelis are Nazi’s,’ ‘greedy land-grabbing Jews’ and all the other incendiary and inaccurate claims culminating in a denial of Israel’s right to exist and ending in Naima booting Honig’s daughter from her contact list, thus ending the dialog altogether.

Mother and daughter alike are shaken that when push comes to shove even a moderate such as Naima “equates justice with either our death or disappearance.”

Stories like this reinforce the idea behind Michael Oren‘s recent statement that “When Americans look at the Middle East, they don’t see the Middle East, they see themselves. They think that people are just like Americans. ‘If we can just tweak it the right way, then we can create New Jersey here in Iraq.'”

I am too often left feeling that this is exactly what we have done when it comes to the issue of peace. Have we not projected this value system upon a culture that does not really want it? And is that not, in fact, a type of cultural imperialism? Maybe we do it because the alternative is too frightful a reality to think about, or maybe just because it keeps politicians in the press with this circus of negotiations, diverting our attention from other matters.

If true peace can only come through understanding, what do you do if understanding the others culture means that peace is not a true goal, and that annihilation is? What can we make of this paradox?

As much as I want to believe in interfaith dialog, olive picking operations, and peaceful co-existence, at the end of the day, it’s fruits generally prove to be little more than fantasy.

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Laya Millman

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