I don’t align myself uniformly with political lefts or rights; I am allergic to inanity at either end. This week, my ire has been raised by the foolishness promoted to our teens through “Peace by Piece.”
The latest issue of “The Jewish Georgian” carries an article on this program, in which Jewish, Christian and Muslim high school students learn about each other and, hopefully, break down the barriers of prejudice.
So far, so good. But the article, written by a graduate of the program, makes it clear that Peace by Piece is not interested in presenting an accurate portrayal of Jewish/Christian/Muslim beliefs and interactions; rather, it is interested in whitewashing serious enmity in the pursuit of a blind sense of universal harmony.
The columnist’s version of Peace by Piece accomplishes its ends through two means: (1) using Straw Man caricatures to discredit the political center-right, and (2) substituting anecdotal positive experiences for scientific study of reality.
First, the Straw Man caricature:
The article begins thus: Imagine yourself watching the news on TV one night. Suddenly, a story about an Islamist-fueled terrorist attack on a bus in the Middle East materializes. Perhaps your initial reaction is an angry shout along the lines of, “See? This is proof that all those Arabs just need to die!” Or, say you read a news story about a Jewish area in France being desecrated. Do you immediately assume that the French, as a people, are anti-Semitic jerks? Or do you take a more moderate, thoughtful approach to both scenarios and assume that the perpetrators of these crimes are but small groups within their respective religions or societies?
So, per the article, there are only two points on the philosophical spectrum:
(A) An Archie Bunkeresque, racist, “All Arabs just need to die,” and
(B) A sweet, “The perpetrators are but small groups within their respective religions/societies.”
I’d rather choose a middle option – but the author doesn’t seem to be aware of any such middle ground. Those who disagree with “Piece by Peace” have all been lumped into (A).
Second, substituting anecdotal experience for scientific study:
The columnist writes at the end of the piece: [D]uring each meeting, the students of all three religions discussed theology and were able to do so without condemning one person to hell and eternal suffering. And we had plenty of time to talk about what most teens talk about: sports, politics, entertainment, and the like. This goes to show that the message preached by Peace by Piece is a valid one: With enough understanding and awareness, all religions can easily coexist in peace, and each of us can be an ambassador for peace.
In other words: I can talk calmly with my American peers, be they Jewish, Christian or Muslim, within this small, highly selective club; therefore, all religions can easily coexist in peace.
Presumably, this is the same thinking that led him to “assume that the perpetrators of these crimes are but small groups within their respective religions or societies.”
Perhaps the columnist should read the September 2006 poll from the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in which more than two-thirds of Palestinian Arabs opposed Hamas recognizing Israel.
Or another poll, conducted by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the PCPSR, in which 57% of Palestinian Arabs supported terrorist attacks upon Israeli civilians, 75% of Palestinian Arabs supported the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers to obtain the release of jailed Palestinian terrorists, and 63% said they are inspired by Hizbullah and seek to emulate it.
Or the July 2007 poll by the Pew Research Center, in which 23% of Jordanian Muslims view suicide bombings as justified, 42% of Nigerian Muslims feel likewise, as do 34% of Lebanese Muslims and a whopping 70% of Palestinian Muslims.
Are these “small groups” within their society?
Why claim that the self-selecting Peace by Piece group of Americans reflects reality more than these sociological studies of Middle East reality?
Training high schoolers to ignore prejudices and coexist peacefully is noble.
Training high schoolers to believe that the political middle and right are foolish bigots, and that utopian visions trump scientific reality, is anything but.