Some days you just get tired of talking about politics, world issues, and other stressful ideas. You need a break from the constant drone of bickering that seems to drown out all that’s good in the world. But even when you find a story that gives you hope, that makes you smile, it somehow can’t avoid being tainted by today’s realities.
Canadian Press reported this story about a Muslim cabbie in New York City, an Orthodox Jewish Diamond dealer from Montreal, and a briefcase full of diamonds. A typical tale of the harried businessman rushing to catch a flight and forgetting a piece of his luggage; except that it wasn’t because of who the two men were.
“In a situation like that, you don’t think. What is he, Jewish, Buddhist, or Muslim? He’s just a human being working hard for his money.” (Cabby Hossam Abdalla)
While his passenger’s religion may not have mattered to Mr. Abdalla, it certainly mattered to the press who reported on the matter, and to readers like me, whose eye was caught by the headline for the story. Muslim and Jew in the same heading are sure to catch the eye of most readers. With the parties involved acting like decent human beings towards each other it becomes even more riveting.
I was interested to watch my own reactions to the story. From the initial, oh isn’t that nice, something that’s not about hatred or people killing each other, to, it’s a sad commentary on today’s world that this is news. At some point between those points, my writer instincts kicked in and imagined a possible relationship developing between the two men.
What kind of pitfalls did a friendship between an Orthodox Jew and a Muslim face? How would they fit into each other’s worlds? Not only do they have the barrier of creed to overcome, but also social class. Would the wealth of the one become a matter of resentment for the other? When it began to sound like the treatment for a movie destined for the Sundance festival, I let the idle speculation grind to a halt for the moment.
There is no reason why, in an ideal world, this story should have made the papers. Its only reason for existing is that it concerned a Muslim and a Jew. How sad is it that two people treating each other with respect becomes news? The briefcase full of diamonds, which should have been the major focus of the story, is secondary to the religion of the two men.
We live in a world where people’s actions and behaviours are judged against our preconceived notions on how they should interact. These pre-judgements, unfortunately, have an amount of validity and are based on experience and observation. The truth of the matter is that cordial relations across religious and ethnic lines are more strained now then they have been in quite some time.
Polarization is of epidemic proportions and there is no cure or vaccine in sight. Fear of violence has caused the spectre of xenophobia to rear its ugly head in more than one society. The familiar is safe, while something new or different is a potential threat. While this reaction is understandable from the population at large, facing the realities of the bus and subway every day, from our politicians it’s reprehensible.
Obligatory statements of inclusion have become so tainted by actions contradicting expressed sentiments that they have no meaning any more. Now when I listen to these speeches I can almost see them winking at their audience: “I don’t really mean this, but I have to say it anyway”.
It seems the only time we stick our heads or hands out of our turtle shells is to lash out at someone else. In Israel, they’re building a physical wall between themselves and their neighbours. Most other countries, groups, and individuals have thrown up the equivalent in one form or another.
Even, if by some miracle, all of the strife were to end tomorrow, these walls would remain. Trust, once discarded, cannot be put back on again like a shirt. Have we moved so far away from each other that we have reached a point of no return? Perhaps it will be on an individual basis, person to person, that we will be able to rebuild bridges between us.
Thierry Bellisha and Hossam Abdalla are newsworthy not for what they have done, but for the potential they represent: individuals getting to know each other across social, religious, and ethnic barriers. Each one of us is able to do the same things they have done. Nothing special, nothing earth-shattering, just treating each other with dignity and respect.
There has probably always been polarization within the human race. You’d think as we evolved culturally that it would dissipate, not increase. To me this only shows how far we still have to go before we mature. We’ll know when we get there, because then all that will matter will be the briefcase of diamonds.