Thursday, January 15, 2009

Shoes & Pudding

I read with dismay a fellow minister's blog quoting an article about how Turkish fans screamed and threw shoes at the visiting Israeli basketball team in protest of the violence in Gaza. Dismay, because Turkey and the Turkish people have a very special place in my heart. Dismay, because now that the event has reached headline and blog-mention proportions, I have no doubt that it will color the perception in the West of the Turkish people. Color them unfairly.

When I mentioned the incident to my sister, she asked, "What's with everybody throwing shoes all of a sudden? Didn't they throw shoes at Bush, too?"

I explained that in the Middle East, showing the sole of the foot is considered an insult, because the feet are dirty, hence the throwing of shoes. When I visited Turkey last summer as the guest of a generous, hospitable, and noble organization, an affiliate of the Gulen Movement, I learned that it was impolite to sit with the soles of your feet aimed at others. Still, some people in our tour group "forgot" and did this. Our guides were tolerant, and assured us that it would not be highly offensive, as we were not expected to know all of the local customs. But, I thought... why not? Westerners' refusal to extend themselves to understand and feel compassion for the mores and modes of conduct that others value is a both a symptom of and a contributor to our insularity and our xenophobia. Nothing will change, and violent conflict will not end for good, until everyone makes an effort to do this. To understand and comprehend.

Two related events occurred. On Sunday, a few members of the UK Interfaith Dialogue Organization, young men who are also affiliated with the Gulen Movement, came to our Unitarian Universalist congregation, as they have done numerous times. They had asked me beforehand whether they could pass out some "Noah's Pudding," a dish that is concocted and shared in observation of the New Year. They did so generously, and also included lovely flyers that explained the origin of the dish and the custom of sharing with neighbors. They are Muslims, and they are Turkish. These young men have taught me volumes about how to live in harmony, peace, and kindness in spite of different beliefs. I know they disagree with many of our very liberal stances on issues, but they persist in treating us with honor and friendship. This, I reflected. is true giving. No strings. No expectations. One shares because sharing and giving are the right way to live in a world community.

The next day, I was listening to a local AM station on my car radio. A caller responded to the latest Bin Laden communique by asserting that he was fed up, and that if Muslims didn't put a stop to the terrorists among them, "we" should blow Mecca, their most significant holy place, right off the map, "flatten it." He went on to express his desire to personally kill Bin Laden and bury him with pigs. The host disagreed with him, but did not say clearly enough that his words were twisted, hateful, and born of ignorance about Islam and about the Muslim people. I was dismayed, again.

Now people are going to see the images of angry fans throwing shoes and decide that all Turkish people are violent and vengeful. I guess the fact that Philadelphia fans are pretty raucous and once threw snowballs at Santa Claus means that all Americans are rude and like to shatter little kids' dreams? The quiet but persistent image of two kind young men sharing Noah's Pudding will never make international headlines, and our divisions will be widened. I pray and wait for the day when the sharing of pudding overcomes the tossing of shoes, and we start the long and very difficult journey toward love and peace.