A Parable for Our Time

by Dexter Van Zile (January 2012)

Imagine yourself up in heaven, prior to your birth. You are an unborn soul standing before the Creator of the Universe. He speaks to you.

“My child, I want you to be happy and well during your time on earth. I want your life to be one filled with kindness and peace. I want you to be surrounded by people who will respect your humanity. I want you to be governed by leaders who respect your human rights and who work to protect them.”

You nod in gratitude. The Creator of the Universe has your best interests at heart.

“But there’s a challenge. I am going to send your soul into the body of a child born somewhere in the Middle East or North Africa, where kindness and grace are in short supply and where most leaders fail to protect the rights of the people they govern. Grace and accountability can be found, but you have to search for it.”

You nod, this time with a bit of trepidation.

“There is a source of hope. I am going to let you choose which country you are going to be born into. There is a catch however. I am not going to tell you anything about your ethnic identity or religious affiliation. I am not even going to tell you whether you are born a boy or a girl. I will however, let you spend the next hour or so studying the region, learning about the human rights records of the various countries in the region. Someone will be along to help you do the research so you can make your decision. Remember, I want you to be happy. I want you to be well. I want your life to be one of kindness and peace.”

At this point, we can step away from the scene described above and discern for ourselves where we would want to live.

We know the answer.

We know that the great risk facing the unborn soul described above is the prospect of being born as a religious or ethnic minority in the Middle East and North Africa. We also know that being born into an Arab or Muslim majority in the region is no guarantee of safety and wellbeing either. We also know that Arab Muslims living in the Jewish state of Israel have more rights than Arab Muslims living in Arab- and Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East.

Yes, there is some discrimination in Israel, but there are legions of Jewish activists who will lobby on your behalf if you are mistreated. And as soon as you are mistreated, the whole world knows and howls with outrage.

But if you are born a Christian or Jew in a Muslim-majority country, you are likely to endure great oppression at the hands of your neighbors who regard you as the low cost target of hostility and frustration. To make matters worse, there is a good chance your suffering will be ignored.

And if you are born a non-Arab in an Arab majority country, you’ll likely be a target of violence and oppression like Kurds in Iraq or Berbers in Egypt.

And woe to you if you are born a woman in a Muslim-majority country where female genital mutilation is an accepted practiced and endorsed by Muslim scholars such as Yusef Qaradawi.

God help you if you are born in Syria where an authoritarian regime is murdering its citizens in the streets.

Most people, knowing what they know, would pick Israel – without question and without hesitation. Anti-Israel activists might deny it during the course of an argument, but if their lives were at stake, they’d pick the Jewish state, no question, unless of course they were suicidally indifferent to their well-being. (And let’s face it – such people do exist.)

But let’s go back to our parable.

After your brief discussion with the Creator of the Universe, one of His angels approaches you and brings you over to a computer terminal.

The angel speaks to you.

“There’s a lot of information available to you, but there is one institution on earth that speaks on behalf of hundreds of churches on earth – the World Council of Churches. This organization is dedicated to promoting peace and human rights – just very things God wants you to enjoy. Here’s their website. You should be able to trust them for information about the Middle East and North Africa. They worship the Creator of the Universe who holds them accountable. They’ve got a lot of pages devoted to the Middle East and North Africa.”

You surf the WCC’s website and look at descriptions of the various countries in the Middle East. You see one country merits a lot of criticism from the WCC. In fact, the country is so guilty of oppression and sin that the WCC has dedicated not one, but two bureaucracies – the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine Israel and the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum to assail is policies. The WCC treats no other country like this in the world. You see page after page lamenting the suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of this country. You conclude that this country, Israel, must be a pretty evil country, a bad place. Clearly, you are not going to choose Israel.

Then you search for information on Israel’s neighbors and come across the WCC’s description of Syria, which is described in praiseworthy terms. It has been “been in the forefront of support for the Palestinian cause, and the struggle against Israel.” There is an odd and troubling passage about the government not tolerating opposition – “neither Islamic nor political” but nevertheless, the country can’t be all bad because first of all, it’s part of the fight against Israel, and second, a delegation from the WCC met with the Syrian president and had a pleasant conversation with him. Things are so good in Syria, that the WCC issued a statement about how good interfaith relations are in that country.

That seals it. You make your decision.

You return to stand before your Creator who asks, “Where do you want to go today?”

You tell him. “Syria.”

The Master of the Universe nods sadly and tells you, “Job, it’s time for your life to begin.”

 

A version of this parable first appeared in the December 2011 issue of The Jerusalem Post Christian Edition.

Dexter Van Zile is the Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.


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