The Evils of Vengeance

Category: Nature & Science Views: 3304

When I was a kid I got my share of abuse. Not from my folks -- they were the best! But from the kids at school who found me different from the rest. I was, after all, an Arab-American in New York City. And I was vocally pro-Palestinian. The parents of my classmates didn't want their children to play with me. I might be dangerous! "My people" had ousted theirs from Arab lands when Israel was established. I was called "a terrorist." Kids wondered what kind of bombs I carried and asked if there was a camel leashed in my back yard. Old women spat at me. An English teacher even erupted into epithets when she saw me chatting with a Jewish friend.

I knew how it felt to be treated badly and resolved not to be that way to others. I decided not to exact revenge for the wrongs shown me. I would not avoid people with politics that clashed with mine. I would welcome other opinions and the people who brought them. I would not and do not teach my children not to trust certain kinds of "others." It isn't easy, but that is what is demanded of me by my own personal standards and by my faith code as a Muslim.

Now, "the wrongs shown me" are nothing compared to the wrongs shown so many other people and the wrongs we read about in the news every day.

Take Kosova, for example. The day in June when refugees began to be escorted home the front page of the New York Times showed a photo of "ethnic Albanians" jeering and taunting their former Serbian neighbors. The Serbs were dejectedly departing the towns they had all once shared together. A turn of the tide, perhaps an inevitable turn.

Perhaps these people could never learn to live together again. But this was still a sad and tragic time for those individuals whose lives were being torn up from the roots; just as the "ethnic Albanians" had been just months earlier. The returning Muslim refugees knew all too well how that felt. So wasn't it possible to let the Serbs leave quietly, mournfully, with a shred of dignity? And wouldn't it have been better still to entreat them to stay?

Those grim, and for me, hotly humiliating scenes of return to Kosova, those scenes bereft of mercy, compassion and forgiveness, are giving way to even more gruesome stories. The slaughter of 14 Serbian farmers near Gracko, for example, on July 23. Fingers point to the Kosova Liberation Army or renegade groups. Regardless of who are the perpetrators, we are witnessing an escalation in hatred expressed in violence. The war may be over, but the battles for revenge and retaliation are just beginning. It's an age-old story and, alas, all too predictable.

The reports of atrocities committed by Serbs against the Muslim citizens of Kosova were stomach-turning. One wonders how human begins can be so brutal to one another. It is difficult to fathom how people who have been so abused can turn around and do the same to others, especially when they have been taught better and they know better.

Unfortunately much of the teaching and knowing is in theory and not practice. There are pitifully few examples in human history of mercy dealt in place of vengeance; of compassion subduing rancor. Jesus advocated loving your enemy, and "turning the other cheek." Muhammad demonstrated his devotion to mercy on his remarkable return to Mecca, when he declared amnesty for all citizens who remained peacefully at home.

As frail and weak human beings, it is difficult to live up to the commands and examples of our Prophets and to obey the will of God. But it is incumbent upon us to try and to set an example insofar as it is possible.

Some Muslims of Kosova have found it impossible to contain their rage and bloody their hands with evil acts while Muslims of America sit silently by. I have neither seen nor heard condemnations of such blatantly un-Islamic behavior. When help was needed to strengthen Kosovar efforts in self-defense, assistance came pouring in, from volunteer soldiers to hygiene supplies for refugees. Now a new kind of help is needed: spiritual help, succor, comfort and counsel. Revenge will not accomplish peace of mind and heart. Revenge will not build a new and stable Kosova. Revenge will only exact more of itself, condemning the next generation and generations to come to getting back at someone for an offense no one really remembers any more.

Anisa Mehdi is an independent journalist who is also a contributing correspondent for Public Television's Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly.

  Category: Nature & Science
Views: 3304
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