Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 24, 2010

Applying scriptural analogy to the homeland security context

Filed under: Radicalization,Strategy,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on December 24, 2010

(This is the final post in a series.  Links to prior posts are available below.)

Many Americans seem to view Muslims with a disdain similar to that with which the Jews of Jesus’ day viewed Samaritans. Like the Samaritans, Muslims are a religious minority in our midst. They strike the majority of Americans as profoundly “other.”

Twenty-five percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Center report know “nothing at all” about Islam. “Not very much” is the way another 30 percent answered the question, “How much do you know about Muslim religion?” Nearly 60 percent of Americans say they do not know a Muslim.

Prior to 9/11 these differences were easy to tolerate. But when terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam attacked the United States and the United States went to war in Muslim-majority Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not surprising that tolerant ignorance might slide into ignorant intolerance.

Contributing to the troubled Samaritan-Jewish relationship was the complicity of Samaritans in Hellenistic oppression of Jerusalem over several generations before Jesus. Religious otherness, ethnic otherness, and political otherness combined to produce deep prejudice between Jew and Samaritan.  Contemporary attitudes toward Islam are influenced by profound political, ethical, social, and religious  disagreements that ought not be obscured.  These disagreements are expressed within Islam, as well as between Islam and other faith traditions and cultures.

In the six references to Samaritans we have examined, Jesus accepts the difference between Jew and Samaritan. If anything Jesus highlights the differences to encourage his Jewish listeners toward greater self-criticism and self-awareness. The gospels seem to say: if even a Samaritan can know and do God’s purposes, how do you explain your separation from God?

The religious practices of Samaritans – or Jews – did not much concern Jesus. As long as the rituals served to bring believers into a mindful and loving relationship with God and neighbor, Jesus honored the effort and participated in the practices. But religious practice was secondary.

As with the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus calls us to approach each other with profound respect for the particular person. Who is this neighbor? Samaritan, Greek, leper or whatever is less important than knowing how this person is in relationship with God and how we are to be in relationship with each other.

If there is a helpful analogy in all this for homeland security it may be in the sort of discrimination we bring to any encounter with the “other.”   The Samaritan sayings of Jesus absolutely depend on a mindful sense of otherness.  We need not — ought not — obscure the differences.  The differences have myriad implications.  The differences are worth serious engagement.  Is homeland security dealing directly with such contemporary differences?

But we should avoid using the differences to exalt ourselves and disdain the other.  The Samaritan sayings are consistent in engaging the other not as an undifferentiated group but as particular personalities with specific attributes both good and bad.  Is this our practice in homeland security?  Is this the character of our political and social discourse?

In most of the sayings Jesus uses the otherness of the Samaritans primarily as a tool to clarify and restore the core principles of his Jewish audience.   The “other” is engaged to expose the gap between “our”  principles and behavior.  In the homeland security domain, how might an American encounter with otherness expose — and bridge — any gap between our principles and our behavior?

In word and example, the Samaritan sayings encourage positive and proactive engagement of the other as a way of learning more about the other, more about ourselves, and how we are in relationship.  I began this series with a focus on the Muslim “other” and this remains my primary cause.  But I close the series recognizing the analogous potential for a range of  relationships important to homeland security: public-private, inter-governmental, inter-disciplinary and more.


Previous posts in this series:

The first post on December 3 was Tis the season… to deal directly with religious difference.

The second post on December 4 was Avoid Samaritan Towns.

The third post on December 5 was The Woman at Jacob’s Well.

The fourth post on December 11 was Jesus accused of being a Samaritan.

The fifth post on December 12 was A Samaritan town rejects Jesus  (including several reader comments).

The sixth post on December 18 was The Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The seventh post on December 19 was The Thankful Leper (including several reader comments).

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1 Comment »

Comment by John Comiskey

December 24, 2010 @ 8:14 am

All I Ever Needed To Know I Learned In Kindergarten

Pope Benedict’s 2010 Christmas message included the following remarks:

The child that was born in Bethlehem did indeed bring liberation, but not only for the people of that time and place –he was to be the savior of all people throughout the world and throughout history.

Twelve years of Catholic parochial school taught me that much. I learned many others things in both my catholic K-12 and secular undergraduate and graduate education. The real world taught me even more.
Mario Puzzo’s Machiavellian Don Corleone was, amongst other things, a realist. Most people teach their children the world for what they want it to be; the Don taught his children the world for what it is. Don Corleone 101 should be a prerequisite for all undergraduates.

Circa 1988, an Afro-American NYPD Police Sergeant addressed a mostly all-male Caucasian platoon of NYPD Police Officers (I was one of those officers) and remarked that many of us should forget much of what our fathers had taught us about “other” people and should just go about our policing as though we were policing “ourselves” as opposed to “others.” The “others,” in this instance, were mostly Puerto Ricans and some Afro-Americans that had moved into Bushwick Brooklyn when the mostly Italian populace moved out. Most of the platoon was outraged. I didn’t like much of what was said. But, I knew, to a degree, the Sergeant was right –sometimes we did treat the Puerto Ricans and Afro Americans like “other” people.

For those occasions, I apologize.

My father and mother were both born in Ireland and I was taught to treat all people equally. My father, Sheamus Patrick Comiskey supported Irish independence and condemned English imperialism and discrimination. He was active in several Irish national organizations. I was present at many Communion Breakfasts and heard my father read the 1916 Irish Proclamation of Independence.

In the name of God and of the dead generations from which she receives her old tradition of nationhood, Ireland, through us, summons her children to her flag and strikes for her freedom.

To this day I can hear and feel those words. My father believed in freedom and spent many Saturday afternoons protesting in front of the British Consulate in New York City. I vividly remember Bobby Sand’s and the IRA’s heroic hunger strike campaign. I asked myself why would anyone put themselves through such an ordeal were it not for a just cause. I was seventeen at the time and though little of the English –they had treated the Irish as “other” people.

In 1982, as a college freshman at Queens College, I wrote a Pro-IRA essay that might raise some eyes were it written today. I wonder what would have become of me had I been born in Ireland and suffered British discrimination.

Back to the Sergeant’s commentary; I thought that I was above prejudice. Thereafter, I reflected on some of my juvenile experiences when my friends and I were not beyond name calling to include racial epithets. I grew up in Queens Village, NY, a mostly white Irish-German-Italian neighborhood. That changed in the mid seventies and my immediate neighbors (on my block) included one Haitian, one Argentinean, and one Puerto Rican family. I remember hearing some of my adult neighbors decrying the blockbuster invasion of “other” people. I played with the “invaders” children.

In the aftermath of the Tuesday, September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I worked hundreds of hours at Ground Zero and throughout the City. I too was caught up in the emotional aftermath. I prayed a lot and particularly asked my father who passed on June 4, 2001 to give me the strength to do whatever had to be done to make my Country whole again.

I broke up fights in Astoria Queens where some elements of the neighborhood turned on their Arabic neighbors on Steinway Street. Some of the police with me were overtly supportive of the neighborhood and looked the other way when the “others” (the Arabs) were victimized. I tried and think I did “minimize” the mistreatment of the “others.” I am sorry I couldn’t do more. In that instance, I know I did my best.

Yesterday, I spoke to my wife’s Kindergarten Class. My wife and all kindergarten teachers are on the forward edge of humanity’s battlefield –finis origine pendet. In her classroom is a poster that says:

“All I ever needed to know I learned in Kindergarten.”

The poster says many things that might be summated with the Golden Rule. I talked about many things to include traffic safety, drugs and alcohol, and not talking to strangers. Mostly, I talked about the poster and told the children that they should ask their parents to download the document and save it to their favorite places and read it every day.

My Christmas wish is for humanity to heed the All I Ever Needed to Know Kindergarten message.


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