Reaching out to embrace, support and stand with one another

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, April 6, 2017


Many of our coffee companions raised my hopes for humanity with your responses to last week’s column on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in our society. I’ve chosen to feature two of those responses this week, both from Cochrane readers.

The first is from Dr. David Lertzman, Assistant Professor of Environmental Management and Sustainable Development at the University of Calgary. David writes:

I HAVE REFLECTED DEEPLY on the rise of anti-Semitism, which seems also to correspond with recent upswings in Islamophobia, both of which appear as narratives in the neofascist Alt Right movement here and south of the border.

These are disturbing trends in troubling times. We must reach out to embrace, support and stand with one another. I say this as a Canadian, and especially as a Jew. Jews have been the target of hatred, prejudice, ignorance and fear for generations. As a result of such ignorance, prejudice, hatred and fear we’ve been blamed and targeted for many of the world’s problems. I now witness my Muslim brothers and sisters subjected to ignorance, prejudice, hatred and fear, which breaks my heart and chills the soul.

The warning bells are ringing! We must stand together with respect and goodwill towards one another! We must stand-up, stand together and speak out, lend a hand when there is need and protect those trampled by the small-minded bullies of ignorance, hard-hearted fascism of fear, and closed-minded patrons of prejudice. I am alarmed yet resolved, steeled by a righteous courage of compassion and strength.

David Lertzman, Cochrane

THE SECOND RESONSE is from Cochrane’s globe-trekking cyclist, Robyn MacKay, just returned with her husband, Bruce Roberts, from another extended journey through India. Consistent with her passion for opening people’s hearts and minds to others, Robyn writes:

WITH SADNESS, Bruce and I read your article about Islamophobia. After reading it I actually dropped my head to the table with exhaustion wondering if this will ever end. We just spent four weeks cycling in Kerala, a state of religious utopia where every citizen respects the God of others. We have experienced religious tolerance on every journey to India but not with such total abandon. There are signs everywhere stating you are in “God’s Own Country” and when we first arrived I assumed the tag was a marketing tool for tourism. I soon learned it was a line the Keralans lived, breathed, worked and died by. Those three words describe the art of living to the people of Kerala.

Because I am the eternal religious studies student, I automatically try and dissect what I am seeing, and then compartmentalize it into some kind of timeline, label, definition or logic that I can understand. It is a Western habit India shakes out of me every time I arrive.

In Kerala I learned to accept and not dissect. It is a place where Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism mingle in an omnism dreamland. Syrian Christian statues of Jesus rest under the crescent moon of Islam, Hindus begin a special pilgrimage by paying respect to an Imam in a mosque, and tuk tuk drivers have representations of all gods dangling from their rearview mirrors. It was explained to us repeatedly, and with great pride, that God is everywhere. “There is God for all. We all have a name and image for our God, but no matter who you are or who your God is – God is here for all. We are in God’s Own Country.”

We cycled past hundreds of historic cathedrals, Jewish synagogues, mosques of stunning beauty, and dodged living Hindu elephant gods giving blessings. Girls with headscarves in Islamic schools spilled out to play with Christian students next door for lunch break. Kerala is also home to the largest Hindu pilgrimage of women on earth where over one million attendees gather to celebrate together. One day we cycled through an intersection in a small town with a three-storey shrine that housed symbols of Christianity and Islam. What a refreshing change to have local people explain to us that it is perfectly normal to see major world religions hold hands in respect and friendship.

I think the West has a lot to learn from this tiny state in Southern India. In Kerala you can stop for a break at a tiny shop called Hebrew Coffee Shop, where the proprietor will delightfully tell you he is Hindu, not Jewish; he just loves the story of the Bible. What a contrast to standing in line in a Canadian coffee shop recently with my Sikh friend when he was told by another customer to go back to the country he came from.

Robyn MacKay, Cochrane

THANKS SO MUCH, David and Robyn. Yes, with your attitude there is indeed hope for humanity yet!


© 2017 Warren Harbeck

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