Lessons from Bloody Sunday

In the past seven months I’ve had the pleasure and the challenge of participating in political discussions revolving around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the division of Northern Ireland conflict. Just after the new year I spent two weeks in Ireland and Northern Ireland meeting with politicians, political party leaders, ex-pats, ex-soldiers,  and ‘convicts’ to talk about the current “troubles” there. Then in February I repped for USA at an international conference in Scotland where, at 2 a.m. one night, I witnessed just how deeply rooted and pungently felt the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is.

From my Ireland experience, I learned that every story has so many more perspectives than you can even imagine, and no one side is rarely ever fully right. From my Scotland experience, I learned that even though the 23 of us had completely different views on certain issues (and sometimes that we’d want to yell and scream at each other about it) the one thing we did have in common, at the end of the week, was that in sidestepping our difference we could be friends.

But even after extensive interfaith and political discussions, conferences, email chains, classes, papers, and relationships I’ve built, the big question I still struggle daily with, is, really what is the point? Let me rephrase: how, if everyone thinks they are right, are we ever going to take responsibility for the damage that’s been done, and move forward to peace? If someone truly believes they are “right” and the other doesn’t give way either, then what starts as a political stalemate can become political violence at the shot of a gun or the light of a match. Just like that. All of the talking is great to reach understanding and open communication, but now more than ever I realize the importance that actions accompany the words. Otherwise words are just words.

This morning on the subway I was catching up on my headlines and came across this story on the NY Times page about the 1972 shootings (by British officers) of 14 unarmed Irish Catholic demonstrators in the heart of Northern Ireland. In some Belfast areas you can feel the tension from Bloody Sunday still in the air, even though it was a few decades ago, the issue is very still very potent. Ingrained from birth to think one way, many Northern Irish either choose to bury their thoughts (making the nation’s big white elephant even bigger)  or worse, they refuse to interact across religious or political boundaries, period. Reading this article gives me hope that with leaders climbing down the pride stepladder to take responsibility for their own nation’s actions, despite the wrongs that have been done to them, perhaps the revelations I witnessed in Scotland, where two enemies can indeed become friends, will happen on a much larger (and more powerful) scale.

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