The art of positive subversion.

We all have the ability to be provocative. We all feel passionate about a certain issue and have a knack at applying a variety of persuasive techniques in order to get our agenda across. Here’s an example of that, my ‘thought for the day’, if you will:

An open letter to David Cameron,

Now that even your beloved right-wing establishment press has also expressed horror over the dehumanisation of refugees seeking asylum (and not just the ‘loony left’), isn’t it time to dial down the xenophobia and act out of altruistic empathy?

Yours sincerely,
Anyone decent

As an exercise in pacifist freedom of expression and conscientious objection, you’ll probably notice a sardonic twinge in my opinion – and whilst this is effective to an extent, there are times when a persistent antagonistic, adversarial approach (even if we’re supporting the right cause) can be counter-productive. If used in moderation, this method is wonderfully effective. We reflect this week on the ability of the harrowing and tragic photo of a three year old boy washed up on a holiday beach in Turkey and carried from the shoreline by a policeman. The effect, potentially causing a cultural shift in how, we, as a society perceive refugees, ex-pats and migrants. The cliché is entirely true – sometimes a picture speaks a thousand words.

Now, let’s shift a gear: Palestine and Israel.

Yes, everyone’s favourite dinner party topic. Oh politics, the ultimate social faux pas to bring up. It is possibly THE topic most likely to turn a hootenanny into a ghost town, tumbleweed floating void. The Israel-Palestine conflict is widely considered the most fraught, dogmatic impasse in political history and polarises opinion unequivocally. From Zionism to Hamas, Netanyahu to Zahar, ‘end the occupation’ to human shields, nationalism to fundamentalism, Jerusalem to Gaza, and summoning Godwin’s Law to demonise the other… Even uttering that rhetoric, regardless of bias can open a can of worms that may escalate into uncomfortable arguments. If the impasse continues, an argument can lead to bitterness, bitterness to a grudge, a grudge to vendettas and even, a vendetta to revenge.

Okay, that might be a tad melodramatic, but the passion that a Jewish Israeli and an Islamic Palestinian effuses is second to none. Antidotes have included a ‘two-state solution’; tearing down the Palestine Wall (much like the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990) and developing a fully integrated Israel and Palestine; keeping everything exactly as it is, that is, protecting Israel’s borders; or retaliatory acts of war and terror. The history of Jerusalem has innate significance to three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. However, the importance of this land matters most to Muslims and Jews. Many Christians believe that after the symbolic (and arguably miraculous) tearing of the temple curtain after Jesus’ death, everyone then had free access to the presence of God that transcended hierarchy or temporal location. Suddenly, the occupation of Jerusalem wasn’t a necessity to Christians.

For Jews, Israel is a ‘Promised Land’ and certain Christians also believe that Christians and Jews must reside in Israel so that on the Day of Judgment, the Scriptures will be fulfilled. In the Sunni Islamic tradition, Jerusalem along with Mecca and Medina are deeply sacred sites. Muhammad, considered the prophet and messenger of God, visited Jerusalem in 571AD. The Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount holds much significance to the Islamic faith. There is a definite conflict of interest regarding faiths over the land of Israel.

Now, juxtapose this historical context with a mundane but deeply humane story about a group of homosexual Palestinians, one of whom falls in love with a Zionist, whilst another, comes out to his parents via a moving letter. This is an outstanding new documentary called ‘Oriented’, which is likely to make an impression in film festivals over the next year. Within a traditional, conservative, orthodox society, this narrative arc is fairly subversive. Add another variable: this group don’t exactly fit into the media moulded box on what it is to be Palestinian. Either you are a monstrous terrorist, or a vulnerable wretch living in squalor and poverty. No, these guys are fairly bourgeois, backwards cap wearing middle class hipsters that seem more than capable of discussing the validity of Proust, cracking a naughty joke and then hypothesising over legislative solutions for peace.

It is an understated documentary.

In the Q & A, the director admitted that he had high ambitions of finding ‘a Rosa Parks moment’ to evolve the narrative around. Something that could be the breakthrough epiphany that unites Israelis and Palestinians, ending the historical conflict through a seismic catalyst that would lead to ultimate unity. As the filming continued for two years, he realised that the likelihood of this was minimal. Instead, he found something far more serendipitous.

Here, we have a community that defied category and challenged our attitude to conflict, relationship, family, friendship and love.

Considering Christian interpretations on homosexuality, have conservative and liberal factions of the faith become like Israel and Palestine in the impasse between affirming and rebuking?

I have my opinions. I am firmly LGBT affirming in a Christian and secular context, and I greatly empathise with the unjust marginalisation of Palestinians in what has become an occupied state, whilst mourning the tragic effect of a history of persecution on the Jewish populace. However nuanced my emotive stance may or may not be, is it another negative catalyst damaging the hope of reconciliation?

Do sub-denominations of Christianity need ‘a Rosa Parks moment’ to unite the affirming and rebuking, just like Israel and Palestine may need it, and just like the ‘refugee crisis’ photo on the Turkey beach has probably enabled?

We can talk about Christian opinions on homosexuality, we can talk about the Israel-Palestine conflict, we can talk about the ‘refugee crisis’ and consider them random strands that have little bearing. However, there is one theme that resounds: the impasse. Whether it is politics, belief or social situations, we all have experienced the conflict of the impasse. From the mild to the extreme, human experience has common ground. Knowing this, gives us the opportunity to empathise with other situations we may not fully understand. One thing we do understand is the pain of disagreement that escalates. We can use our experience of overcoming those obstacles and conflicts to energise debate about possible solutions to these issues.

In our media saturated age, do we need to access the collective bargaining of grassroots movements with all of the skills of its entourage that emancipates all rather than the few?

Hard questions don’t have easy answers, but this documentary really stoked the fire in me about what could be done to bring about meaningful change in all the impasses that we experience, from the mundane and local, to the major and global.

Suddenly, the subversive then becomes positive.

Simon Cole-Savidge

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