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The World Is On Fire

As I write this near the end of July 2006, the world is on fire with wars and weather; the heat is on also with stress, machines, speed, and violence in many forms. Even here, in the beautiful mountains of northern California, the usual air conditioning provided by breezes and wind from the Pacific Ocean has failed to cool temperatures rising to 106 degrees Fahrenheit at 2200 feet altitude (115 degrees in the valley). During the thirty-five years I have resided here, when not traveling, I have never experienced such an intense and extended period of heat -- 10 days thus far. On news reports, I hear that this is the hottest summer ever across the globe.

While these effects of global warming remind us that we need to develop alternative energy, wars rage even hotter in the quest for control of oil. The covers of an occasional piece of newspaper or magazine that come my way are filled with fire: flames in war zones – especially in Lebanon and Iraq now, flames of widespread fires that occur during such heat waves in California and elsewhere.

Having spent seven years of my life – five years in Egypt, more than a year in Israel, and several months in Morocco – in the Middle East, I feel a deep psychic connection with that area; this connection also includes human suffering. I worry about my friends in Israel; I also worry about people I do not know: Lebanese, Palestinian, Iraqi, and others who suffer from aggression.

When I lived in Israel in 1983, I was hired to sing at a hospital near the Lebanese border for wounded Israeli soldiers injured during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon. After singing at the bedsides of these sad young men – several of them missing legs or arms, or other body parts – I suggested to the woman who had driven me from Haifa to the hospital that perhaps I should also sing for wounded Lebanese soldiers at their hospitals. She grimaced painfully; we were both silent on the drive back to Haifa.

Lebanon has only recently recovered from the terrible destruction it suffered from the 1982 Israeli invasion, plus 18 more years of conflict until Israel finally left Lebanon in the year 2000. Finally, the international airport was rebuilt, and with economic reconstruction, business investments were returning and Lebanon has been gaining a reputation as a fine tourist destination. Now, by mid August 2006, the airport has been destroyed, much of Beirut has been reduced to rubble, civilian casualties have reached 1100; at least one third of them are children. Over one million Lebanese have been displaced from their homes. Like Palestinians, they are refugees in their own country.

Terror inflicted upon others is what breeds terrorism. We need only to look at the countries that have the most weapons—those that use military might to control others – to find the source of terrorism. Instead of demonizing others – especially those who dwell on top of oil reserves, we need to confront and root out our own demons.

Blinded by greed, the ‘powers that be’ have lost sight of the true value of cultures of various diversity; they have lost the ability to see the great offerings of history, science, and the arts. (Many people in the United States do not even know that our numbers are of Arabic origin.) These are the real treasures we should be exchanging, not armaments or gunfire. Our chiefs in Washington say they are going to “remake the Middle East.” They have not even learned to understand the culture, the language, the essence of Islam, or the beauty and creativity that abound in that region of the world. If they had truly listened to beautiful Middle Eastern music, their souls would have experienced that place where we all come from. They have not been receptive enough to even know what they are going to “remake”. What they seem to mean is: “We are going to control you. Once we destroy your culture, we will replace it with the American way of life: consumerism. You can shop in a Wal-Mart, while we take your oil.” If Iraq is an example of “remaking”, I cringe to think of the fate of other Middle Eastern countries. Only ignorance could provoke the destruction of the seat of civilization, Mesopotamia. We not only hurt ourselves when we hurt others, we hurt all of nature, we hurt our planet, perhaps other planets also. All forms of life are interconnected; even our breath becomes part of the air we share.

Many alternative energy sources offer themselves to be converted into energy. The sun is shouting, “Collect my light; I won’t even charge you.” This clean energy hurts no one, not even the environment. The wind offers herself freely to spin a wind turbine. Nature, like woman, does not need to be raped to capture her inner treasures. She offers herself willingly, when taken with respect and integrity, with knowledge, wisdom and love.

If man has the capability of making enough weapons to destroy the planet, he can certainly use such intelligence to create a better world, including the use of renewable energy, rather than destroy this beautiful, bountiful planet that offers us what we need as long as we use her resources wisely.

Instead of bombing the world into pieces, we need to open our eyes, our ears, our minds, and our hearts to the vast gifts that the Middle East has to offer. We may even learn to say “Marhaban!” (“Welcome!”) Once we have learned to appreciate cultures, different from our own, we may find ourselves saying, “Shukran!” (“Thank You!”).

Soon, we might find a chorus of voices raised, singing: “Salam”, “Shalom”,” Peace”.

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