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On Occupying a Round World
by Brad Rubin

This week I discovered that the world is round.  Or, better, I discovered the consequences of that basic fact of life.  A spherical planet means that the world is bound by continuity and the frightening, maddening inability to escape.  It also instigates the clash of emotions and images that, in any sane or rectangular world, would not inhabit one's mind at the same time.  At one end of my world, I occupied a seat last week in the $200 million dollar MCI Center, watching the World Wrestling Federation present the obliquely yet cleverly named "Raw is War."  On the other end of the world, or simply a distance away in the same world, thousands of Palestinians and Israelis are shooting and killing each other.  War, with no need or possibility for an equivalent.

In some ways, social commentary, like my discovery, is too easy.  Particularly when one of the points in your world, one of your subjects, is the World Wrestling Federation.  Better writers with sharper wits, mightier pens, and wiser senses of the future have taken on the cultural ramifications of the WWF phenomenon.  I will leave the dire predictions to them.  Similarly, wiser and more learned thinkers have dedicated themselves and produced millions of pages concerning the realities, or at least their version of them, in the Middle East.  Again, I will leave the strategizing, postulating and theorizing—that is, the hopelessness—to them.

What I can comment, what is harder to understand or internalize is my role as the axis of this newfound globe.  My parents decided to make me the sole heir of their genes, their collective hopes and failures.  Unfortunately, I was not endowed with the requisite structural capacity to bear this burden.  To compensate, I have searched for brothers, for others to share the obligation of physical revolution around the sun and the life it permits.  And found three or four willing to accept the task.

I am a Jew.  One such brother is Muslim.  And Palestinian.  Our worlds came together through the Palestine Peace Project, a program founded by a second such brother.  Through our struggles during the past three years, we have shared many parts of ourselves, our dreams and fears, and most importantly and starkly, our faiths.

A cousin of this brother was martyred in this week of my discovery.  But what would normally be a tragic event—amidst so many in the past fortnight—takes on catastrophic proportions in a round world.  For this man, also a Palestinian Muslim, was killed in riots at the Al-Aqsa mosque built on the Temple Mount.  Killed by soldiers, ostensibly defending my place in this world as a Jew, on a site holy to both of our peoples.  Explaining my reactions, all of the angles and iterations, could take the rest of my life.

Yet I know that they all come down to one wish.  All I want is to feel the world spin about me, as so many wrestling fans reenacting the Stunner or the People's Elbow and achieving power in the comfort of their own homes and worlds, in a life where the humanity and humility of the Other can represent and replicate the Self.

All of us, regardless of the facts of our birth or the shape of our world, search for the axis each day.  During my time living in the West Bank and Israel in 1997 and 1998, living among Palestinians and working on Palestinian human rights issues—a supposedly anti-Israel idea—I rediscovered my long-suppressed identity and faith.  Judaism provided the most effective means of communicating with myself and the Palestinians around me.  Since my return, I have spent interminable hours searching for truth in the traditions of my ancestors, the spiritual poles of my rotation.  Initially, I searched for coordinates that fit the route where I perceived I had been and believed I was destined to go.  Explanations, proof-texts for the conclusions and truths to constitute my Milky Way.  In a way, to prove that I knew more than my fellow Jews because I could recognize my own rediscovery.

But my brother has taught me that the galaxy I called my own could be strengthened and reshaped by the humanity of another person, another tradition—indeed, that of the presupposed alien—as well as my own.  And throughout I have gained by asking him to enter my world, subtly demanding that he understand its contours and inhabitants along with me.  I have attempted to do the same in his.  He claims I have, but I am unsure.

Now all I can do is recognize this struggle, this demand to exist in my own world—marked by Judaism, Israel, law and the WWF—and call attention to the present loss of direction in that world.  Simply stated, the coordinates of this world, in fact its preeminent precept, demand my recognition of the Stranger and the treatment of him as my Own.  This was the first lesson I learned in the West Bank, the first concept of justice I struggled to internalize.  And I have tried to both learn from and teach this precept in every successive revolution of my world.  But what does one do when the identities of Stranger and Self appear to overlap?  When you are unsure of whether you can entertain yourself with the same object, necessity, that you help deny to those who need it?

As each day passes, I lose perspective on that precept, on the substance of that choice, and wonder whether I may be better served by the clearer delineation of Stranger and Self presented by the discreet and scripted events of the WWF and the concept of raw war.  In fact, the arguments over which side I should support, which army, which arm of brutal violence or alleged peace, which ideology, which acronym, which piece of land, which side of the sphere, have fatigued me and distracted me from the simple recognition that I am a human in this world, that I am Self and have a brother, a Stranger still, who is a human.  When and how will the conflict in the Middle East end?  The saddest thing for me to admit is that in all of the dimensions of this world, I have no answer but that of the single precept of unconditional acceptance and tolerance.  By all of those who I cannot name to all of those they would deny.  Raw war of another kind—the battle against those who would deny the rights of the Stranger—on either end of the world—and foreclose the path to peace.

Fitzgerald said that the strongest guards are placed at the gateway to nothing.  Regardless of what this could say about Messrs. Sharon or Arafat, I think the more important question is where we place our own guards in this world.  For now, I can only try to understand the dimensions and destination of my brother's and my own.