Look below the surface for answers to global problems
I met a man not long ago. He was a Persian. He was from Iran, between Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Persian looked me in the eye and told me something of which I was already aware: Americans know next to nothing about the history and culture of the Middle East.
I agreed with him. Americans, as a whole, are not well versed on anything beyond Hawaii on one side and the Bahamas on the other.
The little world history I studied in Brownwood High School and Howard Payne half a century ago had little to say about the world's cultures or how they got that way.
We have been “exposed” to history, but we have learned little. Comprehending varied cultures (beginning with the Iroquois and Cherokees) never has been an American priority.
As I looked at the Persian, I had to remind myself he was not an Arab. Iran is Persian. Iraq, their neighbor, is Arab. These two distinct peoples have contributed much to the advancement of civilization.
Surveys before the invasion of Iraq said few college kids could find either country on the map. Geography is ignored in schools today.
But Arab and Persian history is making a comeback. The attempts by CNN and the TV network newscasts are appreciated, but they are less help than my old textbooks. In network and cable news programs, the maps are nice, but facts are lacking. In between commercials, more questions are raised than answers.
The West (meaning primarily Europe and the United States) does not have a very good track record in the Middle East.
Before any reader takes pen in hand to proclaim me as an American basher, pause long enough to reconsider the record. The man-made national boundaries in the Middle East were drawn by British and French politicians 80-something years ago.
When World War I began in 1914, the Turkish Ottoman Empire joined with Germany. The only way the British could get Arab help in defeating the Turks was to promise them freedom when it was all over. This was where Lawrence of Arabia came on the scene and helped the Arabs and allies to defeat the Turks. Lawrence was much in favor of the Arabs ruling themselves.
The British and French politicians agreed as long as they could appoint the kings and draw the boundaries–thereby keeping their hands in the oil.
The lands of Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq have lived the nightmare ever since.
Our America has done great and unheard of things in its short time among the nations of the world. But we are still young as far as a world power.
More importantly, we must learn that humility in dealing with others is not a sign of weakness. I think John F. Kennedy said that.
Humility is a sign of strength. I said that.
But, back to my Persian friend: He thought I was visiting with him just to convert him to Christianity. Even when I assured him I would be glad if he became a Christian but I was not in the proselytizing business, he found it difficult to believe. When a person is of another religion, I respect that.
Once the 19th century evangelist Dwight L. Moody and a friend were walking down a city street late at night. The friend noticed a drunk clinging to a lamppost and commented to Moody, “Isn't that one of your converts?” Moody replied, “He must be one of mine; God's converts don't look like that.”
So when I left the straight-talking Persian, I was determined to do a number of things.
Here is my to-do list:
Look below the surface and the politicians' spin.
Learn some basics about the people of Islam, the culture of Arabs, Persians and Kurds. Learn how they got to where they are today.
Try to walk in their shoes and discover the merit in their views.
I am convinced if the Western Christian experience is to be meaningful to people of the Middle East and the rest of the world, it will be because of our actions, not our words.
Britt Towery of San Angelo is a retired Southern Baptist missionary