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Gerry ChidiacHow do we reconcile the polar opposites of a world with too much turmoil with a world that routinely witnesses amazing human triumphs?

We’ve seen governments fail and people displaced and forced to become refugees. But we’ve also seen consistent economic and population growth in countries like Canada. How can we explain this difference?

In examining the wisdom of the ages, I found this passage from the Bible: “You shall allot it (land) as inheritances for yourselves and for the aliens resident in your midst who have bred children among you. The latter shall be to you like native Israelites; along with you they shall receive inheritances among the tribes of Israel. In whatever tribe the alien may be resident, there you shall assign him his inheritance, says the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 47: 21-23)

What this passage tells us is that when people of different ethnicities live in the same territory, minorities are to be treated with respect. Immigrants are to be welcomed and treated like the rest of the population.

British Gov. Guy Carlton seemed to have understood this when he gave rights to French Canadians after the defeat of French forces in the 18th century. It’s become the predominant attitude in Canada, especially since the end of the Second World War. It’s no coincidence that this has also been an era of unprecedented growth for our country.

On the contrary, states that embrace more ethnocentric policies ultimately fail. The most drastic example is Nazi Germany, but we have seen similar results in the collapse of colonialism and the overthrow of apartheid in South Africa. Despite their military might, these states could not endure.

Christians, Jews and Muslims are all children of Abraham, and all acknowledge the prophet Ezekiel. Yet where is there more turmoil in the world today than among these three groups in their ancient homeland?

My grandparents, who were Christians, left Syria under the oppression of the Ottoman Muslims over 100 years ago. I still feel a strong tie to their homeland and its people, but I feel it toward all three religious groups. I feel at home among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Our ethnic and religious similarities are far more important to me than our religious differences. Elias Chacour brought this point home in his classic analysis of Middle East politics, Blood Brothers.

Perhaps the recent United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Israel to cease building settlements in Palestinian territory needs to be seen in the light of Ezekiel’s message. If the goal is to have long-term peace and prosperity, then it’s necessary to treat everyone as equals. There’s no place for any sort of ethnocentrism.

There is, of course, reason to be hopeful. Numerous movements within Israel and throughout the world bring Jews and Arabs together. The Jewish Voice for Peace is one of many groups calling for mutual respect and their numbers are growing. Just look at social media to see groups like Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies giving voice to those who see beyond arbitrary distinctions between Semitic peoples.

Establishing lasting peace in the Middle East is not simple. The conflict has been fuelled by many years of sectarian violence. We need to remember, however, that peace has been brought to warring regions many times in history, and it will be done again if we can all be true to what we profess to believe.

In a world of polar opposites, amazing human triumphs do overcome turmoil.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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