From the United States to Europe to the beaches of Alexandria it is all the same question: what holds a society together? Is there are social contract or is there not? Do people not kill each other because the State is stronger, controlled artificially by those in power, a power they wield only for their own selfish benefit? Or can there be something deeper that binds our societies? I would argue that this will be the fundamental question of the future. Increasingly the ties that bind are narrowly religious, while the secular social contract is thinning considerably. That bodes ill for minorities everywhere. It is time to rejuvenate a commitment to social contract beyond religious affiliation, and only then will we be able to deal with differences and grievances. If there is no social contract then every accident, every incident, every piece of clothing, will become a casus belli, a reason to attack and annihilate the ‘other’. We have done better in history, all over the globe. In my latest book, To Make the Earth Whole, I talk at some length about Dora Europus, an ancient Syrian city in which all the religions were respected equally, Roman, Greek, Jewish, Christian, and we have clear evidence that the city was planned with this respect at the core of the architecture. We can do better today. How else can we tackle the decline the planet’s fundamental health if we are too busy attacking each other over stupid differences?
I think the title of this piece is too provocative, but the author points to an important place of tension where the veil is worn by some in the world who are subject to oppression as a result, but in other places it is becoming a weapon against women who would not like to wear the veil. Everywhere I go in the Middle East, women are being pressured with videotapes and comments and innuendo to put on the veil, whether they want to or not. This must be discussed openly as moral problem just as surely as the French must face their own systematic prejudice against those who do choose to wear it.
On Beaches, Intolerance Wears a Veil
By Daniel Williams
An excerpt from the article:
If the issue were only bathing attire — or the gradual disappearance of alcohol from open-air seaside cafes to avoid insults from passing pedestrians — the phenomenon might be just a curiosity. But there are sharper signs of intolerance: increasing Christian-Muslim clashes, unfamiliar to old Alexandrine eyes.
On April 4, a Muslim man was allegedly stabbed by his Coptic Christian landlords in a dispute over garbage collection, according to a July 30 report by the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a human rights watchdog. When the man died the next day, Muslims praying at a mosque in the city’s Karmouz district chanted “they will die” and then trashed Christian-owned stores, the report said.
There have been similar events over the past three years, including one incident in which Muslims stormed homes they said were Coptic churches functioning without government permits. Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, are an indigenous denomination founded in Alexandria around A.D. 61.
The violence is particularly striking in a city whose skyline is dotted by minarets and church steeples and where, at least in the memory of the Alexandrian novelist Ibrahim Abdel Meguid, religion has not always triggered public disputes. He has written two novels of Alexandria’s 20th-century past that reflect a longing for a kind of golden age of diversity.
Another author, Haggag Oddoul, said in an interview: “I wish we could go back to being the city of Cleopatra.”
Link to NYTimes article.© Marc Gopin