"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

“The Other”

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I was reviewing a paper a friend wrote, that dealt with the theme of “the other”, in particular how culturally we are polarized to regard certain groups as “the other” – a source of danger, fear and uncleanliness.

I threw that last term in, unclean, as much of what I read about “the other”, in our present day it is the terrorist, usually a Muslim, sounds an awful lot like the unclean/clean discussions that take place throughout the Old Testament. Hebrew ideas of purity are very complex, but have a fundamental bias against things (and people) who are ‘unclean’, as these represent a danger to the Israelite. The danger, becoming impure, can be a literal life or death matter, and certainly would involve isolation from the community as a minimum. This dynamic is one of the reasons you have to listen to the parables of Jesus with a Jewish ear, as the undoing of the Hebrew purity laws are one of the main thrusts of his ministry (for example, the Good Samaritan, the priest and the Levite both bypass the wounded man out of concern for maintaining their ritual purity…they select adherence to the Law, Torah, over love).

There is a long history of use of “the other” particularly by governments in order to mobilize public opinion. Some of the popular discussion in World War II around Germans and Japanese, and the internment of Japanese Canadians during WWII are good examples. I see some echoes of that today, particularly as we discuss our attitudes toward the terrorists in the Middle East.

Even that term, ‘terrorist’ contains an intrinsic aspect of “the other”. When we like the goal of the terrorists, we instead call them freedom fighters…as we did with the Afghans who were warring against the great red menance of the Soviet Union. Now those same fighters are terrorists, as they seek to kill Westerners. This is not to argue some relative ethic that places all such fighters on the same ruler, but just to point out a part of our reaction to them includes either welcome, or branding them “the other”, different, dangerous.

I find myself reacting this way, and in some reflection on Omar Kadhr’s case, I have been asking myself why I react differently to these individuals as opposed to the German soldiers who were trying to kill several of my great uncles. Why were those Germans noble warriors, perhaps following a misguided or even evil regime, but still warriors, but the Afghan fighter now is “the other”? This is a challenging question, as I suspect it goes to the root of a number of my own deep beliefs about righteous warfare.

I heard a commentator speak about Omar Kadhr and disassemble many of Romeo Dallaire’s concerns about his case…child soldier, imprisoned Canadian citizen, etc. The commentatory argued that Kadhr should not be considered a child soldier as he did not fit the mold of a ‘typical’ child soldier. This made me laugh. Child soldiers are by definition irregular fighters, there is no real ‘typical’. He said Kadhr had not been kidnapped, drugged and brutalized to convert him into a mindless fighter…no, but he had been conditioned by his rather radical family from an early age and placed there, in combat, by them. Is he at age 15 somehow more responsible than other 15 year old soldiers? It all seems quite inconsistent to me, and makes me suspect that because Kadhr has been branded “the other”, none of the usual rules apply.

It struck me a bit later on, that I was a child soldier, by modern definition, when I enrolled in the Canadian Forces in 1983.  I joined at age 17 and required my parent’s permission to enroll.  While I was in school for the first 4 years, I could have been sent to war if the need arose (the military colleges having been emptied out during past World Wars when the need arose).  We do not, however, permit 15 year olds to join under any circumstance – even with parent’s permission.

It is a dangerous attitude, and one contrary to Christian teaching. “The other” is a concept that ceased to exist in the new covenant, and no Jew or Greek, free or slave, means exactly that, there remains no category of personhood that can be defined as “the other” (which includes radical and fundamentalist atheists like Richard Dawkins). We simply don’t have the option to dispense with individuals or groups by branding them somehow outside of the true community. This is, of course, a favorite past-time of some Christian groups as it brings them some sense of safety and power by identifying that they are not “the other”.

Torah contains prescriptions for how you fairly deal with the ‘gar’, the foreigner who lives in your land.  Because they were not under the covenant, they were vulnerable, but were protected by the Law.  That need is blown apart after the New Covenant.  I guess you could read that the New Covenant only applies to those who are a part of the Christian community, but I do not see that those teachings are so restrictive (Christ did not come to create a whole new crop of “the other”, but to destroy all divisions once and for all).

I’m unresolved on the question still, but I continue to wonder why it is that I have no problem meeting a German WW II veteran as a fellow warrior, but find that the terrorists of Afghanistan don’t inspire the same level of respect. This perhaps says far more about me, than it does about them.

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Written by sameo416

August 7, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] Discussing the other in My first post […]


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