As prejudice and fear make objective facts irrelevant, how can we still manage our differences?
When has truth ever mattered where people’s prejudices were involved and their sense of security was on the line? Fear and prejudice trump all other considerations, and since they are perennial traits of our common humanity, the challenge is never about finding ways to eradicate them but to cope with their too logical consequence, namely: the irrelevance of truth, of facts which, no matter how objective they happen to be, often fail to alter our perceptions of unfolding events. Indeed, we are condemned forever to see and understand things differently. This is our curse and, on occasions, it may also be a blessing. But no matter how we view or choose to deal with it, this is always our destiny.
Then again, we don’t really need to agree on a common narration for any historical event, or even on our raison d’être. Such expectation is the product of a deeply fundamentalist and puritanical mindset, one that could only pave the way to conflicts, often violent ones.
What we need to ensure not only our survival but our prosperity as well is not a common narration, vision or philosophy, but a set of mutually agreed rules and boundaries to govern our various interactions with each other, both as individuals and groups, as well as with the various institutions, public and private, that are expected to represent us and/or work for our interests, and, finally, with the world around us, including our physical environment. Every other consideration is secondary in this regard.
“People have to accept the inevitability of settling for something that might be far less than a full incarnation of their vision in this world.”
But this challenge, as simple as it seems, will continue to prove daunting so long as so many of us remain committed to visions that seek to shape the entire world in their image, and impose their particularistic narration, values and interests on everybody else.
People have to accept the inevitability of settling for something that might be far less than a full incarnation of their vision in this world. Islamists might want to see their country ruled in accordance with Islamic Law, but since every Muslim-majority state is actually divided on the issue, and not simply on account of the existence of religious minorities, but as a reflection of the diversity of opinions and expectations of so many people and groups within the majority Muslim community itself, the Islamists, if they are not interested in living in a state of constant warfare with their fellow citizens, have to settle for accepting a different arrangement for fulfilling their vision: rather than seeking the establishment of an Islamic state, perhaps they could settle for the creation of locally and globally interconnected Islamic networks and institutions where membership is voluntary, and people have the right to join and leave in accordance with certain agreed guidelines. This may not be the ideal situation for them, but it is the only way to keep the peace, and allow for development. The alternative is continuous warfare – something that ISIS and Al-Qaeda members might accept, but most Islamists may yet see the wisdom of not pushing things in this direction.