Seeking Better Solutions

When I look at the line-up of articles this month, I’m reminded that Truth is complex. The best solutions to difficult problems take a major investment of time, funds, and ingenuity—not to mention goodwill—in order to make a real difference. Months ago, when we were involved in the preparation of an article on the impending war with Iraq, I’d already begun to correspond with Paul Barker. I knew he was a Quaker and also the country director in Afghanistan for CARE International. What was it like, I wondered, for a committed Quaker to work on the ground in a country that had gone through the upheavals of the Taliban, the sheltering of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida, and then the U.S. bombing and subsequent change of government following 9/11? If ever our Peace Testimony were to be tested under difficult circumstances, it seemed to me that this would be it. So I invited Paul to write for us on how his Quaker values inform the work he does and the life he leads—and to comment on how he believes the global community might help to achieve a better result in a society such as Afghanistan. He responded, in good Quaker fashion, with "Queries from Afghanistan" (p. 6).

I met Stanley Zarowin during my years of work in New York Yearly Meeting, never suspecting the complexity of his origins. A Jew born in Palestine a decade before the formation of Israel, Stanley emigrated during his youth to the U.S. and eventually became a Quaker and leader in New York Yearly Meeting. This past February he returned to the land of his birth as part of a pastoral visit for 26 Quaker leaders organized by Friends United Meeting. In the past, Friends Journal has received criticism for its coverage of Middle East issues. Valid concerns have been raised that our coverage has been more about the suffering of the Palestinians and peacemaking efforts in the West Bank and Gaza. Our focus is always "Quaker Thought and Life Today," and it has been difficult to surface a Quaker perspective on the fear and pain of the Israeli people. It is our belief that Stanley Zarowin’s article, "A Visit to Israel by a Quaker Jew Born in Palestine" (p.16), asks good questions and brings a more balanced perspective to considering the issues of this troubled land. He is willing to explore the ambiguities and contradictions he encounters, and to offer both criticism and compassion in response to the people he met and the circumstances in which he found himself, including some thoughtful concerns about how Friends conduct themselves in that region.

This month it has been two years since the tragic events of 9/11. Our nation has spent and will continue to spend billions on armed intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq, in addition to huge sums on homeland security and surveillance of Muslims in the U.S. How much closer are we today to a secure and peaceful world, not just for the U.S., but for the entire world? The two articles noted above and others with an international focus in this issue underscore the importance of keeping our minds and channels of communication open. We begin to make progress when we cease to demonize other groups of people and find ways to appeal to our common humanity, difficult though that may be. Such work must be thoughtful, strategic, innovative, and planned and executed for the long haul. As Paul Barker notes, if but a small fraction of the resources we pour into military operations and the rebuilding they necessitate were spent on the kinds of work done by relief, diplomatic, peacemaking, and humanitarian agencies, what miracles might we bring about? Isn’t it time to try a different approach?