Legend has it that the words “Know Thyself” were carved on the entrance to the temple of Apollo in Delphi. For me, understanding my identity has been a life-long quest.
My father was of the last generation born under British colonial rule in the city of Lahore. He left the newly formed state of Pakistan in 1953 to start a new life in the United States, where he met my mother.
My mother’s parents came to the United States before World War I from the Lithuanian Jewish community of Vilna. They settled in the Bronx, where my grandfather took up the practice of law. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, an area with a sizable Jewish community, but otherwise not highly diverse.
I was deemed Jewish under Jewish law, but never received any formal religious instruction.
As an eight-year old child, I lived in Pakistan during the school year while my mother did an academic study of Islamic fundamentalism. We returned to the States in the spring of 1980. In my younger years I held liberal and frankly anti-establishment views and possessed an inchoate sense of alienation from American society. I felt somehow that historic America was not my America, and though I was born an American, perhaps I was not truly American in the way that so many others unquestionably saw themselves.
But at a certain point my views changed dramatically. I came to the realization that values generally identified as “liberal” were often quite the opposite. I also found, ironically, that some of the most misanthropic and cantankerous people you could ever hope to meet turned out to be self-professed “liberals.”
Additionally, I felt that liberalism’s goal was to eliminate the value of individual merit and replace it with a generalized and equally distributed celebration of “diversity.” I did not wish to be treated as an “exotic” to be “celebrated” and protected.
I simply wanted to be held to the same standards that generations of Americans before me had always been held to. Consequently, rather than activism, I chose service. Rather than seeking equality, I embraced competition and learned to expect recognition only for success or alternatively, accountability for failure.
I was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps after law school.
As a Judge Advocate I served in the Iraq War and also later in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.
Ultimately, though I am a man of both Muslim and Jewish ancestry, I chose to be first, always and last an American, unhyphenated.
Still, my underlying identity is organic to who I am.
Thomas Friedman said “when it comes to discussing the Middle East, people go temporarily insane.” For most of my life, this has been my fate. Within me there is a running dialogue, at times raging and at times a dull roar, about the inherent conflict that exists today between Muslims and Jews – a war waged between the clashing emotions of loyalty and betrayal.
From an early age the historical oppression of Jews was personal to me, and I have always felt an emotive connection to Israel. Over the years, I have tried to see both sides of the conflict. I have tried to place myself into the shoes of the Palestinian people, who are predominantly Sunni Muslims, like my father. I have attempted to see the merit in what appears to be at times global obsessive condemnation of Israel. I have seen many Jews who oppose Israel, and attempted to give myself permission to do the same. Yet I cannot.
At the heart of Israel, I see an expression of desire, after centuries of precarious existence and near extinction, to finally survive and live a life with dignity in a sovereign Jewish state in a small piece of land with a long-standing historical connection.
On the other hand, whether it was the initial Arab invasion in 1948 and subsequent Arab-Israeli wars, or recast as “resistance,” I see the Palestinian cause as little more than pure, unyielding rejection of the entire Jewish state. I see bigots and anti-Semites are eagerly welcomed into the cause and offered moral cover for their beliefs. Most discouragingly I see an inescapable pattern in which the Palestinian people seem to believe that they can achieve victory through defeat.
Thus, even at a cost of tremendous loss of life and infrastructure and a dream of peace deferred for many generations, the Palestinians have an abiding faith that the Jewish state will inexorably be crushed through global isolation, isolation which diminishes Israel’s ability to defend itself ultimately, to the vanishing point.
This rejectionist ideology is nurtured by the global Left, but more importantly, it is fueled by Arab and Muslim revanchism that runs so deep that the Palestinians could not agree to peaceful coexistence with Israel even if they wanted to.
Still, I believe there is a way forward.
No state has ever been “argued” out of existence. Neither biblical claims nor the Holocaust are required to justify Israel’s right to exist. The fact of Israel’s existence, in and of itself, is sufficient and equal in moral stature to the right of any other sovereign state in the world to exist. In this, there is reason to stand firm. Moreover, Jews should recognize that Islam played a vital role in keeping Judaism alive during some of the darkest periods of European history. The change of political climate in the Middle East presents an opportunity for Israel to connect with Muslim populations that have been oppressed by the very regimes that have also historically opposed Israel. Preserving the cultural ties and goodwill that once existed between Jews and Muslims will greatly facilitate this process.
Finally, Jewish religious authorities might wish to reconsider the importance of making conversion more accessible and welcoming to non-Jews. Without Judaism, Israel would have no past; without ensuring the growth of Judaism, it will have no future.
The poet Rumi stated, “I know not myself, I am neither a Christian, nor a Jew, nor a Zoroastrian, nor a Muslim.”
The words of the bard have echoed throughout my life.
I have little choice but to hold fast to the hope that Jews and Muslims will one day draw greater inspiration from their common ground as children of the Patriarch Abraham than they do from their fear and hatred, and we will all at last know peace.
The author is a lawyer, follow him on twitter: @DeanHMalik.