This image caught my eye, in the coverage of Egypt’s unrest:
It was taken by Scott Nelson for The New York Times, and appeared in the slideshow of images on January 28, 2011.
And these words:
During the fighting outside the mosque, the crowd chanted “salmiya, salmiya,” which means “peaceful.” A man in a striped shirt came forward and knelt in front of the truck.
The police massed behind their shields, clutching their batons, but did not strike.
In a sign of flagging resolve, the police began to retreat and then stopped fighting entirely. It was unclear whether this was an ordered police retreat or a spontaneous, and disorganized, reaction to the situation.
After the two-hour street battle ended, protesters and police officers shook hands on the same street corner where minutes before they were exchanging volleys of stones, and tear-gas canisters were arcing through the sky.
Riot police officers and kaffiyeh-wearing youths smiled and shared water bottles as piles of tires still burned. Then thousands lined the coastal road, the gentle green waves of the Mediterranean Sea at their backs, as they got on their knees and prayed.
My struggles are quiet (too quiet?), personal (too personal?), private (too private?) for the most part. Even when I engage larger-scale issues — resisting racism, white privilege, heterosexism — it is typically on a small scale, with writing or conversation rather than activism or heroics. And yet, how often do I stop in the midst of the struggle to share water with the one I struggle with? How often do I stop and simply pray?
Not often enough.
“But we are all Egyptians …” are the words on the lips of students and soldiers alike, a puzzled recognition that what is held in common should lead to commonweal: common well-being.
“But we are all human beings,” I want to say to those I struggle with, those who hear me and those who don’t. What unites us is so much greater than what separates us. Our inability to see our common humanity and common ground is heart-breaking.
I don’t want to be made the enemy. I don’t want to make enemies. I want to be able to get on my knees and stay there long enough that when I stand there is peace in my heart. A peace that can withstand (stand with) the news from as far as Uganda and Arizona, from as near as my own hometown and my own bruised heart.
It’s hard work being humans together. I’m no Pollyanna about that. But I am a person who can try to remember what I’ve seen of Egypt today: kneel in prayer if you want to stand in peace.
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PS: On the Ugandan front, the United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns offers this idea: contact the Ugandan embassy in Washington to demand that Kato’s murderers be brought to justice and that the government assure the safety of all citizens in Uganda regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Copies of these letters should be sent to the U.S. Department of State.
His Excellency Prof. Perezi K. Kamunanwire
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Embassy of the Republic of Uganda
5911 16th Street NW
Washington, DC 20011
Assistant Secretary Michael H. Posner
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520