On Conflict, Resolution and Education

Monday Musings for Monday August 5, 2013

Volume III, No. 29/132


Clockwise from top left: Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
John Keats,  William Wordsworth,
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas Jefferson.

Some Thoughts on Arab-Israeli Conflict

Luncheon with a Friend 


Thomas Jefferson the “Education” President

 By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

The flurries of activities by the US Secretary of State to bring the Arab and Israeli factions together are to be commended. John Kerry, the closest we can offer as a statesman, is highly qualified to undertake this onerous task. His background, experience and temperament are aligned to make a miracle happen. Here are some thoughts:

Abram of Ur was called upon by the Lord to change his name from Abram to Abraham (Genesis 17). Then he was given the responsibility to become the patriarch of the nations of Jews, Christians and Moslems. Abraham was a man of absolute faith and obedience, passing the test by obeying the command of Yahweh to sacrifice his son Isaac. As a prophet and a patriarch he was unsurpassed.  But as a father he was a failure. He raised two sons, Ishmael and Isaac who from childhood were at each other’s throats. Ishmael gathered his friends in a tight network of tribal unity and formed what later became the Arab nation. Isaac, too, gathered his friends and entourage to form a group that became the Israeli nation. The two brothers competed and maligned each other, and their tribe and followers began a war which continued the mutual enmity while Abraham was still alive. This was the beginning of the Arab Israeli conflict- failure of a father to bring two errant sons together and correct their ways. So, Arabs and Israelis are first cousins with the same DNA and genomes. The killing and hatred continues after more than three thousand years. This is a stain on the toga of humanity. Abraham taught his followers faith. The formidable bishop of Hippo, Saint Augustine (354-420), furthered Abrahamic faith in his more than five million words, especially in books such as City of God, and The Confessions. And Martin Luther in 1519 summarized his objection to Papacy by inscribing and promulgating his famous logo, sole fide, solo scriptura (by faith alone, by scripture alone) furthering the substance of Imitatio Christi (imitating Christ). Islam, a religion brought by Prophet Mohammad PBWH, in 620 AD, further fulfilled Abraham’s message of submission to the will of God (Islam means to submit and Muslim means one who is submitted to the will of God). The damage inflicted by those two brothers continues to confound the world community.

In our lifetime we have seen many US presidents trying to resolve the conflict. We all recall President Carter who brought  the late President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, and the late Prime Minister of Israel,  Menachem Begin, within inches of signing an accord to bring the Arab-Israeli conflict to a resolution, without success. Other presidents including Clinton concentrated on the matter. Always, like the myth of Tantalus, the fruit has been only inches away but never reachable. Now it is President Obama’s turn, working through his Secretary of State John Kerry.

Some of the reasons for the past failures:

The world community’s perception that the US has treated Israel as the favorite child and the Arab nations as step-children is undeniable. Not long ago, I was astounded at a leading US Presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, who in a major speech stated that “Palestinians are ‘invented’ people”. The gentleman who taught history should have known better. I wrote then:  “I am not a Palestinian, and am not defending the position of Palestine in the current territorial war. However, for the sake of historical accuracy, may I be permitted to remind candidate Gingrich that Palestinians were there since Abram of Ur. Palestinians were there before Moses spoke to Yahweh on Mount Sinai at the sight of the burning bush. Palestinians were there before Zarathustra proclaimed monotheism. Palestinians were there before Prophet Mohammad brought his message of Islam in 610 AD. And Palestinians were there before the birth of Magna Carta on Dec. 28, 1215. 

Palestinians along with Sumerians are the “parents” of civilization, laws and what Pico Della Mirandola in his “Oration to the Dignity of Man” called the imperative responsibility of man to history. I suggested then that “candidate Gingrich ought to polish up his knowledge of ancient history and perhaps take a 101 course on the origins of Western Civilization.

 Letter to a Friend

Dear Friend:

I believe it was on a Thursday, Thursday June 23, 1814 to be exact, that two old friends, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, got together, no, not in a restaurant in Raleigh, but somewhere in Malta. They took a two mile leisurely walk (Coleridge had moved to Malta for health reasons) visiting and reminiscing on old times, and vigorously discussing the state of romantic poetry; John Keats, Percy Shelley, and Shelley’s buddy, Gordon Byron; metaphysics, addiction (Coleridge was addicted to opium), genera, species, fauna and flora, nightmares and depression (melancholia),  first and second degree consciousness, geopolitics of the day, the sad state of education in British Isles, fecundity of banal ideas of French writers who were blindly following Napoleon, and other philosophical matters…My reading of that meeting does not tell me if the pair arrived at any solutions…It occurs to me in the hour we had together on Thursday June 23, 2013, exactly two hundred and nine years after the meeting of Wordsworth and Coleridge, you and I touched upon many of the same topics, which in addition included love and the warmth of family life. Like Wordsworth and Coleridge, I do not believe if we came up with any solutions either!…I look forward to more visits in the future.

 Thomas Jefferson, the Education President

Thomas Jefferson, in my view, the only “education” president in our 235 years, in a letter/treatise written in the early 1780’s expressed his concerns about the education of America’s children. He suggested that to have an effective experience in transferring knowledge, it takes a student willing to learn, a teacher competent and knowledgeable willing to teach, and a safe place to conduct the activity. He did not say you have to have a super-bloated bureaucracy, marble palaces to house the bureaucrats, and untold number of three- piece- suited, briefcase carrying consultants to effect the transfer of knowledge. He did not say anything about the role of the federal government and all the “federal government titles” glibly rolled off the tongues of the consultants and the bureaucrats, and he did not say anything about per pupil spending as a measure of success. The public school ratings of several states with the highest per pupil spending including New York, Washington, DC, and California are in the basement. I do not understand why we continue to throw money at all the social ills and that includes education. We really need some revolutionary and critical thinking to re-design the educational system in this country and go back to what Thomas Jefferson prescribed. While I respect and empathize with the plight of our teachers and their threatened employment, I think the entire system is bloated, inefficient and in many instances, counterproductive.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.


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