By Fedwa Wazwaz, Engage Minnesota
Security is a two-way street. None of us can be secure at the expense of another’s insecurity.
What is security and how do we find it?
A sense of security—in our families, our homes, and our communities—is a basic human need and a human right. None of us is ever completely safe from the unpredictable dangers of our world. At any moment, a storm might blow up, or another driver might lose control of their car. But we do need to feel reasonably protected in our relationships with others, both near and far. We need to feel that the other drivers of this world are staying in their lanes.
What is reasonable protection? Does our security mean building an enormous Humvee, or blocking other drivers from using the road? The concept of “security” can easily become distorted, driving us into an aggressive “security” that makes us progressively less secure.
How do we tell the difference between a real security, with everyone staying in their lane, and a false one, where we prevent other drivers from using a public road? The first thing to consider is whether our security is looking out for “me” or whether it’s interested in the protection of the collective “we.” Only the second one pushes us toward coexistence.
With false security, an individual or community insists on its own security but doesn’t have any concern for the security of others—nor in how one’s sense of security was gained. False security is, for instance, when a middle-class White community is concerned about their own safety but not that of neighboring African-Americans. Or when Israelis allow only Jewish settlers onto certain roads.
Real security happens when everyone in an interconnected set of relationships—local or international—is concerned about healthy boundaries for coexistence. Real security is the protection of “we,” as when one person is insecure, ultimately we’re all insecure. Eventually, those who are insecure are going to rise up.
No, I don’t sleep at night
Concerning ourselves with security for all is not about charity—it’s about common sense. A former Israeli Prime Minister, was once asked how he sleeps at night, seeing as he was contributing to a system that was making the Palestinians very insecure. He responded that he doesn’t sleep at night, and that he’s always worried. This is the same when countries drop thousands of bombs on Yemen, Gaza, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Security is a two-way street. None of us can be secure at the expense of another’s insecurity. We need to see that everybody in a network of relationships is treated fairly and equally before there can be real security.
In an earlier chapter, I wrote about a woman who was being abused by her husband and in-laws. She was feeling insecure and transgressed upon mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. For that reason, she was struggling with anger and hatred.
There are many possible outcomes here. Certainly, no one is safe: There are cases where a woman was so abused that her hatred was turned on her abuser.
Even in this situation, inequality doesn’t justify a violent response. But if one party in a relationship is insecure, then it’s likely there will be conflict. In any situation where one party is secure and privileged and the others aren’t, the others are going to want to rebel and to give back what was given to them.
Rationalizing inequality away
It’s often hard to see ourselves as the oppressor. It’s very easy to rationalize away our actions in the name of security for ourselves and our children. Even Pharaoh said that he was trying to secure and defend his country.
But there is a way to think through the situation without just relying on our feelings about security. First, we have to ask about a given relationship: What are each person’s rights? Then: What are each person’s responsibilities? For instance, Israelis and Palestinians both want to feel secure. But what are each party’s rights under international law? Which rights are being transgressed?
A person might feel insecure even while driving down a private road, in a Humvee, defended by armed guards. But security cannot be boiled down to emotion. It’s about rights and laws.
Indeed, one of the biggest obstacles to having a dialogue about security is that many of us—in these discussions—are driven by our emotions.
Security means accepting difference
The solution is not to say that we’re all alike—that we can allow African-Americans into “our” bubble of security, or Muslim-Americans, because “they’re just like us.” Security also means accepting differences. The solution to a fear of immigrants, or African-Americans, or the impoverished, is not to force the outsiders to show how they are just like “us.” It’s to say: We’re all different, and that’s OK.
We will find our security when we can nurture good leaders.
The Qur’an tells the story of Bilqis, Queen of Sheba, who faced a society that had made the worst people who violate their own values as leaders of society while its nobles, they stripped from power and influence. Yet Bilqis was very intelligent. She gained her position through respect, and eventually all the Chiefs or influential men turned to her to make decisions. She nurtured society to better know themselves. She worked on society as a whole recognizing the rights of all.
In the same way, the way we must deal with our insecurities is to nurture society. Although “security” fears in the US are currently being targeted at the Muslim community, we shouldn’t just be concerned about fellow Muslims. I could try to prove that even though I wear a hijab, I’m just like a “normal American.” But then the fear is transferred from me to Mexican immigrants, or to a Syrian family that’s just arriving in the US. Instead of protecting any particular group, we need to challenge America to accept difference and recognize the rights of people who are different and to see them as human beings with human rights.
The land of the Midian was not a paradise—they also had problems. But when Moses arrived there, they were receptive of him and his difference. We must nurture America to receive immigrants without fear. After all, disenfranchised groups, when given voice and space, are transformed into groups that can enrich and contribute to society as they have enriched America for hundreds of years.
This is an excerpt from a forthcoming book, currently titled Reflections of Faith: Lessons from the Prophets.
Fedwa Wazwaz is a Palestinian-American born in Jerusalem, Palestine and raised in the US. She is a public speaker and writer and lives in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.
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