Wednesday, September 20, 2006

We All Need to See or Read the Classic German Play NATHAN, THE WISE by G. E. Lessing

On my flight back to Kuwait on the German airlines, Lufthansa, I brought along a German language copy of the 18th Century classic theater play by Gotthold Ephraem. Lessing, called Nathan der Weise (“NATHAN the WISE”). I had seen the play nearly 20 years ago in Wuppertal, Germany and had loved the precepts of this Enlightenment-era piece. With the recent (1) boondoggle by the Pope in Regensburg, Germany in quoting crusader- era leadership and (2) the subsequent backlash of misunderstanding in the Islamic world this past September 2006, it is about time that most peace-seeking citizens (of whatever faith) work on the tolerance preached in and carried out by the main characters at the end of this wonderful work of Lessing’s on Muslims, Christians and Jews set in Jerusalem just after the 3rd Crusade.

The play, Nathan the Wise, (first performed in 1779) is almost as old as the United States itself but far too few Americans either have seen about or hear of this play. Lessing situates this drama in a period of truce with the Great Saladin in the seat of power. As backdrop of the tale, Saladin is apparently seeking to negotiate a marriage between his family and that of Richard the Lionhearted. This was intended to create conditions for a more permanent peace in the region. However, it needs to be stated that Richard does not otherwise play any visible role in the drama at all. However, this idea of marriage among peoples of different faiths is not only a backdrop to the whole work of Lessing’s.


The play begins with the return home of Nathan , a Jew, to Jerusalem from a lengthy business journey to Baghdad. Upon his arrival, Nathan discovers that there had almost been a fatal fire in his home. The girl, whom Nathan has been raising in his house as if she is his own daughter, is almost killed in the blaze, but a Knights Templer saved her from the flames in the last moment.

Nathan seeks to meet with and reward the young Templer knight, but the young man refuses to even shake Nathan’s hand indicating he, a fanatical fundamentalist Christian, dislikes Jews, and the Templer had not even known (nor cared) that he was rescuing a Jewess. The brash young knight was simply carrying out a command (or oath) from his order of knights to rescue those who are in trouble.

However, both Nathan’s tolerance and good nature wear down the young knight’s hardened surface and resistance. The Templer finally agrees to visit the home of Nathan and receive thanks from Nathan’s “daughter”, Daga. Fascinatingly, this same Templer had himself been the benefactor of great tolerance and had been rescued from execution by the Muslim leader, Saladin, only a few days earlier.

Saladin had observed this young Templer in prison. He had been arrested with other rebellious Templers for treason, but Saladin had decided that any young man--who looked as much like his very own long-lost brothe, Assad, as this particular Templer did--need not be executed. Not only was the rebellious young Templer not executed by the Muslim commander who controlled the city of Jerusalem, but the Great Saladin also pardoned the Templer of all his crimes as well. Days after being set free from the gallows to walk the streets of the city, this same lucky Templer had come upon the burning home Nathan and rescued the wealthy Jew’s “daughter”.

In short, God seemed to be working special and mysterious things in this young Templer’s life. This is why the Christian patriarchs were, in the meantime, keeping an eye on this young Templer and his activities in Jerusalem.

To make a long story short, later when the Templer met Nathan’s “daughter”, Daja, he falls in love with the beauty. His heart burns with love, but he feels ashamed because he had been raised in a prejudiced Catholic Europe to believe that Jews—like Muslims—were the enemy of his God and faith.

Confused by his own feelings for the young women, the Templer begs leave of Nathan’s household and runs out.


Later, however, in the streets outside the Templer is first followed and then approached by Daga’s nanny, a Christian born in Switzerland but hired by Nathan to help raise the “daughter”. The nanny reveals that the so-called “daughter”, Daga, is not really Nathan’s daughter but was baptized Christian long ago. Nathan is simply raising the girl as his daughter.

This report from Daga’s nanny horrifies the earnest Templer. He is angered that a Jew would take a Christian orphan and raise her as if she was his very own.

With this hateful feeling grwoing in his heart, the young Templer goes to meet officials from the church and receives advice as to what to do about this act of blasphemy carried out on Daga, i.e. against a Christian child of God. The Church patriarch indicates that if what he claims as fact is indeed true, then the Jew (Nathan) must be cruelly executed for his sin and crime against the Lord.

Meanwhile, it is revealed that nearly a generation earlier, poor Nathan had returned home to Jerusalem from another lengthy business journey to find that a horrible pogrom against Jews had just taken place in that Holy City. Nathan’s own wife and his seven children had been murdered.

It was in this very period of mourning that a friend and Christian soldier, calling himself Wolf von Filnek, had asked Nathan to take care of his child as he was preparing to go off to battles to the north and east. Subsequently, Nathan had sought to raise the child, Daja, as best he could. Meanwhile, Wolf von Filnek had died in battle far away.


Over the decades of his life, Nathan has not only become extremely wise but wealthy as well. (So, there are people in Jerusalem who certainly would like to have a hand in his fortune if there were another pogrom.) Therefore, Saladin, who is low on wealth but looking for a way to offer a dowry to the family of Richard the Lionhearted to set up a marriage involving Saladin’s own sister, decides to invite Nathan to his house in order to borrow capital from the famed “Nathan the Wise”.

Along the way to Saladin, Nathan gets a hunch as to why the leader wishes to see him, i.e. to borrow some money, but when Nathan arrives, he is surprised at the first question which Saladin asks. Saladin asks him a question of faith and belief in order to test this famed Jew’s wisdom.

Saladin asks the man, nicknamed “Nathan the Wise”, which religion is the true religion: Christian, Jewish or Islam? He adds that it is too illogical or too relativist to think that they all could be correct, isn’t it?

Nathan responds carefully by telling the classic “ring parable”, which begins as follows:

There was a certain family who ruled a great kingdom. The family had a tradition of giving a certain priceless ring to the most virtuous son of each generation to wear. In other words, the chosen son had to demonstrate as he grew up that he was living and practicing a, honest, loving, just, and noble life.

Of all the sons of any family patriarch, only that son would become the next head of the family if he was able to live such a virtuous life. In this way each generation prospered more than the other and the kingdom and virtue of its leadership became renowned. There was rarely any squabble over succession to such leadership. At the end of his life, the patriarch would pass the ring on to the son of his choosing who he observed to be living an honest, loving, just, and noble life.

This tradition had gone on several centuries, when finally one patriarch bearing the precious ring of leadership reached a stalemate of sorts. That is, this particular father had great difficulty in determining which of his three sons was the most noble, fairly, loving, and just. They all seemed be living faithful and fair lives.

On any one day the old patriarch would think, “Ah, this is the son who shall receive the ring and take over the leadership of the household for our great family!”

However, the next day, this same father would think, “No, that is the son who should take over and get the ring!”

Within a few days, the old man would change his mind again and voice his opinion favoring the third son.

This stalemate in the old man’s heart went on for over a year. Finally, the old man decided to secretly have two more identical rings made.

The second and third rings could not be told apart from the original one--even by the patriarch himself who had worn it.

Subsequently, the old man smiled and called in each of those three sons individually. The, the patriarch quietly presented each son with a ring and asked each not to reveal to anyone else his decision to give the ring to him until the old man had passed away and had been buried.

Naturally, after the old patriarch was buried, chaos broke out in the household as each son claimed to be heir to leadership of the home and property. Each showed hisidentical ring to all the others.

There was fighting and yelling.

Finally, all three took the matter to a judge—who at first wanted to throw the whole matter out. The judge said, “Only the father could tell which son lived the most faithful and virtuous life and who had the right to take over the kingdom.”

Finally, after continued dispute, the judge announced a decision of sorts, “Whoever follows the traditions of their law, faith, and father—including the trait of brotherly-love—to the fullest should inherent the leadership in the kingdom.”
Saladin clapped at the parable and bowed to Nathan’s wise reply to is difficult question as to the one-true faith.


At the end of the play, Nathan the Wise, it is revealed by the main character, Nathan, that not only had the daughter been adopted at a young age, but the young Knights Templer who had been adopted as well. The Templer had been raised in Europe by different relatives before returning to Jerusalem with the most recent crusade.

Therefore both, Daja and the young Templer were the adopted children from the same father, a Palestinian, who went by two names. This particular Palestinian had been born in the Muslim world as Saladin’s very own brother, named Assad.

Assad had also taken on the name of Wolf von Filnek. It was this von Filnek who had originally given up his baby child to be raised by a monk in the Sinai desert before going off to war. That monk had, in turn, passed Daja on to Nathan after the murder of all his other family members.

Meanwhile, it was through an unnamed female member of the von Stauffen family from Germany into which the young Templer was brought into the world. His uncle, Conrad von Stauffen, had later taken the boy to be raised on the European continent.

In short, it turns out that before God, we are one mixed-up family of Jews, Muslims and Christians.

Let’s learn to live out our living faiths before God and community! “Whoever follows the traditions of their law, faith, and father—including the trait of brotherly-love—to the fullest should inherent the leadership in the kingdom.”


Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Book Review: OUR ENDANGERED VALUES by Jimmy Carter

This past summer, I had a chance to read Jimmy Carter's Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis. I recommend it to all Americans to read--especially younger Americans who cannot recall there was a time when U.S. Presidents gave more than lip-service to issues like peace, democracy and human rights. By knowing or recognizing what has been lost, especially over the past six years, (or is being lost) one can better strive towards recovering from the current off-course direction that has world opinion rating America and American government lower than at any previous time in the previous 230 years.

Here are a list of some of the values and standards Carter claims have been rejected and neglected in recent years:

[1] Power and influence are to be used for advancement of peace for others as well as ourselves.
[2] In addition, other uses for power and influence include:
--promoting "economic and social justice"
--raising "high the banner of freedom and human rights"
--protecting "the quality of our environment"
--alleviating "human suffering"
--enhancing "the rule of law", and
--cooperating "with other peoples to reach these common goals".
[3]Media and government are expected to provide its citizens "with accurate information, treating dissenting voices and beliefs with respect, and accommodating free and open debate on controversial issues."
[4] National politicians support state and local autonomy as well.
[5] All politicians are expected to attempt "to control deficit spending", avoid "foreign adventurism", minimize "long-term peacekeeping commitments", preserve "the separation of church and state", and protect "civil liberties and personal privacy".

Throughout this book, Carter also pointed again at the lack of courtesy and tolerance in the national and international debates which Americans and their government find themselves in globally. In multicultural America, he particular laid the blame for this downturn in tolerance in the U.S. at the feet of fundamentalist Christian leadership, like Pat Robertson, who have been more bent on creating among their followers a fifth-column of likeminded spouters of party-line rather than promoting brotherly love and real dialogue of any ecumenical nature.

Carter notes that Washington has changed so much since the 1970s when he worked so often with across the aisle with Republicans. He says that now "almost every issue decided on a strictly partisan basis. Probing public debate on key legislative decisions is almost a thing of the past. Basic agreements are made between lobbyists and legislative leaders, often within closed party caucuses where rigid discipline is paramount. Even personal courtesies, which had been especially cherished in the U.S. Senate, are no longer considered to be sacrosanct. This deterioration in harmony, cooperation, and collegiality in the Congress is, at least in part, a result of the rise of fundamentalist tendencies and their religious and political impact."


Throughout his work, Carter focuses on the short-term problems in the U.S. and in its U.S. foreign policy. So, sadly, Carter does little apologizing for any of his foreign policy foibles during his own presidency--either in the Middle East (Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan) or in Central America (Nicaragua) in the 1970s.

On the other hand, over the last 3 decades Mr. Carter has become more and more astute at anticipating problems and offering to help settle political fires before they do more damages. In this recent book, published at the very end of 2005, Ex-president Carter noted that he had been planning to go meet with the head of Syria in November of that year to persuade the Syrian leadership to become more supportive of the Middle East peace process.

However, Carter relates that as his departure date for Syria approached in November 2005, the George W. Bush White House began to call him up and asked him specifically not to go to Syria at that time. In retrospect, such official isolation of the Syrian government by the U.S. eventually (certainly) helped lead to the Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006. This destructive Israeli-Lebanese War saw a billion dollars of destruction and thousands of casualties before the U.S. state department finally called on Syria to intervene in order to promote a cease fire.

In short, through his actions and words, Carter represents an America which is willing to rationally look at the world and reach out to many other lands—regardless of ideology—to attain and maintain peace. This contrasts significantly with the failed confrontational and go-it-alone-against-the-world of U.S. policies throughout the 2001-2006 era.

Further, one of Carters other main goals is to persuade Americans to stop allowing themselves to get runover by the Bush Administration and out-of-control fundamentalists. He says it is time for us all to fight for tolerance and support all of our endangered values, such as (1) giving up our cherished liberties and(2)making unnecessary wars on peoples preemptively.

Thanks, Jimmy, for speaking up AGAIN!


Monday, September 11, 2006

RABINOWITZ TRIES TO SINK RADIO PROGRAM'S OBJECTIVE: Calling BBC and NPR --- 9-11 Memories and Discussion

In the run-up to the 5th anniversary commemorations of the 9-11-01 commemorations in the United States and around the world, on Saturday evening September 9, 2006, both National Public Radio (NPR) in the U.S.A. and the BBC in London ran a combined program interviewing so-called experts and callers from around the world.

This was done with cooperation of a radio talk program out of Massachusetts called ON-POINT. The two hours of world-wide radio discussion were intended to promote good dialogue, but through their selection of one so-called expert, Dorothy Rabinowitz, the program certainly left a bad taste in the mouth of most listeners who were expecting a more balanced set of discussants.

As most callers from the U.S. and other nationals stated that they have been concerned with the hysteria and direction of America in the world in the post 9-11 era, Rabinowitz replied in opposition to their real concerns about human rights and foreign policies by saying: “Some people think the world is flat, too.”

Rabinowitz, who has written for and has been on the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, went out of the way to not promote real introspection on events in the world leading up to the biggest attack on a singularly civilian population in American history. Further, she seemed to promote a W. Bush and Israeli perspective on how to interpret the globe after 9-11.

Rabinowitz claimed that it was illogical for any American, particularly Leftist Academics, to even raise the questions: “Why were we attacked?” or “What might have Americans have done to have caused us to hate our institutions or peoples so much?”

Rewriting history, as conservatives have been far too successful in doing in recent decades, Rabinowitz claims that both the American and world-wide peace movement which united after 9-11 to create phrases like NOT-IN-OUR NAME are unprecedented and dangerous. Rabinowitz was asserting: “How could anyone even think that America, the American government, the military, or American businesses did anything AT ALL to make someone hate what America stands for enough to attack the American people?”

When I heard this, I felt I needed to call in and join the world-wide dialogue. Grabbing my cell-phone, I dialed collect London at 442-08-7495353. To my surprise, I was able to leave my message, but I my message was never shared on air that evening.

All I said was basically:

(1) Rabinowitz’s pro-Mossad line of describing America practices, the Middle East and Islam in general were not productive to good international dialogue. [As a matter of fact, neither BBC nor NPR allowed any callers on the air with a countering view who spoke as virulently or as derogatory and reactionary in stating their opinion as Rabinowitz was.]

(2) Some 40 million Americans living and working abroad—as I do now in Kuwait—definitely feel, as a whole, that we Americans need to get to know “the others” outside our own country better. [Rabinowitz had “poo-pooed” this cry for introspection and cross-cultural learning advocated by other discussants and many Americans in the post 9-11 era.]

As one later caller stated, 9-11 events made the world recall the common element of humanity. This is why in the days after 9-11 there was such a great support for America from around the world. It is this sense of common humanity which was present in the world’s response to the Great Tsunami of Christmas 2004. America again felt this warm embrace after the Katrina catastrophe last year.

Alas, humanity was not on the table for Rabinowitz who wanted to paint the whole world in an Us-versus-Them manner throughout her one-hour stint on the longer ON-POINT program broadcast around the world that date.

She should have been criticized directly by one caller—but on September 9 neither the BBC nor NPR sought to have her put in her place—which is in the fundamentalist reactionary corner of world news analysis.


Saturday, September 09, 2006

TESOL Testimonial

Here is my testimonial, which I wrote up for the organization Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, on how I came to teach ESL/EFL and who or what influenced me.

I was studying social science and history at Bethel College in Kansas (USA) in the early 1980s when I finally determined to take a year office to study, travel and work abroad between my junior and senior year.

The first leg of that journey took me in 1983 to study international development in Nicaragua and Honduras. Later in that same year and during the first half of 1984, I worked on farms in France and Germany—whereby I learned my first foreign languages by total immersion and self-study.

It was in Nicaragua that the leader, Dr.Gustavo Parajon, of the Council of Protestant Churches (CEPAD), the largest ecumenical organization in that country, suggested at a meeting with several college students and myself that one thing we could try to do to have a positive impact in developing countries would be to teach English.

I arrogantly thought to myself, “That sounds too easy and a bit too imperialistic to me.” Nevertheless, I quietly put the idea of teaching English on-the-back-burner of my mind for a few years.

In 1986, after I finished my student teaching as a History and Social Studies teacher in Kansas City, Kansas and had found myself unemployed that I began volunteering with migratory worker children in a local institution for immigrants called El Centro. Nonetheless, it wasn’t till I returned to Germany at the end of that same year as a graduate student that I was first invited to specifically teach English and to receive money for doing so.

For the next four years, I learned to teach English by practicing the art, going to seminars, talking with others, and employing learning methods and teaching methods that I was using to become an advanced speaker of German. By 1990 I was fully inspired to leave Germany and to return to the USA to finally get an M.A. in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages at the University of Kansas.

Subsequently, after teaching in Japan for two years, I returned to Nicaragua to work as the USIA’s English Teaching Fellow in Nicaragua for 1995-1996. I felt so pleased and blessed to be able to promote English, work for TESOL affiliates in the region, and help both the poor and wealthy improve their lives. Along with many presentations and courses I gave at binational centers, universities, and in regional educational workshops and intensive programs for high school and elementary school instructors around the country of Nicaragua and in Costa Rica, I was very active in ANPI (Nicaraguan Association of English Teachers) and was invited to be on the program committee for NICA-TESOL in July 1996.

Before I left Nicaragua in August 1996, I took about one-thousand dollars (about 8 percent of my annual local earnings) and donated the money to the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in Nicaragua to be used by rural and poorer schools that they worked. I required that this money only be used in the next year to help pay teachers salaries—as many poor and rural school instructors in Nicaragua at that time often did not earn enough money to live on and care for there families. Hence, many Nicaraguan teachers, even as they became older and more skilled, were feeling forced to leave their jobs and go elsewhere for employment.

Finally, a year later, I received a letter from the coordinator of several school programs in Nicaragua who had used my moneys. The Nicaraguan coordinator outlined how my contribution had been employed. He indicated that In all, some 26 teachers had either had their salaries partially increased or fully paid-for in that 12-month period through my giving of moneys—earned in Nicaragua as a USIA English Teaching Fellow.

In summation, In Nicaragua the seed of the idea of teaching English was first planted in 1983 by the head of an ecumenical organization (named CEPAD) devoted to helping people. More than a decade later, in 1995-1997, this same seed bore great fruit through the inspiration of people like those in CEPAD, through my efforts and through sharing my contributions. I am proud of all these things.


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

How Do We in the Middle East Get Our News and Insights? Well, we don't watch Fox News, the CBN, or CNN--that's for Sure

I was back in the States this summer during the Bush-Israeli cataclism/apocalypse [packaged]for Lebanon. I was saddened and struck by the ONE-SIDED way the US-Media during the first two weeks of that one-sided invasion handled reporting on that monstrosity. The major American news networks hardly ever questioned the lackidaisical way with which the W. Bush failed to try and get Israel to control itself.

Eventually, the destruction leveled by the Israelis reached into the thousands of civilian deaths and 1000s of more casualties. That collateral destruction fits 95% of this planet's (the planet Earth--not planet Bush or planet Israel) definition of a war crime for a any modern military state--using the highest levels of modern war-making technology.

Billions of U.S. military dollars were wasted in this particular Lebanese War. I was outraged that no one was claiming foul!!!!

Further, I found my stomach turned by the way that the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN)and Pat Robertson handled the events. They seemed to equate two kidnappings of soldiers with a god-given right to kill thousands! I felt sick. Naturally, FOX news was no better. (I am aware of only one single CNN reporter who asked any tough questions about the death, destruction and massacres.) They seemed to be promoting an apocolyse.

All Americans abroad have numerous sources of news they fall back on to get basic facts--only one Israeli is dying for every 95 killed by the U.S. backed Israelis. We--who care, that is--consciously select our media sources. For example, in Kuwait, if I don't want CNN or FOX, I just go to Deutsche Well, BBC or Euro news on television. (My previous satellite/cable company doesn't even offer me either CNN or Fox as a standard station.)

More importantly, the internet is loaded with good critical reporting in either audio or in printed format. I, for example, listen to DEMOCRACY NOW reports and take in the weekly FAIR's COUNTERSPIN. I read the Guardian and other sources, too.

I suggest that all Americans abroad and at home boycott the poorer major news sources and demand good alternative news programming with ever-increasing cries of "FOUL".

Contact your cable or satellite operator today!

Kevin Anthony Stoda
Maboula, Kuwait


Welcome to the Otherside of the Wall

Years ago, when I was attending Bethel College in Kansas (USA), I had the opportunity to paint my dorm room white and black. I painted it like the inside cover of Pink Floyd's THE WALL record. However, instead of the freudian images used on that album, I simply painted the inside of a jail cell at the point where the wall was broken open.

It was a dark image with shades of gray, black and white. From an observer's perspective, one could not quite tell whether the mural on the wall [of A Wall] represented an event where :

(a) someone had just broken out of their jail cell--leaving the hole

or whether

(b) someone had broken through the wall only to discover the other side of the wall was a jail cell.

If one was sitting in the room looking at the mural, one was left conflicted at the ambiguity.

Was the viewer being invited to see the Hole in the Wall as a mark of victory at escape or was one to become saddened by the fact that prison was to be found on either side of the wall??

These are the tough questions or choices we face when we go off to university and first study the metaphor of the cave by Plato. Surprisingly, I still face these same questions decades later--albeit in a more up-beat way.

This is also what I experience as I travel around the world and face living in new cultures all of the time. Am I a prisoner in a cave who can escape and get to know reality [or some aspect of it] or am I doomed to discover that when I leave imprisonment, I simply move into another dungeon of someone elses making?

I wish to encourage writers, thinkers, world-traveleres, peacemakers, and seekers to encourage and encounter one another with this blog. (Tips on writing style are accepted, too.)

Kevin Anthony Stoda
Maboula, Kuwait