Milestones toward peace in Northern Ireland seem to arrive every six months, but until now they have not produced the breakthrough that would bring tranquility. This time, however, the amity between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party seemed genuine as they restarted the provincial government Tuesday. If these old adversaries can get along with no more than the usual friction among coalition partners, the conflict really is over.
There was a time when one would have never believed that peaceful co-existence was even possible between these two sides, much less form a government. If you are old enough, you know that peace in Northern Ireland had as much chance of happening, as Germany being reunited. Regular reports of bombings and other attacks were commonplace and there was a sense of hopelessness that permeated the entire process, for years. One way to understand it is, it had gone on for so long, you forgot who started it.
Although I understood it in an intellectual sense, in a functional sense, I couldn't understand how Christians could hate each other so much. Seeing Catholics and Protestants live and play together here in America, it just wouldn't register as a worthy cause, in my book. As I spent my two years in what was then West Germany, I saw Catholics and Protestants doing much the same.
But as I grew older and read more about it, it became clearer that this was one of the last battles between the Roman Catholic Church and the "heretics" that split the Church. The struggle began with the Reformation. But if this holds (like it looks like it's going to), this will mark the end of that struggle and will demonstrate that the Roman Church has completely accepted the division of Christendom in the western world.
From the beginning of time, religious differences have caused great political gulfs between people that are not much different otherwise. This country is but one example, but the implications here are more enormous than the peace itself. And while I am sure there are many old-timers that have have not (and will not) put aside their animosities toward each other, there is a new generation that has not adopted the tone that would have made this remarkable event impossible, in years past.
Today, in both Northern Ireland and Ireland, a new generation of Protestants and Catholics live, work, and play with another without the stigmas that were once attached to associating with one another. They even marry.
With this seemingly hopeless situation becoming hopeful, it gives us all a glimmer or faint ray of hope (if you will) that someday we could theoretically see peace in the Middle East. The situations are very different in a lot ways, but in one sense they are aren't. Semitic people with differing theological beliefs are at war for a strip of land in which they must both live. Yet, like the situation in Northern Ireland a couple of decades ago, they find it impossible to do so.
But somewhere along the line, something will have to give. Someone will have to reach out and make a concerted effort, the other will have to accept it. The military wing of the Palestinians will have to give way to a political process, similar to the one that NI had to endure to get to this point. But more than anything, someone will have to be so sick of the violence and not be willing to glorify it any longer. They will have to work out differences with dialogue, not bullets, bombs, or rockets.
But rest assured, the ME will be a much tougher sell. For one thing, the gulf between the two religions is far greater. If you have ever been to both a Catholic and Anglican mass, you will not notice much difference in either. Same God, same Christ, different political structure. One runs from the Vatican and one runs from London. The ceremonies are very comparable too.
In Judaism and Islam, the theological focus of the two religions is very different. Islam has it's messiah (or prophet), Judaism still awaits theirs.The religions are both monotheistic and claim their roots from Abraham. But where it really separates is in the cultural realm. Israel is far more westernized and secular. That, within itself, is cause for condemnation from a large percentage of Palestinians.
Today in Palestine, there is a Mickey Mouse character that teaches bigotry, hatred, and war to a new generation of children. (Check out Fore Left for details and the video.) At some point, for peace to have any spark of a chance, this kind of activity must be stopped and respect must be substituted for calls for to annihilate Jews (and Americans). At some point, for an opportunity to arise, there must be a willingness to stop demanding all or nothing.
I realize there are those that will think I am being naive about this whole thing. And frankly, I really can't say that I blame you (for I am the chiefest of skeptics, myself). But to those that may think that I am (and are old enough to remember), tell the truth now. Did you ever think that Germany would be reunited and the Berlin Wall come crumbling down the way it did? Did you ever think Northern Ireland would see peaceful days such as the ones they see today?