This blog title, extrapolated from quotes by Rabbi Hillel, (110 BCE – 10 CE) a famous Jewish religious leader, serves as the foundation of the Judeo-Christian belief in ethical reciprocity, or the “Golden Rule.” (You remember “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Or some such…) Those words challenge us today to think about the cascading atrocities erupting across the globe and remind us that individually and collectively, we have a moral, ethical, human responsibility to one another. From the comfort of our homes, with the distance of miles and oceans, it’s all too easy to leave ‘it’ to the next guy. It is all too easy to relax in our easy chairs, sip coffee or wine, shake our heads and point our fingers and not think about the millions of refugees stumbling across countries looking for somewhere safe to live.
We grumble aloud, jump on our soap boxes, shout out easy, one-dimentional solutions and over-simplify enormously complex problems, boiling them down to a simple matter of right or wrong, do or don’t. After all, it’s way easier to over-simplify huge, big problems, like crime, violence, drugs, poverty, immigration or the Middle East than it is to take the time and energy to learn about and try to grasp the complexities. It takes years of study to appreciate the centuries-long history of oppression and conflict; to understand what motivates these fights over water and land, oil and power, freedom and slavery, tyranny and justice.
Writing Seeing Double has been an adventure. Replete with double entendres, the novel explores the Middle East while pondering the realities and irrationalities of ‘Truth,’ as it is seen, defined and acted upon from various perspectives. From the moment Ari enters Elisabeth’s office, the parameters of the plot are anchored. As each character unfolds, additional layers of communal ‘Truth’ emerge. These ‘Truths’ weave their way through families, countries and terrorist groups, crossing borders, creating boundaries and declaring themselves ‘The Absolute’; the One and Only, Single, Solitary, Absolutely Perfect, Unquestionable ‘Truth.’ These ‘Truths’ stake out their turf, take over lands and demand total unwavering loyalty from their followers. Disloyalty is treason, and we all know what happens to traitors.
The problem with these unquestionable, demanding ‘Truths’ is that there are a lot of them and while in some ways they are unalterably contradictory, in other ways they are identical. Certain common themes apply to all of these ‘Truths,’ but because the theological power is attained through isolation, discrimination and elevation, their commonalities are distorted, rejected and denied. These ‘Truths,’ like the religions to which they are inextricably linked, are trans-generational, connected to the soil, traditions and embedded lifestyles. These ‘Truths’ are as simple and as complex as the religious beliefs from which they evolved.
As we move closer to the time when you can read Seeing Double and embrace a whole new cast of characters to love, I find myself drawn to the horrors of what constitutes the new Middle East. As if the violence and cruelty of Sadam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, al Queda, Hamas, Hezbollah and all the other violent radical factions wasn’t enough, we now have ISIS which has taken Islamic extremism to an extreme the world hasn’t seen for hundreds of years. This group takes us back to early civilizations when there was no regard for human life, no concept of ‘family values’ or ‘social values.’ This group has no meaningful guidelines by which to regulate personal or social behavior. Like a rage-filled, adolescent, psychopathic gang they are bent on destruction for the sake of destruction. Even our lower functioning primate cousins have more clearly developed behavioral sanctions and social rules than these guys. Protect the young would be one imperative. While there are occasions when a violent ape tribe member crossed that boundary, it is nonetheless a clearly understood principal among primates that this was bad behavior. The young are always to be protected. It’s a zoological imperative. It’s inbred; something every species has hard-wired into their brains.
ISIS as a collective seems to have a few of those brain cells missing. Actually, quite a lot of them. The news this morning reported that ISIS has ‘put a price’ on children, whole huge groups of them are now for sale. Nothing covert about these guys! Not like our sneaky pedophiles, who horrify us by kidnapping one kid at a time. Boca Harem move over, today’s award for the cruelest and most heartless transgressors against children goes to ISIS. You are now the official worst of the worst. Congratulations!
Fox News says they got it wrong. They apologized this week to millions of viewers here and across the globe for inaccurate, prejudicial statements either they or their guests made in the wake of terrorist attacks in Eastern Europe. They reported that there were ‘no-go-zones’ in Europe where ‘Islamic law supersedes local law’ and they said ‘Birmingham, England is a totally Muslim city where non-Muslims don’t go…’ Further they stated that the ‘EU poll shows that 69% of Muslims in France support ISIS…’ an inaccurate comment designed to terrify all of Europe. Their reports went on to vilify, exaggerate and yes, insult Muslims and non-Muslims across the globe. But here’s the thing. We all do the same thing. Not on the air but in our homes and jobs and minds. We cast aspersions on those we don’t know, make judgments, quote and re-quote inaccurate information and build the foundation for hatred. And we do it every day.
In Iraq we have ISIS capturing and killing Yazidis, (OK they released 250 of them mostly children and the elderly, thanks for that). But then we ask why. What is it about the Yazidis that would make anyone want to kill them? They are one of Iraq’s smallest minority populations, whose religion is considered a pre-Islamic sect that draws from Christianity, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. That sounds innocent enough but according to CNN, they have been persecuted because many Muslims see them as ‘devil worshippers.’ Doesn’t that translate to ‘they’re different’? And so, what if they are? Aren’t we all? How many kinds of Christian churches are there? How many different types of Jewish synagogues are there? How many religions are there? Look in the Yellow pages! Read a book on World Religions!
There is something different about the world today. Something is gone, off in the distance but nonetheless palpable. It’s not often that I eulogize stars; not often that I even think of them or remember their roles or the names of their shows. This time it’s different. This … is one that I remember … almost know or think that I do. There’s always been something emotionally risky about the man, something that drove him up to the edge; something scary I picked up from him in spite of his outstanding humor, talent, supremely challenging roles. He would go too far, put too much of himself into the role. That’s what made him such a fabulous actor, but it’s also what worried me about him. There were insufficient boundaries – no limits to what he would do to fully occupy the role; to fully immerse himself in the persona of the moment. It seemed to me, always the therapist, that he didn’t keep enough of himself for himself.
That’s what scared me about Robin Williams. I always saw deep sadness, bordering on hopelessness in his eyes, even if they sparkled with laughter. In his quiet moments, in an acting role or in a TV interview, I saw his despair. Many of the things I’ve read about him: his need for an audience, his discomfort with ‘one-on-one’ encounters, his substance abuse, depression, all those things fit my ‘sense’ of him and while I think he was the finest broad spectrum actor I’ve ever seen, he always felt fragile to me. While I enjoyed him, those viewing experiences they were accompanied by my own mental subtext that read ‘this man is in pain.’