Rudnik > Are We Already One?

| March 25, 2015

No.  But We Can Be.  And We Must Be.

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Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor

Among the most consequential of twentieth century Jewish mystics and theologians, Abraham Heschel famously reminded us of the inherent, insidious nature of racism. The rabbi notes, “Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.”

Racism is a product of subordination; the notion that an entire class of people are inferior to another. In this way, they are less than human, they become marginalized. When a class of people are marginalized, the superordinate class dehumanizes the subordinated class; the more powerful group summarily determines any and all from the lower class are less human than they. And this makes it easier to annihilate the inferior class.

It is for this reason the United Nations formally codified a convention against apartheid, labeling it as a crime against humanity, in 1973. What’s clear is that ethnic, racial, or religious apartheid (that is, segregation) is so insidious not solely because it divides groups of peoples on arbitrary and flawed premises, but also because apartheid is merely a few steps removed from genocide. In nations wrought by genocide, before the body count begins to rise exponentially, governments always separate the perceived “less desirable” groups from the remainder of society – and then the rest can commence with relative ease.

A contemporary of Heschel can be found in Martin Luther King, Jr. In fact, King and Heschel marched, hand in hand, together for African American civil rights – most notably, at the celebrated Selma to Montgomery march of 1965. Dr. King’s activism and ministry was deeply wedded to his commitment to nonviolent resistance to rid society of the three social evils: racism, militarism, and poverty. The three social evils, in many ways thematic of the great social tumult of which King’s philosophy was a product of, underscore the root causes that separate and divide us. And they’re all deeply interrelated. Without eliminating the three social evils, we’ll never make it to the mountaintop and realize, as King called it, the “beloved community.”

In what can only be described as perhaps the greatest treatise in twentieth century moral and political philosophy, King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” the great civil rights leader turns his prophetic voice on “liberal” white clergy in Birmingham who want integration – but not yet; not at this juncture. King underscores the “urgency of the now,” and the need for not only inclusion, but also reconciliation; reconciliation not in some other time, but in his time, in our time. In part, King delivers a searing response, reminding the clergy that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

One can’t help but gaze upon Israeli politics and see many of the same themes as those in the age of King: a people, out of fear and misunderstanding, subordinating their fellow man for their skin color or the name they call God. With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party securing a plurality of the seats in the Knesset, the emboldened Netanyahu can actualize his legislative agenda, which he recently articulated to exclude any possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution.

Indeed, the ideal Palestinian approach to Israeli occupation should have been marked with nonviolent resistance for social change. King would likely concur. King. However, was never afraid of a fight. He was once asked if could choose between fear and conflict which he’d favor; King answered he would fight, but only if nonviolence wasn’t a possibility in this purely hypothetical world.

To be clear, the United States has long stood behind Israel, and we should continue to. But if we want lasting peace in the region, we need a far-reaching agreement that includes an autonomous and sovereign Palestinian state. Sure, we can continue to point fingers and argue incessantly as to who “cast the first stone,” yet that will get us nowhere. What Israel needs is not division and subordination, but understanding and cooperation – both King and Heschel understood that is how you forge lasting peace.

In the pantheon of twentieth century Catholic writers, arguably none stands above Trappist monk and priest Thomas Merton. Merton, a rural Catholic monk from a Kentucky abbey, threw stones at giants – writing and unremittingly resisting many of the same social evils as King, Heschel, and others. Nearly a half-century removed from his untimely death, Merton’s prophetic words still ring true, “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”

How can we recover our unity if we can’t “sit together at the table of brotherhood,” make peace, and learn to love and respect each other? As long as one stands above another, as long as two peoples continue to obfuscate meaningful resolution to remedy their differences, and as long as they continue to kill each other, we cannot.

Netanyahu should learn that division is cheap, it is an easy applause line. But unity, unity is illusive, unity is hard. We are, in fact, already one, but only if we choose to be.


rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at narudnik@valdosta.edu. Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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1 Comment on "Rudnik > Are We Already One?"

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  1. Taton says:

    Nick, I have read some reports of increasing anti-semitism in Europe. One of these reports even begged the question if it was time for the Jews to leave Europe given the circumstances of the Holocaust only ending 70 years ago.
    My point is we tend to look at certain groups of people as targets depending on our location strangely. America is better now than it has ever been, and we continue to move forward; however, there is an obvious divide between all groups.

    We must question what in certain cultures tends to force our psyche to have a predetermined hate base on color, religion, ethnic background, country of origin, etc.? The individual level data could be phenomenal.