Coffee with an Extremist

Israel’s sarcasm is just like its pickled peppers: it’ll bring tears to your eyes every time.

People are funny here, the way people are funny when they know that a large percentage of the world is advocating for their extinction. You can cry about it, fight about it or laugh about it. The first two happen, but they’re exhausting. So, for day-to-day living, people mostly laugh.

Their laughter contradicts the headlines of humanitarian crises and international tension. That’s because headlines only report the shocking and bewildering. They miss the mundane, normal people going about their normal lives, even if they are in the heat of an international conflict.

And I wonder how public opinion would change if each American could sit down with an Israeli, or a Palestinian and laugh over some spicy peppers.

Consider this anecdote: During my travels, I met a German student who had recently hiked through Iran.  He said it was his favorite place in the world because the people were so friendly and all they wanted was to prove they were different than their government.  Iranians invited him to coffee, to joke, to laugh.

Of course neither humanitarian crises nor religious extremism are joking matters and Israel and Iran are obviously in very different situations. I only submit to consideration that in our dealings with global powder kegs, we should remember we are fighting, negotiating and advocating for the humanity of each individual.

And if indeed we are working towards the humanity of each individual, we should think of them as…humans.

If we remember that the everyday Iranian just wants a coffee date and the average Israeli mostly wants to laugh, it highlights the common amidst the crisis.  And it is only when we assign the dignity of the commonplace to each individual that we can truly handle these global situations with the sensitivity they need to be diffused correctly.

Otherwise, we simply look for validation of our own moral stereotypes of a culture.  We polarize the conflict into a wrong-right binary by turning human suffering into statistics and emotion into footnotes.

And maybe that’s the best we can come up with, but until I see where laughing fits in to all of that, I’m not buying it.

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