Letters to the Editor Fall 2002

Kudos and Condemnation

Thank you to Neta Golan (“Peace Warrior in the West Bank”) for shedding light on the reality of the situation in the West Bank. Her immense courage in providing an interview with Tricycle on the nature of the Arab-Israeli crisis is to be commended. As an agency for understanding and for positive change in the world, her work is hugely heroic. Tricycle demonstrated tremendous moral courage, as well, in publishing this piece—particularly in a world where acknowledgment of, and responsibility for, the consequences of our actions is so conspicuously lacking in many of our political leaders.

—Brenda Ungerland

Tricycle’s interview with Neta Golan is a perfect illustration of what is wrong with ideology and why it not compatible with Buddhism. In his book The Buddha Taught Nonviolence, Not Pacifism, Paul Fleischman has aptly demonstrated that nonviolence and pacifism are two different things. One should not have to explain to Golan why calling impressionable young human beings to serve as human shields is contrary to everything Buddhism teaches. We have witnessed too many times how idealistic human recruits can be too easily used to achieve cynical political goals.

Instead of advertising this kind of “sacrifice” to young Americans eager for adventure, the International Solidarity Movement could show real solidarity for all victims of violence by convincing young Palestinians that there is nothing glorious about suicide bombings and that violence is counterproductive. Instead of showing solidarity with a known murderer like Arafat by staying in his compound, they could have brought a message of nonviolence to him.

Reacting to the perceived enemy is not the answer. As to advocating the return of refugees to pre-1948 borders, it is totally irresponsible and can only inflict more suffering while bringing an end to the Jewish State. It is sad to see people adopt what they denounce by distorting the teachings.

—Carl Mahe, New Orleans, Louisiana

© Neal Crosbie

As a subscriber to your magazine, a small-time contributor, a physician, and a former ordained monk in Thailand, I have been a big fan of Tricycle. That said, let me state emphatically how appalled I was at your interview with Neta Golan, so-called “Peace Warrior.”

First of all, this was essentially a political hit piece, completely one-sided, that had nothing to do with Buddhism. You have a confused Israeli who has rejected her people, abandoned her nation in a time of war (if she had been a Palestinian talking about her own people this way, she would have been summarily executed), who condones terrorism and is, in effect, a mouthpiece for the P.L.O. I have many left-of-center Israeli friends who are not fans of Sharon and who are very willing to give up land for peace, who are offended by the views of Ms. Golan. If you had interviewed Arafat himself, or members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc., the opinions rendered would not have differed much or at all from those of Ms. Golan.

You discredit Buddhists—and your magazine—by associating with and seemingly extolling someone like Golan, someone who would condone terror; who would implicitly support a corrupt, anti-democratic, totalitarian regime that has at its heart the desire to destroy the state of Israel; and who in no way offers a balanced view of the situation. The article in essence was a political jeremiad against Israel.

There was no gain for Buddhism here. There was no unfolding of the Buddhist mind or of Buddhist practice. It was strictly political, and a particularly repugnant and un-Buddhist politics at that. Tricycle was not the proper organ for this article, and by publishing it you have done a great disservice to those interested in peaceful resolution there and elsewhere, to Buddhism in general (which, of course, will survive your indiscretions), and to your magazine. Your judgment was deeply flawed.

—Richard Moss, M.D.

Thank you for your recent article on peace activist Neta Golan. So many Buddhists shrink from political activism, choosing instead to cultivate solipsistic bliss on the cushion; others, ungrounded in contemplative practice, act rashly and to no good end. Golan’s honest attempt to integrate right view and right action is truly admirable; too often, we implement one to the exclusion of the other. It is also remarkable that Golan has been able to show true respect for her country by taking a stand against an occupation that has so deeply compromised its ethical standing among nations.

And congratulations to Tricycle for airing Golan’s views! It can’t be an easy thing for an American publication to do. While the Western press forever focuses on suicide bombings, an increasingly dehumanizing occupation ends the lives of Palestinians every day—and with scant notice. Buddhism, if it does anything, brings us into the world, putting us up against the most intractable moral dilemmas of our time. I look forward to more of the same!

—Maura Brown

Growing up in Israel, well before the 1967 occupation, it used to scare me when I heard mobs of Arabs in neighboring countries chant, “Etbach, etbach el Yahood” (“Kill the Jews!”). At the same time, I couldn’t understand the discrimination I suffered as a child of parents who had survived the Holocaust; nor could I understand Holocaust survivors who discriminated against Jews from Arab countries. I later learned that people simply judge and discriminate against one another because they are threatened by anyone unlike themselves.

Neta Golan’s views and the spiritual perspective are not about a temporary agreement. They are really about implementing nonviolence and inner peace. That’s why they are considered naive, fanatic, and unrealistic.

We are living in cynical times. Most people are skeptical of the possibility of real peace. But until we are willing to admit how untrusting of one another we are, how full of personal fears and hatred, we cannot have real peace. This idea is at the core of all spirituality. Moses, Mohammed, Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Dr. King, and many more have all shared this consciousness. It was never popular, because it required looking beyond personal comfort and self-serving needs and transforming a fearful, faithless mindset with fearless insight.

Accepting this reality and having compassion for where we are in the process of our evolution is essential in order to make any real change. It is possible for all people on this planet to coexist and thrive together, if and when our view broadens and we become aware of and have compassion for ourselves as people ruled by the fears, ignorance, and conflicting motives we embody.

—Samuel Kirschner, New York City

© Mike Taylor

Tricycle’s interview with Neta Golan illustrates the inherent problem with “engaged Buddhist” activism. All too often, the advocacy of spiritual principle slips easily into political partisanship. It certainly has done so in Ms. Golan’s case. If Buddhism is about anything, it is about reality. As Buddhists we are taught to see the “whole picture” of reality and all sides of any issue. Ignorance, partisanship, and judgmentalism are not tools of wisdom nor are they spiritual qualities, and they do not enhance practice.

—David K. Gast, La Mesa, California

I was gladdened to see Tricycle’s article “Peace Warrior in the West Bank.” The thoughts and feelings aired on Tricycle’s pages since September 11 had, for the most part, left me disheartened. As a native of Iran, I felt betrayed that the compassion of American Buddhists extended so tentatively to the Middle Eastern victims of both Islamic fundamentalism and American foreign policy.

I agree with Neta Golan’s politics. I am glad to see coverage of nonviolent, secular, and democratic movements in the Middle East; hopefully we will also someday see coverage of like efforts of Palestinians and other Middle Eastern people. But I am particularly glad finally to see an article of informative substance on violence in the Middle East. (I can’t help but wonder what memories are brought to the minds of the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh by such things as foreign occupation and war waged by the U.S.) I truly believe that being informed deserves more prominence in American Buddhist “skillful means” training—not to mention in overall waking-up efforts.

—Maryam Pirnazar, San Francisco, California

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