Friday, 2 March 2012

Jerusalem, and a forgotten side to my youth

I am the son of an Irish Catholic and a Sri Lankan Chinese Catholic. This unforgiving cocktail (no oxymoron intended) would suggest a very regimented and doctrinaire upbringing; in many ways this suggestion would be correct.

Christmas and Easter were huge celebrations in my household and Sundays were always reserved for a trip to the church and then to the football pitch for the inevitable Sunday league mud-fest. Stories of Jesus were to be my first encounter with the land of Israel/Palestine, (or what was called Judea in Jesus’ time). Stories of healing, teaching, betrayal and sacrifice would be the major themes that would mark my first conceptualisation of this terminally troubled land. At school and at home, the public and the private of a young boys life would have these themes, which in turn would be linked to such historic and legendary places like the Sinai, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

Then puberty hit like a freight train, and although I was never a bible-bashing zealot, there was a noticeable transformation in my priorities, as “God” became “goddesses” and communal wine turned into, well, just wine. These years can be seen to have been marked by endless hedonistic nights with alcohol in a park (and as I got older, a nightclub) - however, politics also started to grab my attention, and maturation in that sense also accompanied my adolescent years. My politics were, in retrospect, defined by standing for justice, and fighting the corner of the poor and downtrodden. Discrimination on any grounds turned my stomach at a very young age.

At the time I believed that these morals had come from the works of Plato, Marx, Lenin, John Pilger, Noam Chomsky, Arthur Miller and all of these other A-level favourites. The secularisation of my politics, I believe, was beginning and my altruism was defined by this process I was living through. The war in Iraq is bad. Why? Because Chomsky says it’s an imperialist plot to grab Iraq's oil. Bush’s negligence in regards to those in New Orleans is bad. Why? Because a New Left Review article states that poor blacks in the southern states fall at the bottom of America's socio-political totem pole. When I decided to back Joseph and carve out an ideology for the tour to Egypt and Palestine my ideas were still, I believed at the time, guided by these secular humanistic values. As I entered Jerusalem however, something awoke inside me.

The stories of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a Donkey, the last supper, Judas’ betrayal and the sacrifice at Calgary had happened on this land. I say 'stories' because that’s what they are to me, however that does not take away from the eerie ghosts that awoke within my consciousness. For a long time I have called myself an atheist, and rejected the singular and corrosive ethical narrative espoused from the Vatican, but I have not taken stock of the irreversible effect these stories have had upon how I view myself and the world. At the centre of the faith I had held on to so dearly for so many years is the idea of social justice - something I didn’t know when I was six, sixteen or six months ago. Even reading the works of liberation theologists from Northern Ireland and Peru did not sway me into believing in this concept. However, I have since taken stock of visiting such a poigniant destination like Jerusalem, and this has enabled me to acknowledge that the idea of social justice was planted in my head at an early age via the story of Jesus, and has transcended my rejection of his story as fact and divinely ordained. Without this personal history, I cannot say that my politics would be what they are today, and I cannot say whether I would have devoted my time to the last three tours in the way I did.

As I write this, I have been offered a place at an internship in Jerusalem which begins in three months. It researches human rights abuses against Palestinians in the city and surrounding areas. Jerusalem, the city which in many ways initiated my political journey, will see me return in order to continue it. The philosophy that was unconsciously implanted in me by its most famous dweller is the genealogical driving force for my decision to return and fight for the rights of the Palestinians.

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