Monday, February 27, 2017

Sometimes the Results Don’t Match the Effort

Love and Terror In The Middle East
Author: Frank Romano, PhD
Publisher: AB Film Publishing, New York, NY, 2014                                                                     

As an avid observer of events in the Middle East, this book promised to give me better insight into what was going on there, and what was possible, outside of the political systems at play.  I learned much about everyday life in both the Jewish part of Israel and the West Bank. I learned about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. I learned how the police worked, how the authorities functioned, and what happens at checkpoints.
This is Frank Romano’s second book and it builds on his first one, Storm Over Morocco, published in 2007. This first book covers his personal desire to get to the Middle East, sharing how he got detained while travelling through Morocco and being mistaken for a spy and Zionist.  It was there he learned much about Islam, rounding out his religious experiences, after having already had some experience with both Christianity and Judaism.
It is with this background that Frank Romano, lawyer, law professor, and lover spends every moment of his spare time, flying between Paris (his home) and the U.S. (for author events), and Tel Aviv trying to bring peace to the Middle East by organizing inter-faith peace and freedom marches. The book gives us a very personal glimpse into the life of a passionate man with a cause born during WWII.
Romano tells us about all his encounters with an incredible amount of detail. But it’s not all about the challenges to peace that Romano shares – it’s also his personal life – broken relationship after broken relationship because of unmatched dreams between himself and his partner.  His loss of his wife and three children through divorce hurt him the most and many times something in his travels would stop him dead in his tracks and bring him to tears as he passionately wanted to see all of them again.  None of his amorous distractions could help him overcome that loss. And yet he trod on with his mission, his craving, of seeing more and more people get involved in his peace and freedom marches.
By my count, the book has seven chapters and fifty-five pages of introduction. Romano takes that long to introduce us to his student days, the various types of dances he enjoyed and some of his early loves.  All before we get into the Middle East. The entire book intertwined his mission with his personal life and this reader got the feeling at times that it was more about the latter than about bringing peace to the Middle East. Here was a man struggling to find himself for much of his life. He seemed conflicted between his desires for the love of a wife and children and his passion for believing he could make a difference in the Middle East.  And each time the Middle East won.  Yet peace in that Holy Land was elusive and remains so today. Romano’s determination however remains undaunted. He seems convinced that doing the same thing repeatedly will eventually change the whole culture of the Middle East and end the conflict.
The book contains some great lessons for all of us.  One is the impact of surprises on our lives. An early example is his move to France, only to end up living among Jews there which ultimately leads to his discovery of his ancestral identity.
As I read the book, published in 2014, I knew, keeping up with world news, that peace and freedom for both Jews and Palestinians has not come to the Middle East. Yet, I marveled at this man’s belief that it can.  And in so doing, I wondered what clues he unintentionally gave his readers as to where he may have gone wrong in his approach.
For starters, he believes that although Israel “seems to be the epicenter of the world and holds the key for world peace or perpetual world conflict . . . it has nothing to do with [the fact] that is the land of the prophets and all the events that happened in the past.” Many would disagree with him.
Secondly, while no Jew, Christian, or Muslim would refer to their deity as simply “Spirit” without even an article in front of the term, as the Christians say, “the Spirit” referring to the third person of the Trinity, Romano in a desperate effort to unite the three religions in peace, uses that term for the source of his strength, suggesting to me that he has missed the essence of each of those religions.
Later he reverts to the use of “channeling” or someone putting themselves into a “semi-trance and [becoming] the medium through which the spirit of God communicated with us.”  I am not so sure that fits well with any of the three religions he was trying to unite.
And then there’s the fact that even though he seems to come down hard on the Israeli government, especially in their use of settlements, time and time again, he admits he himself does not know who to believe in the conflict – the Israelis or the Palestinians – especially with respect to what happened when specific events which led to people being killed took place.
These approaches to his thinking and work, raised my suspicion as to his having any likelihood of success in his mission – unless of course, one is satisfied “doing” without seeing great results.
He did, however, lose me when approximately half way through the book he retells his meditative encounter where he envisaged a path in which he was first led by Muhammad who later changed into Jesus, then back to Muhammad, who passed him on to Buddha, who in turn turned him over to Moses and then to Krishna, until eventually he “basked in their [collective] love shared by the Supreme Consciousness, who was neither man nor woman, but transcending all things, reigned within and without, melding pure love together into one good, pure force.”
The last straw for me was when one of his friends, in a desperate attempt to get through a checkpoint armed with Israeli soldiers at the entrance to a mosque, said, when being accused by the soldier as “You not Muslim” replied, “But I am; I believe. Let me go in. I’m a Christian but that does not exclude my belief in Islam.”  That just does not work for any valid Christian.  Just as saying, “I’m Jewish, but that does not exclude me from believing in Jesus Christ being the Messiah” would work for any true Jew.
With ideologies like that, one can see why Romano’s efforts did not yield the fruit he sought. It is next to impossible to bring peace and freedom to the Middle East with them, assuming peace or freedom could ever be established.  To adopt this type of ideology would require the denunciation of several key tenets of each of the three main religions involved in the conflict – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  And none of the ultimate deities involved in each of these is willing to do such a thing.  Perhaps the only solution that Romano and his team-mates or follow activists fail to allow for is that one of these religions may indeed be right and the others wrong, and if so, only a full-out Armageddon would settle the matter. 
If one reads this book, one would find a most interesting account of a young man’s thinking about love and life, freedom and injustice, and what can and perhaps cannot be done about it. But one will also find a story line that is difficult to follow at times as the author keeps intertwining his thoughts, experiences, and feelings of the past with his present – and many times doesn’t let you know he’s about to do so, leaving you wondering where you are and needing to retrace what you read to find out.
As a reader, I found the book was a contest between the author’s life and the author’s work or mission.  Neither, on its own, was strong enough to motivate the reader to keep reading.  But together, Romano makes it work, although do not look for a happy ending to either thread.
I am glad I read it as it gave me a different glimpse of what is going on in the Middle East – but I believe strongly it is only one perspective of a very not only complicated, but also, complex, situation.
·    --   Ken B. Godevenos, President, Accord Resolutions Services Inc., Toronto, Ontario, February 26, 2017.

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