Tea and Kofi

February 16, 2007

tea2.jpgThis photo was not taken where I stop for breakfast on Friday mornings, but at a more elegant venue on the other side of the river. Even so, Ralph and Sons’ Diner is a remarkable place for the variety of its clientele, truckers on bar stools at the serving counter, serious business meetings going on at the larger tables in the corners, retired couples treating themselves to a breakfast out, and at the small tables, odd individuals like me. This morning at the table next to mine, a rabbi (I think) was conferring with someone over a cellphone; I couldn’t help pricking up my ears as I heard him ask in a resonant voice, “And what is the lesson from 1492?” Meanwhile, at the next table three smartly dressed men were looking after a little boy aged two at most, in a high chair, eating a rasher of crispy bacon with his fingers, not a woman in sight.

On the Comment page of today’s Globe and Mail I found a powerful article written by Kofi Annan, which I’m afraid say you can’t share with me on-line unless you pay a subscription fee to the globeandmail.com. In spite of what happened in Spain in 1492, Mr Annan says:

…the embrace of differences — in opinion, in culture, in belief, in way of life — has long been a driving force of human progress. During Europe’s Dark Ages, that was how the Iberian Peninsula flourished, through the interaction of Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions…

Some centuries later, our own globalized era is regrettably marked by rising intolerance, extremism and violence…

…we remain hostage to our sense of grievance and to our feelings of entitlement. Our narratives have become our prison … The problem is never the faith; it is the faithful and how they behave toward each other.

He does have a solution to that problem, though, or at least he shows us the right attitude towards finding a solution:

We must create opportunities for young people, offering them a credible alternative to the siren song of hate and extremism. We must give them a real chance to join in improving the world order, so that they no longer feel the urge to smash it.

Later in the morning, I witnessed a Moroccan tea ceremony which was very charming, the tea-making hostess sitting in the most important chair as is traditional, a damask cloth over her lap, mixing the fresh mint leaves, the sugar and the tea in her silver teapot and pouring out the brew from a good height so that we could hear the refreshing cascade. Meanwhile her ladies in attendance carried other vessels round the room so that the welcoming smell of sandalwood smoke could waft from the censer (a silver thurible) and so that rose-water could be sprinkled onto the palms of each guest. Then the tea was handed out in those beautiful coloured glass beakers.

5 Responses to “Tea and Kofi”

  1. mel Says:

    It’s true to say that “the Iberian Peninsula flourished, through the interaction of Muslim, Christian and Jewish traditions… “. In Cordoba’s mediaeval Jewish quarter there’s a ruined synagogue, built in Moorish style, with a Chritian mural on its west wall. The explanation is simple, says the guide, it was used by the different communities according to the day of the week. But it wouldn’t be true to say that this shining light cast no shadows. Jews were leaving before the expulsion of 1492. In the early twelfth century, the growing threat of invasion from the Christian north, and the fanatical Moorish dynasties growing in North

    Africa, created intolerance. Many Jews left, including Juda Ha-levi (regarded the finest of Spain’s Jewish poets). He went to look for security in the Holy Land,
    but found his death somewhere in Egypt. He would not have died alone.

    In China, 200 years before Christ, Xiang-yu had 200 000 prisoners of war executed; in North Africa in 146 BC, the Romans wiped out the Carthaginian civilisation, razing the city and sowing the land for miles around with salt, to blight future planting; in Northumberland in the mid 8th C AD, Danish raiders began plundering Lindisfarne Abbey, killing monks and burning books; in France, in 1209, Christian crusaders burned down Beziers cathedral around the ehads of the townspeople sheltering inside, and then slaughtered those of the city who hadn’t been quick enough to get away; at the dedication of the temple of Huitzilipotchli in the 1480s, the Aztecs sacrificed thousands of their own people, and less than a hundred years later, the culture was entirely destroyed by 600 European adventurers; in 1861, the Gatling Gun was invented in the United States in order that bullets could be fired more rapidly, and was used with devastating effect against the Dakota, Arapaho and Cheyenne nations; on his mother’s death, in the 1820’s, Shaka, the ruler of the Zulu kingdom, ordered that any woman who became pregnant during the lengthy period of mourning would be killed, along with her guilty husband – by the summer of 1879 the Zulu kingdom had been destroyed by force after it was invaded by British government forces; by 1945, between 5 and 6 million Jews had been killed in the Nazi holocaust,and by 1948 700 000 Arabs had been displaced in the founding of modern Israel.

    Notice that we haven’t yet reached the 21st C.

    It is wrong to say that “our own globalized era is regrettably marked by rising intolerance, extremism and
    violence…”., implying that it is now worse than it has been. What’s different is a matter of degree, an artefact of improved communication, efficiency and mobility, coupled with a rise in our global population. The error springs from the notion of a “driving force of human progress”. What is this? There is no evidence of a driving force towards improvement or progress in nature. Evolution does not deal in end-points or summits. This may be a daunting idea, but, as Stephen J Gould writes
    “Look in the mirror, and don’t be tempted to equate transient domination with either intrinsic superiority or prospects for extended survival.”
    This is not a counsel of despair, nor yet a reason to
    lie down and give up trying; we still must seek opportunities to better our condition, but we shouldn’t be surprised when we sometimes backslide. We should be thankful that, in the short time we’ve had as a species, we’ve somehow stumbled to the position where, at least occasionally, some of us can recognise that the childish atrocities we continue to perpetrate on one another are immoral, and, at least occasionally, we can do something about it.

  2. Alison Says:

    That was a very thorough and thought-provoking comment! I’ll cut out and send you Kofi Annan’s article so that you can see the rest of what he said and perhaps come up with some criticisms of that too.

    I do still think that sometimes some forward progress is made by some of us, though. When Chris was a little boy his grandmother made him hide under the table when a coloured salesman knocked at the door. Only a few decades later her grand-children and great-grandchildren are working and socialising with people of many different racial types every day of the week and thinking nothing of it, because this has become the norm. Doesn’t that reflect a positive change somewhere along the timeline?


  3. […] Filed under: General — cwlh @ 10:19 am My wife’s blog is called Juxtapositions and one of her recent entries, entitled Tea and Kofi, has sparked a debate on the perennial question of progress. And whether […]

  4. gloplastic Says:

    I read an article in New Scientist last week about how the experiences – love or otherwise – you have as a baby affect your adult brain. Bruce Perry implied that perhaps one of the problems with have in the Middle East is that generations of babies have been brought up in a war zone, full of fear and hate – and that they grow up into teenagers UNABLE to feel compassion and love because they didn’t experience those emotions as a baby?!

    I’m not entirely convinced, but even if there is some truth in it – we need to be very careful that the young children in these countries get the opportunity to have a real childhood without seeing loved ones killed, without fearing bullets and bombs and have a childhood with fun and love instead – they have to go into the hall of mirrors wagging their tails!

  5. mel Says:

    Interesting …. I haven’t read the article, and so maybe I shouldn’t pontificate … but I will. For the great majority of human history, children have grown up amid uncertainty, impermanence and, often, fear. Even in the later periods of Western civilisation, children have often been farmed out, worked hard or just exploited. The Middle Eastern countries don’t, it seems to me, have a monopoly on disturbing infant experiences! In all societies, what’s needed is the opportunity for the mother and infant to bond and then for them both to be able to have access to a kinship group or extended “family” of some kind so that the infant can learn communication from its mother and close associates. It is the lack of this early multiway communication, I’d wager, that results in cracked personalities. We’re very good at providing surrogates for it in the West – nannies, childminders, kindergarten, television, the internet; what we can#t seem to get right is the maintained extended family that, war and strife or no, often persists in other cultures.


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