Dr. Harry Hagopian
It’s the same world as the one into which Jesus came - in so many ways a place that can drive us to despair or rage, and yet now and forever a world in which God is real, so that neither rage nor despair can be the only or the ultimate option for us - Dr Rowan Williams, friend & former Archbishop of Canterbury, Jordan, 2010
Some two weeks ago, when President Jo Biden embarked upon his tour of the MENA & Gulf regions, visiting Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jeddah, I decided to reprise my own decades-long Middle Eastern odyssey by juxtaposing these inspiring words of faith from a theist of deep conviction and outreach with the belief system of Jean-Paul Sartre, perhaps the ultimate atheist and celebrity philosopher. In one sense, both men hold out for me a same note of encouragement toward peace-seeking and non-violence throughout our global village let alone toward a Middle East and North Africa region that is riven with violence, hatred, injustice, discrimination, corruption, nepotism and wars. After all, Sartre was a man who provided the French people with a compass for some direction and hope during WWII. Not unlike Archbishop Rowan in the midst of so much present-day uncertainty, diffidence and fear.
So what about Israel-Palestine today, following President Jo Biden’s visit, as a case of the future overtaking the past?
Let me go back to the beginning in order to conclude with J-P Sartre and Dr Rowan Williams. Whilst they were perhaps ideological antipodes, they understood nonetheless this transparent reality. They encouraged us to overstep our narrow-minded realities by engaging with the future. So my challenge for politicians and readers alike today is to decamp from their fusty political cubicles and mull over an ancient Roman saying Tempus edax, homo edacior in the hope that they might - just - prove that Victor Hugo was wrong when he claimed that “Time is blind, man is stupid” in his The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831.
It is not easy, but can we overstep our past, refresh our today and avoid being governed by rage or despair? Or are we handicapped by our blinders and traumatised by injustices to try even? Is that not also a definition of a quicksand? After all, our future might depend on our faithful answer. So let me leave you - dear Telos reader - with an admission by the French novelist Anaïs Nin who wrote tellingly, “We do not see things as they are, but as we are.”
Dr Harry Hagopian is an International lawyer who is also involved in a range of ecumenical & political consultancies. He is Knight of the Orders of St Gregory & St Lazarus, Fellow at Sorbonne University and Associate at the Ekklesia think-tank. For the past decade, he was Consultant to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England & Wales as well as to the Armenian Orthodox Church in the UK & Ireland. Earlier, he worked with the Middle East Council of Churches in Limassol, Beirut & Jerusalem.