In 2006 I joined the Muslim Jewish Theatre group in Manchester; the group comprised of young Jews and Muslims who were interested in changing the status quo of Muslim-Jewish relations.
The project started in November and we performed the play we devised together in March 2007. We spent the first few weeks getting to know each other and playing more drama games than I can remember, before moving on to discuss the more difficult subject of the Israel/Palestine debate. It quickly transpired following this discussion that the two groups, bar a few in the middle, had radically polar views on the topic.
Following the discussion, the already fragile friendships and relationships we had built in the first few weeks began to crumble. Realising this, the director decided that the topic of Israel/Palestine was off the table. At the time I thought it was very prudent of the director to end the controversial debate, but over the years wonder if that was the best option.
In December 2008, the war in Gaza started, and so too did the PR war online. Facebook statuses and wall posts highlighted the conflicting views of members of the group. And although Facebook pronounces your views publicly it doesn’t allow for dialogue or discussion.
Over the last 4 years I have lost touch with those who had extremely conflicting opinions to my own. And I wonder if we had been able to discuss the Israel/Palestine issue, would still be in touch today? Would we, through enduring the more difficult conversations, been able to appreciate opinions and views that were completely opposites of our own? And without compromising our own values and morals, would we be able to at least try and appreciate the other side.
I appreciate the director’s decision to close the door on Israel/Palestine discussions, otherwise how could she get us to work together here in the UK, if we were arguing about situations thousands of miles away? And why should the situation in the Middle East prevent us from working together on equally important issues such as the rise of the British National Party (BNP) or the increase in gang violence in the UK.
In January 2012 we are launching an interfaith theatre group, called I.F Theatre, ‘I’ for inter and ‘F’ for faith, which is, conveniently an acronym for ‘if’. The group will aim to answer the question ‘What if people of different faiths worked together, what would that look like?’ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said, people working together ‘face to face’ is not as fruitful as people working together ‘side by side’
And that is what we are trying to create; an opportunity for people to work side by side with people of diverse faiths and backgrounds. It is an opportunity for us to make a difference, to use theatre as a medium to share our experiences with others and to show that relations between different faiths are not all negative.
During the sessions we won’t discuss issues that divide us, such as Kashmir, or abortion or even something as fundamental as ‘does God Exist?’ I believe that if we can first get people talking about common concerns and matters; such as ending extreme poverty or eradicating malaria, then maybe they can begin to appreciate the commonality in all of us and do more for the world than arguing endlessly about situations around the world.If you fancy making a difference, visit our facebook group for more details of how you can get involved.