Asalaam Aleikum My Muslim Brothers and Sisters,
I am writing you today with both a blessing and a request. The blessing is that the month of Ramadan should bring you opportunities for meaningful reflection, deeper spiritual connection, and greater peace. And in the spirit of the month, I ask you to consider this morning’s New York Time’s coverage of the new Hezbollah museum in Nabatiye, Lebanon. I ask you to speak out against this museum which is actually a shrine to death. I ask you as members of the American Muslim community, particularly if you are Shia believers who share the tradition of those in Hezbollah, and as followers of a faith committed to the dignity of all human beings.
We can disagree about many things related to Lebanon, Israel and Palestine. We can disagree about imagined histories, desired futures, and sources of the ongoing conflicts in the region. But there should be no disagreement about the danger of celebrating death and destruction, even if we do not agree about the rightness of the cause. I fully realize that martyrdom is a sacred concept in Islam. The truth is that the idea is not foreign to Judaism either, or as we all know, to Christianity as well.
But an institution that dresses bloody skeletons in the tattered uniforms of the army it opposes and displays them for children can not be reflective of that which you believe. And if it is not, you must speak out against it. Not because you must oppose Hezbollah though — that is one of the things about which we can and will disagree – but because such displays cross the line from respect for martyrs to a cult of death which will destroy us all.
Please consider a comment made by a father who brought his son to this museum:
“I came here to teach my kids the culture of resistance,” said a visitor who gave his name only as Ahmed, as he stood with his wife and two children. “I want them to see what the enemy is doing to us, and what we can do to fight them, because this enemy is not merciful.”
Is that what you want your children to know? Is it more important to see how any of us can punish our enemies, or to better understand the struggle in which we are engaged? While I would not agree with the narrative in Nabatiye that might replace the current exhibit, I ask you to call upon all who hear your voices, to at least offer the next generation a story that is about something more than hate and rage and death.
Does this father not understand that a so-called “culture of resistance” is not a goal, but a necessity to achieving what he wants? If it is the goal, then the fight must continue forever, for without it both he and his children would lose their identities. And where in this exhibit is the mercy which Ahmed demands from his enemies? How can any of us ask of others what we ourselves will not do? Is that not why so many great Muslim teachers have insisted that the “real Jihad” is the internal one, the one we are called to have with ourselves, even more than with others?
As you spend your days in fasting and in prayer, I hope that you will consider my plea and speak out against this museum and for those values which I believe you hold most dearly.