Dancing with Wikileaks

December 6, 2010 by

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Photo by: Olivia Fitusi

A great teacher once taught me: The opposite of peace is not war. The opposite of peace is truth.

His proof text was one of those famous Hillel-Shammai differentiators. What do you say at a wedding if someone asks you if the bride is beautiful? While Shammai would push for brutal honesty, even if the bride is far from related to Bar Raphaeli, Hillel urges us to say that she is beautiful no matter what. “Say she’s gorgeous and get dancing!” In so doing Hillel encourages peace at the expense of truth.

I was left pondering this lesson while browsing through the latest stuff from Wikileaks. I find myself a little torn. I’m generally a believer in the righteous whistle-blowers. I applauded the leaks that exposed terrible wrong-doing in Iraq. As I think Harold Evans once pointed out, journalism is all about publishing that which others wish to suppress: all else is advertising.

But the latest leaks of internal US communications – an upmarket diplomatic gossip page – leave me more ambivalent. It all comes down to the last time I went to church.

I once had the privilege of visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with a wise man who was the director of the Jerusalem Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations. As is well-known, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared extremely uneasily between different denominations. The Greek Orthodox win the downstairs gold-plated contest, the Ethiopians are granted only a quaint sanctuary on the roof, and the Syrians and Armenians argue about the Back Room (officially called St Nicodemus’ Chapel). The Back Room is more of a cave – undeveloped and unused because Syrians and Armenians have never been able to agree who owns it.

The cave/room boasts a single bare light bulb hanging from the roof, and that’s about it.

Our guide told us of the one night he had received a call from the leader of the Syrian Church in Jerusalem: “I want to inform you that the light in our room is broken. I will be going there tomorrow at 6 am to fix it,” intoned the Bishop. Sure enough two minutes later our guide received a similar call from the leader of the Armenian Church: “Our room has a broken light. I will be there at 6 am tomorrow to fix it.”

The message was clear. If the head of the Syrian Church and the head of the Armenian church were to meet at 6 am in the disputed room, in order to assert their respective ownership, all hell would break loose.

Our guide got up early. At 5 am he walked into the disputed room. He removed the broken light bulb and replaced it with a working one. He then called the heads of the Syrian and the Armenian Church one after the other with the following message: “I have just left your room, and I must inform you that the light is not broken at all! It is working fine.” And both the Bishops apologized for their mistake and thanked him for his time.

So I know there’s something silly about this story. But there’s also something rather beautiful. Sometimes situations can’t be solved, or at least not immediately. And in those circumstances sometimes disingenuousness, subterfuge, and lies are not ugly: they are sometimes a careful dance of peace.

I fear that the latest Wikileaks – just like Shammai – scorn dancing.

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