Can I Participate If I Disagree?
Some time ago Bee and I were discussing our shared frustration at similar experiences. Bee attended a religious event with a particular theological inclination different from hers, and I attended a cultural event with strong political affiliations different from mine. We both went primarily due to close relationships with some of the event organizers.
Prior to the event people began to approach me. My spouse expressed his surprise that I would attend this particular cultural event. When I told a friend that I would attend, she said she wouldn’t have expected something like this of me. These assumptions annoyed me. I understood the ideological premises of the event; I didn’t agree with them, but did disagreement mean I could not attend?
As I mingled at the event, one of the coordinators came and asked if I knew the event was nationalist. The question surprised me. Does my attendance in support of some friends with whom I ideologically disagree indicate my ignorance of the organizers’ ideological predispositions? Are those of other ideological persuasions precluded from participation? If I disagree, does this mean I should not attend? Regardless of our differing opinions, shouldn’t I evaluate the event based on my own experience rather than hearsay? And because I am not a nationalist in alignment with the events’ nationalism, do the event coordinators have the right to define all of Israeli nationalism and appropriate legitimate nationalist expressions exclusively for themselves? These questions swirled in my mind throughout the evening.
Luckily, I found a good opportunity to discuss my feelings, since just a few weeks earlier Bee encountered something similar. Prior to the religious event she attended, Bee’s Palestinian friends came and asked if she knew that some of the Israeli Jewish organizers opposed the ideology of some of her other Palestinian friends. Yes, she was aware, and she was still attending. At the event a woman approached her and asked if she had “switched camps” and joined the event’s religious perspectives. No, Bee did not, but since when was it a matter of “camps”? She wondered out loud to me, could she not attend an event in support of her friends without the assumption that she was part of “them” and joining “us”? Could she not disagree with the ideology of the organizers and still show solidarity with some of her friends who did attend?
My conversations before, during, and after the event I attend, and Bee’s conversation with me about her experiences have stayed with me. This idea that, even in relationships with one another, we’re still speaking in terms of “camps” -- “our camp” versus “their camp.” This idea that political, theological or ideological differences prevent us from being physically present in certain spaces. This idea that those who might choose to place their bodies in spaces where a different dominant perspective will be heard are ignorant of what is happening. To me, it’s a way of denying the legitimacy of our presence, our agency, our ability to believe differently from some of you but still choose to be present among you. To me, it feels like some of my friends and acquaintances cannot permit our differences, instead viewing my expression of relationship and presence as illegitimate and suspicious when there is ideological disagreement between us.
I can’t help but feel frustrated and depressed after evaluating these experiences. How is it that people we know well could ask us these things and assume our differences must keep us apart? Is there no way to respectfully disagree and still support our friends who are different than us? Between me and Bee we have over two decades of involvement in peace building efforts and we both frequent spaces and maintain relationships with those different than us. Our ideological leanings are no secret. After replaying these conversations and thinking through them again and again, I’m left with an abrupt non-answer. I don’t know what to make of these conversations.
I ask myself this question and am answered with silence, so I leave you with the same question in the event you have answers beyond the silence in my mind: If these suspicions and assumptions are voiced among people who know each other well and have known each other for such a long time, how can we possibly expect those without close relationships to allow space for one another’s differences?