August 25, 2010

Small World, Huge Differences

Working at home as a writer, in this era of the world wide web, I’m occasionally stopped in my tracks by how small the world is and how huge our cultural differences are.

This was brought home today as I talked about cybersecurity with Doron Pely, a former Israeli intelligence officer. I’m in California, he’s in Israel, and Skype allowed us to talk as easily as I talk to friends a few miles away or on the East Coast.

Pely is trying to understand how the methods of settling disputes in the multi-cultural community of Gaza and surrounding area might be use to solve problems in other areas of the world. If and when they manage to figure them out there, of course.

The problem today, he says, is that interest-based negotiation is a western technique that’s culturally impossible for Muslim communities to understand, nevermind accept. Tribal by nature and history, agreements are reached with the help of intermediaries for the very good reason that if you sit down with someone face to face he’s close enough to kill you. So agreements are reached by negotation and finalized with arbitration—all with the help of third parties. “Let us sit and reason together” in out of the question.

In the midst of this conversation I heard what I thought was sirens, and considering where he is I wondered if something was up. No, he said, it’s just loud-speakers calling Muslim faithful to prayer at sundown and announcing the end of the daily Ramadan fast.

He turned his laptop and with the built-in webcam showed me the view from his window of the city, 7500 miles away, and a fort on a neighboring hill that dates back to the Ottoman Empire.

Sitting at my desk in Southern California, with a view of the Pacific Ocean it’s thrilling to think that the technology we’ve developed makes it possible for us to literally and figuratively share views. But it also makes me sad to think that there are people there and people here that are eager to kill each other, simply over differences in views thanks to accident of birth and differences in culture.

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One Response to Small World, Huge Differences

  1. T Isaac says:

    How very apropos to all of us this very day.

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