Nancy Cahners

Trying to be Moral

Nancy—What can I say? You’re an Enlightenment Trooper, relentlessly trying to make sense of what has no moral compass or rational foundation. Good luck with that!!

Someone I admire wrote this to me after I challenged the objectivity of a newscast that was circulated on our chat group. I was worried—as I always am—about being misled and manipulated by media. The video commentator was emphatically pro-Israel, and so am I. But his closing comments led toward an indictment of ALL Muslims.  

And that was the position I struggled against– and still do. Lumping all Muslims together can’t be right. Or is it? Some people say “yes.”

I can’t tell if calling me an “Enlightenment Trooper” is a compliment or a gently patronizing nudge. I thought the Enlightenment was generally accepted as a good thing. Did something change with October 7? If you have a movement that supports knowledge, liberty, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, separation of Church and State, I still want you to count me in. Is that a mistake?  

And yes, I am trying as hard as I can to hold onto certain notions of open-mindedness, pluralism, fair treatment and free speech. I hope that at the end of this war I will come out the other side somewhat intact philosophically. Nevertheless, it’s hard. The horror of the October 7 massacre. Hamas’s outrageous manipulations and lies. I’m stumped by the appeal of Hamas on US college campuses—especially among LGBTQ members and women.

Sometimes it feels like some people think being Pro-Israel has to mean being Anti-Palestinian. I sure hope not. Am I Anti-Hamas? You bet! Without reservation! But I struggle against letting my rage call all the shots. Even so, I realize how much better it feels to feel hatred rather than helplessness and grief.

Many conversations I have in Israel about the war starts out with the enemy called Hamas. Then references slide into the Gazans, then move to Radical Muslims and Jihadists, and then, before you know it, we’re talking about all Palestinians, and, if the conversation lasts long enough, a global Muslim movement that has spread over the west, perverting the minds of well-intentioned but misguided college students and ignorant liberals.  

Are there any other Enlightenment Troopers left in earshot? I need help rebutting the claims that Muslims are taught from birth to hate and kill Jews, and that much of Islam is waging a war not just against the Jews, but against all of Western civilization. And I need help bolstering my commitment to pluralism in light of the compelling evidence supporting these claims.

My personal face-to-face experience with Arab/Palestinian/Muslims has been consistently positive. And that’s the reality I want to defend and build. But maybe you can’t think like this during a war. Maybe fighting a war is so awful, you need to put those lofty Enlightenment values aside for calmer days. This will be hard for me.

My prayer for myself is that I can once again relate to the person in front of me expecting them to be sane and decent. That I will see the person beyond their label and generalizations. And I pray that I won’t get harmed for daring to trust in their good intentions. Before October 7, that strategy worked. Will it again?

About the Author
Nancy Cahners was the Design Director of MIT Technology Review, until one day, the entire staff was fired. Poof! Gone. After a stint at Harvard Divinity School and Medical School, she became a Healthcare Chaplain and Medical Ethicist. Her work has appeared in the Boston Globe, The Jewish Advocate and has been broadcast on NPR’s Morning Stories and Morning Edition and TLV1’s WhyWhyWhy. She lives in Neve Tzedek where she takes the same Ulpan course over and over again, and steals posters. She also helps her daughter’s family keep up with their laundry.
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