As I struggled with the strange aftertaste in my mouth after reading “The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict,” I have been left wondering, should I swallow? I was not sure if this was a sugar coated pill or a spoonful of sugar. I was not sure if I was being given a sweet story to help the medicine of interpersonal learning go down, or if I was receiving some interpersonal lessons to conceal the fact that some very heavy opinions about race relations in the Middle East and the United States were being fed to me surreptitiously. After all, isn’t the best propaganda hidden in plain sight?
Hidden in the midst of it all was the lesson that Palestinians ought to look to Israelis to see how they can bring peace by caring for the needs of the ones that they see as their oppressors, and that African Americans were in the wrong for protesting in outrage in the streets.
In order to know what this was in my mouth, it was very important to know who formed this narrative, regardless of whether they intended consciously to sway people politically or not.
I soon saw that as I was drawn into the story of a Palestinian Arab Muslim, who has experienced oppression, teaching a white man how to treat the people in his life better, what I was actually reading was a group of white men using a fictional story, barely perceptible as such, to teach oppressed people that their suffering was of their own making.
Let me explain.
If you are in any kind of leadership role in the United Methodist Church, it is likely that you have been asked this year to read “The Anatomy of Peace” by The Arbinger Institute. It’s a feel-good read that, during these stressful times for the denomination, gives many of us hope that we can figure this all out.
It’s feel-good. Real good. Maybe too good?
As the book describes itself:
Yusuf al-Falah, an Arab, and Avi Rozen, a Jew, each lost his father at the hands of the other’s ethnic cousins. The Anatomy of Peace is the story of how they came together, how they help warring parents and children come together, and how we too can find our way out of the struggles that weigh us down.
The weight and authority of the information presented in the book comes from the horrific experiences that these two men have experienced and the way that they have overcome their pain in order to create a progam for youth in Arizona called Camp Moriah.
The only problem is – these men do not exist. There is not a Dr. Yusuf al-Falah who teaches at Arizona State University. There is not a Camp Moriah in the wilderness near Phoenix.
Technically the authors have themselves covered because there is a sentence in the preface, if you were diligent to read it, that states, “Although some of the stories in this book were inspired by actual events, no character or organization described in this book represents any specific person or organization. In many respects, these characters are each of us.”
Despite this subtly placed disclaimer, however, the clear intention of the book is to get the reader lost in the story and drawn into the characters; and, thereby, to use the experiences of those characters to lend credence and authority to the teachings.
The fact that these people and places do not exist would not be a problem were it not for the people and places that do exist in their place.
When I Googled “Camp Moriah,” what came up on my google map was The Anasazi Foundation, the actual location of the lessons in the book. The Anasazi Foundation in Mesa, Arizona is a Troubled Teen Wilderness Treatment Center near Arizona State University and Phoenix. Its President and CEO, Mike Merchant, writes one of the glowing references for the book at the beginning.
Although founded by Larry Olson and mentee Ezekiel Sanchez, scrolling down past Michael Merchant’s photo on the Anasazi Foundation staff page, and past the two white men who are the Co-Directors, one could perhaps wonder whether this is an all white staff running a Foundation named after an ancient Native American people. Apart from co-Founder Ezekiel Sanchez, it would appear that the Foundation has a Board of Directors also made up entirely of white men.
The Anasazi Foundation, confirms that they are in fact Camp Moriah on their “About” page, “ANASAZI’s preventive efforts—including parenting workshops and community drug awareness/education forums—have inspired two international best-sellers (Leadership and Self-Deception and The Anatomy of Peace).”
So, Camp Moriah does not exist, but the Anasazi Foundation does.
Does that matter?
You tell me. Does it bother you that you were drawn into a story about a Palestinian Muslim and an Israeli Jew who had both experienced trauma and built Camp Moriah in response, with a superfluous amount of information and opinions about Palestinian/Israeli relations, only to find out that that camp is actually directed by a group of white folks with degrees from schools like Brigham Young and Liberty University?
Does it matter to you how things are framed? It matters to me. Especially when the truth and the fiction are so far from one another.
The men in this story, Yusuf al-Falah and Avi Rosen, build authority to speak directly to the experiences of the oppressed because they have experienced oppression and trauma. Why frame it this way when the men who work at the Arbinger Institute and the Anasazi Foundation are so far from that reality?
Why frame work done by white men from Brigham Young University as work done by men who have suffered in the Middle East?
Could it be that we would only listen to critiques of the oppressed if they came from the oppressed themselves? Necessitating, therefore, an act of authorial black-face in order to help us to swallow a philosophy that the oppressed create their own problems by not attending to the needs of the oppressor
Which brings us to the character of Dr. Benjamin Arrig, an African American scholar seemingly at Yale, who at this point you ought to be able to guess is also fictitious. The fictitious Palestinian, Yusuf, watches as “black protestors were being restrained by shield-carrying police who were shooting tear gas toward the crowds.”
As a Palestinian, he feels empathy with the oppressed protestors, until Dr. Arrig teaches him a better way, telling him that both are in the wrong because while the police have the tear gas, the protestors have “the desire for tear gas” (p. 187).
(Would it interest you to know that one of the featured leaders from the Arbinger Institute is “Charles “Chip” Huth, “a Major with the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department. He has 26 years of law enforcement experience, commands KCPD’s Special Operations Division, and is the State of Missouri’s defensive tactics subject matter expert.”)
Therefore, Arrig teaches, “If you see a people of a particular race or culture as objects your view of them is racist, whatever your color or lack of color or your power or lack of power… [The oppressed become the oppressors] Because most who are trying to put an end to injustice only think of the injustices they believe they themselves have suffered. Which means that they are concerned not really with injustice but with themselves. They hide their focus on themselves behind the righteousness of their outward cause” (p. 189).
You may have felt uncomfortable when you read that part, if only subconsciously, but maybe swallowed it down because it was a Black man saying it about other Black people.
But it wasn’t.
Those words, that sound all too much like talking points from a conservative pundit, are exactly that.
You see, the founder of the philosophy presented in Anatomy of Peace is neither Yusuf nor Ben, neither a Palestinian scholar nor an African American scholar but – you guessed it – a white man who teaches at Brigham Young University. While you were picturing a stoic African American gentleman on the green at Yale, the person actually producing this knowledge was probably sitting in an office down in Utah, looking a little bit like this. This is the Founder of the Arbinger Institute, BYU Professor Emeritus, Dr. C. Terry Warner, who did in fact go to Yale, prompting the nod to his alma mater. He built a philosophy that we are responsible for our negative actions and emotions that sometimes leads us to accuse others of oppressing us rather than attending to the needs of those we are accusing. To give some context, up until the year when C. Terry Warren founded the Arbinger Institute at Brigham Young University, the Mormon faith had barred African America men, like the fictional Dr. Arrig, from the ranks of their priesthood. One might wonder if Warner met someone like Dr. Arrig at Yale. If he did, however, one would think to find the credit given to him, if not in this fictional book than it least in the white paper of the Arbinger Institute that explains their philosophical grounding. Unfortunately, in neither the white paper nor the video of the history of philosophy before C. Terry Warner is Arrig found. Only white male philosophers, like Freud, preceded C. Terry Warner in his path to knowledge according to the video.
While Warner’s philosophy is the foundation of these theories and practices, we cannot look to him as the author of the book, although it is his philosophy being taught. The book, abstractly credited to The Arbinger Institute, does in fact have one named author in James Ferrell, the Managing Partner of the Arbinger Institute. And, yes, James also went to Yale… before coming to Brigham Young University.
If you’re interested, these are the faces of the Arbinger Institute.
Amongst them are, “Charles “Chip” Huth, who as referred to above, “consults for international law enforcement, military, and corporate clients” and Cameron Cozzens, who has “more than two decades of distinguished leadership and operational experience in the Intelligence and Special Operations communities.” You see how the book reads differently when you remove the fictional narrative and see the wizard behind the curtain?
Those who deal in war are teaching us how to create peace.
So, one must ask, what kind of peace is this?
Is it Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s false peace that is the absence of tension, or true peace that is the presence of justice? Is it an approach that affirms those that stand up for justice, or condemns them as blaming others for problems they have created themselves? As Dr. King wrote,
“You assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion?… Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
Why does this book want us to see the robber and the robbed as both bearing a responsibility to fix the theft? It wants us to say “there were good people and bad people on both sides.” When we take all these teachings and critiques of the oppressed out of the mouths of a fictitious Palestinian Arab and a fictitious African American scholar, and place them in their rightful context in the mouths of the white men that truly created them, it becomes quite a different conversation.
Why place this between an Israeli man and a Palestinian man? It may interest you to look at the recommendations at the beginning of the book to see that among them are two Former Director Generals of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Former Chief of Staff of the Prime Minister of Israel. Not a Palestinian in sight.
“It doesn’t matter if you have power,” one of the statements from the fictional Arrig, is something that in actuality only people with extreme power could desire or afford to say.
As lovely as this book is, could it perhaps be the long awaited response from the White Moderates to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s scathing “Letter from A Birmingham Jail”?
*Dedicated to Gwyn, the fictional daughter of Ben Arrig, because you are much more than the caricature of the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype that you were cast as. I am sorry they put words in your mouth. I know, there were no women of color in the room to stick up for you; quite possibly no women at all… I hope this helps.
Thank you to Rev. Dr. Dottie Escobedo-Frank and Pat for being my conversation partners as I wrestled with this.