When Liam and Caleb argue it mostly devolves into some version of “did not did too” or “he’s wrong no he is” or “I hate you no I hate you”  and the ever-popular “I’m not listeningtoyou lalalala,”  which is usually accompanied by fingers in the ears (Caleb) or headphones clamped down (Liam). 

“Just behave” I say (and sometimes yell). And then I mediate, separate, adjudicate. Usually–not always but usually–a truce is brokered, concessions are made, apologies offered and (grudgingly) accepted.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the boys fight not only because they’ve been doing it a lot (god save us from long Augusts with no organized activities: familiarity truly does breed contempt, methinks), but also because their fights remind me of the attacks against Cordoba House, the proposed Islamic Community Center in downtown Manhattan.  So here’s Roy Blunt, running for Senate in Missouri (and why someone in Missouri feels he should weigh in on a Manhattan real estate deal is a whole ‘nother question), saying that building Cordoba House is the equivalent of Dr. Laura spewing racial insults on her radio show.  Or this memo from teaparty.org, asking if “blanket tolerance will be the downfall of Judeo/Christian society?” 

It’s as if the Tea Bag Brains are screaming at the top of their lungs with their fingers in their ears, “lalala I’m not listening to anything you say”  and anyone who opposes them is a commiepinkohippiefaggotlesbianliberalmusliminfidelsocialist, like, you know, that crazy-ass liberal Mike Bloomberg, whose support of Cordoba marks the first time I’ve been proud to call him “my mayor.” 

When Liam and Caleb bitch at each other, I don’t listen, and in fact, lately, I don’t even ask “what happened?’ because I don’t really want to know. What I want is for them to figure out ways of negotiating with one another that don’t involve screaming (accompanied by dollops of shoving).  And Tea Baggers screaming about the Muslim terrorist threat, or quoting the Koran out of context so that it sounds like a jihadist handbook, aren’t listening, aren’t talking, aren’t interested in any kind of conversation whatsoever.  Any religious text can be twisted out of context so that it sounds bloodthirsty–the Bible, for example, says that anyone who works on the Sabbath should be put to death (Exodus 35:2). A wildly funny satire  of what would happen if we took religious teachings completely out of context, the way Tea Bag Brains do with the Koran, has been circulating on the web: click here to read it.

How do we get people to take their fingers out of their ears and start listening to one another? Seems like that’s the question for our time.

One possibility emerges – and it emerges from the very hotbed of Muslim-ness, from a place that doubtless the Tea Baggers would say is seething with potential jihadi who despise all things Western and are incapable of acknowledging other perspectives (to which I’d say, “gosh, project much, folks?” )

Yeah. Out there in the UAE, in Abu Dhabi (the country that is not Dubai), they’ve started a college. A joint venture between the Abu Dhabi government and NYU; a college for incredibly bright students from around the world, including Russia, Hungary, Latin America, Africa, Canada, Asia, India, the US, and the UAE, who will live and study in Abu Dhabi, at a western-style liberal arts college. A college based on the age-old premise that without a free and open exchange of ideas, we cannot hope to survive as a global civilization.

The first batch of 150 students arrived in Abu Dhabi yesterday to begin their journey; they bring with them their own cultures and habits, their own flaws and foibles, their own expectations and interests. They’re going to share dorm rooms and classrooms and cafeterias; they’re arriving during Ramadan and so tonight, regardless of their own religious beliefs, they will all sit down together at an iftar dinner, the celebratory meal that happens after sundown during this month of fasting.

These kids, these brave 18 year olds, many of whom are half-a-world away from everything familiar, are the vanguard; they’re going to help break through the wall of people screaming, fingers in their ears,  lalalala I’m not listening.  They’re going to teach the rest of us how to use our words and stop shoving; they’re going to grow up, these pioneering Abu Dhabi kids, they’re going to build bridges across oceans of difference; and they’re going to teach the world how to behave.

Yeah, okay, I know that sounds all “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony…” but do you have a better idea?

So I say, to all at NYU Abu Dhabi, marhaba (welcome).