On Coexistence December 2, 2020 by Noor Amanullah
La Convivencia: the coexistence. What was it? What does it mean for us today? Have we ever achieved it? When I recorded the first episode of the La Convivencia podcast, I asked myself a lot of questions about coexistence. For me, the most important were: Was Spanish Coexistence really all that? And: How can we practice effective coexistence today? I didn’t find the answers then, and I still don’t have them now. Rather, I spend time focusing on how my behaviors and those of my communities reflect passive and active coexistence. The Spanish era of coexistence saw a new connection between people of the three major Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) that many had never seen before. The cohabitation and co-learning these communities experienced together persisted, but not until after strong initial resistance. Nor was it perfect. Although different beliefs and cultures met in academia, architecture, and town squares, people still segregated themselves into Christian, Jewish, and Muslim neighborhoods and schools of thought. Within these divisions were further divisions according to class, ethnicity, and occupation. As bearers of the name “La Convivencia” in our own 21st-century communities, we cannot ignore that Spanish coexistence was flawed and imperfect. It is upon us to recognize that it was not perfect. It is extremely difficult to point to any society, today or historically, that has achieved perfect coexistence among people of different faiths and world-views. As a first step toward doing so, I encourage assessing how we participate in passive and active coexistence. When we are passive, we simply tolerate our neighbors. We do not care to resist oppressive social and political structures. We can ignore issues that do not pertain to us because we are not the direct perpetrator or victim. Passive coexistence is simply tolerance, and not much more. Active coexistence allows us to seek the long-lasting social norms that promote continuous peace and co-learning. By centering relationships on respect and an active embrace of difference, we can foster communities defined by justice, equality, inclusion, and equity. When we show up for others, become co-collaborators, and appropriate resources and opportunities for the right people, then we can expect intercultural and interreligious learning at its highest levels. La Convivencia cannot bear this all on its own. It is up to us to make the best of our available programming and opportunities, but also to turn to the political and economic spheres when necessary. We must choose where we spend our money with others in mind, support politicians who support us as well as our neighbors, and be accepting of change when it means a future better suited to active coexistence.
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