Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Business of Bridge-Building

Recently a few links to news pages back in the land where I was born brought much sadness to me… many showed me proof that the place I still refer to as “home”, is no longer the multicultural oasis I had the privilege of growing up in. So-called learned people throw divisive darts at peace and harmony. Supposed scholars pound the wedge called racism into what now seems a chasm among people of all races who call Malaysia their homeland, “tanahair”, a Malay word that always gets me teary-eyed. Many politicians encourage the divide, contributing to more tears.

I read recently, this marvelous quote, “Speak the truth, even when your voice shakes.” I am about to do so in the first of a series of blogposts… speak the truth … even though my voice is shaking as I speak. Why?  It is because I have friends on both sides of the chasm. Friends I love dearly. Friends I consider family, no matter their race, language or faith. And by speaking, I will most likely cause discomfort or pain.

My voice shakes for fear of offending those I love. And yet, if I am afraid to offend with the truth which I will gently encourage you to ponder, perhaps our friendship is more like an aquaintance and not a friendship.

I believe there is truth in this quote, “Similarities create friendships while differences hold them together.  I love my friends not just because sometimes we are similar in thought but because our differences are like a forge that creates the masterpiece of long-lasting relationships which survive the test of time and personal convictions. I celebrate our strength in our similarities as well as our differences. 

Although I know the prejudicial literature I have read recently may not represent the general opinion of the people in my birthplace, as there are very many critical thinkers there too, unfortunately the critical thinkers have stayed the silent majority. Perhaps there is much for you to lose if you speak up. I can understand that. I do hope and pray that you find a wise way to speak the truth, even if your voice shakes before it is too late, before generations of racial harmony and mutual respect gets stomped beyond any shred of recognition.

Consistent with how I have led my life since I was young, thanks to leadership from my own parents, I now teach my own children to be “colour blind” when developing friendships.  I am convinced there is eternal value in the work of bridge building among nations. I just wish there were more of us bridge builders out there. It gets tiring after a while if nobody joins you in the work. Every brick I put up, there seems to be more than 10 others out there eager to shoot the brick down.

The marvelous piece of writing below was produced by my 10-year old. She and her classmates were asked to first, listen to a story read by their teacher and then, re-write what they heard and understood of the story. The story was read four times and the name of the Sultan was simplified for spelling purposes for the kids. Please, don’t anybody get offended now.

I was amazed by the story when I first read my daughter’s work and I made it a teachable moment as we talked about honour, differences, and respect among peoples as well as the flipside, which was hatred, prejudice and ignorance.

I hope you enjoy my daughter’s retelling of a wonderful story of chivalry and nobility in one of the darkest times of human history where wrong was committed on both sides of the war.

The Noblest Knight

Eight hundred years back, an English knight called Sir Hugh de Tabardie fought in the Crusades against the Muslims. Unfortunately, he was thrown off his horse during the battle and was captured.
Soldiers had to pay a ransom of 100 bezants to be freed. Squires had to pay 500 bezants as a ransom. Knights, like Sir Hugh, had to pay one thousand bezants or more.
Back at the Muslims’ camp, the Sultan, Saladin*, told Sir Hugh his ransom.  “You have fought well,” he said. “You must pay a ransom of 8,000 golden bezants.” “8,000 bezants?!” said Sir Hugh, “Were I to sell my horse, my castle and all of my lands, I couldn’t even reach half that amount!”
“Then you will remain prisoner here forever,” replied Saladin.
“Noble Saladin,” said Sir Hugh, “If you will allow me to go free for 30 days, I will try to raise 8,000 golden bezants.”
“And if you do not return?”
“You may do with me as you wish.”
Saladin’s commanders laughed long and hard at Sir Hugh’s suggestion. That Saladin would let a captured knight go free just by keeping his word? What an idea! But Saladin wasn’t laughing.
“Very well. However, if you fail to raise the money, I will put you to death!” he boomed.
Sir Hugh didn’t flinch. “I promise,” he said.
Sir Hugh got onto his horse and rode off to the Crusaders’ camp. The soldiers were astonished that Sir Hugh had returned. “Saladin granted me 30 days to raise 8,000 golden bezants,” Sir Hugh said. Some contributed to Sir Hugh’s ransom but most did not. It made no sense for a free knight to pay a ransom. Sir Hugh counted the money he had raised.
Thirty days passed. Sir Hugh had only raised 400 bezants. Sadly he returned to the Muslims’ camp.
“Have you brought me your ransom?” demanded Saladin.
“I have raised only four hundred bezants,” said Sir Hugh solemnly.
“And still you have returned, knowing that you were going to your death?” asked Saladin.
“I have kept my word,” said Sir Hugh.
“Then, surely it would dishonour us, to put a man that kept a promise made to an enemy, to death. Who here will contribute to Sir Hugh’s ransom?” Saladin then passed a brass bowl around and each commander dropped a handful of gold bezants into it.
When they were finished, Saladin counted out the money. “There are 10,000 bezants here. I will double it!” Saladin turned to Sir Hugh. “Your ransom has been paid many times over,” he said. “Sir Hugh, you may go free and here – take your ransom money with you. It is a gift from us.”
“But noble Saladin,” Sir Hugh said, “how can I accept this gift if I know that others still linger in captivity? Take back the 20,000 bezants and use them to free as many prisoners as you will allow,” said Sir Hugh.
Saladin replied, “I myself, will pay the prisoners’ ransoms. They are all free. Take them with you.”
As Sir Hugh traveled back to England, his story followed him. Years passed, and even when Sir Hugh was older, people would still point to him and say, “There goes Sir Hugh de Tabardie, the noblest knight that ever lived!”
But Sir Hugh would always reply, “Not so. The noblest knight was once my enemy. And if I were not Sir Hugh, I would gladly be Saladin, for he is the noblest knight of all.”
The END. (By Kiara L.) 

*Sultan Salahah-Din was respected by Crusaders despite being their nemesis. His chivalry was noted by many Christian chroniclers.