The surprising - and stunning - win by Hamas in a free and fair election in the Palestinian parliament has taken the world by surprise.
A thoughtful article in this newspaper ("Hamas win shatters status quo," Jan. 27) points out that Hamas, which appears not to be willing to withdraw or modify its charter calling for Israel's destruction, may not be able to receive international aid because of its status as a terrorist organization. Without such aid, the Palestinian Authority will run out of money within weeks. Thus, the article observes, the Palestinians have elected a group that may not be able to deliver a government, and peace in the Middle East seems to have receded far over the horizon.
This victory may force a dose of what Henry Kissinger often referred to as "realpolitik," foreign policy based on practical concerns rather than pure ideology, a luxury that a self-styled "liberation movement" may indulge in but not fitting for sovereign entities living in the era of political, economic, and cultural globalization.
I am reminded of a conversation I had many years ago when apartheid ruled South Africa. I was talking with a high ranking official in the African National Congress (ANC), then headquartered in Lusaka, Zambia. As best I remember, she observed, "We have to start thinking now about transforming ourselves from an authoritarian liberation organization, oriented towards military strategies, to the inevitable day when we will win the elections peacefully. We must become a bureaucratic and tolerant organization before that happens."
And of course, that is what happened, when peaceful elections changed the face of South Africa, and ANC leaders became the leaders of that nation.
Even now, as euphoria still glows in West Bank and Gaza neighborhoods, I'm sure that, behind closed doors, a great deal of sober thinking about the future is going on in Hamas leadership circles. It is here that prayer can help tip the balance from the horror of suicide bombers to the less dramatic but more important spirit of negotiations that would characterize Middle Eastern realpolitik.
I think prayer of affirmation, that sees the absolute omnipresence, majesty, glory, and mercy of one infinite God, is a point of convergence for all in the Abrahamic religious traditions - every Christian, Jew, and Muslim. The first Sura in the Koran reads, "Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds! The Compassionate, the Merciful! King on the Day of Reckoning! Thee only do we worship, and to Thee do we cry for help. Guide Thou us on the straight path, the path of those to whom Thou has been gracious, - with whom Thou art not angry, and who go not astray."
This prayer for divine guidance finds an echo in Psalms: "In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness.... For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name's sake lead me, and guide me" (Ps. 31:1, 3). These words have comforted Christians and Jews for centuries.
Both of these prayers begin with this foundation: the affirmation of the all-power of God. This is not a minor point. It is absolutely essential for building a structure of tolerance and brotherhood.
At the time of the Russo- Japanese war, Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor, wrote an article for the Boston Globe with the title, "How strife may be stilled." She declared: "God is Father, infinite, and this great truth, when understood in its divine metaphysics, will establish the brotherhood of man, end wars, and demonstrate 'on earth peace, good will toward men' " ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," p. 279).
Acknowledging God as the great First Cause, the infinite source of all good, is vital at this crucial point in history. All of us, all over the planet, have a stake in the establishment of peace in the Middle East, and our prayers for our divine Father's guidance to cut through rhetoric, political posturing, and fear must be made without ceasing.