Brothers' keepers

EVER since the legendary murder of his brother Abel, Cain has had the company of a considerable number of mankind on his side, asking, ``Am I my brother's keeper?'' Over the centuries, groups of people have been learning to enlarge their concept of just who their brother, and sister, is. Loyalty to family and tribe gradually gave way to a concern for a wider environment of human beings. For half a millennium the nation-state has been the outer limit of one's loyalties, although in certain parts of the world, such as Western Europe, there has been a slowly growing pride in what one area of the world has come to stand for in terms of civilization and culture. Perhaps less known to the West, that same kind of pride has existed in the Islamic crescent, arcing from Morocco to Indonesia and encompassing all of the Middle East.

The advent of the most modern means of transportation -- jet aircrafts and spaceships -- and of ever newer forms of communication is forcing a global sense of brotherhood on mankind. Who is ready for it? TV shots of militant Shiites shouting epithets against the West certainly don't indicate a sense of brotherhood there.

Is the sense of brotherhood, however, much greater here in the Western world? How many of us even care to read about the beliefs of another worldwide religion, Islam, or the beliefs of one of its many subgroups, the Shiites, or the concerns of individual Shiites, who more often than not represent the poor of their countries?

Before a realized brotherhood there must be understanding. And that understanding can come only through love, from a sense of compassion, or at least concern, for the lives of those who seem so different from what we in the Western world take as the norm.

None of this makes a crime such as hostage-taking any less a crime. But in the Angst of the moment, one easily forgets that in this age of modern technology it is not going to be business as usual. The world has been made one because it is inevitably traversing a path from separation and division to one in which all men have an interest in the welfare of all others.

It is doubly hard to think this way at a time when the West -- at least the United States -- is being openly taunted and is seemingly without effective weapons. But acknowledging concern for our brother, which Cain did not do, is a constant need. It is not only the implantation of a Western-type society, Israel, in the midst of the Islamic Middle East that challenges mankind to outgrow old concepts, or the reports of strife between Sikhs and Hindus in India that compel us to attempt to understand what we might prefer to consider an internal rivalry in the world's most populous democracy. It is also the knowledge, through television, trade, and travel, of what life is like for mankind all over the globe that forces us to deal with injustices and inequities that we once thought were only the concern of someone else's brother. No longer. We are now that brother.

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