There was a bit of stir a few weeks ago when Jon Stewart welcomed Ann Baltzar and Dr. Mustafa Barghouti onto The Daily Show. Baltzar is author of Witness in Palestine: A Jewish American Woman in the Occupied Territories, and Barghouti is “a leading figure in the Palestinian democratic and nonviolent movement for peace.” The stir resulted from having two guests that approach the issue from a “Palestinian point of view.”
At one point in the interview a member of the audience yells “liar” to Barghouti (apparently the first heckler in the show’s 11 years), and Stewart quickly turns it into fodder for discussion asking Barghouti how he maintains hope when people “can’t even agree to begin the conversation.”
Trent had a look at the video of this exchange last Friday, and clued me in on something I completely missed — a close connection to a story Karen Armstrong tells in this week’s program. Both of these situations involve someone in the audience disrupting the discussion, and a consideration of how best to handle it. From the transcript, a story that took place at the “God 2000” conference at Oregon State University:
And then when we were on the final panel, suddenly erupted in the hall a fundamentalist who started to shriek at us incoherently. What I could make out was that he was saying that Jews and Muslims denied Jesus and therefore they were going to hell, and all of those of us who sided with Jews and Muslims were also going to hell, and this was evil. And you couldn’t hear much, because he was so incoherent with rage and despair. What I could hear, however, was the note of pain in his voice. This was not just some loony. This was somebody who was suffering and in pain, and felt profoundly threatened by what we were saying.
And the point is that we, seven of us on this panel — we’re all articulate people, we’d all been talking nonstop to each other and to the audience for the last two days. We were utterly struck dumb. None of us could say a word. We felt utterly winded by this assault. Even me, and I should have known better, because I’d just finished my book on fundamentalism. I couldn’t think of anything to say. Eventually this man was hustled out, and the moderator said, ‘Well, I wish we could have talked to him, because he is part of the conference of God, “Where Is God at 2000?” He’s part of this conversation.’ But somehow we couldn’t talk with one another. He was incoherent, we were struck dumb and useless, and this is the problem that we’re facing.
With that in mind, there’s something in Barghouti’s response that he would “very much like to meet” the man who raised his voice and heckled. Perhaps simply a willingness to start the conversation is hopeful enough.