“An amazing letter home in which a WW1 soldier describes the moment British and German troops put down their weapons & greeted each other…”
Text: Solveig Hansen, 2015
When letters in a pangram start falling off a memorial plaque, the letters are banned, with harsh punishments for those who use the forbidden characters. This is the plot in Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. Written in 2001, the story is a commentary on issues like censorship and freedom of speech. It is also a fable for lovers of words.
First, some facts and history: A pangram is a sentence that contains all the letters of a given alphabet, at least once. A perfect pangram uses each letter only once. The opposite of a pangram is called a lipogram, in which one or more letters are omitted. Today, pangrams are typically used to display samples of typefaces on computer screens.
The best known English pangram is The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog, first used at the end of the 19th century as writing practice. Later, it was used to test typewriters and teleprintes.
Another 19th century pangram is Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs, made well known by Mark Dunn in his novel Ella Minnow Pea, in which the search for a shorter pangram is part of the plot.
Ella Minnow Pea
In the novel, the pangram The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog is credited to Nevin Nollop, a fictitious inhabitant of the equally fictitious island of Nollop, off the coast of South Carolina. The pangram is written on tiles on his memorial statue. When the letter tiles start falling off, the island’s high council bans the use of the fallen letters from all communication, written and spoken, and enforces a penalty system for using them. Neighbors are encouraged to spy on neighbors and report violations to the council.
The story is conveyed through mails and notes sent between various characters, and as the alphabet diminishes, the letters disappear from the novel. When the first letter, z, falls off, the heroine of the novel, Ella Minnow Pea, explains:
“To speak or write any word containing the letter Z, or to be found in possession of any written communication containing this letter, one will receive for a first offense a public oral reprimand… Second offenders will be offered choice between the corporal pain of body-flogging and the public humiliation of headstock upon the public square. For third offense, violators will be banished from the island. Refusal to leave upon order of Council will result in death.”
Then the letter q falls off and is outlawed. Ella writes:
“As luck would have it, there are simply not all that many words in the English language which claim this letter among its constituents.”
However, even the removal of the two least-used letters has its repercussions: the loss of radio and newspaper and recordings of music with lyrics.
When d falls, the days of the weeks are renamed:
In the end, only five letters remain, LMNOP (= Ella Minnow Pea, get it?). “Now onlee 5 remain at 12 o’time. Onlee 5. Onlee 5 remain,” Ella writes to herself in her penultimate letter.
The solution to restore their language and topple Nollop from his godlike stature, is to find a pangram of 32 letters, in contrast to Nollop’s 35. Ella discovers this phrase in one of her father’s letters: Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs. Read the rest of the book for yourself.
Excerpts from the book:
Now 21, in her bio-note Rawan Yaghi writes: “I believe in literature’s power to cross borders and walls. I have experienced fiction’s ability to erase mental boundaries of nationalities and prejudices, and its ability to reach the human core of people….”
In her bio-note, Elham Hilles notes that “Writing is a way of resistance….” And Hanan Habashi specifies the resistance in hers: “Because many people around the world think they have the right to speak on their behalf, Palestinians are suffering two opposing stereotypical images that are equally disturbing and doing the just cause injustice: the Palestinian as a helpless victim, a mere object of sympathy, or as a bloodthirsty savage. Palestinians are neither.”
Dr. Shai Har-El is the Founder and President of the Middle East Peace Network (MEPN). His new book, Where Islam and Judaism Join Together: A Perspective on Reconciliation, is due to be released in the summer of 2014. In the book, he quotes “the rope of God” from the Koran and says that Islam and Judaism can no longer be separate dangling ropes next to each other, but be tied together, and “each rope must give up little, surrender a bit of its original length, to achieve a stronger unity.”
Jews and Muslims Can Build a Common Ground
By Dr. Shai Har-El
I am pleased to announce the publication by Palgrave and MacMillan of my new book, Where Islam and Judaism Join Together: A Perspective on Reconciliation this summer. This book is the result of many years of thinking, speaking and writing about peace. It is a sincere effort to go back to our sacred texts and reinterpret their teachings so that an open space is created to embrace religious pluralism and respect of other people’s truths. In this book, I chose to concentrate only on Islam and Judaism, sister religions that are closely related to one another with roots intertwined in the land, in the language, and in the memories of shared history. Of all religions, they are by far the closest to each other in their fundamental religious tenets, practices and systems of law, and their social, cultural and ethical traditions.
In the introduction to this book, I quoted the beautiful words of the Qur’ān (3:103): “Hold firmly, all together, by the rope of God and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude God’s favor upon you, for you were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His grace, you become brothers.” Thus, to be the knotted rope of God that joins people in brotherhood, Islam and Judaism can no longer relate as separate ropes dangling next to each other. In order for them to tie their ropes together, each rope must give up little, surrender a bit of its original length, to achieve a stronger unity.
So we all have a choice: either we become the knotted rope of God that binds us together, or we continue to exist as separate ropes apart from each other. Either we live in unity as brothers and enjoy God’s mercy, or we live apart as enemies and suffer. Like one of Martin Luther King’s pearls of wisdom, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”
It is in this spirit of harmony and brotherhood that I wrote this book – as a place, where I attempt to bridge between Islam and Judaism, and as a tool to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of the two Abrahamic traditions. It is my hope that both Jews and Muslims, in their search for common ground, will adopt the symbol of sharing and bonding represented by the unique symbol of the knotted rope.
The book is intended to create an opening in the minds of the Jewish and Muslim readers to see the light at the end of the dark hostility tunnel and encourage them to embrace each other as brothers and sisters. The ultimate course requires, however, far more than a shift in thinking. The key is action – the actual translation of this mind shift into concrete implementation in the form of peacebuilding and peacemaking.
This book is a call for action!
- A call to reject the argument that religion is a source of conflicts and emphasize the role of religion as a resource for resolving them;
- A call to fight the fanatics among us – those who manipulate religion and turn it into an instrument of hatred and violence – while supporting the voices of peace among us;
- A call to repudiate all cultures of denial and allow infrastructures of mutual trust and reconciliation to be erected instead;
- A call to cast aside exclusivist religious visions and violent passions and replace them with relationships marked by mutual human care and compassion;
- A call to combat the forces of chaos and darkness that divide people and create for them instead peaceful ecology, where they can rejoice in the human diversity of experience, the colorful tapestry of expression and the noble acceptance of each other;
- A call to condemn all senseless wanton acts of violence and engage in peace education in our schools, places of worship, and media networks so that our children and grandchildren live in a safe world and enjoy a brighter future;
- A call to convince the world that Islam and Judaism can and must reconcile their terribly bitter and unholy differences; that this reconciliation would forward the cause of world peace, in general, and help defuse the Arab-Israeli conflict, in particular.
My only hope is that Where Islam and Judaism Join Together would not remain on your shelf, but inspires you to take action in support of Jewish-Muslim dialogue; that the book will ultimately develop into a force strong enough to affect public opinion about the possibility of Islam and Judaism coming together; that the book becomes a sacred gateway, where readers of all nations can embark on a journey of exploration of other people’s culture; that the book becomes, not a monologue, but a start of an open dialogue, a conversation that nurtures mutual respect and understanding.
I invite you to email me your own suggestions of how to build bridges of understanding between Islam and Judaism. I would also be very appreciative if you could spread the word about the forthcoming book, as I believe it is an important contribution to the field of peace studies, and that it will be of interest to scholars, students, practitioners and policymakers.
But the Jewish sages’ teach us, “It is not the study that is essential, but rather the action” (Pirkei Avot 1:17). So I decided to take my own action. I am in the process of establishing a collaborative peacebuilding project between the Middle East Peace Network (MEPN) and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES) at the University of Chicago, entitled Jewish-Muslim Reconciliation Initiative (JMRI). If you live in the Chicagoland area, you are invited to participate. You are invited to do the same in your own town. Let me know so that I can support you.
I respectfully ask all Jewish and Muslim spiritual leaders, scholars, educators, opinion makers and community leaders, to join hands, in the spirit of the Torah and the Qur’ān, and open a constructive interfaith dialogue to which this book is a modest contribution. I believe that with our shared vision of peace and prayer of hope, we together could succeed where politicians have failed miserably.
May you all embrace the following inspirational message of the Arab poet and philosopher Khalil Gibran (1883-1931):
I love you, my brother, whoever you are – whether you worship in your church, kneel in your temple, or pray in your mosque. You and I are all children of one faith, for the diverse paths of religion are fingers of the loving hand of one Supreme Being, a hand extended to all, offering completeness of spirit to all, and eager to receive all.
“We are all steeped so much in a culture of war that peace really does seem naïve to many people.” (Mary Lee Morrison)
Sometimes, when we talk about or describe others, negative language comes so easily, as if it was inherent in us. How can we change our mindset and the way we perceive each other, to create understanding and unity rather than enemies? How can we improve communication between collectivist and individualist cultures?
These are some of the questions Dr. Rebecca L. Oxford addresses in her book The Language of Peace – Communicating to Create Harmony. Her answer is education to become competent intercultural communicators. She expands the term language to encompass words, body language, and the language of visual images and explains how language than be used for peaceful as well as destructive purposes. “In the absence of a meaningful language of peace,” she says, “a dominant culture or subculture is unlikely to overcome its prejudices in interacting with less politically powerful cultures or subcultures.”
The book explores key areas of education for peace and is intended for educators, students, researchers, peace activists, and others interested in communication for peace. In addition to give the fundamentals of communication for peace, it discusses the use of peace language through words and images and across cultures. It also touches on war journalism vs. peace journalism and how the new media “in the hands of the world’s citizenry” can complement journalism for peace.
As an example of how language can serve as a transformative vehicle for social justice and peace, Oxford analyzes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s persuasive I Have a Dream speech, which through its metaphors, images, musicality, and “a sense of rightness and urgency” helped to define the American Civil Rights Movement.
Poetry, “the soul’s work,” can have similar transformative qualities, even a cathartic effect. Oxford explains the key elements of a poem and offers a framework for peace poetry. Among the peace poems analyzed is Duties as Designed by Mattie J.T. Stepanek, the extraordinary young poet who wrote his first poems at the age of three and died at the age of thirteen. In this poem, whose title echoes the businesslike term “duties as assigned,” Mattie outlines the job of the poet:
The job of the poet
Is to give birth to the words
That give breath to expressions
Of the essence of life…