It was my absolute and humbling pleasure to bring together, this evening, two avatars who might represent either side of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Israeli avatar Ofra (centre) and Muslim avatar Waliyah -not actually Palestinian- (left). As you may be able to tell, Waliyah does not adhere to the usual tenets of Islam we expect of women, having grown up in the west, with western ideals. Nevertheless, she could not really be described as ‘a naturist’, but she has been a friend of mine in SL for some time, educating, informing and enlightening me on the nuances of Islam. This is one of the great things about SL. We come into it without any need for RL ‘values’. We follow our hearts or, at least, have the opportunity to follow our hearts and strip our minds of dogma and politics.
‘It is most peculiar to sit naked in SL’, Waliyah told me, but she felt it was ‘important to express solidarity with others regarding the ongoing situation in Gaza’.
Another of my long-standing friends in SL is Ofra. A former member of the Israeli Defence Forces (all Israelis are conscripted into the IDF for a time), she says she’s ‘human, Jewish, Israeli in that order’.
‘It was my job to be on a border crossing most days, and I would question my role there daily. Why couldn’t these people, just because they were Palestinian, come and go in peace? Why wouldn’t these ordinary, smiling and sometimes resentful -how could they not be, given our presence?- Palestinians, Muslims, allow my co-religionists to exist in the Middle East in peace?’
In the church at Nude Haven, they came together with Harry, photographer and avowed atheist.
‘Waliyah wore her Islamic dress’, says Harry, ‘and I had no plans for us to be nude for this shoot. I wanted us at SLN, in SL, to send a message to the politicians. I wanted us to say that we’re just ordinary people of the world, and in SL we can communicate. We can get along. We log in as mere, ordinary, unimportant human beings who care for one another, who respect one another, who love one another. And whatever God you pray to, or if you don’t pray to or believe in God, Allah or anyone else, there are basic human values we need to cherish. I was astounded that Waliyah should embrace the naturist ideals…’
Waliyah takes up the story. ‘It is difficult for me. To expose myself even in SL avatar form, is difficult. But I recognise that Harry is trying to achieve an image that will be like….’wow!’ to many people. Underneath my hijab, I am human, I am vulnerable, I am the same as everyone else. Underneath the uniform of the Israeli Defence Forces, Ofra…who I now number amongst my SL friends….is the same. Human, vulnerable…..well….human!!!’
‘In the time I’ve been in SL’, adds Ofra, ‘I think this is maybe the most important thing I’ve ever done. I wanted to express solidarity with Waliyah. Look at the image! We’re the same! Women! The same physical attributes, born in the same way, and at birth with no differences in how we think. We seek nourishment from our mothers, we cry at the same things, smile at the same things, learn the same basic human traits. It’s only when education comes in do we begin to diverge in our thought processes. We adopt a religion, a nationality, a world view. All learnt. In the out-there world we may be different. In the virtual world we become the same. It has been my pleasure, my privilege, to come to know Waliyah. Now, I can hear her ideals. Now I can hear, almost, her heartbeat. This is important.’
Harry goes on, ‘The situation in Gaza right now is unbearable. What we have is babies dying, children dying. How does that make us human? Each tiny, precious life being ended for….what? For what? Waliyah and Ofra will know the politics better than I do, I don’t want to get into a debate on something I don’t fully understand. But the image of a Muslim and a Jew, stripped of all to become vulnerable, naked women, exactly the same. It was something I thought sent out an enormous message. I didn’t want to be in the photo, but the ladies persuaded me -an atheist- to add that element to it too. While I don’t pray to a deity, I pray that humanity can show itself to be human, with proper human values.’
At SLN we want to send out a single, unified message to those in the Middle East. Stop killing now. Start negotiating. Let us see peace. Tonight. Let us not see any more deaths. Tonight. A single drop of Palestinian or Israeli blood is not worth it.
Realistically, a posting on a blog about a niche lifestyle, about a niche game, will not change anything. But if two people who would be ‘sworn enemies’, according to received wisdom, can sit down and talk……why can’t the politicians? Why can’t the generals? Why can’t he hotheads and the firebrands? Do you wish this to continue so that your son/daughter, grandson/granddaughter, niece/nephew, neighbour’s child dies just to make a point? Please, whatever you can do to stop the situation in Israel/Palestine, add your voice.