After gaining a few pounds during the holidays, I became convinced that I had to either join a gym or look for an exercise group within my area. It was then that I came across an interesting article that did not only draw my attention, but also troubled me a little.
A few days ago the Boston Herald published Jill Radsken’s piece titled “Jewish, Muslim women work together to achieve Slim Peace.” The article discusses Yael Luttwak’s project: Slim Peace. Luttwak, who has been interviewed for her film of the same title, came up with the idea to draw parallels between losing weight and reaching out to the “other” side in a setting of conflict. The Slim Peace project initially brought together a group of Jewish-Israeli and Muslim-Palestinian women to lose weight and promote understanding among women who apparently are irreconcilable and at opposites end of the conflict.
A similar article by Vered Guttman in Hareetz.com explains “Luttwak… noticed how both leaders [Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat] were, well, heavy. What if they jogged together, she thought, wouldn’t that put them in a better mood?” Thus, Luttwa’s vision was to gather women, who she sees as less likely to fight and better in overcoming, to jog, diet and understand each other.
Slim Peace gained success and today it has spread to the U.S. where the project has opened a new chapter in Boston . Whereas one of the only pieces that mentions Muslim institutional support (from an unnamed Bostonian imam) is Guttman’s, Slim Peace has even been welcomed by celebrities such as Oprah, who dedicated a piece last year in her website commenting: “The fact that these 14 Israeli and Palestinian women have shown up at a school in Jerusalem to support one another—in the everyday fight for slimmer bodies—is in some ways unthinkable.”
The articles mentioned above are quite puzzling in that they really do not comment on the project itself, but rather the “improbability” of the circumstances. Muslim and Jewish women are basically depicted at opposite ends of the spectrum. The articles take a somewhat ambivalent political stand by recognizing the difficulties faced by citizens of Israel and Palestine but neglecting to speak of the conflict itself.
Placing Muslim and Jewish women in diametric opposition to each other is not only presumptuous but also inappropriate in an article that purports to discuss how these women came together to diet. It tells us that there is a problem, but it does not tell us what the sources of the problem are. Besides, I was also left to wonder why these women would join this group as opposed to another interfaith initiative. Or why wouldn’t other women join? Is dieting what attracts them? Or is it truly the interfaith component?
The articles covering the opening of a new Slim Peace chapter in Boston perpetuate the “opposites-never-meeting” attitude towards Muslim-Jewish relationships, ignoring examples of Jewish-Muslim dialogue and interaction both historically and in the present. Many of us living in the West know that Muslims and Jewish constantly interact, befriend each other and unite in a variety of causes (for example here, here and here).
While the group and the project itself do not bother me, I felt that there were large gaps in the writers’ analysis and the overall treatment of such a project. It seemed all along that the writers kept saying “Look! This woman managed to get Muslim and Jewish women together!!! Isn’t that incredible?”