Frank Romano | Author of Storm Over Morocco
March 22, 2009
Dr. Kent: Welcome to Sound Authors! It’s a beautiful day out here in New York, there’s still snow on the ground and I’ve got four guests on the show today, three authors and one musician. At the end of the show it’s my honor to have musician Sara Lee Guthrie on the show with me, the daughter of Arlo Guthrie and the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie. Before that, I’ve got three authors and my third author will be the author of The President’s Henchmen; Joseph Flynn. I’ll be speaking to the author of No Urn for the Ashes – Alison Sawyer, a beautiful story and right now I’m speaking to my first guest, his name is Frank Romano, the author of Storm Over Morocco. He’s written an incredible book that is placed in an area we’re thinking about all the time these days. There’s been some serious unrest in the middle east and when hasn’t there been, honestly. So welcome to the show Frank Romano.
Frank Romano: Hi Dr. Kent, glad to be here.
Dr. Kent: Tell me a little bit about Storm Over Morocco.
Frank Romano: I was studying in 1977 at the Sorbonne in Paris trying to find myself and studying philosophy and had sort of a vision that if I traveled to the middle east maybe on the way I would find myself, find out what my spirituality was and maybe help in the peace process. So I just took a train and went down to northern Africa. Started out from morocco and was going to head out across Africa and then Dr. Kent, I decided that I would learn about Islam before I got there because that’s one of my goals. So I was invited, I met this group that invited me to learn about Islam in their mosque and learn Arabic as well and after a week of doing that, I was no longer free to go. They had me imprisoned and it turned out to be an extremist group there on the outskirts of Sri Lanka.
Dr. Kent: I’ve always wanted to go to morocco. I don’t know if you know but I’ve actually been in the Middle East for awhile, I lived in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Frank Romano: Oh really? Great, so you know about the area, good.
Dr. Kent: Oh yes and I try not to read the news about each day’s bloodshed and this and that. But now talk about I wanted to go to morocco on vacation but now you ended up in I guess the cradle of the Middle East in the holy land. Talk about the conflict there as well.
Frank Romano: Yeah Dr. Kent I just got back as a matter of fact and my goal is to bring together different religions, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism, but in particular the three main religions that believe in one God. I organize interfaith teach marches and I just got back yesterday from a ten day visit to Bethlehem. Of course I visited Jerusalem one day but I’m focusing on involving the Palestinians since it’s hard for them to get through the checkpoints and stuff in Jerusalem to participate in a myriad of groups that are doing things for peace, serious groups in Israel except they can’t get in there. I go to Palestine and I’m trying to just contribute in my own little way to bring people together and start thinking about working together.
Dr. Kent: What’s your take on the whole situation right now?
Frank Romano: Well for one thing people have a tendency of putting Gaza in the same basket as the west bank and we’ve got two different places. In other words we are organizing now to go into Gaza and do the same thing for sure. Do the peace march and of course bring in medicine and so forth because it’s difficult right now. My take is this, I really feel, as opposed to a lot of people, a lot of Palestinians, have no hope, they don’t think they’re ever going to settle the crisis, there’s always going to be conflict, and they’ll never have their auto determination with respect to a country having their own country.
So my take is this, there is a chance for peace and a lot of people are talking about ways of doing it and helping people financially but the bottom line is we got to get over there and start working with these people and I wrote Storm Over Morocco version and I added a last chapter of a meeting I had with extremist militant Muslims in the Jeanine Refugee Camp, which is suicide bombing derived and the suicide bombing that took place in Jerusalem came from there, and from Hebron to talk with extremists first and even those folks really want to work with Israel, I mean sincerely and if we can get beyond the hate and knee jerk stereotypes that one person of one religion has of other people.
For instance an extremist Muslim might think that a Jew because he’s a Jew is an agent of the devil because they don’t understand what Judaism is about. So my goal Dr. Kent is not a political goal, bring people together to work together for peace but take religion out of the conflict. That’s my take.
Dr. Kent: Absolutely. The work I did quite a while ago, I’ll tell you in a nutshell. I work for an organization called Seeds of Peace for a few years.
Frank Romano: I’ve heard of them, yes!
Dr. Kent: Then I created a curriculum called Sound Peace and I actually was in a very similar way hoping to bring kids together in a musical way and talk about the conflict and then all of the fighting started. It was a very hopeful time when I went over there, it was the year 2000. I was there when all the fighting broke out again in the autumn of 2000.
Frank Romano: That was the second [inaudible] that you were there?
Dr. Kent: Since then it hasn’t stopped and now with this incursion into Gaza that was just breathtakingly awful in terms of the toll on human life. Is there hope over there?
Frank Romano: You know Dr. Kent there is hope and I spoke with a Shake in Jerusalem, a Sufi Shake whose daughter just got married five months before the conflict broke out and now she’s stuck in Gaza and can’t get out. A lot of people are pointing the finger at Israel, others are pointing the finger at Hamas, I believe that when they can both sit down with the help of the US and realize mistakes because both sides have committed errors. People are now pointing fingers in particular at Israel and yeah they had to react against the missiles being shot into their land. But the Hamas I think on their end of it were provoking this attack as well.
So I do see there’s a lot of serious minded people, lots of effort to work with both sides, haven’t given up, even though yes it has intensified. I think with the new administration it seems to be open on both sides of the fence through the delicate negotiations and bringing in these groups there’s a lot of angiose over there, which is the types of group you were. Seeds of Peace work with people that are members of it and the music thing you did probably would include Jews and Palestinians together to play music. These groups are starting to crop up again.
In spite of the conflict, the bottom line is the very difficult part is people will not go into the west bank and its difficult to get in and out of Gaza but that should evolve. I think people should go into the west bank and see that the Palestinians are not just frothing at the mouth bloody terrorists. Most Palestinians want peace and work with them as well as the Jews. I’ll tell you I’ve met Jewish soldiers on the checkpoints and they’ve got a bad rap. They’re always a minority that commits atrocities in every army and every altercation but those young Jewish soldiers want peace as much as anybody does and I spoke with them and they would rather not be at the checkpoints. If somehow Israel can feel that their borders are secure. Some people say it’s a two state solution; I’m not sure, but you know what? There is a lot of positive vibe happening but I’m going over there three to four times a year trying to coordinate all these groups working on both sides of the fence. I think peace can happen with just good old fashioned hard work and working with people. I really believe that.
Dr. Kent: It’s such a fascinating topic. There’s so much depth to it and at the same time it’s been about nine years since I’ve been over there but not much changes at the same time. It’s perpetually the same situations over and over. The first thing that they say when you show up is what are you? And you have to identify yourself; are you a Muslim, a Christian, a Jew and once you identify yourself the amazing thing about the Palestinians or the Israelis is I was able to identify and fit with both, like you say you do. They’re great people.
Frank Romano: I’m going to add another chapter to Storm Over Morocco 3 about just that. Three days ago I met an angio in Bethlehem and there are many Jews working there. they’ve been warned to not even go to the west bank but they’re not being held hostage or being held and they’re working not just blindly on the side of the Palestinians, they’re working for peace and I really feel hopeful but with concerted efforts and hopefully the news will come down. Often the news is filtered from Israel and the US and they pull the fear string so that it will mobilize people to focus on the aggression coming from Palestine as opposed to the true problem.
The state of Israel is in danger here. Why do I feel that? Well first of all they had to fight. The mandate in 48 wasn’t just giving a part of land to form a state of Israel, they had to fight for it but now as human beings, as Jews are, just like Palestinians, they’ve gone overboard in the settlements and religion is very much a part of it. The settlements in the west bank are mainly inhabited by Jews who feel it’s their duty and obligation to be in the west bank. But the religious interpretation of the Torah, which I think is a misinterpretation, so there’s all kinds of religious elements here that working with people, getting beyond whether you’re a Jew or Muslim you hit the nail right on the head; that’s the solution.
Now Jews have conflicted with each other as Agnostic Jews and Cathartic Jews and many Jews now have moved beyond that. Why not now Jews and Palestinians? The Jews just say I’m Jewish, not I’m a cathartic Jew, I’m not an agnostic Jew in Jerusalem and there was tension between the two types of Jews and they’ve gotten over that. I think we can do the same thing with respect to Palestinians. Instead of having a two state solution we could say we are human beings living in the holy land inst4ead of polarizing into different religious and political groups. That’s what causes tension.
So my work is bringing people together to love each other but dig in there and bond together by doing stuff together. Palestinians, Jews and Christians in that particular area, and its going to happen, we’re going to have peace. It may not be in our lifetime, but we’re planting the seeds now and I feel positive it’s going to happen, I really do.
Dr. Kent: It’s been a real honor chatting with you and I’d like to talk with you another time, we’ve run out of time today but we had such a nice chat we’ll have to hook up again down the road.
Frank Romano: You bet! Anytime Dr. Kent.
Dr. Kent: Storm Over Morocco: Finding God in the Midst of Fanatics, by Frank Romano. I can’t wait till the next time.
Frank Romano: Thank you very much doctor.
Dr. Kent: I’ll be back with our next guest on the show who is Alison sawyer who wrote a book called No Urn for the Ashes. Come on back for that.