I’m editing a book about conversion to and from Islam in the early-modern Mediterranean: stories about people who slipped between religions, communities, and places; people who layered up identities, translating and (re)inventing themselves; people who saw opportunities or feared repercussions; people on the margins and in the centre; anonymous and extraordinary people, people like us.
I wanted to go to the sea, where the river Deben meets the North Sea, where the shingle shifts and the currents are treacherous.
So we went, Kainaat and I.
The tide was low, the shingle banks had shifted and there was a huge island at the mouth of the river.
The river water was running fast and deep.
Kainaat found a way across. Just at the moment where the river empties out into the sea the shingle had built up.
Where waters meet
and looked over to Felixstow Ferry
I thought about history …. how people say we need to learn from the past.
And I thought about people crossing the sea, neither here nor there, translating themselves, fleeing.
History doesn’t make us compassionate, it doesn’t make the world a more just, or better place. It is used to console, to excuse, to dissemble. It inures us to injustice, legitimises inequality, normalises the unspeakable – it makes us complacent.
Maybe we need different stories – stories that make us tolerant, stories that make us see ourselves in others, stories about now.