What ‘retards’ have taught me about peace work (and people)

“Are you mentally handicapped?”

“He’s too low IQ to give a proper response.”

“I’m sure you’re retarded.”

The use of cognitive disability as an insult has always bothered me. It’s demeaning and hurtful to people who have such disabilities, and it shows a lack of understanding of how these conditions actually affect a person. When these insults are flung about in a discussion on the conflict in Palestine and Israel, my usual distaste is tinged with a sense of something very like irony as well.

Before I started work in Bethlehem, I had a job in a residential college for young adults with learning disabilities. Most of the students were eighteen or nineteen when they came to us, although the college could accept any student between the ages of sixteen and twenty-five. It was a marvellous place, set in one of the wildest and most beautiful counties of England, with a river flowing beneath it and a ruined castle in the grounds. Also dotted about were several little cottages (once the houses of farmhands) where the students lived together in groups of half a dozen.

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