Sunday, January 11, 2015

Paris Reels But Courageously Rallies Against Violence

A couple of weeks ago I met somebody who said she hated Muslims because they kill and torture people. Members of other religions might point fingers, seek political domination over and say insulting things to those whose religion is different but they don’t kill them just because they say or believe something disagreeable.

What about the IRA? I said. And that the problem isn’t the Muslim religion but the seriously psychologically damaged fundamentalists, who kill in the name of Allah.

She argued that I was wrong. The IRA were fighting for independence from the British; they weren’t going into other countries around the world killing, torturing and maiming innocents because they weren’t Catholics. She had a point. And admittedly it’s been a while since the Spanish Inquisition. But hallo, what about the damage done to Iraq on a trumped up justification for war? She didn't want to hear it. Something about Islam, she said, produces these ruthlessly violent, egotistical men who have an absolute absence of general humanity and integrity. Yeah, but what about westerners who open up on a school? I said. Her comeback was quick: they don’t do it in the name of religion.

What’s the big deal about the religion thing, I asked her. No matter what you’re doing violence in the name of you’re still hurting people. She said it’s doing violence in the name of that which stands for peace, love and tolerance; it’s twisting what is good into what is evil and using something that most of us have profound respect for and that many live by as justification for violence.

I don’t like it any more than she does but I argued that it seemed to me to be more complicated than her perspective. Muslims who immigrate to foreign countries in search of a better life and who often aren’t even particularly religious are rejected and relegated to the outskirts of society if they’re poor, which they often are, as are those who are second generation even. That kind of demoralization does a lot to a person and the first thing to fragment into a thousand pieces can be integrity. It can happen to anybody regardless of their religious beliefs. Then fundamentalists provide what’s missing and create such a bond of loyalty that they can easily brainwash their subjects into believing that maiming, torturing and killing is a good thing and that Allah wants them to do it.

Exactly, she said. And are those fundamentalists Christian or Buddhist or Mormon or Protestant? No, they’re not. They emerge from Islam. There’s some kind of underpinning permission for men in it that allows for the emergence of that kind of person.

As there is in the cultures that produced the Mafia, apartheid, white supremacists and the KKK, I said, not to mention the CIA sociopaths. Boiling a problem down to something so one-dimensional doesn’t allow for a helpful solution. If anything, we need to look at what young men are missing that attracts them to that violence; why do we reject them, what is it in us that makes us so scared of them? Is it as basic as “Nobody knows you when you’re down and out”? Could we embrace them instead and find out that if we share, nobody is the loser? If we did, fundamentalist ‘scouts’ wouldn’t have any power over them.

My friend was unconvinced. We parted still arguing but without any desire to level a Kalashnikov or anything at one another. Then a few days later she called me up and said have you seen the news?
In Paris two masked gunmen had burst into the offices of political satire newspaper Charlie Hebdo, that has been firebombed previously for its disrespectful cartoons about Mohammed and Allah. The gunmen slaughtered 12 people - in the name of Allah. Then a policeman was shot dead and Amedy Coulibaly, an ally of the two gunmen Said and Cherif Kouachi, held hostages in a kosher store. Eventually, in separate incidents, the police killed all three, along with some of the kosher store hostages. Horrific.

You see, my friend said, I was right. That conversation went nowhere, too. I’ll admit that I don’t like a religion that’s so prescriptive towards women and not nearly as much towards men or from which has emerged secular law that dictates amputation for stealing, stoning of women who dress incorrectly, execution for blasphemy and the slaughter of your enemies. I think it’s barbaric and I believe it gives men an unnatural entitlement, one that they too often don’t have the integrity to wield for the good of all. That’s just my opinion. But even if Islam is inherently at fault for producing so many violent psychopaths, it also produces millions of peaceful, kind, decent people. Who are as horrified as everybody else. Who want it to stop as much as everybody else. So is Islam a good religion or a bad one? Statistically, it's a good one.

After 9/11 the rage against Muslims in general was frightening. But whilst racism, xenophobia and right-wing radicalism are on the rise everywhere, so is tolerance amongst the level-headed. It’s been impressive to see that so many people at all levels and in so many countries have make the clear distinction between the fundamentalists and Muslims in general while Paris reels.

I've also been so inspired by the courage of Parisians who have made that distinction in the face of such trauma and who have risen en masse to protest just the jihadist violence, as people have in other French cities and around the world.

At the giant rally today were, amongst other leaders, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey, the most prominent Muslim leader scheduled to be there, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. At least 3.7 million people marched through Paris. And there was no violence.

I don’t believe that a solution for dealing with jihadism will emerge from believing that the problem is the culture or the religion. And we want a solution, right? We don’t want to perpetuate the hatred.

We highlight the end result of a process and it sticks in our minds because it’s violent and frightening. But until we wake up to the actual process that leads to that end result as it’s happening, nothing’s going to change. And it’s kind of a human thing that we don’t change until the consequences of our own behavior explode in our faces. This I know: we can’t change jihadism, we can’t wipe it out with violence of our own. But we can start to look at impoverished communities where Muslims, immigrants or not, live on the edge without enough support and social enablement. Societies and Governments can do something about that. Build on the love. And while we're about it, we could stop manufacturing guns and tighten laws on gun ownership.

My heart goes out to the families of those killed in Paris. May their loved ones rest in peace.