Saturday, January 31, 2015

Canadians must say "NO" to Islamic centre in Montreal's east end....

“The teachings of what this person espouses, we reject totally as a society based on the rule of law, based on democratic values, the equality of men and women and the rejection of homophobia in all its forms.” (From the Montreal Gazette, the words of Quebec Immigration, Inclusion and Diversity Minister, Kathleen Weil, concerning the potential establishment of an Islamic Centre in East Montreal, by radical Imam, Hamza Chaoui.)
Just as the Canadian government introduced legislation empowering intelligence and security agencies to aggressively and pre-emptively intervene to block any action that "may" lead to terrorism, the headlines break, as if to snub their arrogant noses at the authorities, that radical Islam, including the desired imposition of Sharia law (if social media posts are to be given credence), raises its ugly head in Montreal.
Let us raise our voice, along with the millions of other Canadians, to protest even the thought of granting a permit to this or any other radical Islamic "cleric" in this or in any other region of our country.
The rubber has finally met the road, both in terms of the facts and in terms of the Canadian public consciousness, that radical Islam is a force that has moved into our neighbourhoods, our cities and thereby into the minds of susceptible and vulnerable young innocent and easily duped Canadian youth. And the time has come for all Canadians, of all political and religious stripes, including the agnostics and atheists among us, to stand up to this virulent and toxic cancer. Of course, we will take the legal, constitutional and politically correct route, without resorting to arms and violence, the stock and trade of the radical Islamic terrorist movement, to stop this and all other attempts to establish such an Islamic centre.
More importantly, however, Canadians need to hear loudly and often, from our Muslim moderates that they too oppose this centre's establishment, and the granting of any kind of permit by municipal authorities for such a centre to occupy any of our facilities in any of our towns and cities.
This story will be a test of the public courage and the public defiance of the moderate Muslim community that they are joined with the rest of the society in driving this force from our country.
However, we all know that driving this specific imam and his initiative from the east end of Montreal will not eradicate the scourge of radical Islam from our midst. It could, in fact, even enhance the determination of those radical Muslims to continue their fight using even more vehement and violent measures. Already two Canadian service personnel have been murdered by demented and now deceased men whose lives were allegedly veering in the direction of radical Islam. Their deaths, as well as the kind of forced entry of this imam, and all other potential radical Islamists, will not spell the eradication of the scourge of radical Islam. And all official acts, with all the enhanced budgets and hirings in the intelligence and security agencies in Canada will not prove completely effective in erasing social, culture, political and "pseudo-religious" disease from our landscape.
We have to mount an aggressive, creative and long-lasting program of counter-education among those most vulnerable to the brain-washing of radical Islam.
Last night, PBS aired the 1975 Paddy Chayefsky movie, Network, in which Harry Beal the fictional anchor of UBS news morphs into a phenomenon ranting against the hypocrisies of the western world
in which Chayefsky envisions the replacement of nation states with corporations in a world dominated by the exchange of money, a move to which Beal is viscerally and physically opposed.
In many ways, Chayefsky's imagination is so chilling that it effectively foresees the world in which we currently live.
And terror, in many forms, has been with us for decades, even abrogated for the purpose of profit by television programmers in pursuit of ratings and political and narcissistic "adulation". What is playing out in Montreal is not a television drama; it is not a made-for television movie, nor is it a piece of fiction. It is a physical empirical application for a permit to establish a radical Islamic centre in what is to Canadians the most international and urbane city inside our borders.
And Canadians, while retaining our sense of decorum and decency, must rise up and join the protest to block this centre's opening and demand of our political leaders a kind of uniquely Canadian response to this ideological terrorism.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Badal...Pashtun for revenge....infects both sides in the war on terror

In her life story, I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai tells of a Pashtun tradition, even rule, named badal, revenge. It is part of the Pashtunwali code, (with which she and her father have considerable difficulty!)
"We are supposed to take revenge  on wrongs done to us, but where does that end? If a man in one family is killed or hurt by another man, revenge must be exacted to restore nang. It can be taken by killing any male member of the attacker's family. Then that family in turn must take revenge. And on and on it goes. There is no time limit. We have a saying: The Pashtun took revenge after twenty years and another said it was taken too soon.
We are a people of many sayings: One is, 'The stone of Pashto does not rust in water,' which means we neither forget nor forgive. That's also why we rarely say thank you, manana, because we believe a Pashtun will never forget a good deed and is bound to reciprocate at some point just as he will a bad one." (P. 72-73)
These Pashtun are Muslims, living in the northern region of Pakistan, where the Taliban eventually shot Malala in the head, for her public advocacy of education for girls. And it would seem only reasonable to extrapolate from her story a couple of things.
First, the culture and the religion are highly entwined.
Second, the culture, like the religion, is embedded with "code" expectations, many of which disable those living within the culture,  as well as potentially  those attempting to "eradicate" radical Islam from the planet. (There is clear evidence that Malala and her family were attempting to live outside the 'code' in their shared pursuit of education, as well as their rejection of the badal aspect of the code. Her father, for example was often sought as a mediator, peace-maker when conflicts arose in the community.)
However, where codes are the norm and where meeting the codes is enforced by those seeking to purify both the religion and the culture, there is evidence from which the world could learn.
Malala is a victim of the kind of code application that emerges from a religion/culture that is attempting to return the world to a kind of legal system that imposes that code on everyone. Some, like the Taliban, ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, AQAP, and any other of the iterations of a radical commitment to a simplistic code that includes the application of badal are dedicated both to the spread of their ideology and the use of their code in that fight.
Laws, guns, missiles, bombs and all the intelligence in the world will neither eradicate a deep commitment to the code, nor will they remove the indoctrination of some to taking revenge.
Like attempting to legislate something as powerful as love, and control the many tangents of its true and faulty expression, as the church has attempted for centuries without success, to its own estrangement, any attempt to "manage" what appears to be a deeply ingrained cultural attribute like revenge will find itself shipwrecked on many shoals of simple and predictable human behaviour.
There is a kind of historical root to a code like badal, perhaps analogous to some of the biblical codes (like a man must marry the wife of his deceased brother and raise the children of that marriage), from the Old Testament. Education, experience and evolution of both faith and culture in many parts of the western world have removed such expectations from the lives of western men and women, although there remains evidence of considerable empathy and support for the wife and children of a deceased husband, especially in the public arena. (Just this week, there is a public and formal funeral for a deceased member of the RCMP, shot in the head in an altercation with a man in St. Albert, Alberta, whom many believe should have been incarcerated. His widow will now have to raise their sons, although there will undoubtedly be considerable support for her challenge.)
With respect to the Pashtunwali code, badal, there are some glimpses of light that the western world might gain from a closer reflection on the code.
First, most regions of the western world, including its Christian segments, are also living under several codes. There is a kind of legal/moral/religious commitment to punishing an offender that is embedded into our criminal codes, in the deeply-held conviction that punishment will produce a change in the behaviour of the offender. Even though much of the more contemporary evidence from academic research disputes our belief, and some tentative and miniscule steps in favour of rehabilitation and even prevention over mere incarceration and longer sentences can be seen on the horizon, we continue to exact punishment, revenge, or as most would describe it, "justice," when a wrong is committed. In the masculine world especially, in the school playground, our culture is replete with stories of parents telling their children "not to take bullying and to punch the offender in the nose" as part of the "code" of healthy child development. No parent wants his/her child to be the "wimp" on the block. And, there is some evidence that when a bully is "confronted" with his "own medicine" his bullying stops.
However, in the Irish culture, in the story of the dispute between the Hatfield's and the McCoy's, the original injustice has long been lost, forgotten or misconstrued yet the conflict, the resentment and the revenge remains. And that story is certainly not exclusive to the Irish culture.
Western culture, including many law libraries and many novels and plays, is filled with narratives of revenge, so deeply embedded that not only are such stories the stuff of much western entertainment, but also that those stories are also the "soil" in which our children are raised. The code may not be as clearly and unequivocally articulated as the Pashtun's badal, but the reality is still part of our collective unconscious and conscious.
George W. Bush's most memorable moment is recalled by millions in his megaphoned cry, while standing on the rubble of the Twin Towers only days after the tragedy, "I hear yah, and the rest of the world will hear us very soon!" to the cheers of the first responders who were attempting to rescue survivors and begin the process of the clean-up. There is no mistaking his intent: "Whoever did this had better take note because we are coming after you!" He did not use the word "revenge" but clearly that was his intent, however polite circles might reframe it as justice against the offenders.
Revenge, in fact, continues to haunt the strategy rooms of all western nations in their planning and strategizing to eradicate the radical terrorism that besets the civilized world. Clearly and tragically,  revenge also infests the tents and the caves of all those leaders of terrorism. And in a conflict in which revenge is the sine qua non of the motives of both sides, there is no foreseeable termination to the fight and the terror.
Is it possible that given the compulsion to seek revenge that besets both sides in the war against radical terrorism, that the world may be finally reaching a point of awakening in which the futility and the costs of hubristic revenge outweighs the benefits of pursuing such revenge.
And the hubris on both sides is palpable! Just as is the revenge! And it is reinforced with every report of another "successful event" from both sides.
We are potentially locking ourselves into a pattern of seeking revenge, while rationalizing our motive as "eradicating this scourge" in order to keep the world safe from these terrorists. Meanwhile the terrorists themselves are committed to ALL methods at their disposal, including  beheading and suicide bombers, extortion and brain washing, in their pursuit of their own form of revenge against what they perceive as western "injustice" against Islam, or their perceptions of Islam, merely a cover for their pursuit of their own perverted version of that faith.
It can be, and needs to be more forcefully argued that no God, not the Christian God nor the Jewish God nor Allah, would condone the violence that is being perpetrated in His/Her/It's name. Self defence is not the same as revenge, and to conflate the two is an act of distortion needed to bend the minds of millions of people to justify the actions on all sides. Revenge is also not the same as real justice. In fact, western legal systems are careful to attempt to guard against prosecutions, court proceedings and convictions based on revenge. At least, this is the public face of the justice system.
Many violent acts in the west are, in fact, a response to a previous offence, as they are in many hockey games, with only the second offence earning a formal penalty. Some even advocate for "revenge" in the world of hockey, as an integral component of what they call the "code of honour" that expects a teammate to inflict punishment on an opponent who has offended one of his team.
However, we need to parse very carefully the words and the actions of our leaders in the execution of this  conflict with radical Islamic terrorists, and not permit ourselves, or indeed our leaders, to be seduced by the honour codes to which we are all committed.
I used the word "committed" and not the word "addicted" but the difference is so subtle as to be easily crossed in our determination and our obsession to eradicate this revenge-based cancer from our collective body politic.
Let's not sleep-walk our way through a more deepening commitment to additional dependence on a hard-power solution to what is clearly a soft-power enemy, revenge. And revenge is deeply embedded in the minds, hearts and spirits of people on both sides.....It could be reasonably argued that only if and when one side abdicates its need for revenge that the conflict will have only one side.
There is phrase in scripture, perhaps often overlooked by many practitioners of the Christian faith: "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord!" in a clarion call to "turn the other cheek" and to refrain from its pursuit. There is still much "ministry" left to do among those calling ourselves Christians. And there will never be a more propitious time to start that transformation than in the middle of a viscious conflict with an external enemy addicted to vengeance.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Can the world's "ship" change course in time to avert disaster?

We have all heard the aphorism, “The definition of insanity is to continue doing the same thing while expecting different results.” of President Obama referred to a similar truth when he opened dialogue with Cuba, after 50 years of blockade, trade embargo and prohibition of United States tourism to Cuba, expecting either to break the Castro regime or return Cuba to diplomatic relations with the U.S.

Just yesterday, through the CBC National News, we learned that repeated flu shots in successive years results, paradoxically, in reduced immunity to the very “bugs” those shots are designed to impede. One of the lines in the CBC story ran something like this: “Here is a medical paradox.” It seems to us that there are other examples of paradoxes in our current situation that would demonstrate our collective clinging to “old habits” while simultaneously seeking different results or outcomes.

For starters, we have all witnessed the outpouring of political unity and solidarity in Paris, immediately following the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the Kosher Market hostage taking. The world’s television news cameras came together in Paris to demonstrate a united front, partly in sympathy with the victims of these acts of terror. Politicians of all stripes are addicted to venues where cameras can and will portray them in a favourable light. Their very survival in their political roles depends on their sustaining public confidence, respect and trust among their respective populations. On Sunday, January 11, 2015, some fifty world leaders grasped a common shared opportunity to march through the streets of Paris, in a show of strength (and personal courage) to inspire a common front against radical Islamic terrorism.

Whether radical Islamic terrorism is an ideology of religious bigotry exclusively is a matter of considerable debate. Some argue that the roots of these terrorism cells are poverty, dispossession, lack of access to education, alienation and a lack of access to economic independence, and political misadventures based on some the convergence of some old habits among leaders with a new emergence of terrorists opening the windows of their “tents” and screaming, “We will not put up with this any longer!”

What are the things they are saying they will no longer put up with?

Start with a global economy dominated by the corporations whose interests are exclusively the wanton production of profits for shareholders, using whatever strategies and tactics that permit them to maximize those profits, regardless of the impact their actions and attitudes have on the people working for them or the people living in their orbits. Imposing a savage capitalism on a highly differentiated and obviously “unequal” plethora of demographics, without concern for the pace and the ravages such capitalism has and will continue to wreak is one way in which we are all implicit in doing the same thing while expecting different results. Western capitalism cares for immediate profit, and in its largest forms, corporations devour their own kind, in a race to dominance in their respective sectors.

Yes, to be sure, there are pockets of “social entrepreneurs” whose business models are dedicated to ameliorating social blight, like the housing depletion in cities like Detroit through the application of free market discipline. Micro loans, as one of the central instruments of social entrepreneurialism in the third world, are considered a model for the restoration of regions in the first world where capitalism has left is trail of devastation, as it certainly has in Detroit. However, social entrepreneurialism, based as it in on a stream of individual entrepreneurs, will not provide the social and economic and industrial and educational infrastructure in countries like Nigeria, where Boko Haram runs rampant. Admirable as it is, social entrepreneurialism, is like putting a band-aid on a massive and metastasized cancerous tumour. It may slow the spread of the disease, but it will not stop it.

However, there are other “old habits” besides their addiction to their own media dependence that plague the current generation of political leaders. We hear this week from President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron of Great Britain, that they share a common belief in and commitment to a variety of strategies to  address the problem of radical terror. Good words, and admirable attitudes, even insightful diagnosis, to be sure. Nevertheless,  these “visionary” leaders are still inextricably trapped in a military, industrial, pharmaceutical, corporatism vortex so complicated and so deeply embedded both in the public infrastructure as well as in the mind-set of their respective “publics” that hard-powered intervention of all kinds, including flu shots that defeat their very purpose., token philanthropy as a primary means of addressing poverty without the dedication of massive public resources that are really needed, along with the accentuated gap between rich and poor in their own countries, as well as most other western, “developed” countries,  and overt, over-powering “know-best” solutions like drones, a massive intelligence overbuild, a reversion to airstrikes and military training and mentoring, as the primary responses to terror, like those flu shots, have proven their own futility and even counter-productivity.

Since 2001, and 9/11, when this “current cadre of terrorists” were concentrated in one country, we have watched them grow, morph and continue to adapt and adopt, and are now operating in somewhere between 30 and 40 countries, and their reach continues to grow. Furthermore, they are now the recipients (unwittingly) of American weaponry much of it left behind in Iraq and in Afghanistan, weaponry that is readily and frequently being used by the terrorists against all enemies including western forces seeking to “eradicate” terror from the globe. Nearly a decade and a half of repetition of armed conflict with the Islamic terrorists, including the addition of the latest intelligence hardware and software not only have not proven successful, except perhaps in micro-venues, only driving the terrorists underground to evade the scan of intelligence and also the rain of bombs and missiles. Political discussion in most western countries continues along the lines of “increasing police and military empowerment” to deal with the threat, along with enhanced military measures, albeit jointly deployed by more than a single country, and the language of the debate is now ramped up to President Holland’s “war” on terror.

We are becoming entrapped in our own rhetoric! We are fulfilling Pogo’s insightful diagnosis: “We have met the enemy and he is us!”

Is it just possible, for those determined to find a silver lining in these years of savage murders, beheadings, kidnapping and selling of young girls, wanton destruction of whole communities (Baka, Nigeria, for starters) and assassinations, that those privileged to have acquired a full and legitimate education, a full access to health care and employment with dignity, as well as access to the largest and latest quantity of consumer “toys” the world have ever produced (the political class of all western countries) can and will see the blindness and the hubris of their collective addiction to “inside the box” thinking, strategies, traditions and conventional expectations and make a radical shift to searching and finding unconventional and creative and non-violent strategies that will of course be seen as “weak” and counter-intuitive, by most who seek revenge and pay-back.

It is precisely revenge, and pay-back and alienation that are motivating the terrorists. Piling on to enflame and enrage that alienation will inevitably bring the terrorists more and more recruits and more and more creative acts of vengeance, and all locales are targets for their vengeance. Just like the microbes that have mutated into bugs that are immune to the latest vaccination, the terrorists have and will continue to mutate, as well as recruit, to develop an immunity to the power attacks that can and will be inflicted by the “developed” nations. And while every pharmaceutical corporation in the world has a lab and laboratory staff dedicated to the 24-7-365 pursuit of a vaccine that addresses all potential microbes, including those we have not met yet, so too will all western governments act in parallel to those laboratories, to counter the terrorist movement. And in another two or three decades, we will still be having these conversations, still ineffectually addressing those issues that are providing the “green-houses” where terrorism and terrorists are conceived, gestated and birthed, in their increasingly monstrous models.

There is still not a universal commitment from all nations to the processes and the ideals of the United Nations.

There is still no sign-on from the United States to the International Criminal Court, even though the Secretary of State this week called the actions of Boko Haram “criminal acts” which could thereby be brought before the ICC.

There is still no international agreement to address the perils of global warming and climate change, in spite of the mountains of credible and reliable evidence of human production of toxins that are already raising the sea levels in cities like Miami where they are installing pumps at considerable cost to alleviate the problem.

There is still no international recognition that imprisonment, especially the imprisonment of minorities including in Canada, First Nations men, in the U.S. blacks and Latino’s, and in France, Muslim men, leads only to backlash that is legitimate given the disproportionate and racist imprisonment of those very men, already marginalized even before incarceration.

There is still no international acceptance of a young girl’s “RIGHT” to a quality education and to the pursuit of a professional career that is commensurate with that education.

There is still no international agreement that the ravages of global corporatism have wrought serious negative prices in many countries, depriving millions of access to the “benefits” of wealth.

There is still no international agreement that “we are our brother’s keeper” a cornerstone of all faith communities, in their most healthy incarnations.

There is still no international agreement that all humans deserve access to clean water, clean air and land free of pollutants, as well as access to work with dignity.

There is so much work to do, that it will take centuries to reverse the current path of the planet’s largest “ship” the globe, and there will be decades through which we will continue to question whether we have built into the hard-wiring the very capacity to change course in time to meet the changing challenges of today and tomorrow.

And we will all know that we could see the danger signals on the horizon in the early years of the twenty-first century.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

"Otherize" and other lessons of alienation requiring amendment

It is our human instinct to reach for and seek overt corrections to social problems and much of our public discourse is focussed on such "policies" and "strategies" and "tactics" that seem to be fitting to the circumstances we are addressing.
Comparing such various approaches to our many problems consumes most of our public discourse.
The cost/benefit analysis of each approach, of course, is the most readily available and least reliable of our many comparative measures. In fact, one of the more significant criticisms of contemporary culture, if not human history, is that it is and has been myopically turned onto the images that would appear if every social and political and cultural issue were submitted to a slide fitting an electron microscope, analysed by the most "credentialed" academic in separate yet "related" academic disciplines and those "views" are then disseminated as if the solutions propounded by those academics were the most appropriate and most desired available.
Not only have we "emptied the public square" (see blog referencing Dr. Mary Jo Leddy, in this space for 25/12/14) but we have also emptied our public discourse of voices that are willing to contribute a more general and more comprehensive and inclusive approach to our various public issues, of which there are many. We have also reduced the voices of our political leaders (once believed to have a pulpit to speak for all of our citizens, and not only to speak for the purpose of achieving their own retention of power) to ideologues coming from an echo-chamber of talking points with which we have a boring familiarity. Stephen Harper, himself, as become a hollow echo-chamber of himself, for example, with his incantation of the phrase, "economic prospects and jobs" as the sine qua non of his government's purpose and agenda. Presumably there are a pile of public opinion surveys on someone's desk in the Conservative Party headquarters that prove indisputably that the 'conservative' base in Canada considers such aphorism to be sacred to the fortunes of the political party headed by Mr. Harper, and therefore essential to the retention of power by the prime minister and his Conservative clones.
Over against the clashing of aphorisms in the public arena, there occasionally appears a public discussion in which not only are academically trained and credentialed professionals are encouraged to leave everything on the table, (without in any way incurring the disrespect of their intellectual opponents who also appear on the program). In such a public forum,(The Melissa Harris-Perry 'seminar' on weekend mornings on MSNBC) such insights as this from a Muslim spokesperson from Brooklyn, are heard: "I reject the phrase Islamic terrorism; it is not that Muslims cannot and do not commit acts of terror, but that the association of the words Islamic terrorism paint all Muslims with the same brush as terrorists and I reject that inference."
Repeatedly, in this space, I have deliberately written the phrase, "Islamic terrorism" and Islamic terrorists," to underline the stench of the claim by Al Qaeda, ISIS, ISIL, AQAP, Boko Haram, Al Shabab and other terrorist cells that they represent the Islamic faith, in the long-held hope and belief that if and when the Islamic faith leaders turn on those who claim to be acting on behalf of Allah, the Muslim name for deity, such terrorists might be brought to heel. Clearly, it is not a scourge from which the world can or will be freed unless and until such Islamic condemnation brings down the terrorists in their own lies, deceptions and delusions, based on the counter-presentation of a different interpretation of the Koran. And the woman from Brooklyn has opened my eyes and my consciousness to my own generalization that damages Islam so subtly as to be virtually free of prejudice. Nevertheless, to her my use of the phrase Islamic terrorists and Islamic terrorism is abhorrent, and for my continued use of it I apologize.
Also included in this morning's MHP show on MSNBC were insightful analyses of some of the roots of terrorism, including the distorted deployment of the judicial system in France, where a majority of prisoners are Muslim, while a minority of citizens are not Muslim (parallel to the disproportionate imprisonment of Blacks and First Nations in the United States and Canada respectively). The lack of access to employment and quality education of Muslims in France, for example, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, both statistically and proportionally, has rendered Muslim youth especially susceptible to recruitment "seduction" from Muslim leaders in Yemen, for example, and from both Syria and Iraq.  In those countries  recruits of marginalized young men and women are trained in military tactics and terror strategies which they then take back to 'western' countries, not necessarily the original homes of those returnees. Such a narrative underlies the events that occurred in France this week.
Naturally, the political narrative in a country like France will demonstrate two principal themes leading up to the national elections in 2017. From Le Pen, the right-wing nationalists, who have already publicly announced their intent to bring back the death penalty if elected, will come the tighten the border arguments, the racist claims that France is unable to absorb such a flood of Muslim immigrants. From the mainstream political parties, including the Socialists under Holland, the current leader, will come arguments for inclusion, tolerance, patience and more efforts toward economic and political equality.
However, back to our Muslim woman from Brooklyn. She uses the word "otherized" to portray something she experiences every day as a Muslim woman living and working in the United States. For her this means a state of being considered "different" and "not fitting in" and thereby "not normal" within the American context. Observers from Europe, ironically, use the United States as an example of a very open and accepting society and culture, considered "immigrant friendly" when compared with the level of acceptance and tolerance of Muslims in France in particular and in other European countries as well. This articulate Muslim woman also instructs her audience in another of the unique features of the Muslim faith: We believe that we are part of something that is global; if a Muslim is suffering in one part of the world, we suffer with that Muslim so we feel deeply the offences being experienced by Muslims everywhere. (That differs markedly from the individual experience of Christians of all denominations who do not necessarily identify with abuses of power inflicted on others who consider themselves Christian, unless and until such abuse is so horrific that almost exclusively on humanitarian grounds, there is a feeling of identification and empathy. However, Christian identification tends to reflect a more generic consideration of human rights and freedoms, and less an identification with a faith community.)
And then, from another former law enforcement professional from Great Britain, also on MHP in MSNBC, comes a summation of the many academic disciplines and political files and their respective lenses through which the problem of terrorism needs to be viewed. These include economic policy, education, economic opportunity, the use of the judicial systems, and the capacity of a culture to fully integrate people of a different faith and culture, language and skin colour into a new community.
So far, it would seem that, for many, the question of terrorism and its roots are less important than the elimination of the scourge. However, elimination is not going to come from drones, missiles, bombs and homeland security intelligence operations. Terror and its many tentacles require the comprehensive and inclusive integration of a multi-discipline approach that reaches far beyond law enforcement and criminal convictions, and also far beyond military assaults and severed funding tributaries.
We share, (every human being on the planet) a responsibility to examine our thoughts, our feelings, our attitudes and our actions, both individually and collectively as cities, provinces, states and nations, in the light of our capacity to exclude, to ostracize, to deny, to self-deceive, and to abuse our power over those who are different from ourselves. Not all of our attitudes, beliefs perceptions and actions can be or will be seen as criminal, and therefore lie outside the purview of the law enforcement. However, in our classrooms, even our kitchens, our coffee shops, our banks, hospitals, colleges and universities, and in our boardrooms, and on our golf courses and skating rinks, on our tennis courts and in our gymnasia....we are collectively and individually growing a garden of soil that will either accept or reject those who are different...and the harvest of our attitudes and actions and words and thoughts will be on the shoulders of our grandchildren as adults.
Let us carefully attend to the time we spend in developing that garden, so as to help ensure that it will be able and willing to offer "others" the same freedoms and rights and equality we have enjoyed for centuries.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Where are our better angels when they are needed?

In an early episode of he Aaron Sorkin renowned television series, West Wing, speech writer Toby Zeigler tells the president: your demons are winning the battle over your better angels while engaged in a pick-up game of street basketball.
Later in a private moment at a staff dinner in the White House, the president asks Zeigler if his assessment was precluding him from "greatness"; Zeigler answers in the affirmative.
We all have demons within struggling for power and control of our decision-making on all levels of our existence. Voices telling us how to sabotage another, how to betray the other, how to obliterate another's impact, especially one we fear.
Our fears take on various masks, characters that sometimes come from our past, sometimes from our imaginations, telling us how dangerous some move might be, without any rational basis for that perception. The suspect  hypotheses through which we wander, none of which have any basis in reality in the outside world, very often take over our attention, our mental and emotional pathways, diverting energies from those higher aspirations and visions which we know we wish to pursue,
Simultaneously, while we are walking and talking with others in the course of our daily lives, internally another drama is playing out both unconsciously and even semi-consciously, over questions of import to our inner life.
Some call the inner life a spiritual life; some speak of it as the theatre of the psyche. Regardless, there is a respected body of opinion that this "secret" life, so long as it remains out of reach of our consciousness, holds considerable sway over our lives. Born in the vortex of trauma from early experiences, issuing in pain too crippling to face, this "Shadow" becomes, as some have expressed it, a "sack" of both painful memories and frightening imaginings, whose unpacking becomes the task of our maturing years.
Alienation, separation and loss are among the most prominent kinds of experiences that generate the memories and perceptions we "load" into our personal sack, for later "discovery", whether that discovery emerges impulsively when we least expect it, or through a deliberate and conscious process of guided discovery.
Some, when and after experiencing emotional trauma and pain, thrust their emotions into overt acts of defiance, subversion and rebellion from which they believe they will achieve a measure of "justice, vengeance, and the power of superiority previously denied them.
Fear of powerlessness, no matter the specific arena, is an extremely virulent motivator for actions and decisions that depend on a feeling and a perception of absolute control.
The most frightened among us, if we can penetrate their fears, are the most likely to impose the most abusive attitudes and behaviours we face, individually and collectively.
And when there is a venue into which frightened people, (those deeply impacted by their negative experiences of alienation, separation and loss,) can join in both sharing their pain and planning their vengeful actions, then the potential for explosive behaviours is significantly enhanced.
Street gangs, drug gangs, mobsters....these sociological phenomena take root in individuals whose lives have experienced alienation, at least from their point of view. And when the sociology is supplemented by a religious fever, among zealots now infused with both a belief and a conviction to do some kind of work inspired and demanded by a religious prophet or deity or both, liquid and gaseous combustibles have found their 'match'.
As CBC reporter Neil McDonald put it in a piece of analysis, immediately following the massacre at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, when other religions have been pilloried in such publications dedicated to satire, they did not come raging with kalishnakovs massacring those responsible. And even if Muslim imams denounce the actions of the Islamic terrorist brothers in Paris as not representative of the Muslim faith, those conducting their savagery are convinced otherwise. 
In a world in which binary answers to all questions leave hungry minds and hearts and spirits starved for nuance, complexity, ambiguity and mystery, uncertainty, doubt and humility, and replace those deeply human appetites, even needs, with absolutes so terrifying that everyone who has not converted to Islam (and a narrow and very specific brand of that faith) is in danger. Especially targeted are those whose lives are and have been dedicated to poking imaginative fingers in the eyes of all institutions, as artistic expression, required in a life that  rejects all absolutes, especially those to which one can easily fall prey.
Pencils of cartoonists, while never opening literal wounds, nevertheless paint pictures that incisively poke fun (sometimes painfully, often merely humorously) at the pomposity and the vulnerabilities of all human institutions. And both political and religious institutions are legitimate targets for their acid wit. It may well be that much of the "heat" of the cartoonist's frames comes from the same places in their psyches as do the bullets of the terrorists while they cry Allah Akbah....God is Great!
One of the ironic and tragic aspects of the terrorists world view, including their chosen path of martyrdom, is that they are not God nor are they acting on instructions emitted from any source worthy of the name God.
These Islamic terrorists, like those who perpetrated their savagery at Charlie Hebdo, are engaged in what the world calls "criminal activity" and they have magnetized much of the world's intelligence and legal systems as they are pursued to "justice" to respond to the pain they have inflicted on their victims. The world, for its part, deploys all of its instruments of detection, arrest and even war, if necessary, to eradicate what is now a formidable cancer, metastasizing into whatever form and shape that outsmarts our best brains.
And yet, we all know that merely "hard power" both from the military and from the legal system, will not succeed in excising this deadly fervour, fever, sociopatholgy from our shared western culture.
We have to address this monster very differently from all of the approaches currently being deployed.
We have to move from our extrinsic analysis and design of our responses to a much more intrinsic and sustainable analysis and design of responses.
Terrorism is born in alienation; further alienation is precisely what these men and women demand. Our enhancing the separation and the alienation of these people, starting from their Islamic "zeal" merely enflames their zeal for martyrdom and risks additional slaughter. The Pope wonders out loud in his public prayer, "how can humans inflict so much pain on each other?".....referring to the slaughter of human life inflicted by the terrorists not only with impunity but with a conviction that they are doing "god's" work.
Victims, especially those joined in a subversive and virulent movement of world evangelization, world dominance of people and their beliefs, as both a political ideology and a personal commitment to an afterlife, comprise a force with which the world has little knowledge and experience. We have to consider a significant shift of resources from an overt and extrinsic struggle to an overt and intrinsic campaign of prevention, both in the micro and the macro spheres.
We have to put our efforts into extensive and imaginative educational initiatives that spell out the arguments opposed to terrorism, especially radical religious terrorism. And we have to divert resources from the military and the intelligence communities to this effort. We also have to re-think our self-imposed and growing gulf between the have's and the have-not's and all of the implications of that collective and deliberate failure.
We need to fund a million Malala's and generate a public information program around the globe that addresses the alienation and the separation and the loss of the millions of desperate people whose lives have been reduced to refugee status, starvation, political and economic poverty. And we must move more quickly than we have considered necessary in our history.
This moment of greatest threat and danger can also become our moment of most significant opportunity to work together, to bring our best angels to the fore in our analysis and our understanding of the roots of terror and our attempts to reduce the needs for its expression.
And throwing our most frightened demons at their most frightened demons will result only in more conflagration and bloodshed. Our better angels are available and waiting for deployment....and that process will take a radical shift in our understanding of our humanity and our higher purposes.