Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Fanaticism Bubbling Up Around Us

"Where have we heard it before? ...[W]hen fanaticism is bubbling up around us - then, habits of thought familiar from ages past reach for the controls. The candle flame gutters. Its little pool of light trembles. Darkness gathers. The demons begin to stir."
 - Carl Sagan 
The last couple of weeks have indeed been very unsettling. As I write this Brussels and Tunisia remain on lockdown while French, American, and Russian bombs rain on Syria - and another MSF hospital - in response to the horrific and cowardly attacks by Daesh on random civilians in Paris. Turkish fighter jets have just shot down a Russian warplane at the Syrian border - "a stab in Russia’s back delivered by terrorist accomplices" (Putin). And NATO is urging calm as concern grows about a possible Russian response against Turkey - and therefore NATO.

Meanwhile, at home, Americans turned to Syrian refugees and Muslims in general (or people who "look Muslim") as means to assuage their fears - and stoke some others. Elected leaders and presidential candidates quickly called for an immediate halt to our already modest humanitarian contribution to the refugee crisis that we helped create (through our destabilization of Iraq), and some have even suggested that we screen refugees for Christianity. Others have suggested ID cards or a badge (possibly yellow?) that Muslims would be required to wear. As I've noted previously, our reactions to terrorism are often more terrorizing than the original act, and this case is certainly no exception to that rule. Terrorism is designed to cause terror and fear in a population, and it works because we let it do just that.

As happened after 9/11, there is much discussion again about the connection between Islam and terrorism. In my last post I acknowledged a "connection between some interpretations of the religion and bad or violent behavior" but took issue with Faisal Saeed Al Mutar's taxonomy of "Anti-Muslim Bigotry vs. Genuine Criticism of Islam" - which appears to be nothing more than another way to insult critics of the Sam Harris plan for dealing with jihadists (attack secular liberals as apologists for Islam). Harris is apparently still licking the wounds from his embarrassing email exchange with Noam Chomsky.

The extent to which Islam (or Christianity, or Buddhism) plays a role in terrorism is clearly not zero, but fundamentalism and fanaticism are not unique to Islam. Nor are the real or perceived injustices that also play a role in terrorism. Reality is seldom black and white. I suspect Christopher Hitchens, if he were still alive, would be absolutely livid over our failure thus far to render Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Rouhani to their opposition - as we did with Saddam. Perhaps after we release photos of their sons' dead bodies - a clear war crime in a more quaint era - the terrorists will finally understand that we really mean business? I'm not holding my breath. Nor will I be silent about the fanaticism that is bubbling up around us and consuming us. Evil will never be defeated through imitation.

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