Saturday, January 10, 2015

Fighting Radical Islamists and...

...every other fundamentalist out there. Like many others around the world, I've been following the Charlie Hebdo story very closely. I had never heard of this magazine before their offices were stormed on Monday by a pair of terrorists who killed twelve people and wounded eleven others in the name of Allah. I've seen Je Suis Charlie (I am Charlie) on signs held by people mourning in the streets of Paris, and in lights on the Arc de Triomphe, and I am moved by the incredible courage of the Charlie Hebdo staff, who have gone back to work already, determined not to let the bad guys win.

I've also seen a lot in the news from two different positions. One side claims the terrorists had nothing to do with Islam, and the other side claims they had everything to do with Islam, and you know what? I think they're both right, and they're both wrong. These killings were done in the name of Islam just as much as the Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts, and the Holocaust were done in the name of Christianity. Every religion has its dark side, every religion has things in its sacred texts that have been used by the fundamentalists of that faith to make life a horror for those who don't share their viewpoint. And it's fundamentalism, not the religion as such that is the true problem. And the really ironic thing is that fundamentalism isn't limited to religion-it can be applied to any cause to create people immune to reason and determined to make the lives of other people miserable.

We're seeing a surge of fundamentalism in the world today. Feminism has been taken over by fundamentalists who see men as bears with furniture and women as helpless victims. These women saw a scientist land a rocket on a comet, a feat comparable to a fly landing on a speeding bullet, and they attacked the man for a tasteless shirt he wore to a press conference. They fervently support the notion that a woman who accuses a man of rape must not even be questioned, only believed, and that rape is such a terrible crime that even innocence is not a defense. Civil rights activists have been derailed by fundamentalists who don't care if a man killed by the police was a criminal resisting arrest-the fundamentalists have ruined lives and careers, disrupted New York City, burned down a chunk of Ferguson, and stooped to stopping children from singing Christmas carols with chants of "I can't breathe." Atheist fundamentalists have attacked Christmas year after year, with huge billboards in Time Square mocking the Christian faith and lawsuits to take down Christian displays. Muslim fundamentalists have set bombs and flown airplanes into buildings and beheaded people on videos distributed around the world.

The greatest irony of all is that all these people, of different races and religions and sexes and worldviews, have so much in common with each other. All of them unquestioningly adhere to their faith, all of them are willing to attack anyone who does not share their faith. Some of them attack with words, some with lawsuits, some with demonstrations, and some with bullets, but the mark on all their souls is the same. On a basic level, they all have total intolerance for anyone who does not believe as they do and they all are willing to make nonbelievers in their cause suffer in some way. This is the true evil of fundamentalism-not that someone is passionate about their beliefs, but that they will not tolerate anyone who does not believe as they do.

So how do we fight them? It's remarkably simple in theory, but very hard in practice. We don't let them win. Someone calls you a racist, or a misogynist, or demands that you take down your Nativity set on your own lawn, don't cave into them. Don't apologize for living your life if you haven't done anything wrong. And in the case of these terrorists, all of us in the civilized world need to do the same thing. We need to band together and stand up to them. If it takes not doing business with any country that harbors terrorists, that's what we should do, and if those countries scream "Islamophobia!" let them scream. If we have to pass laws that people who immigrate into a country must assimilate and participate in that country's way of life to prevent enclaves of people adhering to a fundamentalist mindset, that's what we do. I grew up with Chinese immigrants, Cuban refugees, Filipino refugees, immigrants from Haiti and Jamaica and Poland, and they were all vibrantly interested in preserving their heritage, but they were Americans first. Their allegiance to America didn't stop them from celebrating their festivals, observing their religions, cooking their traditional foods, or speaking their native language.

I'm not going to say Je Suis Charlie, though. I'd rather say Je Suis Ahmed, and honor Ahmed Merabet, a policeman murdered confronting the Charlie Hebdo gunmen. 

 
Did he agree with the magazine's policy of creating scurrilous attacks against Islam along with Christianity and Judaism and politicians? I don't know. What I do know is that Voltaire said, "I do not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Ahmed Merabet lived that sentiment. He was a Muslim, far more representative of the followers of Islam than any number of terrorists who kill in the name of Allah. And as long as Islam can produce such men, there is hope of beating back the barbarians at the gate. Those of us who are not fundamentalists just need to remember this brave young man, and so many others like him, and stand together, because a Christian, an atheist, a Muslim, a feminist, and a civil rights activist who can tolerate the beliefs of others have more in common with each other than we know. We share a mindset of compassion and kindness that can conquer the world if we refuse to bow to the terrorists.


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