Tuesday, February 21, 2017

To End All Violence

Much of the violence witnessed around the world today is the result of a revolution against secularism. Among Arabic peoples of Islamic orientation the revolution is two-fold - the first has been against the secular nationalism of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak in Egypt, Assad in Syria, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq – all regimes widely viewed even by their own people as corrupt and oppressive; the second is against the secular culture of the West, judged as decadent, materialist, and soul-destroying.

In a world of declining superpowers, sclerotic international institutions, a swath of failing states and the chaos of civil and tribal wars, religious fundamentalists and extremists are seizing power and influencing elections. We have little choice but to re-examine the factors that have led to violent conflict in the first place. If we do not, we will face a continuation of the terror that has marked the 21st century thus far. The real clash of the 21st century will not be between civilizations or religions, but within them. It will be between those who accept and those who reject the separation of religion and power.

We seem to have entered an historic period of desecularization in which peoples of faith around the world seem to be aiming to retake the cultural high ground from the trend experienced around the planet in the last four hundred years of attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. The uprising by extreme Islamic groups like ISIS in objection to secular influence is only the spearhead of a broader cultural shift that we may expect to proliferate until more faith-based leadership usurps to power over the more materialistic leadership we see today throughout the world. The momentum that is building is not something that will be defeated. Until the factors that have led to the rise of ISIS are tackled effectively, the murderous chaos now largely confined to Syria and Iraq will become an issue that impinges ever more on all of our lives.

The problem will not just go away, and relying on conventional politics to sort it out may be of little use at all. People in the West do not fully understand the power of the forces that oppose their way of life. Passions at play run deeper and stronger than any might imagine, and reason alone will not win this battle; nor will invoking the causes of freedom and democracy. We will all need to join together to fight against extremism of every stripe to meet the challenge we now face of how to defend and protect the hard-won freedoms and liberties we have gained in the West.

The initial problem is that there is a culture gap with these Muslim extremists. They live within a time system where the minimum unit of currency is a decade, where they are comfortable looking at the world in terms of centuries. So far, their long-term problem is meeting the short attention span of people in the West. There is nothing accidental about the spread of radical politicized religion in our time. It came about because of a series of decisions a half-century ago that led to the creation of an entire educational network of schools dedicated to the proposition that loving God means hating the enemies of God (infidels). Radical Islam was a movement fueled by oil-producing countries to fund networks of schools and universities dedicated to Wahhabi or Salafist interpretations of Islam, marginalizing the more open, gracious, intellectual and mystical tendencies in Islam that were in the past the source of its greatness. The end result has been a flood of chaos, violence and destruction that is drowning the innocent and guilty alike. As long as these teachings of hate continue in Middle Eastern mosques as well as those embedded within Western culture the current violent cycle will continue.

When we attempt to understand the motivation for jihad and why young disaffected people of every background from around the world are enlisting in support of the Islamic cause, the conventional socioeconomic explanations do not work. The militaristic extremists we face are not poor, ignorant Islamic fundamentalists; they are well educated and largely come from means. It is the secular society of the West and the resulting moral vacuum that leaves idealistic youth without anything substantive to believe in, leaving them susceptible to radical influence. Young people are and have always been idealistic, but as a culture the West is very short of ideals right now, and so youth become drawn to causes that may be very dangerous.

Young people are growing up in a world in which they are not proud of their country, as previous generations have been. They have no strong identity with their country or community, and so they seek identity wherever it may be offered – on You Tube and social media. In the cause offered by religious extremists they hear talk of high ideals and the sacred to justify what would otherwise be seen as murderous acts. They are being offered an identity as part of the global nation of Islam which is presented within these social media outlets as being attacked and humiliated. In times past, radical groups such as ISIS would have been marginalized and largely unknown, but now their ideas can instantly reach a global audience thanks to the revolution in information technology. Their ability to spread a hybrid of religious fervor and political power has created an anti-modern maelstrom with a very destabilizing effect.

What is needed is a return to religious/spiritual values if we are to create any sort of competing identity that can counter the attraction to extremist propaganda by disillusioned young people. Regardless of whatever ideology and beliefs a religion represents, it gives people a real sense of their common good as members of society rather than being abandoned to founder in the self-centered ideas promoted by the secular world. We have not been addressing the theological dimension of these problems we face in the world, confronting the underlying religious issues involved. It has been said that while weapons win wars, it is ideas that win the peace. We are not going to resolve this conflict of values with bullets and drones.

The solution to the problem – reinforcing the religious principles of respect, tolerance and love of neighbor found in all faiths, better education, plus a coming together of all the faiths to fight extremism. Christians, Jews, and Muslims must stand together now, in defense of humanity, the sanctity of life, religious freedom, and to honor the Divine. A new generation of religious leaders and educators who embrace the world in its diversity must be trained, with emphasis upon the generosity found within all sacred texts. There must be an international campaign against the teaching and preaching of hate. As John Locke said: “It is unreasonable that any should have a free liberty of their religion who do not acknowledge it as a principle of theirs that nobody ought to persecute or molest another because he dissents from him in religion.” If children continue to be taught that non-believers must be converted or killed, all the military interventions in the world will not stop the violence. While religion may be one of the main sources of of violence we witness in the world, it may also be the path to our mutual peace.

There is incredibly powerful idealism among Muslim youth today; they are hungry to bring about reconciliation in a secular world through restored religious values. That idealism must be channeled for constructive benefit, away from hateful teachings. In the end, no matter how much struggle we go through to reach for peace, no matter how much we try to maintain a secular world without a foundation in religion, it will only be through religious/spiritual ideals that the world returns to lasting stability.

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