Thursday, August 05, 2004

The Gift of Tamas

"Religion followed by a witless will
To torture self, or come at power to hurt
Another - 'tis of Tamas, dark and ill."
The Book of Religion by the Threefold Kinds of Faith

I cannot accept a role or countenance an act that removes thought from the world. First, this is not legal in the American system of government. Note the court decision that allowed the American National Socialists to march in Skokie, Illinois in 1978. Even the speech of hate and the repulsive image of the Swastika are allowed. Second, it is not possible to erase thought. Even the best brainwashing techniques of the Cold War showed that given time and separation from the controlled environment in which this kind of programming is attempted, the individual returns eventually back to their normal habits of thought.

It isn't right and it won't work.

However, what can be changed is the unwarranted use of force. I hope that we are not fighting in the Middle East to change their culture or attempting to make them adopt ours. Yes, there are things about that culture that I find distasteful, particularly the treatment of women and children, just as there are aspects of the Western culture that some Islamists find revolting, but these are not going to change by the use of force. What we should look at critically is precisely the use of force to attempt to modify behavior, because this is precisely a behavior itself. This can be changed.

Should we kill to stop the killing? I am afraid we must. Will they kill us in return? They have.

And so it will go on, act after hateful act as it has gone on for as long as we have human memory to relate. Yet as Gandhi noted, Love always wins and the tyrants fall. So we must find and share reasons to love. This is not soft, but the hardest and the boldest action. We must find what we share. Golda Meir said, 'the violence will stop when we love our children more than we hate each other.' There are mothers today in Bagdhad, in New York and Lahore who love their children and wish only to see them do well in life. As said in the Middle East, God willing, another should live as well as I desire to live. As said in the Bible, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Islam is a religion of truth and mercy and beauty. It cannot perish because these are values it shares with all true religions and these are eternal values. No belief with these as core shall perish. That some believe they can make one religion master of all truth and all believers is deeply hurtful to these beliefs. A Christian who takes this path takes the sword in their own hand and plunges it into the side of the Christ. The Muslim who takes this path tars his own children in pig's blood. The Hindu who takes this path accepts the gift of Tamas that does not bless.

We must step back from the feast of rottenness, and we must accept our differences as the joyful expressions of God at play, and learn to hear the voice of Creation singing to us in our wakeful dream. I know it cannot be a perfect world, or a peaceful world, but it can be a world where our children play free of fear of one another based simply on the color of skin, dress, or how, when, and where we go to pray. This, I believe is the world the God of Abraham and Mohammed and Arjuna earnestly waits for us to create. God sees through our eyes but with infinite mercy, does not control every act of our hands or hearts. God watches and waits for the time when we ourselves undertake acts of mercy, compassion, and tolerance, and in these, knows joy.

There is much darkness in our hearts but there is infinite light in our souls. Pray in whatever tongue with whatever gifts you have, that this light overcomes that darkness soon, today, in this moment before another car bomb takes more lives, before more helicopters rain down death on the innocent, before we once again sully Creation in the eyes of God.

For the sake of our children, for the sake of our world, for the love of God, pray for this earnestly. God willing, let this be done; God providing, let us do this.


Joshua Allen said...

I think its false to portray this is an either-or choice "kill or be killed". It's dramatic, but it misses the point.

There are many ways to approach the problem of Islamist hate speech and inciting to violence, just as there are many ways to approach the problem of racially-motivated hate speech, anti-gay violence, and so on. The array of techniques available includes law enforcement techniques, economic, socio-political, propaganda, and so on. I fully expected your blog to talk about some of the more chaos-theory inspired techniques.

My point is that we need to stop pretending as if Islamist hatred is something which needs to be accepted or tolerated by the brotherhood of man, any more than we should accept or tolerate gay-bashing. Furthermore, I think it's ridiculous to look for fault within ourselves when faced with such inhuman thinking, just as it would be ridiculous to blame gays for the violence against their community, or to blame the battered wife for the violence of her husband.

When faced with senseless violence like this, we reform the violator, not the victim.

I also think it is misleading to bring "Islam is a wonderful religion" into this. Islam thrived without the hateful Islamists, and will do so in the future. Treating the cancerous hate does not equate to obliterating the religion.

len said...

Good. My reaction is to the notion of eradication.

1. Law enforcement plays a vital role particularly in the local environment. The US does have a history of using law enforcement to change behaviors of communities and agencies. Chaos theory informs us of limits. I will come back to this topic.

2. The Islamic community will work to change the behaviors of their own members. It will take time. In Iraq, a large part of the insurgency is simple brutal thuggery, not religion inspired warfare. In any population that is brutalized by a strong central authority over many years, a brutal criminal element emerges. Look not only at Iraq, but the former Soviet Union for examples. We have them too. I will come back to this topic.

I do acknowledge the role of the US for part of this because we have been unwilling to accept the long term consquences of our interactions. Our friends and allies across the world have warned us time and time again about this. Some of them have also played a role in creating these conditions, but if we are to lead the world, it must be by a good example. We do have to lead with our values and not our bank accounts.

I do accept that the role of the military is necessary particularly since 9/11. Operant conditioning teaches that positive reinforcement is the most effective means to modify behavior, but that when a behavior must be extinguished immediately, negative reinforcement is faster. The cost is the side effect of brutalization. The subject becomes resentful and aggressive. I think it time to acknowledge these side effects and prepare to deal with them. There are means and they do work. I will come back to this topic.


Joshua Allen said...

Right, eradication in the sense of "eradicate facism" or "eradicate hate".

In fact, while the current situation suggests the use of military force, I agree that it's the least desirable technique, and could well fail. That we are even at this point is the result of thousands of tiny failures piling up.

This problem could have been dealt with a decade ago much more effectively and without resorting to violence. I believe that all wars are the result of thousands of tiny personal failures, and scar all of us. In this particular case, we should be learning a lesson that we cannot ignore or isolate ourselves from hateful memes that arise in remote corners of the globe. We must innoculate against these diseased memes using every technique at our disposal and aggressively treat any that break through. We can't endure a dangerous moral relativism that says "who are we to say that it's wrong to chop off people's heads; that is their choice". We should not have had to be attacked directly to get really serious about addressing this abomination.

That's why I jumped so eagerly on your post about "effective means", because that's what it is really all about. With our culture's sophisticated understanding of spread of ideas and influence, we should have been unleashing every tool we had long ago. Being proactive is one of the most effective means of all.

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