Three reasonable voices
One of my favorite bloggers, Mahablog (I know she has a name, but I forget), is attending the Clinton Global Initiative conference in NYC as a reporter this week. In today's installment, The War on Bad Metaphors, she summarizes speeches by three international figures. The general theme is that the international "enemy" is not "terrorism" as such but the "extremism" that fosters it-- a point that even Prez W seems to be able to get, she points out.
- Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan
Queen Rania, poised and articulate, spoke to the problem of extremism directly. Extremist ideologies that once existed only on the fringes of the Muslim world now resonate with more and more Middle Easterners, she said, and it's important to understand why.
Our lack of knowledge of one another helps extremism spread. Westerners tend to lump all Muslims into one group. Even those who appreciate that there is a difference between Shia and Sunni may not understand that there are further divisions within Shia and Sunni. A nuanced approach to the people of the Middle East is critical.
It is a huge mistake, she said, to rule out a political approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in favor of a military approach. (This line brought robust applause from the audience.) Before the recent war in Lebanon, she continued, most Lebanese were moderate, peace loving people. But over the course of two months, once moderate people were radicalized. The war pushed the entire Arabic public toward extremism; it caused the voices of peace and moderation to lose currency and become marginalized. The way to win the war on extremism is to support and strengthen the voices of moderation in the Middle East, not discredit them.
- President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan
President Karzai said that he had tried to warn the West to pay attention to the spread of extremism since the Taliban came into power in 1966. Long before September 11, the Taliban was killing Muslims. They were destroying families; they ruined livelihoods by, for example, burning vineyards full of grapes. And most of all, the Taliban preached hatred. Karzai said he tried to tell the West the hate would reach them eventually. But no attention was paid, he said, because you in the West did not hurt. We didn't pay attention until we did hurt.
Karzai also said that we in the West mistake the voices of terrorists, of the most brutal elements of the Middle East, as the voice of the people of the Middle East. This has to stop, he said. [Agreed! Well put. This is the thing "we" tend to miss over here-- some of "us" willfully.]
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa
The Archbishop Desmond Tutu radiates more sweet, selfless joy than his little body could possibly contain. No religion in the world promotes death and murder, he said. Instead, all of the world's religions promote compassion, justice, love, caring. It is unfortunate that people misuse religion for bad purposes, like a knife intended to cut bread might be used to hurt someone.
It's a mistake to associate the terrorism of the Middle East with Islam, the Archbishop said. If a Muslim commits an act of terrorism, it's called Muslims terrorism; but when a Christian man blew up a building in Oklahoma, no one called it Christian terrorism. Likewise, terrorism in Northern Ireland, or the Holocaust, was not called Christian terrorism.
We humans can survive only if we survive together, the Archbishop said. We need one another. No one is totally self-sufficient without being subhuman.
The only caveat I'd add to Abp. Tutu is that at least Judaism, Christianity and Islam, if not all religions, have a violent element in their history and, worse, in their Scriptures. Extremism is drawn to that violence, and seeks justification from it. Once the extremist genie is out of the lamp, "reasonable voices" in all the faiths have a hard time persuading folks to stuff it back in.
The Christian extremism (pseudo-Christian, as far as I'm concerned) that has infected many in this nation and in the Oval Office itself, by many accounts, is far, FAR more dangerous than any other brew right now. And it seems to inculcate a self-perpetuating cycle of extremist violence all over in the world-- which ironically seems to work to its political benefit.