Saturday, January 24, 2015

How "personally" should non-Muslims take the radical militant behavior overseas? The idea of "shame", "honor", and squelching debate, even in the West

My own impression of what is going on with the mix of groups following and trying to impose “radical Islam” is indeed mixed.
I don’t relate to the idea that God (or Jehovah or Allah) has a specific plan for me, because I have free will.  God is not a novelist or screenwriter; He does not determine the fates of his “characters” in advance the way I can with mine on paper (or on a computer).  God does not live in an alternate universe of fantasy.  And “free will” has  a specific role in physics and cosmology.
So I also don’t relate to proselytizing, to “saving souls”, or to public emotion over “turning it all over to Him”.  I don’t join in on group emotions.  Yet, in my own way, I’m religious.  I feel sure there is an afterlife.  Sometimes there may be reincarnation, and I might be fair game for it.  I’m not sure I can take the Monroe Institute’s idea (or perhaps Christopher Nolan’s) of what happens after you leave “The Core” literally, but some of it makes sense.  You will be where you are.  Life may become like an Inception-dream-level after all.
Yet, people, even very credible an mainstream, tell me how some people believe that a “promised land” (whether Israel for the Jews, or the Fertile Crescent, extended, for Muslims) was promised to them as members of a group (not just as individuals).  Solidarity, and the willingness to fight for other members of the extended group, has long been common throughout history.  So have shared goals.  So has the idea that God (whatever his name) has made promises to the whole Group    So has the expectation that others around you share your Faith.  Individualism is rather recent (even if it precedes Ayn Rand). 

So part of me gets the idea of “war over religion”, which I never took seriously before 9/11. 
Earlier this week, I sat in a Starbucks in Center City Philadelphia, having visited the Franklin Institute (and couple days earlier, libertarian writer Charles Murray’s favorite place, Fishtown), and perused a paper copy of the most recent “Economist” with several articles on the recent terror attacks in France and the busts all over Europe (the latest were by Spain early today actually in the north African coast).  Typical is “A Struggle that Shames”, link here.  Analysts are puzzled over the ease of recruiting young adults in social media – when I know from my own head that I have always been hard to recruit – and yet, as in that church conversation I mentioned above – I don’t experience “belief” the way others do.  I even see “lack of objectivity” as a source of weakness, where others see lack of emotion and faith as lack of basic humanity (or at least compassion).  The Economist articles take a moderate stance, saying that Sunni Islam’s lack of centralized religious authority leaves young people at the mercy of the extremists, who have their own power agendas.  British Prime Minister David Cameron, somewhat in contradiction to president Obama, says there has to be a lot more to radicalization than just slick social media in combination with poverty, since some of the recruits seem to have had “every opportunity’ to make it good in the West.   
The Outlook section of the Washington Post last Sunday (January 18, 2015) offered a lead story by journalist Asra Q. Nomandi, about being ordered by a local Muslim cleric in Morgantown W Va, in a Panera Bread shop in 2004, to “stop writing”.  She was told “You have shamed the community”.  She did not stop writing, and is still with us.  But the article , titled “Blasphemers beware” in print and “Meet the honor brigade, an organized campaign to silence debate on Islam”  In the article she describes how shame and honor work in much of Islamic culture (as depicted in the film “Honor Diaries”, movies blog Jan. 10, 2015).  Sometimes the culture seems designed to give men guaranteed access to women, with religious justification that to an intellectually reasonable person seems specious at best (and quite heterosexually self-serving).  If “debate on Islam” is to be stopped, then the cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad could no longer by themselves be a special issue of insult.  Indeed, the attacks or threats against Theo van Gogh or Salman Rushdie (as well as Charlie Hebdo or Molly Norris) seem to go beyond the issue just of cartoons or “idolatry”. Questions also arise, is the debate to be squelched just among Muslims (most of all female Muslims) or non-Muslims, too.  Silencing discussion seems not to be motivated so much by "hiding" weakness or corruption as it is a strategy of control and even warfare. If any “apostate” is fair game (as to a lone wolf with a scythe) then, logically, again, this is no longer just about cartoons and images.  It is about “us” and “them”, where (even Western) non-believers are “enemies” of future generations of Muslims trying for paradise.  At its worst, radical Islam (I don’t know any other term, whatever the president wants to call it) would sound capable of declaring war not just on other nations or religions but on prominent or even ordinary non-believing individuals.
Again, though, the more temperate writings on these matters, as in the “Economist,”  mental comfort food in that warm café on the coldest average day of the year in a northeastern US City, still make radical Islam as mainly a problem with “them”. (The debate on “blasphemy” is so contained, as Christianity has its own history with the issue.)  It’s largely overseas, in the Middle East and now Europe but, despite 9/11, probably a long way from here.  It’s other people’s business.  In America, most are “assimilated”. Furthermore, so much of it seems to be a struggle within Islam, overseas -- Shiite v. Sunni.  It's not always anti-Semetic or anti-Christian or even anti-gay.  It's "their" problem.  
Yes, there is a personal and a “professional” read on this.  I believe in God (I remember a girl writing a theme in 10th Grade English on this) but He doesn’t give me orders.  Nor does he give anyone else orders.  We can make choices but we are responsible for the results of these choices – until, you might say – these choices confound someone else’s circular reasoning. Where we get into trouble with our karma is that we get dependent on the sacrifices of others without seeing these happen. (That gets complicated by the idea that how you respond to external coercion, when it can affect others,is itself a core moral issue, like it or not.)  That is in many ways a matter of both economic justice, and personal “purpose” in the values placed on interactions with other people.  It’s easy to see how religion can offer answers to what seem like ethical contradictions encountered when practicing free will -- but the secular political, Maoist Left can be just as threatening and violent (hint: North Korea, et al).  There is no way to go through life meaningfully without making mistakes.  

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