Thursday, January 8, 2015

Those radicals

Happy New Year, everyone.

I've been wrapped up in Real Life lately, so there hasn't been much writing (here or elsewhere), and the truth is that giving this subject the treatment it deserves would take more time than I really have.  But I didn't want to let any more time pass without a few words.  As always, my stick is sharpened, ready to poke you into a different perspective.

Yesterday a truly awful thing happened in Paris.  Three men armed with assault rifles and other weapons entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical newspaper well known for skewering, well, everybody.  As it turns out, there are some very radical fundamentalist Muslims who can't take a joke, and a handful of them shot a lot of people, most of them to death, for the crime of drawing and publishing funny pictures of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.

Every reasonable person in the world condemns this sort of violence, but, then again, it's sort of a tautology.  If you think it's proper and appropriate to use assault rifles to attack unarmed people in an office building because you don't like some things they said about you or your religion, then by definition, you're not a reasonable person.  Add me to the list of people who condemn this sort of violence, and this act of violence in particular.

But if that were all I had to say about it, I wouldn't have said anything at all.  You don't need me to tell you those things; you already know them.

An interesting thing happened yesterday.  Political cartoonists in particular, but lots of other people who express opinions for a living, rose up yesterday in solidarity against these extremists.  Many of them extended their ire to all Muslims.  A few people who had always been careful to separate the extremists from mainstream Muslims (who abhor this violence just as everyone else does) decided to abandon the distinction.  These acts were unspeakable and inexplicable.  When we are confronted by acts that we cannot explain through normal reason, the human tendency is to conclude that the perpetrators--and all those associated with them, even loosely--are driven into action by a mental defect.

I have no idea whether it was the motivation of those behind the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo, but they managed to succeed in uniting people of many previously diverse opinions in an increasingly negative view of Islam.  (Perhaps they wish to provoke a war.  Perhaps they think a war is already raging.)  I read a report earlier that grenades had been tossed today at a Paris mosque.  This is also a terrible act, no doubt a response from people who were themselves radicalized by the violence at Charlie Hebdo.

Now, let's consider for a moment that you are a peaceful Muslim living in Iraq in 2003 or Afghanistan in 2001.  You abhor violence and terrorism.  You are focused on feeding, clothing, and housing your family.  Then, one day, you turn on your television and you see video of an American drone bombing a family wedding--a group of peaceful people, celebrating a wonderful event in their family life, which is turned to death and destruction.  Perhaps you know some of the dead.  Maybe you're related to them.  Or maybe not.  But you definitely see this act as unspeakable and inexplicable.

Doesn't that make your peace-loving self hate the America that would do these things?  Maybe you can rationalize it as a mistake.  But it probably doesn't matter; even if the Americans didn't do this intentionally, they were careless and that was intentional.

What we do, even in defense of this great nation, has consequences.  When we kill, we radicalize the survivors, just as we ourselves are radicalized when others kill our friends and allies.  We owe it to ourselves to be deliberate about what we do in our own defense, to consider the consequences of our actions, and to be certain that what we are doing is worth the real cost. 

I expect that those who murdered the satirists at Charlie Hebdo have made a grave error in judgment.  France is already uneasy with its large Muslim population, and it has a history of taking actions to crack down on what it deems non-French identity.  France is unencumbered by the constitutional guarantees that at least nominally protect Muslims in this country from such a crackdown.  This is most likely a catalyzing moment for change that will not end well for the broader Muslim population of France.