Still trying to find balance (redux)

“True self is non-self, the awareness that the self is made only of non-self elements. There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

The following post was originally printed on March 23, 2016 & is reposted in its entirety with the exception of a changed (very much longer & far more political) introduction.

I awoke this morning, as many of us here in the US did, to news of a horrific mass shooting event in Orlando, Florida, in a gay nightclub shortly before closing time. As it stands now 50 people are dead, and 53 others were injured, in what is the deadliest mass shooting on US soil. The gunman, a US citizen who was killed during the siege, had self-professed ties to ISIS, was investigated previously by the FBI for terrorist connections, and yet had, in easygoing Florida, managed to arm himself quite well – legally. The act was certainly terrorism, and the specific target may have been more personally motivated based on comments that the gunman’s father has made.

The entire incident was a sad, horrifying tragedy – that’s what terrorism by definition does. You only succeed in terrorizing when you are targeting civilians in places where they feel safe & normal. The response is what determines how successful the terrorists are.

Unfortunately, GOP preemptive presidential candidate Donald Trump took the opportunity to pat himself on the back for being right about terrorism in the US – but this certainly would not have been prevented by closing our borders. The extreme right wing pundits are managing to blame President Obama – because well everything else is is his fault, isn’t it? The left has, somewhat more rightfully, noted that the guns used were legal & registered, and are focusing their energy on renewed calls for some form of bans of ‘assault’ type weapons such as the AR-15. Which while valid, also perhaps miss the point. One of the bigger points to be made here is the NRA sponsored push to not regulate weapons even for suspected terrorists because better to let a few bad apples through. Well, this is the result of what they & the politicians in their pockets have wrought. Hopefully the people, and the majority of NRA members actually do support sensible controls, will stop accepting this kind of purchased voting from their elected representatives – and show their outrage when the vote in November. And perhaps also vote for a leadership change in the NRA itself.

But I keep coming back to education – and how critical it is – because ultimately only an educated people can stop the hate that drives this global descent into madness. When you understand the logical conclusion of your own beliefs, and you understand, and respect, how others think, you have the ability to work toward a common good. An uneducated populace, or a people educated only to believe what they are taught – not to really learn the world as others experience it, will always be easily manipulated by those in power. And make no mistake – war, and its cousin terrorism, have always been about power – not about any greater good, or lofty religious ideal.

And especially here, in the US, as we bear down rapidly on another presidential election, with more than have of our elected representatives also on the line, we need to really educate ourselves about the issues, and the potential solutions. We are being endlessly manipulated into believing that we are further apart than we are. We have to find the middle ground in order to survive. Hate and demagoguery never solved anything. Ever.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

— Nelson Mandela

As I sit here, thinking about what to write for my Sunday post this week, I, who usually have no problem with words at all, am very nearly stumped. It’s not that the words aren’t here, in my head, it’s just that they don’t seem to be finding their way onto paper in any form that makes sense.

So out of the word soup that is filling my head, I need to manage to write this, as well as my Friday post & get some of my homework done (what a time to decide to go back to school)

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

— Victor Frankl

By its very nature, terrorism looks to force an extreme reaction. It ultimately thrives on extreme reactions. At the most fundamental level a terrorist uses violence to frighten people into compliance. Or tries to. On a micro level, within communities, this frequently does work. Attack a busload of female schoolchildren and people often decide to keep their daughters safe at home. Kill a few politicians and judges, and local crimes get overlooked. Bomb a women’s health clinic, and frighten some women out of medical care. But on a macro level, something else often happens. Governments step in and close borders, they launch military strikes, they round people up indiscriminately and keep them detained away from public view. They meet terrorism with terrorism. Of course, when governments do it, it isn’t terrorism – it’s a ‘police action’ or an actual act of war. The problem with this strategy, a reaction to the fear and anxiety that terrorism provokes in the general population, is that it generally doesn’t work. What is does is provide the group behind the terrorism with inspiration for new converts.

Historically, and by definition, terrorism is about political ideology, In the 60’s and 70’s, it was primarily over independence – for the Irish, Puerto Ricans, Basques – or for a governmental overhaul – the Red Brigade, Baader Meinhof. Anarchists always had an affinity for terror tactics. But the last few decades have seen the rise of fundamentalist religious terrorism. Everyone thinks immediately of Islam and the Middle East, and that has certainly been a loci, but I’m not sure what else you call ‘christians’ who bomb women’s healthcare facilities – or kill abortion providers. In the name of very old, much retouched by people with their own sensibilities, books, the fundamentalist extremists seem to think that the clocks should all be brought back to the times that those books were written. And that everyone needs to believe as they do. But the electronic, global, interconnected world we inhabit today is very much not the nomadic desert or river plain agrarian world that it was when those books were written. If you believe that those books are the word of God, then surely they are metaphor, and in parts, obsolete – for it takes a great deal of hubris to think that an all-powerful, all-knowing, God would have allowed humanity to progress this far if his intent was that it be otherwise. But in religion, as in politics, it is nearly impossible to change the mind of someone with extreme views. And logic doesn’t matter when discussing faith.

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

— Thomas Jefferson

Terrorism can really only be fought as a police and intelligence battle – military force only helps it grow. In the US, and Europe, ‘christian’ terrorists are handled internally as police matters. In the short-term, with the Jihadists, the governments of the Middle Eastern and Gulf sets have to join together – in the end, they have the most to lose if the region isn’t stabilized.

But I think that education, which fundamentalists of all stripes fight so vehemently against, is the key to eventually making the world a better place. It isn’t going to be easy, but for the long-term survival of our species, it’s critical. Nothing needed for the long-term is ever really easy, and it certainly isn’t quick – but the future belongs to the children. And our best legacy is to ensure that our children learn about the world and the people in it, and begin to understand.

“If you want to end the war then Instead of sending guns, send books. Instead of sending tanks, send pens. Instead of sending soldiers, send teachers.”

— Malala Yousafzai

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