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Friday, December 14, 2007

Trying To Make Sense of the Senseless.

Here's an interesting interview with M. Zuhdi Jasser, founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. While he doesn't delve into why the "Islamists" feel the violence is the best course of action- their "reasoning", as it were- he places emphasis on open discussion. Here's a little extract I found rather interesting:

The power of minority politics to cloud the judgment of the masses cannot be overstated. One of the great achievements of classical liberalism and Western Enlightenment of our Founding Fathers was the appreciation of the need for our communities to always lift up the rights of the individual over that of the community. Western freedom is maintained in a tradition which questions authority, and rejects collectivism and tribalism. That tradition, while occasionally threatened and violated by various obvious political interests in the U.S. is still a central part of our behavior and character as Americans. Our liberty-culture will turn itself upside-down to help one child, one victim who immediately captures the hearts of Americans.

This mindset is the greatest antidote to Islamist tribalism and collectivism. With my work since 9/11 in combating political Islam, I would have been much less concerned about my safety and that of my family if only the vast majority of my Islamist enemies would simply address the ideas which I raise and debate me in an open respectful forum. However, endemic tribalism, corruption, and often fascism drive a political propaganda machine which would much
rather demonize its adversaries than actually address the substance of the issues raised. When they are not demonizing me and other anti-Islamists, or portraying false exaggerated associations, Islamists prefer to just run and hide from open respectful debate about the issue of Islamism. Islamists would rather continue wallowing in denial. They prefer to project responsibility for terrorism upon everyone else in the world, rather than placing the responsibility upon the ideology of political Islam and the toxicity of the dreams of an Islamic state. They would much rather debate non-Muslims or former Muslims, because they can change the debate focus to Islamophobia, rather than the central issue of Islamism.

While I agree in his beliefs as to why extremists struggle to debate issues respectfully, this interview is missing something in the fact that he doesn't attempt to explain why these people are so blind with rage that they'd be willing to kill a bus load of children, for example, to make a point... You don't do something like that without having what you believe to be a damn good reason. Now obviously, I don't condone their actions, but not enough is being done to look into why they do things like that.

I hate to make a patronizing analogy, but if I'm to base my arguments on experience, the best experience I have is as a teacher. In order to extinguish a repeated behavior you find disagreeable, you very basically have two courses of action... Find out why it's happening and provide the student with alternatives OR use punishments or rewards every time the behavior is exhibited or not exhibited. For the lazier teacher, using punishments over and over is the easiest course of action, but if the behavior is still occurring, it's because the problem hasn't gone away or the student is getting the response they want from you and so continue to do it to get that reaction from you.

It's so easy to say "that kid is just plain bad, there's no reasoning with him and I'm fairly certain there's a '666' under his hair. You've just got to lay it on him real hard." For some kids, "laying it" on him may do the trick, but for the repeat offenders, they're either continuing with the behavior because he can't help it (something that may require therapy, drugs) or there's a reason so deeply ingrained it's going to take effort to a) discover what it is and b) find out how to provide the child with alternatives. I have a hard time believing the entire population of Islamic fundamentalists are all clinically insane, despite what their actions indicate. Many of them may qualify as clinically depressed, but not because they were born that way.

They're not a population of evil people. They just react in evil ways because in their helplessness, it's all they feel they can do to make a lasting impression on the world and make their voices heard. They've lost their homes, their land, their businesses, their educations, and no one listens to them because they have been defined by their final actions.

I'm reminded of the musical "Assassins" by Stephen Sondheim. Each assassin felt powerless to make positive changes in their lives and so they lashed out in a way they knew would show the world they meant business. I've seen students who honestly believe there is no way in hell their lives will get any better and it's almost inevitable that they go on doing destructive (often self-destructive) things because they refuse to believe they can make any other kind of contribution to the world or to their own lives.

Now I know there are people who scour the world looking to be offended and someone will take this post to be pro-Islamic fundamentalist, which it most certainly is NOT. I'm just trying to figure out WHY. On the surface, I share Dr. Jasser's perspective, but the situation is far more complex than that and I believe change will only take place once start looking into the "why". I look forward to reading future installments of this interview to see if any of this is addressed.

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