Islam is not the problem

Malaysia mosque

Inside a mosque in Malaysia

What can one say about what happened in Paris last week? How to adequately address this manifestation of humanity’s darkest potential? I’m not sure how to do it well, but I’ve seen some examples of how to do it incredibly poorly.

So, as John Oliver said: “after the many necessary and appropriate moments of silence”, I want to shout that this, as all of these incidents, is not a situation of Islam versus The West, nor Christianity, nor democracy, nor anything else. This is a case of Extremism versus Human Decency.

If you’ve met any Muslims through any medium other than TV “news” you know that they are people. Not terrorists, not extremists. People. Just like you and I. I wish I could take anyone who says differently with me to my class, where tables full of Syrian, Iraqi, Rohingya, and other refugees show me the true face of human kindness, the profound depth of human decency. They are solidly on “our side”. The talking heads of the TV networks on the other hand, seem solidly on the side of extremism. The danger of that is insidious and shameful.

Rural Turkey

A boy in rural Turkey

This misunderstanding of the nature of the conflict is what allows “our” government (and its business interests) to pursue the “War on Terror.” The tragedy of that strategy goes far beyond my ability to express. You can not go to war with Terrorism. It is an idea, not an opponent. It’s like trying to dry your clothes by spraying them with the garden hose. It only makes the problem worse.

We’ve seen, time and time again, that “our” bombs don’t just land on extremists. They land on innocents, and bystanders, and angry people, and sad people, and markets, and schools, and hospitals, and weddings. For every extremist “we” kill, we create a dozen more. We’re standing in the sun, hoping it will cure our sunburn.

Somewhere in rural Tanzania

Somewhere in rural Tanzania

You already know this. Every child knows this. Little Jimmy says Tommy is a doodoo head. The other kids aren’t so sure, Tommy seems fine to them, though he doesn’t share his potato chips very well. Then Tommy comes up and punches Jimmy in the face. Now everyone agrees, Tommy is a complete asshole.

It would be funny, except we do that with missiles.

So how should we respond? That’s the challenge of our age, to somehow improve the rampant inequality that fosters this anger, the widespread lack of education that allows extremism to take root, and most of all, the profound absence of hope for any better option that makes someone pursue the type of indiscriminate violence that I believe is fundamentally against our human nature. We don’t want to kill, but if you saw only bleakness ahead for your children, what wouldn’t you do? And as if that isn’t difficult enough already, we will have to do it, for an extended period, even in the face of the ongoing attacks that are already growing. It seems an impossible goal, but given the world’s capacity to generate wealth, I bet we can do a step or ten-thousand better. Call me an optimist.

Diyarbakir boy behind bars.jpgBut for starters? How about we stop making things worse? We stop blaming an entire religion for the actions of a few. (We can talk another time about the truly insane quantity of violence perpetrated by each of the religions of Abraham, but for now, do the Westboro Baptists represent Christianity?) We can acknowledge that Islam is only a religion, not a personality type, and certainly not a psychological dysfunction! Once we stop actively producing more terrorists, we can start to heal the deeper wounds that are producing them in the first place.


Diyarbakir, Turkey street vendors

Not terrorists. Just people. Good people.

I’d like to give it four years. Just one presidential term. Instead of spending billions of dollars on bombs to kill Middle Easterners, we spend it helping those people who want to help themselves and each other. Pour ourselves into peace and improvement, instead of death and Halliburton. If you think there is no one left in the Middle East who wants peace, wants safety, wants a better world for their children? Then you’ve been watching the wrong TV.