I watched the Brussels footage again today. First, the familiar landscape of an airport terminal, transformed into a nightmare world of smoke, ceiling tiles, insulation, plastic, glass, and blood. Then the scene from the Metro as people file out, some stumbling, all terrified about what might await them as they rush out the tunnel and back up to the streets. In the airport footage, captured with an iPhone, you can here someone pleading for help. In the Metro footage, we hear the wailing of terrified a little girl. She can’t assimilate what just happened around her. She’s in shock. All she can do is cry.
I relate to the little girl. I sense her fear. I’m scared, too.
Whatever I thought the world would be like when I grew up, this isn’t it. I never imagined the amount and the intensity of hatred in the air today. I grew up with all the Cold War rhetoric, the Cuban missile crisis, and ducking and covering under my desk. Later, there was Vietnam and the demonstrations and the Chicago police at the Democratic convention. With all that as a backdrop to my life, there was never the additive of the homicidal hatred that swirls in the smoke in Brussels, Ankara, Istanbul, Paris, Jerusalem, New York City.
What moves men to blow their bodies apart along with innocent victims? What kind of culture creates people so filled with the urge for violence? What can I do, can we do, to dial back the hate?
If there’s an answer to any of those questions, I haven’t found it yet. There are those who seek to draw a direct line from Islamic theology to the anarchic violence of ISIS. As far as I can tell, the Islamic faith as a religion does not condone murder. To blame all Moslems for the recent carnage in Brussels is ludicrous. To suggest that America will be safer if we refuse entry to all Moslems is racist and an example of Islamophobia par excellence.
I’m not naïve. The terrorists who have wreaked such destruction time and again declare that Allah is great, before detonating suicide vests, bombs and anti-personnel devices. As Fareed Zakaria wrote over 2 years ago, The places that have trouble accommodating themselves to the modern world are disproportionately Muslim. There is a cancer of extremism within Islam today. A small minority of Muslims celebrates violence and intolerance and harbors deeply reactionary attitudes toward women and minorities.
In 2013, of the top 10 groups that perpetrated terrorist attacks, seven were Muslim. Of the top 10 countries where terrorist attacks took place, seven were Muslim-majority. The Pew Research Center rates countries on the level of restrictions that governments impose on the free exercise of religion. Of the 24 most restrictive countries, 19 are Muslim-majority. Of the 21 countries that have laws against apostasy, all have Muslim majorities.
The problem isn’t Islam itself, but rather how it is twisted to justify violence. What are social conditions that allow despots to treat their people with such cruel, tyrannical laws, also in the name of Allah. How does the USA fight that? Who do you carpet bomb? How does Europe contend with a minority population that has felt left out of every stage of economic development and cultural amelioration?
At this stage of the situation, there is something we can do. I’m not sure if it will have any impact on potential terrorists, but then again, it’s not meant for them. We have something we can do for ourselves. We can behave like mensches. We can clearly differentiate between Muslim terrorists and Islam as a whole. We can acknowledge that the vast majority of Muslims are not jihadists. We can support those who seek to make peace.
We can do our utmost to keep chaos at bay, to denounce racism and stereotyping. We can uphold the Jewish values of justice and peace in the face of vigilantism. To rise to the heights of democracy and social justice and equality or to give a standing ovation to tyranny and violence: this is a choice we have to make. That, I can do. We can do this together.