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In Times of Unrest

I’m filled with profound sadness this evening. I’m thinking about Paris, Syria, Beirut, Iraq, Kenya, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Somalia, Nigeria, Yemen, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Kuwait, Turkey, the Middle East, London, Oslo, Madrid, Copenhagen, New York, and every other place on our challenging and challenged Earth where human blood has been spilt needlessly at the hands of terrorism as we’ve entered the 21st century – bodies maimed, innocent lives extinguished, minds traumatised. I’m thinking about the countless grieving mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, friends and lovers who are left mourning their irreplacable loss, and the great numbers of people destined to live amongst ruins, inside and out, with nowhere to go.

Suffering and meaninglessness inflicted upon innocent people – fellow human beings – all because of a minority’s efforts to rid themselves of theirs. These are seekers, often extreme and fanatical idealists, caught in a grandiose battle against self-effacing, obliterating doubt and insignificance, a battle against the experience of not having a rightful place in the world and with others, of being victims. Men and women whose meaning of life is death; hence, by force and without mercy, go for the kill, creating their own reality and in the preocess enforcing their distorted perception of what is true upon the rest of us.

The religious idea of martyrdom lends itself perfectly to the extremist personality’s macabre philosophy. Glorifying the culture of martyrdom inspires: it benefits the individual terrorist as well as the organsisation, and it lures more people to join the fraction. Suicide attacks and atrocities met by criticism or retaliation only increases the individual and group’s sense of identity; it reinforces the experience of victimisation, and, as a consquence, the commitment and adherence to doctrine and policy is strengthened. For evey deadly atrocity committed they prove «their» god is sovereign – the greatest, and far greater than the enemy’s god – whilst at the same time demonstrating their organisation’s expedition of terror has real «muscles» to be reckoned with.

However, genocidal madness cannot be blamed on a particular religion or specific philosophy. People are to be blamed. Notable Australian sociologist, Riaz Hassan, once wrote, «It is politics more than religious fanaticism that has led terrorists to blow themselves up.» In other words, religion is only the excuse used to sustain the hubris necessary to justify committing unacceptable and atrocious deeds. Nevertheless, religion and politics are intrinscally woven together, even in our western secularised world, deeply influenced by the traditions and values of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Christianity as it is.

Hence, the problem at hand is not a matter of East against West, of Islam versus Christendom. In our western culture we’re led to believe in the great dichotomy that by engaging in war we’re protecting peace. That is as much a delusion as that which exists in the terrorist’s mind: the goal justifying the means. In our secularised West, the culture of sacrificing ourselves for our nation is embedded in our culture and, like the religious idea of martyrdom, it’s regarded as a noble act; in the secularised world the Nation has replaced God. This is part of the fundamental problem: it’s as hard for a religious society to understand a secular one founded on democratic principles, as it is for a secular and democratic society to understand an autocratic and religious one. There is only one remedy: factual information and good education. In today’s world either leaves a lot to be desired on both sides.

The effect of warfare is not much different to terrorism, except in its more civilised and depersonalised form: modern warfare occurs once removed – it happens by proxy. Modern warfare is for the most part financed, organised, and managed by politicians and governments – by officialdom – and not by raging, charismatic individuals as is most often the case with terrorist organisiations. In other words, it is legalised, and, paradoxically, it’s also more deadly. More importantly, it’s a massive money-making industry, thus good for international open markets and national economies. Furthermore it demonstrates might – it (re-)establishes power in the face of threat, which reinforces the illusion of war protecting what’s right and just, and of war upholding peace – just like terrorism, but for different reasons and by different means. Modern warfare looks more decent and civilised – it even has its own rules, and that makes it easier for you and I to wash our hands off it. Its essential nature, however, is destruction and death. Fighting and dying for your god or sacrificing yourself for your nation comes down to the same common denominator: destruction.

That leaves us with a simple question: who’s doing what and to whom and why in this scenario? Dare we answer that question with honesty, we may be a significant step closer to the solution, to peace. And peace is the only acceptable solution if we truly wish to consider us a civilised world.

Never has the world been in greater need of moderate muslim voices speaking up – loudly, clearly and in vast numbers. Never have we been in greater need of Christians demonstrating the central principle of «loving thy neighbour as thyself.» Never have we needed the Buddhist pacifist principle of no violence and respecting all sentient beings manifesting in practice. Nor of the hindu principle of «dharma» – striving to do the right thing according to one’s duty and ability at all times. Nor of the principle of sikhism of protecting all peoples of the world, of helping and sharing with others who are in need, especially the poor. Or the sufi philosophy of allowing a loving heart to prompt the way, even in the face of adversity and strife. We need to nurture our goodness, to be magnanimous fellow human beings.

How naîve! I hear you say. So I ask you: so far, has intimidation, blaming, threatening, political strategy, manipulation, guns, bombs and war games, hate speech, terror, fear, coercion, and other uses and abuses of power proven to bring us closer to a lasting peace with each other and in the world? And as for the other side of the coin for that matter: has meditating on peace for decades and centuries brought us closer to lasting peace?

Isn’t the time due we try different ways? Like manifesting real care and compassion – for ourselves and each other – in real action, for the purpose of genuine and lasting peace? We’re called to do something. Act. At least one thing is for certain: it won’t happen without us – you, me, and all of us. We can start by becoming thoroughly acquainted with our own darkness, our shadow, by acknowledging its presence and curb it, and meeting family, friends, our neighbours, and others we meet on our way with good will, compassion and kindness.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Requiem, K. 626 – Lacrimosa
Claudio Abbado, conductor
Lucerne Festival Orchestra and the Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks Swedish Radio Choir
Concert recorded at the Lucerne Festival, on Aug. 8, 2012

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