Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Islam, Terror, and Misinformed Behavior

In the wake of the Boston bombing, many people are again questioning Islam, civil liberties and the limits to freedom.  The surest sign that we have little information is the rapid propagation of conspiracy theories.

The government is behind the bombing, motive unclear.  The tons of bad news reports with false information are passed off as good information the government didn't want us to have. 

Conspiracy theories, any theories, at this early interval are useless.  What little information we have is insufficient to draw strong conclusions about the events surrounding the bombing.

Second there is the inevitable diatribe that it must be the Muslim religion that is to blame.  I'm not exactly sure where this line goes, but the last time I heard it the nation detained (and still detains) people without giving them their constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial.  And before that, 112,000 Americans were detained for no reason other than their ethnicity.  We find ourselves in a dangerous line of thinking when categorically defining a group of people with a shared trait  as enemies of the state.  A state representative has gone so far as to demand we torture the suspect--a shameful misrepresentation of the values this country holds dear.

I personally have been stunned at the ignorance displayed by some of the people advocating for such prejudiced thinking. It is appalling and nearly impossible to pinpoint where exactly these people have gone wrong. The statements start out so categorically false or uninformed that I have trouble following the logic.

What is the big deal though? Well, it isn't some fringe idea in America to spout off prejudiced and uninformed thinking as if it were the gospel truth.  It's a mainstream value to say what you think, and to hell with the consequences because that is what you believe.  More disturbingly it is the egotistical, counter-factual nature of commentary coming from influential figures such as Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, the New York Post, and most recently the idiotic maneuver at CNN.  If you don't know don't say.  If you think you know, double-check with someone who doesn't agree.

There are many more culprits. After 9/11 I recall the distinct fear that the nation's majority would be willing to create classes of people based on a perceived threat, and bestow rights disproportionately based on those fears. Tragically, to this day my fears are realized every moment. Enemy combatants and drone strikes are the most prominent examples of circumventing the rule of law in this country.  We have legalized and institutionalized religious discrimination based on safety concerns, and denied people their constitutional rights without cause.

Every tragedy is a shock, and the surest sign of a democracy's strength is its willingness to adhere to the rule of law in the face of adversity. Equality in the eyes of the law, justice through peaceful due process, and humanity toward our greatest threats is how we remain a truly free nation.  Torture, mob rule, and egotism get us nowhere.

Put another way America is great when we do great things and hold ourselves to the highest standards.  Are we fulfilling the vision of the shining city on the hill?

Are we a superpower through military might or moral might? Both for now and in the future we should only be doing one.  We are a strong nation because we embrace our enemies and the higher good with more fervor than we embrace hatred, ignorance, and discord.  We embrace equal protection under the law.

My disappointment with my fellow Americans goes only far enough for me to take their words and ask them to tell their truths openly and honestly.  There is no malice in those I find reprehensible, only the love they seek.  Which sounds preachy, but no returned volleys of retribution restore fractured trusts or heal wounds. We would do well as a nation to remember that military might is good, effective intelligence is great, and peaceful inclusion is the greatest good.

Of course, it is hardest to execute on the last and it is a two-way street.  Kindness is not always met with kindness, that's certainly no excuse for ignorance and prejudice.