Whatever alms you give and whatever vows you make are known to God. The evil-doers shall have none to help them … God has knowledge of all your actions.
I don’t like discussing things that I have little knowledge and/or understanding of, though I think after the recent terrorist attacks by ISIS, the most recent of which was in Brussels, Belgium, I cannot remain silent about these issues any longer.
I want to start off by giving my thoughts, thoughts that do not come lightly and indeed come after a lot of contemplation and that are certainly prone to error but nonetheless necessary that I share, about the religion of Islam, and how it relates as I understand it to ISIS.
It doesn’t relate. That seems simple, but there you have it. I haven’t read all of The Koran, or studied the religion in depth, or converted for that matter, but I’ve read enough to get the idea that the religion of the Muslims is not one of hatred and intolerance, destruction and terrorism. We know that Christianity has done terrible things and still does terrible things, all in the name of Christ, who can safely be considered a holy man. Hinduism has always had issues, particularly with the injustice done towards the Untouchables, and even Buddhism, the religion that works to be the most level-headed and most spiritually disciplined, has slipped into dangerous intolerance.
It is not my place to defend or attack Islam, because I quite simply do not know enough about it, and I don’t want to talk about things that may incite, or worse: But I can say that ISIS is not related to Islam, as foreign and unbelievable as that may sound to some people. If we assume that there is a God who knows everything you do, and this God does not help the evil-doers, enough has been said about this extremist group that is supposedly a part of this religion. There is no help for these evil-doers, and that is enough, according to the holy words of The Koran.
Indeed, I can’t stress this enough: I do not know enough about modern politics, the foreign policies of the United States with either creating or worsening ISIS, and Islam and the Muslim community in general. But I will still make the assertion that these are terrorist attacks that have nothing to do with God, and are perpetrated in order to create and promote fear, instability, and hate in others. It’s a political rather than a religious move, and one that seems designed to bring about the destruction of Western culture (though some have speculated the attacks are happening to actually bring awareness to economic injustice: in other words, the acts of ISIS are about exposing the corruption of the West). I can’t speculate why any of this is the case, but I can speculate on my own thoughts about the terrorism at play and what I think.
I feel like a drop in the bucket. What can I really do? I can’t really do much of anything. If free speech is one such target, as seen with Charlie Hebdo, then I certainly am lucky to be living in America, writing my piece freely, writing my thoughts without being executed, injured, harmed, or even prosecuted. And this is the important point, because that is precisely what I can do: I can write. Not necessarily to change minds or change the world, but to help spur discussion on tough issues.
I think of Jean-Paul Sartre and his insistence that we do better, that we be better, and as such, if man is fully responsible for his nature and his choices, I am responsible for my nature and my choices, and am responsible for what I do or don’t do as a consequence of terrorism. I choose to write: I choose to engage, to not be apathetic and complacent, to give a damn and care. This position of writing is not a worthless position to take, nor is my work full of useless propositions to be tossed away. We need the press to spur change. We need the press to encourage discussion. Just think of J.S. Mill and the later remarks of Oliver Wendell Holmes. We need the humanities and literature and essays and non-fiction to encourage others to act, to think, to be, to understand.
Because indeed, I’m reeling to understand. I do not understand what is going on, and my efforts to become more informed have ironically destabilized my understanding, because it’s such a complex issue. That said, my understanding is also solidifying, because I am understanding that at the very least, I must do something.
As these terrorist attacks have happened through time, I’ve gotten uncomfortable with how people talk about these attacks and the political atmosphere in general. There is a common display of rhetoric and power, rhetorical force, used to prove that someone’s position on this issue is wrong, and that the people speaking about it are naïve and don’t have a right to talk. Such justifications, for instance, have been used to promote bigotry, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. Some, who claim to be intensely secular or perhaps even atheist, claim that prayer is useless in times like these, it’s in fact insidious and evil. Some have suggested that prayer isn’t doing anything. I won’t comment too much on this point, just simply say that it makes me uncomfortable because I think we shouldn’t criticize those who cope and deal with these societally traumatic issues in their own way. Intolerance towards those of a different religion or no religion is no better than intolerance towards those of a certain religion. I don’t think this is the intention of these statements across the board, of course, I’m just mentioning my discomfort because I think we need to be sensitive to how we talk about all of this, and we need to certainly at the very least allow healthy and positive discussion/engagement. Prayer, in my humble opinion, is doing something, but it is not “action,” as I would define it, coming from an existentialist viewpoint, particularly in line with atheists like Nietzsche and Sartre. Prayer has its place, I believe, just as religion has its place, but we need to act, whether that’s by writing, donating to Red Cross, flying overseas to help out, engaging in politics more … the list goes on.
I plea for peace because I know that we can do better. I plea for peace and respect, tolerance and compassion, love and genuine regard for others. World peace seems like a pipe dream to many, but it is something we should aspire to nonetheless. There is hope and beauty in the world. As I have wrestled with doctrines in Christianity and the debates that rage among atheists, I have come to the conclusion, albeit not easily, that this world is beautiful and meaningful, with or without a God. If God incites us to attack other countries, how could there be meaning in that? Is this the perversion we imagine for ourselves? No, and thus, it remains an untrue understanding of God. If God doesn’t exist, however, the world is still beautiful. This does not dismiss the suffering, of course, and understand, I don’t say this lightly, as I think the problem of evil and suffering is a very real problem: But I say it enough to say that there is good in the world, and that’s what matters. That is what is important. That is where we find hope, by reminding ourselves of what exists, of what is here, for us to enjoy. I believe in that. I believe in that because beliefs are not everything. Sometimes, simple observation and internalization is enough. Internal understanding, an appreciation of this inner life we all have. Among other beautiful things.
I don’t have a lot to say in closing. What ISIS has done is staggering, disturbing, cruel, and inhuman, not to mention inhumane and dehumanizing to everyone involved. This ranges from the terrorist attacks to the massacre that occurred in 2014, facts of which I have little of. I don’t know where you stand on refugees fleeing pain, suffering, persecution, and death, and I’m not going to convince you of what you should believe, though I will say that we are all responsible for what happens in the world, either because we are a direct cause of it, because we do nothing about it, or because we do something despite what people say. So I would say in these hard times to have courage, to have faith, whatever kind of faith that may be, whether the absence of Sartrean bad faith or faith in the Divine, and seek to do better. Seek to understand. And most of all, I plea for peace. I have no rigid and brilliant argument for world peace, except that the proposition for world peace should be self-evident and necessary. I plea that we love each other in these hard times, we seek to not divide ourselves, we seek hope, and we believe in each other and what we can do. If this paper seems useless or you disagree with every point and think I’m a clown, go for it … but I’d simply ask that you make sure you are doing something about these current events, that you not remain apathetic, that you do something, and for the right reasons. Now is the time to care, not when tragedy occurs. Now is the time to do something. Hence why I wrote this essay even though I don’t have all the facts and I’m still reeling to understand what is happening with the world and what I can do about it.
Indeed, the world is not in shambles. It’s not over for us. There is much we can do, and this will require much strength and courage. And I believe we can change things for the better. I believe that, purposefully, sincerely.
I believe it.
–In Memory of the Lives Lost in the Terrorist Attack in Brussels, Belgium March 22, 2016