Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Manchester: 3 voices

First, the news about the bombing in Manchester, England, at an Ariana Grande concert: here.

Next, three voices:
John Pepple.
Paul Joseph Watson.
Mark Steyn.

As a student of religion, let me once again make my position clear: I see nothing inevitable about the connection between Islam—taken in the abstract as a tradition and a system of belief—and terrorism. This position might rankle some of my conservative readers because, at least lately, the right seems intent upon crafting a narrative in which Islam is inherently violent, inherently a producer of rape culture, inherently homophobic and sexist, etc. This is because the right is making the anthropological mistake of reducing a religious tradition, and the culture with which it is in a feedback-loop relationship, to its scripture. If there's violence in the scripture, then the religion must be inherently violent: so goes the logic. By that same logic, though, Judaism and Christianity ought to be scrutinized and accused in a similar way. After all, plenty of scripture-motivated violence has occurred (and arguably continues to occur) in the context of both of those traditions. But does it make sense to do that?

My maxim, often repeated on this blog, is that religions are as they are practiced. This maxim is rooted in my appreciation for Buddhist empiricism and nonessentialism. Buddhism argues that, metaphysically speaking, there are no essences, so nothing is fundamentally anything. Phenomena, whatever phenomena you can name, are all the products of a constantly swirling dynamic of intercausality. Buddhist empiricism is rooted in the idea that you must observe and react to what is actually happening around you, which means gaining a mindful appreciation for reality as it is. And this is where I do sympathize with the right: the right is correct to observe a deeply disturbing correlation between Islam and terrorism. This is the period of history we live in, and to deny that for whatever PC reason is to stand before the truck bearing down on you and to pretend it doesn't exist. The truck will flatten you unless you react to the situation according to beliefs anchored in actual reality. Is Islam an essentially violent religion? It's not essentially anything, but if religions are as they are practiced, then Islam certainly has violent practitioners, not to mention adherents, probably in the millions, who quietly support violence. But Islam also has its peacemakers, and no analysis of the religion can do it justice by ignoring this demographic.

So I like to think I have a nuanced perspective when it comes to the question of Islam and terrorism. On the one hand, if a religious tradition with some* history of violence, like Christianity, can evolve into an enormous, globe-spanning social phenomenon that is mostly peaceful these days, then who is to say that Islam cannot follow a similar path? In fact, the Sufi mystical tradition shows that devout Muslims can indeed choose and live out a way of radical peace. It's too bad that Sufism isn't the dominant form of Islam in the world, but we have to work with what we have.

Let's be clear, too, about what Donald Trump is trying to do. Trump is not aiming for a "travel ban," as people on the left (and some Never Trump cowards on the right) keep shrieking. He is looking to implement a moratorium, i.e., a temporary hold or delay, on immigration from a very small cluster of Muslim-dominant countries that have been the worst sources of international terrorism. This is where I rankle my liberal readers: I support this idea. It is not insane. It is not bigoted. It is certainly not "racist" because Islam is not a race. We need time and room to breathe in order to sort the current problem out. Heedlessly taking in throngs of refugees, most of whom will do nothing to attempt to integrate into their host country's culture, is an insane policy that has wreaked havoc in European countries like Germany and Sweden. With lack of integration comes the high potential for violence, and the species of Islam entering Western borders is often motivated by a hegemonic agenda (read Pepple, linked above, for why the "grievance" theory of Islamic terrorism is problematic; my own take is that poor Hindus have much to resent in their lives, yet we never hear of Hindu international terrorism). This is how you end up with Manchester. Or Paris. Or Stockholm. Or any number of other cities in the Western world, including inside the United States.

It wasn't that long ago that I was a heedless, clueless transnational progressivist who thought, as many still do, that we ought to do away entirely with the ideas of "borders" and "nations"—that we should embrace our common humanity and just meld into one gigantic human family (as incestuous as that sounds). It was, if anything, my exposure to more religiously conservative ideas while a grad student at Catholic University that caused me to begin to reorient my priorities. Divergent pluralism, the stance championed by religious thinkers like S. Mark Heim, emphasizes the fact that differences matter, and they matter in an impactful, everyday way. Saying blithely that "we're all oriented toward ultimate reality in our own way" (John Hick's convergent pluralism) risks papering over significant differences in worldview that should not be papered over. This realization carries over to the geopolitical realm and is very relevant to the social question of whether a larger society can afford to take in masses of people whose values are antithetical to it.

Am I committing the error of essentialism by speaking of a country's "values"? Not at all. Values are the product of intercausal forces, but on a practical level, they do obtain in any given society or culture. Buddhist metaphysics doesn't say "everything is unreal" or "everything is one"; it merely says that everything is dependently co-arisen, i.e., the product of intercausality. Human bodies are dependently co-arisen, but this doesn't mean they have no specific needs like food, air, water, etc. Humans arise and take specific forms; societies and cultures arise and also take specific forms, so it is indeed meaningful to talk about what happens when incompatible cultures meet. In the meantime, I now know that we're not done with borders and nations and other bounded phenomena. Not by a long shot.

But all of this is merely a personal rumination, quite beside the point of the above-linked perspectives. All of the people cited above agree that we can't continue burying our heads in the sand and pretending there's no problem. Nor can we take the unacceptable approach of London mayor Sadiq Khan, who dismisses terrorism, and its death toll, as merely "part and parcel of living in a big city." There is no excuse for Manchester, no excuse for our current politically correct complacency, and no excuse for our inability to think through the current demographic issue in a calm, rational manner.

*Some anti-Christian readers will object to the use of "some," citing all manner of atrocities committed throughout history in Christ's name. I'm sure those atrocities did happen, and I can't deny them. But what those anti-Christian folks routinely get wrong is that there's a whole other side to the tradition: Christianity's good deeds throughout history. These are doubtless less interesting from the anti-Christian's perspective, but such good deeds have also happened—quietly and in a less-newsworthy way—throughout the centuries. Many of those deeds will never be known because of the humility of the doers, who asked for no credit or praise for what they did. If you, as an anti-Christian, refuse to acknowledge this side of Christianity's history, though, then you and I have nothing to say to each other because I'll know your position is irrational, unbalanced, and unfair. The basic truth of religion is that it is a two-edged sword, not the one-edged sword that you falsely make it out to be. It inspires both the best and the worst in people. Deny this truth at your peril.


TheBigHenry said...

I read your well thought-out commentary and I find it to be eminently reasonable. I like being reasonable. And yet, I am aware that being reasonable is not always the "be all and end all" that applies in all situations among interacting humans. This is because being reasonable is not an absolute state of mind. Being reasonable depends on an individual's mindset, worldview, and sanity.

For me, it is difficult to discuss reasonably the terrorism motivated by Islamic extremism that leads to the slaughter of innocents. Having survived Nazi terror, I find it much more natural to respond to such slaughter with pure unadulterated hatred.

Kevin Kim said...

Your hatred is understandable, and there's room for it in the worldview I've laid out, I think. The final sentence in the main body of my post is aimed more at people on the left who reflexively shout, "Racist! Bigot!" as soon as anyone starts in on Islamic terror and/or immigration. The shout-down as a substitute for reasoned discussion has become a huge problem on US college campuses, too. Rational exchange of opinions and logical debate are far better alternatives to the retarded barbarism we're currently witnessing.

TheBigHenry said...

I agree with you completely, Kevin. My comment (above) was my personal view on the relative applicability of reasoned intercourse. It was not at all meant as a criticism of your post.

Kevin Kim said...

Glad to know we agree. Now, let's go visit a campus.

TheBigHenry said...

I've been to many campuses, Kevin. At this point, however, I would much rather sit in traffic, naked, eating glass.