That happened today. My earlier post (which I will take down as soon as this is posted) resulted in so many people whose opinions I respect taking exception that I have spent most of the day re-analyzing my thoughts regarding the terrorist attacks on Paris, who is responsible, and what our attitude should be toward Islam, ISIS, and the Middle East.
First: I was beyond angry this morning. I don't get that way often. This is not meant as an excuse, merely a statement of fact. In the grip of high emotion, it's all too easy to let yourself be carried away, to let logic, rationality, and compassion be swept off in a red haze of rage against people who could perpetrate such acts.
But on reading what people have written, both as comments on my blog, on Facebook, and in personal emails, here are a few things I have gleaned.
- Blaming an ideology for the actions of a few is lazy thinking to the point where it is indistinguishable from being wrong. No adherent to a religion, or any other belief system, follows it 100%. If there are immoral commands in the ideology, and a person follows them, it is the person who is making the immoral choice, and theirs is the responsibility.
- The situation in the Middle East is far too complex to place root causes for ISIS (or anything else) on one thing. I should know better; I teach the Single-Cause Fallacy in my Critical Thinking classes. The Middle East wouldn't be the miasma of poverty and oppression it currently is if it weren't for multiple causes -- not only fundamentalist Islam, but western colonialism, greed for oil, greed on the parts of the rich people in the Middle East itself who are desperate to quell dissent and stay in power (yes, I'm referring to the Saudi royal family here). To lay it all at the feet of Islam is simplistic. Once again, i.e., wrong.
- It is probably impossible to do what I set out to do -- to tease apart the belief system from its adherents. In leveling blame against Islam, I was coming dangerously close to aiming blame at all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, law-abiding and lawless alike. I object like hell when someone does that sort of thing to me -- "all liberals believe X, aren't they stupid?" -- and here I was doing it myself. What's the biblical quote about casting the beam out of your own eye before trying to remove the splinter from someone else's?
- Shutting down the rights of Muslims who are already peaceful residents (and/or citizens) of the United States, or any other secular democracy, is the road to becoming the same kind of oppressive dictatorship we rail against.
- I really shouldn't write blog posts when I'm furious.
I'm left with questions. How do we stop the transmission of the ideology of hatred? How can we eradicate such blind, senseless violence from the world, without becoming blindly violent ourselves? How can we criticize beliefs and ideas without it sliding into denying the freedom of speech and religious observance to the believers?
I wish I knew the answers. Hell, if I did, I'd run for president.
In any case: thank you to all who took the time to respond thoughtfully, even those who were angered by what I said. To be a true skeptic means to be willing to admit when you're wrong -- or at least, when you have cause for serious uncertainty. And about the Paris attacks, at the moment I have no answers, just a deep sense of grief that such things could happen in the world.