What we saw in France last week, what we saw on 9/11 in NYC, in Madrid in 2004, in London in July of 2005 (I was there), and will likely continue to see throughout the world again is what I believe to be examples of two segments of two civilizations clashing… the West versus the East. These two civilizations who hold to quite different values, virtues, morals, and principles are attempting to exert its domination and power over the other. It is different to one another in what this looks like and how it is achieved. We in the West do it in the name of democracy and protecting western interests. They do it in the name of Allah and protecting eastern interests. We see Islam as the enemy. They see Christianity as the enemy. It doesn’t matter that there are extremists on both sides. They see all of us in the same vein, just as many westerners that I know see all Middle Easterners/Muslims in the same vein.
In order for peace to even be considered we must first learn to better understand one another. We must take the high ground and learn to understand our brothers and sisters in the East. And, I’m afraid we all have a lot to learn. Call it what you will, but when the East sees western nations flying its war machines over their villages razing entire communities, conducting house to house searches, targeted missile strikes (always with collateral damage), drone attacks, where not only suspected terrorists may be eliminated, but also many thousands of innocent people killed as well; it is really no wonder why we see the continued jihad and guerilla-like warfare coming from the East. It is simply their response and their attempt to thwart what they see to be the West’s infringement upon their own world. While tyrants may have been removed and some semblance of stability achieved in these volatile countries, nothing much has really changed. Tomorrow there will be another terrorist leader, another terrorist group, another suicide bomber, and more terrorist threats to the West. Similarly, there will be continued missile strikes, house searches, drone attacks, and boots on the ground in the East. Nothing will change. Yes, because there is evil in this world, but also because we don’t know and understand each other.
We must understand that the East does not think and act like we do. Eastern culture is a shame based society. And, it is also a community-based culture. Individual rights are not virtues that are held as high as they are in the West. This is completely contrary to western culture where individual rights are of the essence… a principle formulated in Athens around the 6th century BC. In the East, individual rights are also important, but NEVER at the expense of the greater whole of society. So, when Charlie Hebdo published its magazine image mocking Mohammed, when Terry Jones went on a crusade to burn Korans, and Glenn Beck rants and raves about Islam not being a religion of peace, an entire culture and society has essentially been attacked, mocked… and shamed. The outcome is catastrophic. Blast Mohammed and you blast an entire people, culture, tradition, and civilization. Burn thousands of Korans and you might as well burn thousands of devout Muslims. They have been shamed. And, the traditional way eastern people typically deal with shame is to confront and/or retaliate against the one who is doing the shaming (sometimes with violence as I have witnessed).
I’m not saying this is right. Not any more right than the West’s propensity for military reaction. I’m saying this is the way eastern people deal with what they see as an attack upon the very essence of who they are. We westerners tend to let things roll off of our shoulders a bit more. But, this is primarily because we are individuals living in a pluralistic society where not everything is black and white. The Middle East and much of eastern civilization is not pluralistic and is indeed very black and white. You are either Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, or Buddhist… there is no in between. And, this is why there is so much more conflict in the East where these tribes often butt heads. Tribalism is important in the East. It’s how they define themselves. And, when any tribe feels attacked or threatened, there will indeed be repercussions.
As I mentioned earlier, we must take the high road in seeking to understand and reconcile with our neighbors in the East. This should include both at the national level and individually. We can begin by doing a few things now: 1) Educate ourselves. Learn more about eastern cultures and how they live. Learn about their culture, their religions, their community, customs, what makes them tick and what brings them joy. 2) We must stop attacking, mocking, caricaturizing, and shaming eastern based cultures and people. Must we even do this to ourselves? 3) We must stop seeing them as "them" and us as "us". We should stop separating ourselves and include one another in resolving our world's ills and make this world a better place for everyone. 4) We must begin to dialog (and reason) with the East. We must be quicker to practice more diplomacy and slower to send more warplanes. 5) Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we must learn to love one another and be at peace with all people as much as we can. It’s not easy, and it may take a lifetime to know how to do this. But, where there is love there will certainly be peace.