Hopes and fears

Three items of news have caught my attention recently. The first is the decision by America’s Supreme Court to allow same-sex marriage. Such a decision may have seemed impossible a couple of decades ago, and yet with hindsight it seems incredible that it took so long.

I know that not all readers of my blog will be in favour of this move, but we can all surely be thankful that we live in democratic countries where such decisions are made transparently and peacefully, according to the rule of law, and where open debate about them is possible.

The second item that I could hardly fail to miss was the murder of nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Racism is an issue that may presently seem insoluble, yet I’m optimistic that one day it will be solved. And I am confident that the solution will be reached through a combination of free speech, democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Indeed, how else could such an issue ever be resolved?

But there’s a third news item that has thrust itself into my field of view – the mass murder of innocent people in several countries by followers of Islamic State. Here my optimism fades. How can free speech, civil rights and democracy defeat people who are explicitly opposed to all three of these principles, and whose aim is to enslave all people to a warped religious belief?

This isn’t a case of one religion against others, or the Middle East against the Free World. Islamic State kills Muslim and non-Muslim alike, and most of its victims are Syrians, Iraqis and other people from Middle Eastern countries.

We’ve faced enemies like this before. Hitler, likewise, sought to force evil ideas on the world, with contempt for democracy, free speech and human rights. Well-meaning people sought to appease him and stop him through peaceful actions, but we know how that ended.

How can you stop someone who is prepared to use lethal force to achieve their ends, and cares nothing for the values that underpin civilization?

The Nazis were defeated through war, and I fear that Islamic State can only be defeated by the same means.

23 responses to “Hopes and fears

  1. Who knows how the ISIL situation will resolve? My own best guess is that they will indeed successfully form a geographically defined and autonomously functional Islamic State, and that this nation state shall come to be accepted by the international community, despite its fascistic genesis. We will know the answer within 20 years, perhaps sooner. It could well turn into a trading relationship between the currently sworn enemies, akin to the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia perhaps?

    See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p02gyz6b/adam-curtis-bitter-lake

    • It’s possible. It reminds me a little of the Iranian revolution back in 1979. Certainly no Western government wants to get involved in fixing the problem.

      But if Islamic State crosses one of those invisible red lines, it will bring about its own destruction – I’m talking about the Japanese and Pearl Harbor, for instance, or the Taliban and 9/11.

  2. I know. I don’t get the attraction to ISIS (Iet’s go torture and kill lots of Moslems — men and women, Shia and Sunni alike — in the name of Islam), except for psychopaths and teenagers who are so disillusioned that they’ll try anything as a vent for aggression. There must be more to explain the influx of ISIS fighters, but I can’t figure it out (and haven’t really researched it much anyway). I don’t think they’ll get any traction outside of their limited turf, though, so I place more weight on your optimistic side — that overall the Enlightenment continues bumpily forward, and the general tendency is toward a more a more open, inclusive society with a rational sense of human rights.

    • I think that if you are a young person searching for certainty in this world, then fundamentalist religion (Islam or Christianity or others) offers that certainty. Once you have embraced that world view, the only threat to that certainty is people who don’t share your beliefs. The solution? Kill them.

  3. I hope crisis by ISIS will diminish peacefully and no big war happens. However hopes are less as systematically beliefs are spread that west and other rest of the world trying to destroy Islam. That is what I see many common followers of Islam thinks. Many are think free speech and civil rights are west’s propaganda to destroy Islam. Some people are trying to teach same among Hindus too.

    • It took a long time for free speech and civil rights to become accepted values in the West. They were fought at every turn by vested interests and conservative thinkers. It will take time to spread those ideas, and they will be fought at every turn. But if those values take root in a society, they bring uncountable benefits.

      In my experience, Hindus are much more resistant to toxic ideas than most other faiths. Look at the speed at which India is transforming.

  4. Here’s a solution to the Charleston shooting: make guns illegal. Boom. Done.

    • Yes, problem solved. As the rest of the civilized world has demonstrated, it really is that easy. I think that one day America will control guns, but it will take a long time to achieve it.

    • I know. It would be funny if not so sad. The guy takes a picture with a flag in one hand and a gun in the other. He leaves the flag at home, takes the gun and kills 9 innocent people with it. So of course, (we) Americans immediately start a movement to make the flag illegal.

  5. Regarding ISIS/ISIL, I think it will take a two pronged approach. In the short term, military action is probably the only realistic tactic.

    In the longer term, I think people in the region need to have a hope for some kind of decent life for themselves and their families. Hopelessness breeds radicalism. Yes, radicals can arise without hopelessness, but hopelessness makes it far more likely and gives a lot more fuel to it once it’s arisen. I don’t know what the exact solution is, but one that doesn’t give these people a stake in a peaceful society is probably not going to work in the long run.

    • Absolutely. I heard a Tunisian interviewed yesterday. He was asking for financial aid from Europe, and he made the comment that “democracy cannot survive on an empty stomach.”
      One of the problems with ISIS is that their actions are impoverishing an entire region, just like the Taliban did in Afghanistan. It’s hard to see hope while they remain in power.

  6. One problem is the different historical trajectories of Europe and the Middle East. The rise of secular ethics and secular democracies in Europe (the Enlightenment) can be seen as a liberation from the hegemonic oppression of the Church. On the other hand, centuries of exploitation by colonial powers in the Middle East has left many to see religion (in the form of a resurgent Islam) as the liberating force that can throw off the shackles of oppressive Western democracies. It will take an Alexander to cut through that Gordian Knot. https://shakemyheadhollow.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/suspension-of-ethics/

    • That’s true, but the fact that ISIS/ISIL is engaged in war with other Muslims indicates that it’s on the fringe and is rejected by mainstream Muslims.

      • This rejection by mainstream Islam will destroy ISIS. Even the enemies of the United States such as Iran and Syria are fighting against them. It’s just a matter of time. The question is, who supplies them with weapons and money?

  7. By its nature, democracy tends to favor the majority. So, when a minority wins some rights, it’s usually, in spite of democracy, not because of democracy.

  8. You’re right, it may come to war again. The Middle East is a Gordian Knot that isn’t going to be untangled by us here. I will observe that the cat is out of the bag in the sense that large, successful, free countries exist and the internet has shrunk the world to global village size. Everyone knows about everyone else.

    i take some heart that we seem to be, slowly and painfully, to be evolving towards a more (for lack of a better word) moral world. And it’s a smaller more publicized world. Tyranny has a hard time surviving long-term anyway; the current world state puts enormous extra pressure on it.

    A thing about oppression is it faces enemies from within and without. Something like ISIL eventually falls under its own weight. One question is how much damage we’re willing to allow it to do along the way.

    • Tyranny isn’t a good long-term system, but when it collapses, often another tyranny seems to take its place. The pessimistic part of me believes that the free world is the historical anomaly, but I also hope that we may have reached a critical mass that might preserve democracy in the long term.

      • That’s true, the oppressed sometimes become the oppressors in the next cycle. The free world has been around a pretty long time in one form or another. A lot of literature concerns the idea that freedom will exist so long as humans remain humans.

        But as has been said, it’s hard to fight for freedom with an empty belly. Resource wealth is, I think, directly correlated with freedom. The benign Star Trek future envisioned by Roddenberry turned on technology providing cheap energy as a key source of freedom. And it would be.

        • You’re totally right about that. Many dismiss material wealth as greed or a distraction, but it is fundamental not only to our continued existence, but also to freedom and equality.

        • To the extent that material “wealth” means material “having enough” absolutely. There’s a reason math, philosophy, and science, come from areas where humans didn’t struggle just to survive.

          (I’m a little iffy when it comes to many implementations of “wealth” — I do believe “love of money” is the root of a great deal of evil. Not all of it, but a huge share.)

  9. It does seem like the decision being made now in 2015 is blatantly late to the books. Is it that some who follow theology think their version of worship must be forced on us all for salvation, or is it they believe there is some form of evil taint that will by proximity damn their soul if they allow this to occur.
    The other topics are less mystifying but all the more barbaric. My answer to the question what can be done is be a protector of the weak in your presence. The other question is their hope I have to say that there will always be an us and a them. Broken down to individual me and you and all the way up to east vs west. There is no way to erase the individual as being an individual is a separation. This is how our minds work. You by taking a side on the issues show your desire to disconnect from the opposing people.
    I can’t see any way around our nature that is built on a very floor foundation of killing necessitated for living. Our core is that others must die and be consumed or we die. Our specific species is an ultra aggressive member of the mammals. And mammals have created some of the most aggressive hot tempered creatures to ever walk this planet. Just look at life in general. It is a war of weapons that’s been raging for hundereds of millions of years. And until you can be born in an Islamic millitants shoes you can’t know how his own perception is able to validate his actions as positive.

    • “Us and them” is the root problem of being human, I think. Some species of primates will kill on sight an individual from a different family group. At least humans aren’t that aggressive.

      I’m generally an optimist. I think that the “us and them” differences in the world are less sharp now than they used to be. Globalization, mass communication and travel help to break down boundaries. Secularism is the tried-and-tested formula for people to live together. We know what works, even if some choose other paths.

      As for Islamic State, their numbers are small. Perhaps they can simply be contained. Perhaps they will one day change their views. Or perhaps open conflict is inevitable. I just don’t know.

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