The terrorist act in Charlie Hebdo office in Paris, France brings us back to the complicated -sometimes dialogue, sometimes monologue- issue of understanding religion and those who use it as an excuse for violence.
Yet we seem to fail to understand that violent or otherwise negative acts do not define religions, ideologies, professions or life styles. In the light of the terrorist act in France those who stand against Islam, religion, Arabs, or anything that is not theirs seem to be the loudest voices when most of us react out of emotion.
Perhaps the worst reactions are of those who demand some kind of act of contrition by every Muslim as a way to separate themselves from such negative acts committed in the name of their faith, while demanding tolerance toward whatever ideology, faith or cause they favor and it is here where all the phobias and hate we denounce becomes ours, but in the form of “good intolerance” because it’s “our intolerance”.
If we generalize we all lose
I cannot demand of a Muslim who has nothing to do with terrorism to publicly separate him/herself and excuse his/her faith because some psychopath used his religion to mask their psychopathic behavior just as I can’t demand of every Catholic or Protestant to separate themselves from the years of war in Northern Ireland or Atheists from the persecution of Christians in China and the Soviet Union or Buddhists from the terrorist acts committed in Sri Lanka and Burma.
Furthermore, it would be the equivalent of demanding from every male and female, for no reason, to denounce publicly every sexual assault, killing, robbery… committed in the world and humanity itself to excuse themselves for the destruction of the rain forest, poisoning the sea, pollution, etc. You get the point, it makes no sense.
However, even when such a separation and public denouncement occurs it’s not yet enough for those who think they have the higher moral ground on the hating field, as an example I leave you with this article and the comments below it: Not in our name – Muslims respond in revulsion to Charlie Hebdo massacre
Terrorists are not religious people
No matter what you read, hear or see, no matter how much insistence there is linking violent acts with deep spiritual commitments, I believe we can all mostly agree that religion and shooting at people are not connected per se and that those connections are only made by people with an specific agenda and with specific problems, but even more importantly that such arguments are but an easy exit to other issues none of them humanitarian.
In order to commit a terrorist attack a terrorist needs nothing, but an excuse, let that be defense of country, God or believe, all of them nothing but acts of retaliation against what’s different or unacceptable to self.
Regardless of your ideology or faith, this golden rule is a great one to follow, give the respect you want to receive and then some, do not become what you criticize, but be the better person, hate is not resolved with more hate, but with understanding knowing that in most cases the information we handle is only partial and in most cases biased toward our own already established opinion.
The key for real tolerance is to know that our knowledge of facts, especially in a fast changing information world, is in most cases partial and to accept that our judgement might be wrong or in need of review as we cannot expect from ourselves to always be right what makes constant revision and self-criticism not only a need, but a must before we open our mouths and let our opinion flow.
No one, I think, will deny that it would be awful to tolerate the truly intolerable. However, those defending toleration will point out that it’s difficult to know when we are in possession of the full relevant truth and nothing but. This doesn’t require one to be a moral skeptic. Rather, one only need see that only a fool could believe he’s right all the time and has no need to give consideration to other views. On deeply contentious moral issues, this truism seems to provide a presumption in favor of caution and restraint. I might have the right to risk my own life for the sake of my idea, but it is much more difficult to justify risking someone else’s life on the same grounds.