Everywhere in the world, civil society, government, private sector and religious groups work hard to overcome prejudice and hatred, and to promote tolerance and coexistence. So why is it that all these efforts fail to stem the continued expansion of radical ideologies, while acts of violence anchored in religious, ethnic, or ideological hatred continue to be among the world’s biggest growth sectors?
In recent weeks we have seen new initiatives from giant web-based companies like Google, twitter and Facebook to prevent militant movements from promoting their criminal ideas on line. Last week we saw the launch of “Make Friends,” an initiative of the U.S.-Israel-based Elijah Interfaith Institute that seeks to counter the idea that people view each other’s religions with distrust or disdain―and to potentially even reduce violence conducted in the name of religion. Leading global religious leaders―from Pope Francis to the Dalai Lama―issued a joint appeal asking people to follow a simple bit of advice: Make friends with people of other faiths.
Yet the killings go on, everywhere. It does not matter whether the bad guys doing the killing and stoking the hate are elected presidents or hereditary appointed leaders in both the West and the Middle East, or freelance criminals and terrorists working beyond the control of governments. It does not matter whether the victims are tourists and civilians in London, farmers in Yemen, or schoolgirls in Texas, and it certainly does not matter if the killers or the killed are Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or any other faith identity. Almost daily attacks now occur against civilians in dozens of countries.
Most of the world’s political leaders respond with the sad phenomenon of stick-your-head-in-the-sand emotionalism and cultural jingoism. They predictably but fruitlessly orate over the bodies of murdered innocent civilians that we are tough and stoic, that we endure criminal acts against us by reasserting our moral and political superiority, that our national values are good and enduring, and that the religion of the killers—whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish or any other—is a deviant version of the true religion. In Moscow, London, Paris, Orlando, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Cairo, Amman, Istanbul, Brussels, and all points in between, the message is the same.
So my reaction and that of many others in the world is also the same: Why in their wisdom cannot our great leaders in the West and Middle East summon a more effective response to terror and political violence, slow-motion state frailty and occasional disintegration, severe ideological polarization, growing and often extreme socio-economic disparities, and heightened desperation at individual, family, and community levels in so many places around the world? Ohio, Bristol, Taez, north Paris suburbs, and Hebron now share common socio-economic fractures that are all anchored in shared attributes. We can trace most of these to government actions, including misuse of political power, uncaring and insensitive policies that disregard equity ethics, rampant free market dominance at the expense of social justice, and assorted brutal colonization and war-making efforts by governments and non-government sectarian armies.
Religious expressions of humankind’s fraternity and sorority are important endeavors. So are high-tech blockers of hate speech, or local initiatives to hug a Muslim, Jew, Black person, White farmer, aging Republican senator, or any other group identified as needing to be embraced in order to keep them from slipping into hate and war. But these occasional expressions of love are daily overwhelmed by the storms of actual government policies over the past half century that have brought us to this point today where fratricide routinely overwhelms fraternity.
At this point today, every 35 seconds a child in Yemen is hit by cholera, Zionist-Israeli colonization in Palestine remains unchecked or supported by Western powers since the late 19th Century, leading Arab governments spend hundreds of billions of dollars to wage war and lay siege to fellow countries while half their schoolchildren are not learning anything in school, and any interested regional or global power can test out new weapons in open warfare season in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and other shattered Arab lands that seem helpless before their own sustained dysfunction and frailty.
Our religious and political leaders around the world really need to wake up from and transcend their increasingly tangential world of do-good moral self-assertion; Je Suis Charlie, Boston Strong, Stiff Upper Lip, I Am a Moderate Muslim, and other moving responses to the swirling terror all around us need to be accompanied by political and religious leaders who dare to emulate the examples of the great Abrahamic prophets Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and Mohammad, who challenged the unjust political orders of their day. The current group of global leaders seem only able to perpetuate destructive, often criminal, public and private policies that generate the fear, hate, and violence they seem unable to understand or counter.
I will continue to hug Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and even the occasional Boston Red Sox baseball fan, because fraternity, mercy, and love are what my Arab-Islamic and American cultures have taught me to do all my life, as is the case with most other ordinary citizens around the world. Our political and religious leaders, though, have a greater responsibility to challenge and change the policies that are shattering our world, and as of today they are all collectively failing their mandate.
Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow and professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Middle East Initiative. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.
Copyright ©2017 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global
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