31 July 2006

Slaughtered in Seattle

Naveed Haq is mentally ill. The experience of mental illness is unique to each individual so afflicted, but the expression of mental illness is often shaped by the culture(s) with which the afflicted individual identifies. So it is that Naveed forced his way past a employee opening a security door and entered the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, carrying a 9-mm semiautomatic pistol.

"I am a Muslim-American, and I am angry at Israel," he announced before he shot 6 women, one of whom was pregnant, and one of whom subsequently died.

Hog on Ice has some choice things to say about the incident. But I think he misses the implications of Naveed being a nut-case who was acting alone without any connection to Hezbollah. This, even though he did his shooting a day after the FBI warned that Hezbollah (actually Hezb' Allah, or Party of God) leaders in Lebanon and al-Qaeda had called for the war in the Middle East to be taken to America.

Part of Naveed's cultural conditioning is his use of the politically correct English he learned growing up in western Washington state. He even used what John Tompkins calls "owned" or "Green Language," by describing his own feelings rather than disparaging the group about whom he has those feelings. It lets one know that political correctness is no bulwark against rage - one's own or another's.

The other part of his cultural conditioning is his apparent participation in the tribal system of managing violence. Under the tribal systems practiced in say, parts of Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Chechnya (among others), violence is not rampant, but contained. It is best explained by example.

Tariq murders Hasan. It is now up to Hasan's extended family to avenge his death, preferably by killing Tariq. But not necessarily. If Tariq goes into hiding, then any member of Hasan's family may kill any member of Tariq's family, and claim that vengeance is satisfied. This accomplishes two things. (1) It enables a kind of justice to be done in the absence of formal material and social structures for law enforcement. No elaborate police force, judicial system, or prison system is necessary, which is a big plus for societies that can't afford them because they are either on the edge of subsistence or nomadic. (2) It engages the basic structure of tribal society - the entire extended family - in discouraging the initiation of violence as well as over-reaction when violence is to be redressed. It works well enough for these societies, considering that they have been in existence for thousands of years, while Western Civilization is a relative new-comer.

Naveed's was a mentally-distorted act of tribal indirection. He wanted to redress what he sees as an over-reaction by Israel to Hezbollah's rocket attacks and the kidnapping of its soldiers. Since he couldn't get to Israel to kill some Jews, he did what he could. He shot a group of unarmed women whom he could presume to be either Jews or sympathetic toward Jews.

And so the shrinking of the world brought about by Globalization has not been entirely a "leveling up" as hoped by Thomas Friedman, and by those modernized societies who founded the United Nations. There has also been a "leveling down" of human behavior as tribal societies go global with their notions of how to run the world.

In part this is due to the West losing confidence in itself after the collapse of colonialism, and the collapse of Christianity in Europe and America as an undisputed source of meaning - as a way of knowing one's place in the universe. We no longer seem to know the way forward. Westerners want it to emerge as some kind of consensus between themselves and all the other peoples of the world. This creates a vacuum of leadership that sucks tribalism onto the Global scene.

The West is paying an increasing price for its lack of vision, unity and resolve. The tribalists so far have paid little that they cannot accept. So far.

But there is a price, and it will be exacted once some tipping-point in the West is reached. I remember a visit to the town where I grew up in Appalachia. It was dusk as I approached the front porch of an old friend. He waved his 9-mm semiautomatic pistol at me. It was a friendly wave - you can tell by the way the muzzle of the gun is pointed away from you at all times - and I thought nothing of it. Where I grew up that sort of gesture is normal. It was only when I got back to the West Coast that I realized that where I live now, that would have started a major incident with the law enforcement community. What the world and even the West itself little appreciate is how much of the West (in both Europe and the Americas) is made of people like my old friend.

So far, America has been a great place to be a Muslim, or anything else for that matter (at least since formally instutionalized racism was ended in the 1960s). I would recommend to Hezbollah sympathizers that they keep it that way, and leave their tribalism in their tribal lands. It would be most regrettable if they were to awaken the West's own tribal past.

There is one last point to be made from Naveed's individual act. Although Naveed is a nut-case, unlike most terrorists studied by Marc Sageman, he is nevertheless a volunteer, a wannabe, a free-lancer, if you will, for Muslim Terrorism. Domestic terrorist organizations in the US often operate by stimulating free-lancers to act on their own, without any actual connection to the organization dispensing the stimulating ideology. It's almost the only way they can keep operating in our law-enforcement friendly environment.

So, don't look for too many actions by organized Hezbollah groups in the US (even though they are here). If they get active, look for more "volunteers."

04 July 2006

Ten Years Online

On this day 230 years ago, the King of England's subjects in the American colonies declared themselves subjects no longer. Henceforth they would be free citizens of an independent nation that existed only in their imaginations. As yet it had no national laws, but it did have a collection of gentlemen's agreements passed by a Continental Congress, and it had something of an army, led by an inexperienced Virginia planter.

The dream for which the army and the Congress staked their lives - their little rebellion was considered Treason against the Crown and punishable by execution - was an amorphous collection of values from the European Enlightenment, condensed in a little pamphlet called, "Common Sense." From those values they distilled the following lines:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
These words provide a postscript to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which set up the modern system of nation-states. It is simply this: Sovereignty does not reside with governments, but with the people governed. And this: Human Rights are not created by governments -- rather, governments are instituted to protect the Human Rights that people are given originally by their Creator.

Democracy is spreading, and has been doing so ever since the first liberal democracy began this day in 1776. The number of liberal democracies on earth is at an all-time high, and almost all countries on earth claim to be democratic whether they are or not. That is to say, the European Enlightenment value that liberal democracy represents is paid almost universal homage, even by its enemies.

And so, we chose this day to launch The Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua 10 years ago to affirm liberal democratic values as the only way we know that can enable people of all faiths to share our planet in peace. And the only way we know to practice our own faith with authenticity and without hindrance. As the Bible says, "Let my people go, that they may serve Me," and as the Qur'an says, "Let there be no compulsion in Religion."

In ten years, we have not been entirely without impact. Some 20 people or so have written to us that they were considering leaving Christianity until they stumbled upon us, and realized (in so many words) that Christianity is not the sole intellectual property of the Fundamentalists. Some vigorous debates have taken place in our Forum concerning sexuality, and war. A woman "came out" to her family and community about her having been abused by a priest when she was a teenager. And numerous clergy and laypersons from around the world have written to say they enjoyed the site. Our essays on nuclear weapons, the Challenger explosion, and some others have been discussed in college courses, and our Abrahamic Prayer (combining Jewish, Christian, and Islamic elements) has been used in interfaith gatherings. All in all, not too bad.

What we would like to see in the next ten years (if we go that long) is more participation by Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists trying to work out a way of affirming their own and each other's faiths.

On a more personal note, I want to mention that my mother-in-law passed from this world yesterday. Let us all be mindful that we are only passing through this world, and that it is our mission to leave it better for our having done so, to the extent we can.