“For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love. This is an unalterable law.” Shakyamuni Buddha.
Following the unspeakable crimes of Paris and the global grappling for response, we see how easy it is and how automatic is the impulse for revenge, citing their hatred of us as the justification for responding to violence with more violence. Among the voices for revenge are those of Christian ideologues in the American government who seem to love nothing more than falling without reflection into framing the conflict as a clash of civilizations. There is, however, nothing civilized about that view. It plays directly into the hands of the daesh and in that sense puts them directly on the same side with the murderers and the suicide bombers.
How did matters devolve to this level? We may look directly into the deepest heart of Islam for an answer. There we will find the understanding that what we as humans share is a deep wound of being disconnected from God. This is not a wound of nurture or dependent on any ideology. It arises from the simple fact that we all grew and emerged into this world from the most sublime, compassionate, nurturing environment, the very womb of unconditional love, only to realize in our deepest heart that being in the world means being separated from that divine and most gentle love. We spend our lives attempting to reconnect with the divine. Everyone feels this wound differently, acts upon it differently and it doesn’t matter what god you believe in. It is part of our essence, a dimension of our common experience of being human.
Unfortunately, one of the ways this experience twists the psyche, combined with social, economic and political forces is to lead to shame, self-loathing and despair, a profound sense of failure, helplessness and inadequacy, and worse, of being abandoned by the divine. This response may be felt most acutely by the devout. This is a wound, a deep darkness that must remain protected, secret and untouched. The pain of it turns shame into anger and hatred in the name of the benevolent god. Violent aggression and suicidal thoughts are not far behind.
Ninety-nine percent of all muslims would never think to remake their god into this image of vengeance and hatred. The journey into the heart of Islam is to fall madly, passionately in love with the source of love itself, the unlimited, omniscient, omnipotent fount of mercy, forgiveness, charity and compassion. It is a journey, like Christianity, of emptying out all anger and impulses for revenge.
Sure, just as in the Judeo-Christian traditions, there are sects and levels of devotion to certain practices, variations of orthodoxy and a general removal from the essence teachings. But the Christian warmongers, the American exceptionalists, who reflexively respond with sabre rattling and calls upon their exceptional God to render a merciless response to terrorism are speaking from their own desert of abandonment, their own spiritual weakness, their own soul-level pain of removal from the divine. Jesus said, “Resist not evil.” Yet the warmongers, giving evil life, do just that. They are forsaking their god just as the jihadis have done.
What the Islamic State fears most is our resolve to stand for mercy and forgiveness, the very qualities of their own faith that they have abandoned. That does not mean foregoing justice. As massively difficult as it might be to contemplate, let alone enact, the forbearance of the west against these heinous acts, even in the midst of our own suffering, would be so arresting, so ideologically unexpected and disruptive, it might just give the world a desperately needed pause to contemplate what comes next.
We are never not broken; we are always removed from the divine. That’s the human condition. But like the breaking of the glass at a Jewish wedding, regardless of the moment of rejoicing, we are all also responsible for tikkun olam, healing the world. The effect of this episode in Paris was to send me into a profound sense of woe… that humanity is failing. But in another sense, we must go beyond our brokenness to remember that we are also unbreakable. The infinite patience of divine love is never beyond our reach. Nor is it a passive condition. Its power, as the sufis inform us, is in turning directly toward the most hostile, those suffering the most from being internally corrupted.
I’m not suggesting that we all just retire to our personal lives and bring an additional dose of mercy and forgiveness into our everyday interactions. No. This is not about taking in a stray. Going all the way into our own darkness, to the very heart of creation and opening our selves to examine and overcome the violent impulses and our own deeply embedded and exasperatingly automatic urges for revenge is one thing. Deciding how we must act on behalf of a different world and finding the strength to exercise our voice in the public square is another. But it is a first step toward change. We have to be willing to stand up and say “not in my name,” to flood the White House and the offices of Congress with messages that say No More.
A second part of this picture is the fact that it is to a large degree our own policies, the US and Western Europe, that have created and contributed to the Syrian refugee crisis. Accepting these refugees is not only the human thing, it is the responsible thing to do. Turning them away would, again, be siding with the worldview of IS.
Not that this is easy or that success is a simple matter of hitting the “send” key. A century of western policy has created tensions that have simmered for decades, tribal allegiances that do not correspond with geographical boundaries, support for repressive regimes that choke simple human expression, human rights and economic opportunity, culminating in the blatant hegemonic destabilising American war in Iraq. Having a history of heavy-handed interference in the domestic affairs of the Middle East to secure their most valuable resource, it’s no wonder that we are The Great Satin. None of this is new. But the forces that benefit from continuing along this path are not pushovers.
It will require a political revolution, but we have to turn away from the racist, reflexive, massive, profit-driven, spiritually vacant, indiscriminate murderous response to truly humane, inclusive, ethical and sustainable policy. Starving terrorism of its recruiting platform and exercising restraint in our responses is the first, but far from the only step in the right direction.