Flowers and candles

I don’t often write of politics. Right now, I can’t not. Please don’t read further if you don’t want to read mine. I make no apology for them, but they may well piss you off, or change how (or whether) you read me.

Our conception of “war” is problematic in the “fight” against Daesh/ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State. Virtually every tool, every weapon, every strategy, every tactic that we (and by “we,” I mean “the world”) have brought to bear against them has the unintended effect of strengthening their cause, even as, from time to time, we succeed in weakening their organization(s).

The destruction of al Qaeda and the rise of Daesh illustrates this: Osama bin Laden is dead, al Qaeda is a shadow of what it once was, and Daesh has arisen from its ashes, stronger, more menacing, and, worst of all, attracting recruits at a terrifying pace.

Like all symptoms, Daesh and the phenomenon it represents – nihilistic, alienated young people willing to die for a cause that’s incomprehensible to those not living in their world – is a solution to a problem, to an underlying illness. The metaphor of “war” would have us believe that the illness is “evil,” that the remedy is “victory.”

This is entirely wrong.

The illness is a deep, abiding wound to the pride of a great civilization, one whose heirs – like the heirs to Russia’s historic place in the global scene – simply cannot tolerate the humiliation of their current impotence in, and irrelevance to, the dominant culture overtaking the world. In Russia, this humiliation has given rise to Putin. In Germany in the 1930s, it gave rise to Hitler. In the Muslim world, and, in particular, in the Arab diaspora, it’s given rise to, first, al Qaeda, and now, Daesh. While each of these was, is, indisputably “evil,” in our terminology, calling them evil, imagining that evil is the problem, misses the point entirely.

The organizations aren’t the problem, and eliminating them won’t solve it.

It’s telling that the vast majority of those who’ve conducted attacks on behalf of al Qaeda and Daesh are people who’ve spent significant time in Europe and/or the States. The humiliation to which their actions are intended to respond, their grievance, is our collective failure to honor, respect, and value their humanity, and not just their humanity, but their history. Our response thus far – attack, infiltrate, destroy – simply exacerbates the cause of the symptom.

In the U.S., we are flirting with even more disastrous responses than we’ve been able to muster previously. George W. Bush, with his horrifying “crusader” talk, his dehumanizing confusion of all Arabs, his emasculating war against Iraq, and worst of all, his attempts to feed the fear of his domestic audience, fed this beast. Barack Obama has tried, but failed, to undo the damage done by his feckless predecessor, and he’s trapped, now, in the false, destructive narrative of American impotence and presidential weakness. The truth is, the U.S. is impotent against this scourge, the president is weak – not because he doesn’t have the balls to stand up to it, but because its causes are too complex to be susceptible to the levers of presidential power, and resist articulation in terms comprehensible in a political context.

I’m grateful President Obama has shown the balls to say (mostly) the right things – about the world, about religion, and about my country – in the days since the Paris attacks. But I fear for the future. Bombing Syria is not the solution.

In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
The Dhammapada

Love is the answer. We need to love our brothers and sisters. Some of the grievances giving rise to attacks like Friday’s in Paris are political, but at root, most of the grievances behind the attacks are essential: we tell them, repeatedly, through culture and politics and arms, that they are subhuman, worth less than us, that they are not us, that their history is a history of defeat and subjugation.

The horrific rhetoric emerging from the Republican candidates for the American presidency is an ill wind.

I fear that much darker times lie ahead. And I have hope that I’m wrong.

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