As the world still reels from the aftermath of the Paris siege, we write this piece wrestling with what it may mean for humanity.
Prima facie, it is ironically the burden of humanity to appear humane.
Before we begin, here’s a disclaimer: This is mainly a response to a howling, incoherent, repugnant rant that this publication carried a couple of days ago, but also responds to a lot of similar reactions going around on different media platforms.
It took me, Mohammed, a lot of convincing from my co-author to even bring myself to write a response to such tripe. But then again, it got me thinking. Tripe, if allowed to flourish, becomes discourse, and we cannot let that happen. Not now. Not when humanity needs to stand united. Not now, when all that these terrorists are banking on, is to divide us, which the author willingly played into the premise of, with the vitriolic snarl directed at a particular religion. Not now.
Opinions are a person’s own, which is why we would like to begin with refuting some of the ‘facts’ that Mr Evangelist (LOL, what an irony, calling themselves that) stated:
1. Referring to Islam as a minority. Err, no. Globally, Islam has the second largest following after Christianity and there are numerous countries where Muslims are in majority. The author was not nitpicking countries where Islam is a minority.
2. Singling Islam out as the only religion “preaching” violence. Even if religious texts were being referred to, there are numerous examples of violent punishments and wars being described in religious texts from various faiths. Killing in the name of religion, unfortunately, is not confined to Islam alone. In present times, yes, Islamic radicalism is more pronounced, but take a look at history and you will find other similar violent instances or phases across faiths.
3. Berating Islam saying it kills “in the name of God” because ISIS or other terrorist factions say that they do. What about the numerous Islamic clerics across sects who have condemned these heinous acts as going against the teachings of Allah, his Prophet, and the Prophet’s progeny? Selective acceptance, much? Even if it were, we are surprised the author chooses to take the ISIS’s take (an organisation he/she seems to hate) over the word of a majority of other Muslims, clerics and otherwise.
You my friend talk about how Islam kills its own people. How inane is it to say this and then in the same breath, generalise the religion? There is a reason that Muslims themselves are targeted, and that is because of them disagreeing with these radical elements. What more evidence can exist to show that Islam in general does not preach any of these horrendous things and it is the interpretation of a few that is being misconstrued as the religion itself?
RIP logic. I’m sure you are already turning in your grave.
But of course this is the perfect opportunity for you Mr. Author and others to chastise religion. Since ISIS claimed responsibility, and ISIS practices religious fundamentalism, Paris now becomes the poster child for denouncing religion, ergo advocating atheism. As if somehow the actions of the smallest percentile of followers is representative. As if, absent religion, people aren’t going to find another way to justify their violence and defer responsibility. Feel free to bask in the delusions that feed your naivety.
Speaking of naivety, you also, ironically, fall prey to your own founding premise — Islam is inherently bad, it kills people. At least terrorists still defer responsibility to a higher being: “We do this in the name of God”. Your personify religion and further distance the actors from their disgusting actions: “They are a religion that kills people”. When you blame Islam for the deeds of humans, you effectively give them a clean chit by attributing these crimes to anything or anyone but them.
And by corroborating that reasoning, you’ve not only bought into it, but now you’re an effing shareholder in the business of absolving responsibility.
But don’t worry; you’re joining an elite shareholder club with superstars like Bill Maher, Donald Trump, and Ann Coulter, of which the last two go a step further, and won’t wait for even the embers of Paris to die down before disgustingly advocating for concealed carry permits. Give yourself a pat on the back for sharing the stage with the unapologetically insensitive and unbelievably stupid.
At the risk of repeating what many sane, rational, tolerant people have already said before us, generalisation is the worst way to argue against such incidents. Racial shootings in the United States — is it wise to use the same brush of generalisation and say all white-skinned folks are violent, gun-wielding, racist murderers because of the acts of a few? No? Then why use that brush to paint Islam with a violent hue?
But, all’s not lost. If there’s one thing my co-author and I agree on is that most people want to do and feel the right things. The trouble is that the influencers of our collective self-righteousness are inherently flawed.
The media focused on Paris more than Beirut or Baghdad. They did this because the news that a place in Iraq or Lebanon or Syria has been attacked isn’t news anymore. If we take human emotion out of analysis and rely strictly on a mechanical approach, it’s hard to spot an anomaly.
As horrible as that is, news agencies are tasked with providing “new”s to us, and this is a reflection on the audience more than the agencies.
We are okay with this. We are okay with it because this is how we are wired. Our brains are tuned to get attracted to anomalies. That’s why patterns are easy and why organization is essential — because when something breaks, it immediately draws our attention. Our biggest strength as human beings is to adapt, to normalize, and to ‘get on with it’; it’s why people are able to lead vibrant and happy lives in the face of adversity.
Unfortunately, in today’s context, that’s also our biggest criticism – we’ve allowed anomalies to normalize, and thus become unimportant. In our mental models of the world we’ve restricted these based on the divisions we accept everyday – politics, religion, culture… lines on a map, which our news agencies reflect.
Now let’s add back that human emotion. Without a doubt each and every innocent life lost to terrorism should be a resounding slap to our faces – we’ve devolved as a society to become people that nurture hatred based on man-made divisions. And we’re not talking just about terrorists who were regular people like us, but also about people like you and other members of that aforementioned club, who are actively nurturing and propagating the same.
We all have the privilege of sitting comfortably in our beds while engaging in political punditry online – us included. We hope that that this privilege is exercised with caution; that we do our bit to discourage intolerance while avoiding castigation of the innocently lesser nuanced. Because after all, my co-author and I both know that this is an exercise in neutralizing our privilege, as much as anything else.
We pray for the lives that have been lost and continue to be lost, and we ask you to not abandon your most fundamental freedom — that of thought.
This post was co-written by Ramit Malhotra, who is an atheist by choice, and a practicing Hindu by mother and Mohammed Ali, who is a Muslim by choice.