True Revenge for the Boston Bombing

         Primarily and largely, the Boston Strong Movement in response to the Boston Marathon Bombing is a wonderful expression of caring.  But there is an element ‘in there’ of our wanting to ‘get back at them,’ thinking that says, “See, see there, see this Boston Strong Solidarity and Determination!  You can’t get the better of us!” 

       But we all know that doesn’t quite hit the mark in terms of ‘getting back.’  Indeed, many Boston Strong tee-shirts have the date blazoned on the front, a reminder for us to keep connected in human decency, but easily seen as well as a Red-Letter Holiday celebrating some sick triumph for some perverse Terrorists’ calendar.

       This article wants to consider a true revenge, which can only happen if we consider purifying, sublimating, and putting a rational and directed head to this feeling, this impulse.  There is a true revenge available that is worth our trying for.

       First off we need to consider the media which engages the terrorists in the way they seek, producing images and characterizations that feel sculpted and scripted by the terrorists themselves, as if the media were being slyly manipulated so as to have it play in a terrible league with the monstrous.  Am I, are we, the public in part to blame?  Is the media guiding our attention and thoughts down the channel our minds demand of the press, or is the media directed by its subconscious awareness of how my attention works—brought awake and to full posture by alarm and the pronouncements that cause me to be on edge, excited, agitated, on the alert, tuned in.  Who knows which came first or what drives what; either way we can see that such a status quo fits the terrorists’ wishes like a rifleman’s tailored glove.  They are the arch-enemy, and that is the very characterization, the very high status as binary opposition that they seek.  It does no good to increase the bifurcation by making the media another wicked other; the media is of our making and we of the media’s, and we are not two.

       There will be the protest that says, “But isn’t the media just doing its job,” as if the media practices a detached impartiality, as if what we see—since we are seeing ‘actual’ footage, hearing ‘real’ voices—is an even-eyed, impassive presentation of what just is.  But in truth, significant choices are being made that determine both content and tone of presentation, and wind up in some translated or transfused fashion to become the shape and ardor of my inner thoughts and attitudes.  Indeed, the media is a source of the atmosphere I breathe as much as the Amazon and Indonesian Rainforests.

       And yet, we need to see that this media that determines so much of what we find ourselves so deeply in relationship with… what we think about… what we feel… this media who we hang out with so much… hardly rates as one of those influentially wise souls our parents would have wished we’d have for companionship. Why do we allow the terrorists to make their own characterizations of themselves?   Why do we actually support and enhance and touch up that characterization—deepening the dark shadows under the eyes, making  just that bit of glitter reflect off of the weapon pressed against the hairy, sweaty chest?        

       This is a far far cry from the more thoughtful consideration at a much deeper and fundamental level that the situation cries out for us to put head and flesh to; but as of now, we don’t seem to get past our theatric attraction to really good villains… with the impact being that this inability to separate what goes for good fiction and what goes for truly tragic life gets blended into a poison potion.  Genre fiction has not just spilled over into our actual, palpable political lives but flooded it.

       How ought we profile?  We could, even within the mandate of what media ‘ought’ be–objective and unsided–in all honesty characterize the terrorists in a way that both serves to purify and raise our own characters while minimally frustrating the terrorists and optimally causing a reconsideration, perhaps even a turning.  The way to raise ourselves and frustrate and perhaps reform the violent is to deny the structure of binary, dueling, struggling opposition by not participating in it. 

       This approach has been urged by those we think of as our wisest for millennia.  Unfortunately, we call them ‘religious’ and react, “Oh no, we can’t mix that with this realpolitik.”

       But we need to give the teachings the voice quality in which they were probably originally spoken, which would surely persuade us that they were meant to be politically applicable.  If we can’t keep fictional styles out of our characterizations of current events, well then there is a romantic tale worthy of all of us getting behind because it includes and is for all of us, no exceptions.

       When Jesus says, Do good to those who hate you for what credit is there in keeping the good you do on a narrow leash restricted for only those in your kinship camp; or when the Rabbis of the same era teach the people to hasten to help the enemy whose donkey has fallen under its burden, they aren’t speaking in the solemn pulpit tone of temple, but in compelling realpolitik.  The ultimate aim, says the Talmud, is to melt the heart of the foe in order to make the enemy friend. Dehostilization, unsidedness, the assumption of oneness and unity is both the wisest and most urgently needed and practical course for us in contrast to fiction’s usual imposition of a structure of opposition, bad guys versus good guys, them and us.

       Does this mean joining leagues with the terrorists?  Not a bit of it.  Rather this means joining leagues with the best within us, making Boston Strong stronger by means of thoughtfully and honestly characterizing the terrorists.  This requires two approaches, both having to do with how we view and talk about the terrorists. 

       First, we need to give voice to the legitimate carriers of the Name that the terrorists falsely claim as their own–Muslim, followers of Islam–for who would know better why they are not who they claim to be.  And for those of us yet intent on revenge, what could be more sharply pointed, what could hurt more than to be denied the very title you most cherish and denied by those who are certified spokespersons, established and honored bearers of that identity? 

       In the second approach towards raising ourselves by denying the structure of hostility through an honest characterization of the terrorists, we need to see the perpetrators of these evil acts in the light of a theory of evil that refuses the temptation to join their wrong-headed love of violence and clash.  In this characterization, we can not only deny to engage or bite at the bait of conflict they dangle, but as well we can increase our own capacity for living in the light of Good and Compassion.  These are dastardly, deplorable, wicked deeds done by lost souls, who we wish would come to their senses, turn back to the Light of Day, and cease doing these evil acts.      

       First off then: there are so many Muslims who have spoken out and spoken out continuously since 2001 concerning violence done in the name of Islam, characterizing the terrorists as utterly mistaken in their understanding of the faith… acting as thugs with an inclination to violence and not as Muslims at all… characterizing them as people worshipping an idol of their own making that they falsely call Allah… committing the worst form of shirk in suggesting that what they do has anything to do with the will of God or Islam.  Within just this past week {early June 2013}, the leader of the Islamic Center of Santa Maria spoke out during prayers, ‘We strongly condemn these heinous crimes that are as far away from Islam as can be.  Islam and terror do not mix.’  Just yesterday, the Imam of the Utah Islamic Center declared that the Boston bombers were motivated by a perverted image of the faith.  ‘I don’t know where they get their version of Islam; it’s absurd to us, it doesn’t make sense.’  A Muslim who is a Professor of Religion at the University of Virginia commented that he had never prayed so earnestly to God to spare attribution of such madness that was unleashed to the Muslims.  

       Muslims against terror have spoken out everywhere, continuously for over a dozen years.  Those on record–often eloquently and repeatedly–include the head of the al-Azhar Islamic Research Academy in Cairo, the chief Mufti in Saudi Arabia, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the head council of clergy of Pakistan, as well as teachers and leaders across the U.S. and Europe, Muslim members of the Islamic Community Council of Canada, and so many of the 80% of the billion Muslims on our planet who occupy South Asia, Southeast Asia, Indonesia, northwest Africa, and Africa south of the Tropic of Cancer.

       Noting this alone however does little for us for this is merely enlisting those true followers of the faith to engage the terrorists in a kind of strategic frontline battlefield maneuver.  To get off the battlefield, we need to turn from it in order to stroll with and talk with the sincere and legitimate voices of Islam.  We need to be willing to have a more substantial relationship with our Muslim brothers and sisters not just for the sake of negating the irrational, but for the sake of celebrating who they are and who we genuinely are.  

        Why are such deeds so antithetical to Islam?  Why is their faith—not the false faith of the terrorists—worthy of our regard?

       The Koran contains many themes, but the most oft-cited and perhaps crucial is tawhid, the oneness of God which carries with it the sense of the unity of creation and, from that, the link of all human beings one to another.  The great innovation Muhammad brings to Arabia is the teaching, the imperative, not to limit one’s loyalty to one’s own family or tribe, but to submit or tender oneself to the One God and to be kin with all others as part of this accord on high.  To tender oneself does indeed suggest the flavor of peace as one draws close to the gentling Presence of Allah.  The very romantic approach we seek—considering ‘us as us’ rather than ‘part of us versus another part of us’—exists in a profound accord with Islamic monotheism. 

       This powerful sense of unity and equality and caring has made Islam, for good reason, the second most adhered to faith amongst our humankind, with over a billion adherents.  And though all Muslims are taught to think of each other as brothers and sisters, the sense of unity is not restricted to those of the faith, for such a unity would deny Allah Who is the God of all and loves each, according to the teachings of the Prophet.  The Allah Who Muhammad presents in the Koran considers life sacred, has given us freedom of choice, and inspires us towards realizing a Great Day on earth where human society can be characterized as dynamically caring.  In such a Day, there is no requirement that all be Muslim.  The Prophet taught that even in heaven Jews and Christians and others reside. 

      And perhaps no other governments in human history have demonstrated such magnanimity of spirit concerning those not of their faith than Islamic rulers, most famously–though not only–in the Golden Age of Muslim Spain when Cordoba became the center of learning for Christian, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers and physicians and scientists and mathematicians and clergy for five hundred years.   Right from the start, the natives of the Iberian Peninsula celebrated the coming of Islam for it meant breaking up the latifundio or feudal estates and allocating the land fairly to the peasant workers.  As the universal law, the ius gentium, of Ancient Rome proved worthy to the peoples of the empire, so, by and large, Islamic Law proved to be an assuring safety net for non-Muslims residing in Islamic lands.  Islam stands for peace and tolerance. 

       But of course the key concept in Islam that has brought the faith into the limelight of current events is jihad.  And if we are walking a ways with our Muslim friends, we will surely be struck by the authentic meaning of this ‘sixth’ pillar.  Muhammad himself explains the meaning of the true jihad as the inner struggle to live in atonement with the will of God.  The evil to be fought is the evil within yourself.  When the Muezzin calls the people to worship, he is also calling the soul to be aware of the psychological danger of figuring others need to change and improve for all to be okay.  Almost always this thought and feeling means others must change to come into accord with my way.  The personality worthy of the adhan or call to worship is one that hears oneself beginning to fall into that psychological trap and knows to be aware that the pointed finger leaves three fingers pointing back at oneself.

       So, how has jihad come to be associated with armed conflict?  As in Christianity and in Judaism there are acknowledged times when war may be justified, but the rules in Islam are particularly strict.  Any lifting of arms must be only defensive—and supposed philosophical threats or the perils of other lifestyles never honestly count in this regard—and can never involve women, children, or civilians.  The Koran explicitly teaches adherents not to be aggressive, for God does not like aggressors.  {Koran 2:190} 

       No wonder Muslim leaders on every continent have stated that these terrorists and fanatics in no way represent what the faith truly stands for… but are simply hijacking the religion for their own selfish and violent goals.  In Muhammad’s last sermon delivered on Mt. Arafat on the day of the Hajj, he said, ‘Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.’  In the Jihad of the terrorists, in the inner struggle for understanding of Allah’s will and way, these terrorists have gotten lost.

       There is a unity of our kind that Islam and the Wise of numerous traditions have taught that is larger even than the great unity of Muslims with other Muslims or Christians with other Christians or Buddhist brothers and sisters.  In this unity, the tales we tell need not depend for affection on conflict, but can win our loyalty and love from a direct realization of the circle of  friendship growing larger and larger, reaching further and further.   The great day will never come by dint of this side winning over all others, but by our realizing us as us.  We can walk and talk together. 

       The second approach towards raising ourselves is by denying the structure of hostility.  This approach also has to do with an honest characterization of the terrorists, this time not in terms of the faith they falsely claim to follow, but in terms of  how the media and we are to view the evil acts they do.  One strength of this compelling concept of evil  is that it helps us turn aside from the temptation to react in kind to violence and hatred, degrading our own souls, and does so without diluting the wrong.  Indeed, we very much need to call the spade a spade, to see the evil as deplorable.  But we need to do so for the sake of being able to do something about it and not just to wallow in a kind of coarse and false good feeling  that comes out of detesting the dogs.   We can do better for each other and for our souls. 

       Much like the theory of evil presented by Socrates, Plotinus, and St. Augustine, one Muslim view considers evil as forgetting {kufr} and thus forsaking the harmony with God and the Wisdom of the Teachings.  We are inclined by our good God to virtue, a natural desire to confirm and live in a natural accord with the whole of Life and her Creator.   Living in this bond with Life and God is a glory worth calling The Garden!  We can make this harmony come to Life in the flesh by means of  what we say and do.  So great is our Creator’s ingenious caring for us that God would have us live in a family love that extends to all of Your vast Creation!

        Vice comes from misguided notions, irrational thoughts, departing from one’s nature.  Sin means missing the mark that the good sense we have aims us towards.  Kafirs are those who have gotten lost and wind up hiding the truth from themselves.  These poor, deluded folk become preoccupied with what they think in their mistaken notions are their true needs and passions. 

       The more dynamic of the terrorists, those who can cast a spell on the ones usually chosen to do the actual acts, misuse their divine gifts of speech and intelligence for the sake of these mistaken notions.  How do these mistaken notions—whose cloud they truly live under—get going?  Allah does make us free and we can make choices… and the ginn named Iblis or the talking snake or some voice that makes its way into our innerness does have the power to suggest to us acts that are not in harmony with our own truest desire, which is to live at one with God and God’s creation.  

       When Eve takes the apple in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Old Testament and the Koran, she is not being evil but foolhardy. The snake and Iblis are truly her own inner voice suggesting the possibility of her gaining responsibility for creativity at the level of ‘making it all up from scratch according to my will.’  Of course she is misguided in thinking she could or even would want to be responsible for creativity at the level of the Divine Who comes up with Intelligibility itself, with Good, with Meaningfulness, with the fundamental laws of the physical universe, with our being two-legged beings with organs and thoughts and relations, existing in a realm of  galaxies and atoms and seas, where mountains are slowly born as well as ducklings, and there exists the possibility for humankind to engender a caring social scene on this splendid earth.  

         This creativity from scratch is the provenance of Creator.  God has endowed our creativity with a magnificent range of possibilities, so great that we are not wrong in considering ourselves junior partners in the ongoing work of creation!   Living in tune with your rich creative Way, extending Divine order into our lives individually and collectively is another of the possibilities that comes from Your initation, a kind of offering You make to us that includes the exquisite possibility of  true joy, rapture!  

       Eve’s consideration of perhaps being like God even unto the level of having this kind of ‘spontaneous generation’ creativity, having this level of equality with You, is not actually evil, but irrational.  Eve exhibits a lack of judgment and demonstrates the mistake of being self-centered as opposed to Us-centered.  But it is not actually evil. 

        However, that style of unreasonableness, practiced obstinately through lifetimes… and generations… does lead to humanity generating what is within our possibilities to bring about: evil.  Surely by the time Lamech brags of murdering many, surely surely by the time of Noah’s generation or the city of Sodom, and surely surely surely by the time of Hitler and the terrorists who kill so many innocents, we can say we have caused evil to exist. 

        And surely we can see how the true jihad or the inner struggle to live in the Light and Harmony of God is the crucial issue for our kind.  For all of these, from Lamech to bin Laden, we are beholding an inner or individual relation with oneself gone awry, gotten all twisted up and muddled.  In losing their way, these  terrorists have as well forgotten what is truly worthy, have become ignorant of what is most valuable.  Somehow, these have suffered a terrible failure of rationality, have misplaced and lost the good sense they were born to live by.

       The leaders of the terrorists are those who have replaced God with their own conception of what they want to believe because it makes them in their in-group feel superior, better than others.  It is a style of belief that is surely ungodly simply for its lack of love for humanity and its badly informed short-shrifting of what the unity of God calls us to… which is not to characterize my group as the greatest and at war with those of other ways, but to see us as us and to work in a profoundly caring way for us

       The short-shrifting of our Creator in this regard is not just an issue the terrorists need face, but common.  The need to consider tawhid, the oneness of God and the unity of Creation far more deeply than we have speaks to most of us as individuals and nations and faiths.  But when the persuasive leaders of the terrorists foist their violent ways on the vulnerable, desperate, angry poor who have been stigmatized and made ripe for insane violent suggestions, they have taken the common misapprehension concerning ‘sidedness’ into the realm of sin.  And—here is what by our standards today is the radical leap—in doing so deprive us all, deprive Creation and her Creator of what They desire, our being whole.  The great Jewish wise woman, Beruriah, on hearing her husband, Rabbi Meir, pray for the destruction of the thugs who were tormenting his walk to the academy, directed him instead to pray that their good senses should return to them so that they may join us all in the quest to become whole and do something beautiful for God and Creation and one another.      

       The terrorists are surely saying in all they do, ‘Look at me.’  So we do look at them, only we do so in the frame of the larger picture of us.  When we do that, in the first place, we hear what they would have to say if they were in their right mind by hearing the legitimate voices of those they falsely claim to be.  It’s a wonderful voice, and in that genuine appreciation we additionally demonstrate our brotherhood and sisterhood, our living the teaching all the traditions consider eminent: love neighbor as self.  And in the second place, when we turn to see the terrorists in response to their clamoring, we see souls who suffer from ignorance, those whose deeds have left the realm of decency.  We wish they could come to their senses, recognize the evil they have done, and genuinely repent, which would be for the sake of their souls and a plus for humankind and creation.

       This is the true revenge, for in doing this we realize that the very desire for revenge is incidental, for such considerations as these are mainly good for us.  In hearing the true voice of Islam and in seeing the terrorists as those suffering from a terrible ignorance, we make their dastardly deeds part of our growing stronger in character, unity, and understanding.

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