Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘peace’

Gun Nuts and Peaceniks

Posted by spritzophrenia on January 9, 2011

Right now the major news in the USA is the tragic shooting attempt on an Arizona congresswoman. At the time of writing she is badly wounded, but 18 other people were also shot. Six are dead, including a nine year-old girl. I offer my condolences to my US friends; this is sad and wrong.

As an outside observer, I want to offer a few thoughts, partially based on the Twitter and Facebook commentary I’m seeing.

A Culture Of Blame

To me, it’s strange that many immediately jumped to a political motive. For example, a friend tweeted “I wish the sheriff would just name Rush and Beck and Fox News [as responsible].” Sure, Gabrielle Giffords, the target, is a politician. However it may be a little premature to jump in and reduce this to GOP vs Dems. As Lavika tweeted, “Many are choosing sides & using their vitriol to numb pain. Vitriol on behalf of ‘good’ is still vitriol, btw”. To me, the shooter looked a little mentally unstable on paper. This is not to say he wasn’t politically motivated, but there may be a lot more nuance to this story. Lavika also tweeted: “Mental health care, especially youth mental health, is very political; they have no voice, they can’t get care, but they can get guns.”

One commentator writes “We have no idea what motivated the shooter and whether it had anything to do with politics.”

man with pistol

Us and Them

Given the immediate politicization of this attack, I’m also continually amazed at the polarization in US politics. Either you are a Democrat or a Republican, there is no other choice. This leads to an “us and them”, “black and white”, “right and wrong” circling of the wagons that I believe is deeply unhelpful. How can political progress be made when the other side is always characterised as the enemy? In places like New Zealand, Australia, most of Europe… In fact, every other decent Western nation I can think of, there are multiple political parties. This leads to a) more nuance b) more choice and c) the need for co-operation between various political groups.

What if you are “left” on some issues, but “right” on others? In the US there is no party that fits you. Congresswoman Giffords, who was attacked, is a perfect example of exactly this. As a former republican, she characterises herself as a “blue dog” democrat. In other words, she had to make a hard choice as neither party truly represents her views. There aren’t any other political options.

Is This Terrorism?

SquintingInFog tweeted “Why is this not an act of terrorism? Apparently white people are lone wackos, brown people are terrorists”, and, “If shooter were Muslim, it would be called terrorism, even if he acted alone & was psychotic”.

My answer: If it was ideological, then yes, it’s terrorism. Welcome to another “terrorist attack” by a non-Muslim US man, born and bred within Uncle Sam’s bosom.

We Have A Right To Kill

I’m writing this in a country where hunting is popular. We have a lot of guns here in New Zealand. But we don’t allow handguns (except for target shooting, a minority pastime). We certainly don’t allow people to carry them around in public. Even our police do not carry weapons on their person. So to hear about a “right to bear arms” frankly sounds bizarre to us. It sounds as silly as “the right to buy cars” or the “right to chew gum”. (Don’t laugh, gum is banned in Singapore.) Yes, we are legally allowed to buy hunting guns in New Zealand. And that’s how I’d prefer to phrase it. Maybe the USA would benefit from leaving the word “right” out of the equation? The word “right” gives the purchase and use of an item a moral gravity that I just don’t think is warranted. It makes carrying a gun seem somehow holy, instead of fearful and potentially lethal. I can’t compare the right to own a killing weapon with the right to life or the right not to live in poverty. (I’d like to hear more about the right to a fair wage, having just read Nickel and Dimed.) At least I’m not the only one to see a need for handgun control.

Hope

Turning from the killing in the USA, I want the whole world to know about the peace activism in Egypt— by Muslims, no less. Regular followers will know I write from time to time trying to understand Islam and its relation to the West. Egypt has recently had some horrible attacks on Christian churches. What is wonderful is this story of a Muslim initiative where Muslims attended christian churches in order to shield christians against extremists.

I have no idea how we would “shield” minorities in our countries from attack. But isn’t it a wonderful thing to consider? Perhaps a cadre of straight people could walk with gay people seeking marriage equality. Or upper middle-class people could walk with Wal-Mart staff seeking to establish a union. Any ideas?

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Pink Floyd | Us and Them

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Posted in ethics, hardship, Islam | Tagged: , , , , , | 34 Comments »

Paradise Now: A Powerful Movie

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 16, 2010

Yesterday I asked if Muslims would find the movie “Four Lions” funny? Well, at least some Muslims do:

Humour allows us to conquer our own fears of terrorism and terrorists, and allows us to feel brave. We see the human weaknesses of our opponents, instead of buying into the myths of an invincible robotic terror machine. The fear created by the myths – whether perpetuated by the bin Laden’s or the Bush’s of this world – is itself part of the terrorisation process. If we can defuse the myth, we can get down to tackling the criminals at the heart of the violence and destruction…

explosion NYC

…In a global Gallup poll of 50,000 Muslims across 35 countries, the results showed that of the seven per cent of Muslims who said the 9/11 attacks were justified, absolutely none quoted the Quran to support their view. Again, it is politics, not religion.” From Can Terror Be Funny? at AltMuslim. More Muslim commentary here and a good US-based review here. (Some spoilers in these.)

On to another movie on the same topic, much more serious and equally important. Released in 2005, I think Paradise Now is one of the most thought-provoking movies made. (Along with “Dead Man Walking”, “Milk”, “Food Inc”, “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Lord of War”.) Don’t worry, it’s not boringly didactic.

The movie follows Said and Khaled, two Palestinian friends who are recruited to be suicide bombers. This may be the last 48 hours of their lives. Drama, humanity, evil, love, romance, tragedy, comedy, it’s got it all. The movie is not really about the Israel/Palestine question, it merely assumes this as the background to the question of whether killing others in protest is valid. Perhaps even realism, not just humour, can take some of the scariness away. The film is not simplistic, and without giving away too much it portrays both the terrorist and pacifist points of view well. Both men and Khaled’s girlfriend have doubts, but I won’t tell you how it ends.

I was stunned by it.

Independent trailer for Paradise Now:

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Posted in ethics, hardship, Islam, life, Meaning of Life, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

What the World Needs Now

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 4, 2010

I wonder if yesterday’s post overwhelmed you? Many of my friends in the US were caught up in the fever of mid-term elections. Many of you are Democrats who were disappointed with the results. The last thing you wanted to hear was more misery.

I don’t always tell the whole story in my blogs, I leave some space for your opinion. So let me be up-front here. I believe in optimism instead of pessimism. Call it positive thinking if you like. I know I blogged about the irrational side of positive thinking, but I still believe in encouragement. I believe in “realism”, if you like, although we’re all gonna disagree on exactly what “being realistic” is. It’s hard, as I’m naturally drawn to the negative— perhaps that’s why I suffer from depression.

Regular readers know I’m fairly rigorous about what I believe; call me a skeptic if you wish, although as I’ve explained here, I don’t consider myself a rationalist. I want to hold those things together: rigorous thinking, an openness to spiritual reality and an activism and optimism toward the greater good.

There is a time for pessimism. There is a time for grief. But I don’t want to stay there. It doesn’t help.

hope

Years ago I was fascinated by the late 60s and the hippy movement. I was inspired by their optimism; for a short time it seemed some people believed that peace was really possible, that the world really could be a better place. All we had to do is love enough (and perhaps “drop out”). Laugh all you like at their idealism, but frankly if I have to choose who I’d spend eternity with, it would be hippies. I may not have the look— I think we’re well beyond that now— but I still have the hope, sometimes.

I have a vision of ten people gathering in a room, extremists of all forms: Democrats, Republicans, Anarchists, Terrorists, Peaceniks, Atheists, Fundamentalists, Foreigners, The Rich, The Poor, the Apathetic, you, and me. If we leave contentious issues aside and ask, “Tell me about your family?”, “Who means the most to you?”, “What art do you like?”, “What is the most beautiful place you’ve travelled to?”, “What do you hope for the future?”, “What do you think when you look at the stars?”, “How do you experience love?”. If we could truly hear each other, if we could somehow ditch the rhetoric and just talk as human beings, I believe we would have much more in common than hate.

I don’t care if it’s corny. I don’t care if it’s idealistic.

What the world needs now, is love.

It’s the only thing there’s too little of.

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What do you think? Am i too idealistic?
[Edit: An example would be my meal with a Muslim]
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Jackie DeShannon | What The World Needs Now (1965)

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Posted in agnostic, hardship, spirituality | Tagged: , , , , | 13 Comments »

How Can We Stop The Killing?

Posted by spritzophrenia on November 3, 2010

Yesterday I couldn’t write. The violence of the world sickened me, and I was in shock.

In the news is the story of 58 people killed in a Baghdad church by attackers who systematically shot them, and detonated explosives when the security forces tried to free them. If that wasn’t enough, today scores more are killed in markets and workplaces by ten car bombs.

I’m so sick of the violence and evil of fanatics. They kill Muslims, Jews, Christians, Atheists, and even themselves.

The thing is, this is not new. Violence, death and hate have been going on for decades centuries, in many places around the world. I don’t know why the news yesterday affected me so much, but it did.

Muslims and Christians chant anti-terrorist slogans during a funeral of slain Christians in Baghdad, from here.

We can argue about whether religion ’causes’ this kind of violence, as some do. I think it’s a little more nuanced than that. “It’s all being blamed on the failure of Iraqi politicians to agree on the formation of a government”, according to Rawya Rageh, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Baghdad. Politics, not (just) religion. (For those interested, there’s evidence Al-Quaeda only grew in Iraq AFTER the invasion by Western forces)

But that’s not what concerns me here. Mostly, I just need time to grieve.

I could write a long piece analysing this and that, trying to create the definitive statement for peace. But in the end, others have done it far better than I and there’s really not much more to say. All of us hate the killing of innocents.

For me, the bigger question is: What can I do? How can I stop it? Can anyone tell me?

Here’s a few ideas:
* Join an organisation which works to bring peace. (Which one? Do they do any good?)
* Nuke Iraq out of existence (Military “solutions”.)
* Use my skills as a writer to change the world. (*cough*)

To repeat something I said on Crystal’s blog: I know that love is more important than belief. Sadly, I don’t know how that will ever get through to fanatics.

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What do you think we can do?
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Slayer | War Ensemble

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My Meal with a Muslim

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 27, 2010

As per my recent posts, last Thursday I met Sarah and Fariha for coffee after work. (Names changed as New Zealand is a very small place). I hadn’t thought I could find someone to meet in such a short space of time, but an internet acquaintance set it up, thankyou Sarah. Sarah is an atheist, with Muslim and Hindu parents who decided not to push either faith on her. Her mother is a “liberal” Muslim, so Sarah also has a lot of knowledge about Islam. When she told me her friend is Bangladeshi, I expected someone with a foreign accent. I was surprised to meet a second-generation Kiwi, intelligent, articulate and funny, working in a respected profession in the city.

Funny— we don’t think of Muslims with a sense of humour, do we?

We three got along well socially and could have talked about general topics the whole time, but I decided to ask what it’s like growing up as a Muslim in New Zealand. I felt the purpose was to share about Islam and non-Islam and didn’t want to miss the opportunity. Fariha talked about her grandparents being some of the first Muslim immigrants in New Zealand, and helping start the first mosque in Daniel Street (now still owned by the community, but not a mosque). I mentioned my view that all New Zealanders are decended from immigrants and that should inform our thinking. It’s something I think us whiteys need to think about more.

I’m reasonably educated about Islam for a Westerner but I learned new things. I understood from what was said that both women are part of a smaller Shi’ite sect. For me, I associate Shiite with Iran, it’s weird to find people from the Asian subcontinent who identify as Shiite, which we discussed. Fariha referred to “the fundamentalists”, indicating that she felt some distance between her faith and the extremists.

I found out I can go to the mosque, as a non muslim. If I do go I want to have a friend there so that I know how to behave. I can’t go to Mecca, even as a tourist, although Sarah was unsure about that. “How would they know?” Both women love the fact that in Mecca everyone is dressed in white and racial and ethnic barriers are dropped. They love the idea of the one-ness of so many different peoples. Fariha hasn’t been on Haj and Sarah said she couldn’t, as a non-Muslim. Sarah said she’s been told there’s no such thing as a non-practicing Muslim, so you either are or aren’t. Hence, she is not a Muslim. However Fariha disagreed, saying there’s a bit of leeway, for example Fariha does not always pray five times a day.

Muslim women

Not Sarah and Fariha

I offered Fariha the opportunity to ask me questions, but it didn’t happen. Being a second generation New Zealander, no doubt she already knows a lot. She said she’d attended a Christian school growing up and had participated in chapel services. She was quite ok with that as Islam “developed from Christianity and Judaism”.

We didn’t talk much about difficult topics. They did agree with my suggestion that “a good outcome of the absolute horror of 9/11 is that it opened up the existence of Islam to many people in the West who had ignored it”. I mentioned I’d read a book by a woman of Pakistani descent which says Arab Muslims tend to look down on non-Arab Muslims. Fariha said she thought that was “probably the case”. She also could understand it “to some degree” as “the Quran was first given to Arabs”, and socio-politically most servants and menial workers in Saudi are foreigners.

We talked about head-coverings, and she said it “isn’t in the Quran”, but in the Hadith. She doesn’t wear a head-covering. She also said such head coverings are a sign of status, these women are copying the Prophet’s wives, something I didn’t know. (My older post on head-coverings here).

They agreed there is a lot of discussion and disagreement within Islam on some topics. Fariha said she was “speaking for herself, personally, not for the whole of Islam”. She said Imams (Mullahs) are “not like priests”, there is much more ability to disagree, it’s much more equal, which I didn’t know. This struck me like the “congregational” Christian way of running their churches; in theory there is no priest-equivalent as they view all believers are priests. We briefly discussed Sufism, and Fariha said she thinks Islam is a bit more about the group experience, than about “personal spirituality”, although that is there too.

Conclusions

Overall, the meeting was worthwhile in my view. I don’t know if Fariha thought so, but I think she did. She expressed at the start that it was nice of me to make the offer, and afterwards emailed Sarah that she enjoyed it.

Santi, who initiated Meal with a Muslim day, is thinking about hard issues, he’s raised some areas to think about. I think a real challenge is to meet with those Muslims who are “fundamentalist” and despise the West. On our side, it also requires the Western “fundamentalist” Islam-haters to be willing to meet. I don’t know how this could happen. Perhaps each side’s “moderates” can work on their more extreme bretheren? I also think that Muslim to non-Muslim dialogue needs to be an ongoing discussion, there are other questions I want to ask. At this point, Sarah, Fariha and myself have no further plans, and I do think “Meal with a Muslim Day” should be proposed as a one-off occasion each time with no further expectations.

One thing that has stayed with me is that when I think about Islam, I am thinking about a person— an intelligent, attractive neighbour whose humanity I want to support. I think this alone makes the experience worthwhile, to personalise beliefs into people rather than “other”. Though I doubt it is an issue for Fariha, I hope and believe the same is true from the other direction.

Can Muslims accept, flourish in and support Western-style “live and let live”? I think so, and I hope so. There is work to be done by both sides, but by such small actions maybe we can improve one part of this confused world.

What Are Your Thoughts?

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Music by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

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Posted in agnostic, god, Islam, Sociology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments »

And No Religion Too

Posted by spritzophrenia on September 14, 2010

Imagine all the people, living for today. When I was a committed believer, I was very much living for today— a belief in an afterlife didn’t stop me trying to do good in this one.

“Imagine”, by John Lennon.

I said yesterday that I think it’s unlikely the world will become significantly less spiritual in the future, and suggested listening to each other as a possible solution. Maybe I’m too idealistic. Or maybe Lennon is.

Is Religion Dangerous?. I often think yes, this book says “no”. It’s in my city library, I might read it, but the link has a good summary.

Religion and superstition have perpetrated many horrors in our lifetime, let alone before. We’ve just had the anniversary of the September 11 bombings in New York. We could aim for an “atheist peace”, in the words of hardcore punks Bad Religion. Is the Lennon solution the best? He doesn’t suggest that atheism alone is what we need:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I’m a dreamer

Would the world really be more peaceful if no-one believed in gods?

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? What do you think?

[Shout-out to Aswin for asking me to do a piece critical of religion. There will be more critical pieces at some point in the future.]

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Posted in agnostic, atheism | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments »