181. In the face of terrorism
In the face of present terrorism in the name of the Islam, what should we do?
We should try to understand what entices young muslims to fundamentalist terror. I think there are several reasons. Most fundamentally, perhaps, it is normal for young people to pine for the absolute as a goal in life. I recall that when I was in puberty I decided I did not want to become an adult because adults seemed to me to betray life, in giving in to compromises on ideals, ambition, honesty, strength of character, a sense of purpose, in short on the meaning of life. I prayed to God to be elected to a mission in life in which I could reach for him without compromise.
Theistic religion, in Christianity and elsewhere, has inspired marvels of beauty, in music, art and architecture, compassion and drives for peace and justice, and has brought solace to countless people. It has also wrought calamities of war and terror.
Western society had its share in religious fundamentalism and terror. Recall the Inquisition, crusades, and the terror that in the 16th century Anabaptists wrought in Munster, Germany, killing thousands, whoever did not conform to their fervour and dogmatism.
Terror has also been inspired outside religion, in ideologies of race and revolution in the name of humanity. As I argued elsewhere in this blog, like theistic religion these ideologies arise from an urge to rise above human fragility and mortality, in a reach for the absolute and dreams of immortality.
Western society liberated itself from religious grip in the Enlightenment, but did not thereby rid itself of the lure of the absolute. Both the Enlightenment and Romanticism gave it a renewed impulse. The first in a striving for absolutism in the true and the good, in rationality and ethics. The second in the romantic dream of transcendence of the self in a larger whole of nation, race or historical necessity. This produced horrors of war, holocaust and colonialism.
On the rebound from those horrors, subsequent development of western society, in capitalist democracies, yielded a flourishing of science together with a loss of magic, anonymity in impersonal systems, excesses of postmodern relativism, and nihilistic despair of the possibility to achieve old certainties. The absolute was shed at the price of nihilism.
Non-western religious societies, as in the Islam, viewed the resulting loss of meaning and values with increasing disdain. Hatred was fuelled by outrage, and perhaps a sense of frustration, against what was seen as western arrogance in claims of economic and cultural superiority, economic imperialism, double standards in the treatment of authoritarian states, and neglect of ethnic and religious minorities and their economic and political perspectives. Conservative Islamic religious authorities saw a chance to divert internal political criticism to hatred of the west and religious zeal and fundamentalism.
Young muslims, enticed to the fervour of the absolute, for fulfilling a higher mission of life, and Nietzschean will to power, perhaps, together with religious indoctrination and a sense of being left behind in economic and political perspectives, were ready for extremism, and started imitating and prodding each other to violence.
So, what now? The challenge is to acquire or develop a new sense of the meaning of life that is pluralistic and tolerant of different forms. That entails shedding the lure of the absolute, to value difference, and to accept imperfection on the move, as I have argued for in this blog. I plead for a search for transcendence that is horizontal, in the other human being, not vertical, in God, and immanent, in life, not in immortality. Can we do that, or is the lure of the absolute too strong to subdue or divert?
How far can freedom of expression go while maintaining tolerance? Where is the limit? Note that it is primarily up to the one to be tolerated, not the one who tolerates, to judge whether toleration occurs. If he/she is too sensitive to criticism or satire, that should be a matter of debate, not some foregone conclusion.
If people abandoned the absolute, they would be more open to pluralism, less sensitive to opposition, and might even value it.