Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Q&A: "What is your take on jihad?"

When I watch debates, interviews and press conferences, I often think how I would have answered the question differently.  That doesn't mean I would do a better job.  I have the benefit of sitting at home away from the television cameras and the pressure.  I don't have to worry about an election or world opinion.  Still, it's fun to play the game. 

Today, President Obama is getting flack about an answer he gave to a Catholic schoolgirl in Indonesia.  The question was, "What is your take on jihad?"  The president is speaking before a Christian audience in an Islamic country while fighting a war in another Islamic country.  He is walking a tightrope.  I certainly don't envy the guy.  Still, I find it bizarre that the president would want to get into a debate about the finer points of Islamic doctrine.  I suggest keeping things simple.

Here's my response to the question:
Q: What is your take on jihad?

A:  I am not a Muslim, nor am I a religious scholar.  As a result, it would be presumptuous of me to explain the tenets of another faith.  Nonetheless, I know peace-loving people of many faiths, and I am willing to work with them to make this world a better place.

Likewise, I am familiar with people who hate and use violence against innocents.  It doesn't matter if they justify their actions by a religion or a particular ideology.  We should stand against them on the side of justice.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Peace through Irony

I applaud Jon Stewart and his “Rally to Restore Sanity” that took place in Washington D.C. last weekend.  I frankly didn’t watch much.  Instead, I saw bits and pieces afterwards on the internet.  As always, I’m impressed when thousands of people can peacefully gather together without incident. 

I enjoy smart humor, and over the years, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have delivered.  However, I am just not that interested any more.  In the past, I thought Colbert had the better wit, but he is becoming more and more self-parody.  Stewart still has his moments, but the smugness is wearing thin. 

The shtick seems to be that we take ourselves way too seriously.  Don’t hold opinions or beliefs too tightly.  Otherwise, you’re divisive.  In fact, you might be mentally unstable.  The best example of this argument that occurred at the fake rally hosted by the fake newsmen was when they asked a fake priest to offer a fake prayer.  Fr. Guido Sarducci, a character by comedian Don Novello, asked God for a sign of which religion is correct.  When God didn’t answer, Sarducci was left in an awkward position of thanking God for dogs and good works by other people. 

The agenda is peace through irony.  If no one had deeply held convictions, we could sure get more accomplished around here.  Our divisions are suggested to be simply matters of taste like the person who prefers Mexican food to Italian food.  If so, it does little good to yell at one another about it.  We should just get over our preferences.  John Lennon’s Imagine is probably the best anthem for this attitude. 
Imagine there's no Heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today

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, but I am very sympathetic to the cause.  I decry the meanness found in our public life.  I think that many of our differences and disputes at their source are meaningless.  I long for debate that is thoughtful and reasoned.  Do we really think the Daily Show is the solution?  Laughing at silly divisions doesn’t necessarily create unity.  In fact, it often leads to self-satisfaction and self-righteousness. 

Someone from the rally “tweeted” a picture of a sign.  It had a simple, clever message, “  +  >  ÷  ”.  The person commented, “The best thing about this sign is that the Tea Party won’t understand it” (my paraphrase).  Talk about irony. 

Moreover, some divisions are important.  Some differences are meaningful and should not be dismissed.  Depending on the cause, dying for something or someone can be noble.  Strongly held and defended beliefs can promote a better society.  How do we make the case to our neighbors?  The question is not one of sanity but civility. 

In a way, Jon Stewart’s final statement was the best moment of the entire rally.  He finally was talking about how we get along in a society.  The example of cars on the freeway entering a tunnel was smart. 
Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear—often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.
The drivers will get to their destinations because each person makes, in Stewart’s words, “little reasonable compromises”—a concession here,  a concession there.  Stewart is absolutely right, but the question is why?  No one on the stage was answering, "Why does civil society work?"  If we can answer that question, we will go a long way to solve our problems.  For example, I would suggest that honking your horn is a preferable way to deal with a problem than shooting the driver next to you.  I prefer shouting on cable news shows than fighting in the streets. 

Drawing upon our traditions, history and heritage, what are our non-negotiables?  Irony is not enough.  Eventually we need to stand for something.