When I posted about last week's massacre of Muslims in New Zealand, I wasn't surprised - saddened, yes, but not surprised - to read commenters spouting the usual anti-Muslim drivel. All over the Internet, there are those pointing fingers, comparing the lack of publicity accorded by the mainstream media to Muslim massacres of Christians to the overwhelming publicity given to the Christchurch shootings - as if two wrongs could somehow make one of them right. Essentially, they're blaming Islam for what happened to Muslims in Christchurch. It's been a sickening display, and I'm not the only person who's felt that way. Here's another blogger's opinion - only one of many I could cite. (Read the comments there, too, if you can stomach some of them.)
Let me say at once that I have no tolerance for terrorism at all. I've spent many years of my life fighting it, in many forms, including armed conflict with terrorists (as those of you who've been reading here for a while will know; if you haven't, try this post for a sample, and follow some of the links provided there). As far as I'm concerned, no matter what its origin or motivation or expression, terrorism is a crime against humanity, and terrorists have no place in our society. I've had the opportunity to see to it that some of them didn't, and I have no regrets about that whatsoever.
The trouble is, many of those who have a knee-jerk reaction against Islam in general, and Muslims in particular, have little or no idea what they're talking about. They've been fed a diet of extremist commentary about Islam, and they parrot off the propaganda they've absorbed like automatons. If you try to engage them in reasoned discussion, you can't - they simply duck and dive off at a tangent, refusing to actually engage, instead finding new propaganda points to spout. The New Zealand tragedy has been no exception.
"Fifty Muslims have been killed in New Zealand by a terrorist."
"Well, they shouldn't have been there. They should go back to their own countries instead of invading ours."
"What's that got to do with fifty of them being murdered?"
"If they hadn't been there, they wouldn't have been murdered!"
"Can't you feel any sorrow or compassion at all for the victims?"
"No, because it's their own fault they were victims. They shouldn't have been there. Besides, what about all the Christians killed by Muslims all around the world? Why don't the media ever report those?"
"They do report them. It's just that most people don't bother to read or watch world news reports - they stay with local news, and read only those internet sources that align with their own interests."
"No, they don't report them! What about this, or that, or the other incident?"
"I can show you mainstream media reports about all of them."
"Well, those are the exceptions that prove the rule!"
And so on, and so on, ad nauseam. The same web sites keep churning out their propaganda, and the same idiots keep absorbing it and prattling it as if it were Gospel truth. None - or, at least, very few - of them have ever actually lived among Muslims, and gotten to know them as individuals. Those who claim to have done so have often been expatriate workers in Muslim countries, where they lived in ghettos that provided little or no contact with local people except as servants or employees. That's not enough to understand them. Some, particularly returned servicemen from "the sandbox", will speak dismissively, even contemptuously, of Middle Eastern and Islamic culture (or what they perceive as the lack thereof). When I wore uniform, and some people were trying to kill me, I did the same about them and their culture. It seems to go with the territory when one's fighting a war. It takes a certain amount of distance (not to mention time) to recover one's perspective.
I'd like to propose a moral and ethical approach to such atrocities that I think can be valid for almost everybody, of any religion or none, of any philosophy of life or none. It's based on the Golden Rule, or ethic of reciprocity, which is found in every major religion and philosophy in one form or another. Christians have for centuries paraphrased it as "Do to others as you would have them do to you". The beauty of this approach is that it governs not just how we act, but also how we react. If you don't want someone to do something to you, don't do it to others. If you would react negatively if something was done to you, you should react negatively when it's done to others. It doesn't matter whether you like them or not, whether you agree with them or not, whether you want them in your country or not.
That puts the New Zealand mosque massacre into perspective. If it's wrong to shoot innocent Christians, or Westerners, or whatever, then it's automatically also wrong to shoot innocent Muslims. If one reacts to the murder of members of one group with anger, disgust and vengeful fury, one should feel the same way about the murder of members of another group. It's a universal standard, one that applies equally to everyone in every situation. It doesn't give us a cop-out, allowing us to say, "Well, it's their fault it happened to them, because they shouldn't have been there". No. If it shouldn't happen to us, it shouldn't happen to them, either. Forget all the qualifications and excuses and weasel words. If something is good, it's universally good. If it's bad, or wrong, or evil, that's all she wrote, across the board. Simple as that.
The Golden Rule also forces us to examine our own conduct and attitudes. Everything really does begin with us. What do I want others to do to me, or not do to me? Why? Am I doing them, or not doing them, to others in my own attitudes and actions every day? If I am/am not, what do I need to change to get to where I need to be? This does not suggest that we need to become "willing victims", or roll over and play dead, in response to violence directed against us. It means that we need to find balance, find our own roots, so that we can respond (and, if necessary, defend ourselves) with confidence that we're doing the right thing. (That's very much the Christian approach, too, for those who espouse that faith.)
The fundamental element in all this is that morality and ethics begin with us - each of us, as individuals. If we allow others to think for us, or react on our behalf, without considering whether or not they have the right to do so, or are right in their approach . . . we make ourselves complicit in their error. If we condemn an action when it's done to us, but condone it or make excuses for it when it's done to others, we expose our own shortsightedness and lack of balance.
Animals just react. Human beings think first. That's what distinguishes us from animals. If we abdicate that right, and that responsibility, heaven help us all.