The stubbornly cumulative violence that we face in the Middle East and North Africa is a problem of displaced human centeredness. Ever anxious about drawing meaning from their own inwardness, large numbers of Islamist adherents draw closer and closer to the faith-based tribe. In too many cases, this collective voice spawns hatreds and excesses that may make even genocidal forms of mass killing appear thoroughly desirable. Fostering a visceral refrain of “us” versus “them,” it may eventually prevent each affected person from becoming fully human.
This prevention is accomplished by encouraging motivated adherents to inflict mortal harms upon selected “outsiders” and then by subsequently celebrating such egregious harms as a proper expression of religious “sacrifice.”
Every person contains the possibility of becoming more fully human, an empathetic possibility that could reduce potentially destructive loyalties to any manifestations of groupthink. It is only by nurturing this indispensable possibility that we can seriously seek promising remedies to our current difficulties. Our immediate task must be to encourage certain amenable masses in the Arab/Islamic world to discover the way back to themselves, as genuinely feeling and caringindividuals and as members of an entire species that would seek only a graciously universal, or non-discriminatory, redemption.
This sort of redemption would depict an infinite circle of membership, an inclusive geometry in which the whole could become more than the sum of its parts, into which everyone could “fit,” and from which no one could be denied entry.
The core challenge we face in Middle East and North African “awakenings” is not one of securing criminal justice for the terrorist killers (“we will find and punish those responsible…” – always a silly refrain) but rather of acquiring a better cultural understanding of our pertinent foes.