Once again this week, I caught a glimpse of President Bush addressing his nation, and anyone else who would listen in, assuring them of his resolve to continue fighting against terrorism. Suddenly, there was a click inside me, and I caught sight of an eerie parallel between this resolve today to rally against these perceived threats coming from Islamic countries and the resolve of American colonists to resist the "red terror" of the American Aboriginal peoples.
If I had the opportunity, I'd suggest to President Bush that he might draw great benefit from considering the real possibility he might be pushing his great nation today into the same narrow and ignorant path taken by his predecessors some 2 or more centuries ago when, from an instinct of self-preservation, they misread the culture and civilization of the native peoples - wrote them off as "savages" - and proceeded towards their systematic extinction.
Today, our more enlightened scientific community has revealed to us that these peoples not only lived but even prospered here for millennia, understanding in great detail the workings of their environment, and living in such a way as to do the least possible damage to it. They succeeded so well that archeologists find relatively few traces of their passage here over time. Even from a cultural point of view, North American Aboriginal Peoples developed intriguingly successful societies, wherein there was relatively little poverty, and a highly developed moral and ethical code of conduct.
We came to understand the Native Peoples very late, almost too late, in fact we were too late for some tribes that are all but extinct. Our ignorance continued as long as we had any reason to fear them, denying our complicity in driving them away from their ancestral lands and literally robbing them of sustenance and of life itself. We came and took everything away from them, deluding ourselves that we were doing it for their own good. Then, when they tried to defend themselves, we said, "You see, these are violent and dangerous people." and thought ourselves justified in speeding up our "ethnic cleansing" solution.
Mr. President, are we not today making the same mistake of misunderstanding the civilization and culture of Islam? How many times now have we heard people who know the Islamic nations say that these peoples are experiencing - as entire peoples - desperation at the invasion of our western culture and values into their societies? They experience our socially institutionalized greed and unfettered freedom from moral norms and modesty as depraved, as an intrusion and even as an invasion, which they sense as a great violation. Our way of living violates them, and they don't know how to protect themselves from us.
It is, at least in part, this desperation that is driving otherwise perfectly rational, intelligent, and educated people of all ages to become suicide bombers. Granted, this is not the kind of solution we ourselves - if we were in their shoes - might come to, but simply because we don't fathom such a strategy does not of itself make it insane. Cultural norms are relatively fluid, and people are sane and normal when they situate themselves squarely within the parameters of their own culture and society. I certainly don't condone these violent strategies, but in this reflection, I am simply begging the question: Would it not be both possible and desirable for us to try to better understand Islamic society and culture, and the various ethnic peoples who live and believe Islam, and to enhance our lines of communication with them with the deliberate and openly stated intention of seeking mutual understanding?
Rallying behind the battlecry of zero tolerance for terrorism may be having the unfortunate side effect of treating entire societies as terrorists simply because we don't understand them, much as we did with the "Red Indians" 2 or 3 centuries ago, only this time, instead of us almost wiping out the native peoples of this land, we might find ourselves stirring up a quarter of humanity against us by pushing Islam as a whole over the edge and driving them to unite in self-defense against our intrusive globalizing, amoral culture and our irrational and monolithic understanding and policies with regards to Islam and Islamic nations.