Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Understanding Rage and Bringing Us Back from the Brink

Many people would look at the phrase “understanding rage” as an oxymoron.  To them rage is irrational.  It’s craziness.   And because it’s not a rational state, it cannot be understood.  It’s true that there is no reasoning with rage.  The rational forces of democracy are not only helpless to hold it in check, the democratic process gives rage the opportunity to assume the ascendancy and control.

But while the emotion of rage is irrational and there is no reasoning with it, the experiences that trigger rage are very rational.   Those experiences can be countered with reasoning if combined with heartfelt mea culpas and action that counters the rational source of the rage.

What is behind rage?  Whether one looks at the white, formerly middle-class now unemployed/underemployed, worker or people of color or Muslims, regardless of country, the cause of rage is exploitation.  People either feel that they have not been given a chance to get what they deserve or have been promised, or they feel that they have lost what they rightfully had.  In either case, an economic or political force is blamed as the exploiter.  

People in general feel used and abused, regardless of their color or status in life.  One could probably safely say that 90 - 95% of people in the U.S. feel exploited in some way.  What they mostly don’t realize is that it’s the top 1% who is doing the exploiting (except for Blacks where the percentage is much higher).  It is they who control the wheels of international commerce and government.  It is they who have brought about the sad state of human life that most of us suffer from.  In a very important way, while circumstances among people vary greatly, most of us are all in the same boat … we just don’t know it.

Those in that top 1% will denigrate such comments as promoting class warfare.  The U.S. has historically been said to be a classless society.  And so to promote class warfare is un-American.

While we have never had a class-structured society as in England or India, to say that we are a classless society is to ignore reality.  At some point, it is necessary to call a spade a spade.

The reader might say, “OK, I can see that this make sense in many situations, for example why Blacks can get so angry, but how does exploitation explain Muslim extremist rage?”  That very pertinent question is actually rather simple to answer.  

The exploitation, or just as important the feeling of exploitation, exists on many levels.  I shall proceed from the more global to the narrower concerns, the former of which feed the latter.  

The forces of Islam controlled or had great influence in much of the Mediterranean region from around 600 - 1200 AD.  Later the Ottoman empire controlled much of the Eastern half of the Mediterranean region for centuries.  Only as the European states became more powerful in the 19th century and colonized northern Africa did the empire weaken.  It finally collapsed after it was on the loosing side of WWI; it’s lands were carved up and controlled by the British and French.  

So after almost 1300 years of great political/military power and cultural preeminence, the Muslim world shrank and sank to a rather insignificant hovel controlled/exploited by the Western powers.  During much of the 20th century, the Muslim countries were treated no better than the European colonies of Africa and Asia.  This is global exploitation #1.

The other aspect of this defeat by the West was religious.  While the conquests of the 19th Century and WWI were political in nature, to the Muslim mind they were a continuation of the Crusades of the 12th century to free the holy land from “infidels.”  And for a Christian, who is an infidel to the Muslim mind, to call Muslims infidels is a great insult both to themselves and their prophet, Muhammed.  This is global exploitation #2.  

We have seen the seemingly irrational rage when western writers or cartoonists, or fallen Muslims such as Salmon Rushdie, have in some way blasphemed or shown a lack of respect for Muhammed and Islam.  Such violent rage, while never condoned, can be understood against this backdrop of historic exploitation and conquest.

These are the main factors that shape the forces of Jihad against the West, only recently  enabled to be vast and deep-reaching through the power of the Internet and other modern technologies.  Layered on top of these global exploitations/defeats, lies a more direct exploitation that explains why movements such as al-Queda or ISIS or Hamas find so many young people willing to both sacrifice themselves to the cause and kill so many innocent people in the process.

Throughout much of the Muslim world, as well as in the West, many young Muslims find themselves at loose ends … they see no future, are poor, and are politically powerless.  In their own countries, there has been little economic development and the problem of income inequality is even worse than in the U.S.  Poverty and the lack of education is widespread.  For most Muslim young people, there is little cause for hope.  This domestic lack of hope lay at the core of the Arab Spring uprisings in 2010-12.  It also, layered on top of historical and current exploitation by Israel, lies at the core of the various Palestinian Intifadas.

In the West, the terrorist threat from domestic Muslims has varied greatly.  The greatest terrorist expression has been in France, fed by France’s historically notorious failure or even lack of interest in absorbing North African immigrants into its society, and complicated or augmented by the fact that France was the former colonial power and exploiter in the countries from which these immigrants come.  While England has seen one major terrorist attack, and white Britons are certainly seething, Muslims seem to have been treated better there than France.  

Germany was the home of Muhammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attack, and has seen several small isolated terrorist attacks, but it has not experienced what either France or England has.  Muslims seem to be better integrated into German workforce and society.  Also, Germany was not a former colonial power for them.  

In the U.S., while there certainly have been individuals who have volunteered for the Jihadist cause, either abroad on in the U.S., there seems to be far less alienation among young Muslims here both as a result of their greater access to education and opportunity as well as the religious freedom here.  But while we are not part of the historical record I noted, our support of Israel and our more recent post-9/11 military forays into the Arab world aggravate many even more than history.

So given this understanding, how do we move forward?  How does the world come back from the violent, chaotic brink that we seem to be standing on?  The past is past.  We can’t change it.  However, every society can and must clearly acknowledge the past and be heartfelt in their mea culpas.  For example, in my post, “Reflections on Yom Kippur and Mideast Peace,” I noted that Israel must do this, as well as the Palestinians.

But it cannot stop there.  Words or laws will not suffice.  The injury lies far too deep.  There must be action that reverses past decades or centuries of indifference, discrimination, and exploitation.  What that will be will vary for each country.  But until Muslims and all people feel that they are respected and treated as equals, there will be no peace.