Sunday, March 03, 2013

Change, Violence, Control, and Religion; A Sufi Perspective

Recently, I had an exchange with a person I know ... someone who is a non-believer with respect to spiritual issues, but someone about whom I care. The discussion began with a post which concerned some of the problems inherent in modern systems of education, both public and private, Muslim and non-Muslim, as well as in relation to American and non-American educational programs. The first several paragraphs of the aforementioned post were as follows:

“The six functions of education (both public and private) are: (1) Adjusting; (2) Diagnosing; (3) Sorting; (4) Conforming/Unifying (5) Tagging; and (6) Preserving/Perpetuating. These functions are obsessively and compulsively pursued by a set of "overlords and overladies" in order to establish and realize a means of imposing a process of framing and filtering reality upon a population. The first statement is not a conspiracy theory since I am not necessarily contending that a group of people gather together in secret in order to bring about the instituting of such a system. Rather, I am suggesting that there are a group of people who are so enamored with themselves that they each individually, and in their own inimitable style, develop a delusional disorder which whispers to their egos that they have the right to control and rule over the lives of other people, irrespective of what the costs of such control might be to society or the world in general.

“The foregoing process of six functions is instituted as a means of: dumbing the population down, controlling them, and perpetuating an arbitrary, and rigged system of: militarization, economics, monetary policy, legal processes, politics, together with a system of policing (which, when push comes to shove, is not intended to 'serve and protect' the people, but, rather, is dedicated to serving the interests of the elite). Moreover, the purpose of such a system of dumbing people down is to ensure that the few (the overlords and overladies of control ... i.e., the aforementioned elites) may benefit materially, financially, and through a progressively enhanced accruing of power (the Anaconda Principle), while the many are educated and trained to serve and worship the likes and dislikes of that elite. The foregoing is true of all religious (including Muslim), communist, socialist, capitalist, democratic, and monarchical nations.”

There was more to the post than contained in the foregoing comments, but that excerpt provides something of the flavor of what was written in the original set of remarks. My fellow interlocutor raised a question about what I had written, wanting to know how I proposed to move into the future with respect to changing the problematic way through which things currently are being done.

I replied to the inquiry with the following words:

“Everything begins with our selves. The only thing over which any of us ought to have some degree of control is ourselves as individuals.

“I don't believe in trying to impose a system (educational, political, economic, philosophical, or spiritual) on someone else since this would be just as arbitrary and unjustifiable an act as is that which is done by those who seek to impose their systems on me. Important changes always happen from within, not from without. Change takes place one consciousness at a time.

“We all have a responsibility to change and struggle toward realizing the constructive aspects of the potentials that we are. If not enough people are interested in doing this, then we, as a society, will reap what we sow ... and the reaping which currently is taking place is evident in the many forms of violence and terrorism (domestically, medically, politically, psychologically, economically, culturally, religiously, environmentally, educationally) which are taking place all around us.

“The only tools which are available to us are: sincerity, courage, tolerance, perseverance, dialogue, critical reflection, the interrogative imperative (the importance of asking questions), as well as the honoring or respecting of the inherent sovereignty of one another (a sovereignty which precedes both social and governmental institutions). This is how we change ... this is how we move into the future, but if people do not come to appreciate what is necessary in relation to such internal changes, then there may soon be no future to move into.”

Upon reading the foregoing remarks, my friend replied by saying that the ideas being expressed seemed rather impractical. In addition, the individual said that unless the violence being perpetrated by religions is stopped, then my friend didn’t see much hope for any sort of constructive dialogue being able to take place by which we, collectively, might be able to try to resolve world problems.

Furthermore, while my friend thought that the idea of sovereignty was okay, he believed that those who are exercising it should stay on their own reservations. In other words, the implication of my friend’s statement was that people should hoe their own row and leave other people alone.

The foregoing remarks led to another response from me. These latter comments are fairly lengthy and are, with certain changes and additions, given expression through the following material.

I began my comments by providing a brief overview of a book of mine that was published last year – namely, ‘The Unfinished Revolution: The Battle for America’s Soul.” My reason for mentioning the book was because, on the one hand, its contents were apropos to my friend’s concern about the nature of the dynamic between sovereignty and non-interference, and, on the other hand, I wanted to indicate to him that it was quite possible to talk about constitutional and political issues in a way that might be able to establish some common ground for both those who had a spiritual orientation as well as those, like my friend, who did not share such an orientation.

I indicated that despite the wording of the subtitle for: the aforementioned book, it is entirely free of any discussion of spiritual issues, per se, and is entirely dedicated to deconstructing what passes for the constitutional basis of American life. If one were to reduce the book down to one idea, it would parallel my friend’s statement about 'sovereignty being fine as long as people stay on their own reservation' -- although, in practice, that kind of sentiment is a lot more subtle and complex than some people (for example, libertarians) suppose. In fact, the complexities involved are such that I required more than 600 pages in the aforementioned book in order to outline some of the nuances of what is entailed by the sort of perspective being alluded to by my friend.

I mentioned two further books that I had written which were related to the issues being considered -- ‘Democracy Lost and Regained’, together with a small book on education (‘Reflections On Education and Learning’) ... especially the long 'Paradigm Shift' chapter in the latter work during which the 'establishment clause' of the First Amendment was taken to its logical conclusion.

More specifically, a lot of people mistakenly refer to the relevant part of the First Amendment as the 'separation clause' – believing that the whole idea was to make sure that, unlike the case in many other parts of the world, government in America would not be a function of anyone's religious beliefs ... which is a sentiment with which I am in agreement. However, the wording of the First Amendment makes it quite clear that the crux of the matter revolves around the establishing of religion of any kind as a vehicle for governance.

Unfortunately, many people suppose that the meaning of the First Amendment maintains that any and all secular or non-religious points of view constitute acceptable candidates as a basis of government. However, I take issue with political and/or economic philosophies which seek to impose a worldview of any kind on a citizenry since I consider this to be, in its own way, an establishment of religion. I, then, proceeded to put forth the bare-bones reasons for such a claim.

There is no God-concept in Buddhism, and, yet, it is considered a religion. It is not theism that is the sin qua non for religion but the treatment of certain principles that are considered to be sacred, and, therefore, sacrosanct, inviolable expressions of what is considered to constitute reality or truth ... e.g., the notion of the ‘free market’ in economics which are considered to be a sacred basis for all commerce and, therefore, should not be regulated.

All public policy constitutes so many exercises that attempt to smuggle religion -- in the broad sense of the last paragraph -- into the realm of governance. If one really wants everyone to ‘stay on their own reservation’, then this goes for both secular and theistic versions of religion ... all such systems are arbitrary in the sense that one cannot prove them to be true beyond a reasonable doubt or even in conjunction with the lesser standard of a 'preponderance of the available evidence' when such matters are being considered among an impartial panel of our peers.

Everyone has his or her own opinion about the nature of reality. Nonetheless, proving the truth of such opinions to the satisfaction of other people is problematic in a variety of ways.

Given the way some Muslims act, many people – including some Muslims – might be surprised to hear that the Qur'an is very clear that there can be ‘no compulsion in matters of religion’ – and, surely, this is quite consonant with the meaning of the establishment clause which forms part of the First Amendment. Every human being must be free to make his or her own decisions concerning where that individual comes down on the issue of the nature of reality.

I wrote a small book on 'Shari'ah' which delineates how, in my opinion, the vast majority of Muslims today have been misled by so-called religious leaders with respect to the way in which they understand the actual meaning of the term: 'shari'ah'. They believe – mistakenly, I feel -- that the Qur'an was intended as a rule book which should constitute the basis of a legal system that is to be imposed on people.

In reality, however, shari'ah is about delineating a methodological process that is capable of exploring the character of natural law concerning the issue of how to go about realizing the potential inherent in the essential self and, as such, is intended to be pursued on an individual basis, not on a collective
one. To this extent, the purpose of any government is to establish a stable and non-oppressive public space within which every individual has the right to seek to push back the horizons of ignorance concerning the nature of reality as long as such a pursuit is consonant with a like right for others.

At this point, I returned to an earlier comment made by my friend which suggested that my approach (as outlined earlier in the comments concerning education) was rather impractical – that nothing would be accomplished through such a way of doing things ... that I was just spouting words. I disagreed with the individual on this point and proceeded on in the following manner.

One could, of course, cite figures such as Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King as examples of individuals who appeared, from the vantage point of some individuals, to be pursuing a rather impractical, quixotic path in relation to world problems, and, yet, those historical figures ended up helping people to change in substantial ways. However, most of us will never even remotely approach the level of impact that the aforementioned individuals had upon the world, and, so, perhaps the more direct challenge entailed by the charge of ‘impracticality’ concerning my previous suggestions for moving forward into the future with respect to changing things is to talk about what impact average, everyday sorts of people might have upon the considerable problems with which we all are faced.

I believe that a great deal has been accomplished in my life by using the principles of non-violence and attempting, as best as I am capable of doing, to act through the qualities of character ... accomplishments that go beyond 'just words.' For example, without violence and through the exercise of character, I have helped -- along with many others -- to end the Vietnam War by refusing to go along with an arbitrary and indefensible policy of hostilities in Southeast Asia. Moreover, without violence and with the assistance of qualities of character, I – along with others -- helped to force the government of Ontario to the bargaining table with respect to the way education was conducted in that province. Furthermore, without violence and through the use of principles of character, I stood up against the faculty and administration of a major university in relation to the plagiaristic activities of one of the faculty members of that university ... and while the university in question did nothing of a punitive nature in relation to that faculty member (in fact, it promoted him to a position that had oversight concerning the student honor code), the university also did not sanction me in any way as it surely would have done if what I had been alleging was untrue.

Without violence, I resisted the attempt of certain facets of the University of Toronto, and the provincial government of Ontario, to oppress me and unjustly deprive me of a doctoral degree largely because I was a Muslim who had the temerity to speak out about a variety of issues. Obtaining the doctoral degree took me 16 years and required me to think fairly far outside the box in order to finally succeed and overcome the forces of opposition that were aligned against me both from within the university as well as within the provincial government of Ontario. In addition, without violence and through the use of principles of character,  I (along with help from my present wife) helped to throw a monkey wrench, of sorts, into the spiritual abuse that was being perpetrated by a so-called Sufi teacher that I encountered following the passing away of my spiritual guide, Dr. Baig.  This was a battle that lasted for a number of years and, in some respects, still continues.

Did any of the foregoing activities significantly change the world? No, they didn’t, but they were actions that made a difference – on however small a scale – to my life and the lives of other individuals with whom, in one way or another, I have come into contact.

 Finally, without violence and through the application of principles of character, over the last forty years, paths of communication have been established with many people through public talks (e.g., Fordham University, McGill, Carleton University, the University of Toronto, the University of Ottawa, the University of Alberta, the University of Western Ontario, and the University of Maine.) There were also a number of television and radio interviews (e.g., CBC and BBC radio) concerning Islam that reached millions of individuals.

In fact, the CBC interview was originally slated to run just 5-10 minutes, but the network was so happy with the initial program that they invited me back to continue things for three more days -- which added up to an hour, or so, altogether, in air time. Following the series of interviews, a number of people – who were not Muslim -- approached me and indicated that they had appreciated and learned from the interviews.

Attempting to communicate with other people -- reaching out to them and trying to establish some sort of common ground through which dialogue might arise – are not just words. It is a word-based activity which constitutes an attempt to bridge the chasm of alien silence that often exists among people ... it is an attempt to try to begin a search for solutions to problems that will work for everyone – irrespective of their spiritual orientation, or lack thereof -- in a constructive way.

Moreover, I have conducted classes – both in Canada and the United States, involving hundreds of students -- that explored topics such as: psychology, philosophy, and diversity in a manner which did not cover just the required subject matter but attempted to serve as a means of assisting students to struggle toward finding their own voice, identity, and way in the world. I did not teach the students about Islam or the Sufi path in any of these courses, but I did seek to treat the students in accordance with principles and values that were consonant with the Islamic and Sufi perspective.

Providing food for thought is not an empty exercise in word usage. Rather, seeking to induce people to seriously reflect on issues ... to ignite their smoldering curiosity to seek out answers and solutions... to encourage them to ask significant questions of both themselves and others – these are activities, not just words

Thousands of copies of various books written by me over the last 20 years, or so, have been sold in 16-17 countries around the world, and, moreover, a number of those titles have been obtained by libraries such as: Harvard, McGill, Princeton, the University of New Mexico, and the University of Maine, as well as by a variety of public libraries in the United States, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Oxford, England. While the foregoing is small potatoes compared to the best sellers of our day, nevertheless, people all over the world (even if they constitute a relatively small group of individuals) have come in contact with ideas that encourage them to reflect, ponder, question, explore, analyze, and engage existence constructively ... that is, to embrace life through more than words, but via actions that display respect for other human beings and their different points of view.

For roughly 52 weeks a year, over a period of nearly 20 years (from around 1975 until the early-to-mid 1990) I conducted the Sufi Study Circle (a discussion group) at the University of Toronto. This was done at the request of my shaykh.

Sometimes no one showed up to those meetings, and on other occasions anywhere from 5 to 12 people might show up, rarely more than this. For most of the people who attended the meetings they (the meetings) served as little more than a temporary way-station before moving on to somewhere and something else. However, in a few cases, the seeds which were being sowed through those discussions came to fruition and such individuals began to seriously pursue Islam and the Sufi path, but perhaps even more importantly, as far as those individuals who were not interested in Islam or the Sufi approach to mysticism are concerned, both during and following those meetings, those individuals were treated with respect and consideration ... again, this is not a matter of just words but spills over into the realm of action.

Over the years I have built a variety of websites which have been visited by thousands of people from all over the world. Some of those visits have been quite fleeting (seconds), while other visitors have stayed for hours, and, of course, one can determine all of this by looking at the raw data for the website.

For roughly seven to eight years, I did a podcast – ‘Sufi Reflections’ – which had an audience that ran anywhere from 500 to 900 people for the 42 programs that were put together during that period of time. A certain number of those individuals have written to me and expressed appreciation for the contents of those podcasts.

In a world of 7 billion people, an audience of hundreds or thousands of people hardly constitutes anything more than a blip on the screen of life. Nevertheless, like George Bailey in Frank Capra’s ‘A Wonderful Life,’ I believe the foregoing activities have made a difference in the lives of other people that extends beyond words.
Will I solve the world's problems on my own? No!!

Are the world's problems solvable? I believe the answer is: Yes!!!

Will human beings do what is necessary to help bring this about in a
peaceful manner? I really don't know.

I don't have control over what anyone else does. I only have control
-- within certain limits of imperfection -- over what I do, and though relatively limited in stature, what is done through me goes far beyond the typing or speaking of nice sounding words. I say what I mean, and I mean what I say, and my words are never intended to remain within the realm of just the spoken.

We don’t have to be famous movers and shakers in order to have a constructive impact on the lives of other people ... even if only in a very limited manner. There are many things which each of us can do to try to improve the condition of the world – however small-seeming such acts might be.

Seen from the bottom, the idea of reaching the summit of Mt. Everest seems overwhelming. Yet, many people have made it to the top of that mountain by putting one foot in front of the other and continuing on in that fashion.

Similarly, if one looks at the problems of the world, the difficulties seem too numerous and complex for anything to be done to improve matters. In this respect, one might think about the words of Neil Armstrong who said: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” ... every step a human being takes in the service of truth and improving the lives of others, no matter how small that step might seem at the time it is taken, is always a giant leap for humankind, and if enough people came to understand that truth and actively incorporated it into their daily lives, then, maybe, some of the world’s problems might begin to dissipate.

At this point in the exchange with my friend, I changed topics and told him that I was inclined to agree with his belief (noted earlier) that many acts of violence are committed in the 'name' of religion. However, I provided a qualifying caveat to that agreement – namely, I indicated that I am not all convinced who use the name of religion in mischievous and destructive ways are necessarily all that religious.

I began to expand on the foregoing idea by mentioning that there is considerable evidence to indicate that most people have a real aversion to killing other people. Yes, every year -- at least in the United States -- one has the usual set of 16,000 murders, or so, which are committed, but this is a miniscule portion of the more than 330 million people who live in this country. Moreover, although murders are committed in other parts of the world -- and I will leave out, for the moment, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, the Sudan, Mali, Syria, and the Congo -- the fact is that in many countries there are even a smaller percentage of people who turn to murder as their coping strategy of choice as a means of dealing with conflict than is the case in the United States.

Furthermore, the aforementioned murders are, for the most part, not done primarily for religious reasons  ... although some of them might be. More specifically, while the surface motivations underlying such acts usually involve money drugs, or sex, there is also a strong component inherent in those actions that concerns the desire to control other people ... and, presumably, causing the death of another human being is the ultimate act of control ... something that plays a very prominent role in the thousands of cases of domestic abuse which occur on a regular basis around the world every year..

As Smedley Butler -- a winner of two Congressional Medals of Honor stated back in the 1930's, both in a book, as well as through an address to the Veterans of Foreign Wars -- 'War is a Racket.' It is a ‘racket’ specializing in the control of money, resources, and people’ for the benefit of the few.

Butler knew what he was talking about because he had been engaged in that very racket on behalf of the United States throughout Central and South America during the ‘Banana Wars’ which were waged on behalf of American corporations against the people of countries that had resources coveted by those corporations. Butler indicated that all wars are fought to gain access to money, profits, and the strategic control of both resources and people by the power elite.

God and religion had absolutely nothing to do with those activities except as an exercise in perception management. Perception management, propaganda, indoctrination, brainwashing, and undue influence are used by governments, school systems, and corporations to manipulate the emotions of the public and military personnel in order to induce segments of the population to be in a mood to kill whomever the powers that be indicate should be killed.

Many people cite the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand as the spark that started the World War I. However, the real key to understanding the underlying issues of that war are rooted in the desire of the German government to establish a railroad connection – along the lines of the Orient Express -- with Iraq and its oil resources ...and, it is interesting to note in this respect that the very first place where English troops were sent at the beginning of World War I was to Basra, in the oil-rich region of Southern Iraq.

Although people on all sides of the foregoing conflict might have invoked the name of God, it was not a religious war. While the name of religion might have been used to stir up resentments and other emotions amongst the general population as well as the troops, World War I was a conflict concerning control of resources ... it was a racket intended to serve the interests of money and power with respect to whatever side might win.

The seeds of the Second World War were sown, to a considerable degree, through the harsh provisions of the Treaty of Versailles which financially and economically decimated the German people. The destructive ramifications ensuing from that treaty constituted one of the primary factors that induced Germany to become highly susceptible to the delusional worldview of Hitler.

The Treaty of Versailles was not a religious document. It was an expression of political power and control concerning finances, economics, land, and people.

During the Second World War some researchers estimated that more than 50 percent of the soldiers who saw combat actions did not fire their weapons at the alleged enemy. Instead, those soldiers discharged their weapons in the direction of places where, hopefully, people weren't.

If the foregoing observation is correct and given that that more than 60 million people -- most of them non-combatants -- were killed during World War II, then one seems forced to conclude that some military personnel were much more active with respect to the killing of human beings than were others. Many people were killed through the use of air strikes, artillery fire, V-2 rockets, and the like ... that is, like the drone weapons of today, weapon systems in which one doesn't have to look into the eyes of the people one is killing.

Nevertheless, the Second World War was not a religious war. It was an exercise in German national self-aggrandizement in the service of a sense of racial superiority. The holocaust was about ethnic cleansing ... Blacks, Jews, Gypsies, and anyone else who did not fit into the mythical and delusional racial worldview of the German ideologues.

One could have been a non-believing Jew, and this would not have made the slightest bit of difference to those charged with carrying out ‘the final solution.’  There was no religious litmus test to determine who went to the concentration camps. What was important to the German hierarchy revolved around the issue of race or ethnicity rather than religion.

The mass murders and scientific experiments carried out by the Japanese on the Chinese were not primarily a matter of religion. Rather, one of the basic rationales for such activities centered on the Japanese belief (or, at least, the belief of those who were in power) that the Japanese were a superior race relative to all other peoples. Religion might have played a role, of sorts, with respect to that sense of superiority, but religion was in the service of race and ethnicity, not the other way around.

Similarly, the internment camps which were set up in the United States for Japanese-American citizens were not about religion. The Japanese were considered to be an alien racial and ethnic group who could not be trusted and, therefore, needed to be controlled.

The dropping of nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not done for religious reasons. In fact, there is considerable evidence to indicate that the strikes were entirely unnecessary because the Japanese had been seeking a way to surrender, but those bombs were dropped anyway as a warning to the Soviet Union.

The fire-bombing of Dresden, Hamburg, and Tokyo was not a religious exercise. They were intended to let the Germans and Japanese know, in no uncertain terms, who was in control of their destinies ... as such, it was uncivilized diplomacy carried out through the means of war.

Stalin oversaw the slaughter, torture, and imprisonment of millions of people. This was not a religious exercise, but, rather, it constituted a raw, destructive expression of a delusion-based desire to control people, finances, resources, and culture.

Two million people – mostly civilians -- were killed in Korea for other than religious reasons. Two million more individuals – again, mostly civilians – were killed in Vietnam for other than religious reasons.

In the light of the aforementioned empirical findings concerning the tendency of many military personnel during World War II and the Korean conflict to not want to kill the “enemy”, training strategies for recruits did begin to change during the Vietnam War in order to induce individuals to be more willing than they had been in World War II and the Korean conflict to get over their natural reluctance to kill the ‘enemy’. Thus, the Vietnam strategy to 'kill everything that moves' (first made infamous in relation to the Mai Lai massacre but implemented in numerous other war crimes committed during the war in Vietnam) was rooted in a process of demonizing a people which made the latter into 'objects' which, according to the chain of command, could – and should -- be dispatched with all due haste.

The policy of training soldiers to objectify and de-personalizing the 'other' was stepped up in the first Gulf War of the 1990s, as well as in subsequent incursions into, first, Afghanistan, and, then, Iraq. This focus on demonizing the enemy is why places like Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and other similar venues of torture exist, as well as why some marines feel justified urinating on the Qur'an or flushing that book down the toilet or desecrating/dismembering the dead bodies of Muslims or killing children through an indiscriminate use of drones.

The people who torture and seek to humiliate other people are not conducting a class in religion. Those activities are all about seeking to control and dominate an alien people in the service of those who control the shots and do so for their own not so hidden reasons which are financial, economic, and resource-related  ... not religious.

Afghanistan did not attack the United States in 2001. In fact, the Taliban government was quite prepared to turn over ‘Usama bin Laden to American authorities, but certain facets of the American government and military wanted their war for both strategic and tactical reasons and,  therefore, refused the Taliban offer concerning bin Laden, and that desire had nothing to do with religion.

Iraq has never attacked the United States. However, for political, financial, and economic reasons, war-mongers within the United States decided to go to war against Iraq and sow the seeds of democracy.  And, this was true in both the First Gulf War in the 1990s, as well as the war which began in 2003.

These sorts of acts arise out of the same mind-set which created the techniques that have been, and are continuing to be taught, at the infamous 'School of the Americas' (which used to be in Panama, but has since been moved to Fort Benning, Georgia with a name change – namely, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). Current and former US military personnel teach people from all over the world -- but especially from Central and South America -- how to murder, rape, humiliate, oppress, and exploit the indigenous and poor peoples in their respective home countries.

The Civil War -- which resulted in the deaths of more than 600,000 people -- was not about religion. Both sides might have invoked the name of God in relation to their cause, but that war was about the control of resources -- banks, people, slaves, the economy, and government.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not primarily a religious issue -- after all, there are many Palestinians who are not Muslim or Christian but secularists and non-believers. The same is true on the Israeli side.

The issue is about control, land, water, and ethnic cleansing. To borrow words from Leonard Cohen, but used in a slightly different way, wars concern: “The homicidal bitchin that goes down in every kitchen to determine who will serve and who will eat.”

The 2-3 million who have died in the on-going war taking place in the Congo which has been transpiring for nearly ten years, or so, is about controlling the mineral Coltan which is used in cell phones ... a big money maker around the world. That war is being armed primarily by entrepreneurs from Belgium, France, England, and Germany, and while some of the people in the Congo who are being armed might have a religious orientation of sorts, religion is serving economic interests, not the other way around.

The 2 million people who died in Rawanda were the product of the racial/ethnic hatred that was established between the Hutu and the Tutsi with the considerable assistance of Belgian colonial rulers. The atrocities which have taken place, and are continuing to take place, in the former southern portion of Sudan were -- and are -- primarily the result of tribal, racial, and ethnic hatreds that, on occasion, were dressed up in religious language and used for purposes of gaining control over resources. The Nigerian civil wars of the 1960s involved a litany of tribal, racial, ethnic, and cultural tensions, only some of which were religious,

The genocide committed against indigenous peoples around the world --including America -- was not primarily about religion. The issues primarily were a matter of money, property, control of resources, and an irrational hatred of Indian racial and ethnic characteristics which exists to this day and which is why Indians today are far more oppressed than Black people are ... indeed, the Buffalo Soldiers (cavalry units consisting entirely of Blacks) used to serve the interests of the powers that be by hunting Indians down (did those soldiers learn nothing from their own history of slavery?).

The recent incursions of the French, English, and Americans into Libya were not about religion. In fact, there is considerable evidence to suggest that Gaddafi was pushed from power, raped and assassinated because of ethnic/tribal tensions which had been brewing for many years, as well as because Gaddafi recently had proposed establishing an international gold-based dinar system which would threaten the dollar as the monetary unit of last resort (a mistake which Saddam Hussein made in the run up to the first Gulf War and which may be playing a significant role in the present saber rattling that is taking place in relation to Iran since Iran has been asking that payments for its oil be done in currencies other than the dollar.)  

The tragedy of Syria which has been unfolding for a year, now, is not primarily about religion. It is about which ethnic/tribal group gets to control financial, economic, and political resources, and all sides of the issue who have each played a role in constructing the mess are guilty of committing atrocities (as indicated in a recently released UN study) for the sake of such control.

Many of the problems and conflicts in the Middle East that are erupting today are the direct result of the arbitrary manner in which Western powers – notably France and England – carved up the territories in that region and created countries with all manner of ethnic and racial fracture-lines built into the arrangement. That geographical gerrymandering was not about religion but, instead, was about creating nations that would serve the economic, political, and military interests of the West.

Although religion may factor into the foregoing problems, this is more as an effect of political, economic, and military policies rather than as a cause of such matters. The people in power have found ways through which to induce soldiers -- via techniques of undue influence -- to commit all manner of atrocities, and if the name of religion is invoked in such a process, this is done only as a means to further the more important economic, political, and military ends of control.

If one needs to misuse the words of this or that religion in order to fan passions and create a sense of self-righteousness in the soldiers with respect to the atrocities they commit, then so be it. However, this is not about religion ... it is about: (a) people in control who are decidedly not at all religious irrespective of what they say for public consumption; and, (b) the susceptibility of human beings to having their minds manipulated through techniques of undue influence, and, in the process ceding their agency to the people of power so that the agendas of the latter individuals might be better served.

Fundamentalism of any variety – religious, economic (communists, socialists, and capitalists are all fundamentalists, each in their own inimitable style), or political (and seeking to forcefully impose an arbitrary notion of democracy or some other political system onto people certainly constitutes a form of fundamentalist terrorism – is not about religion. Rather, fundamentalism is about insisting that everyone else must believe, think, speak, and act as those fundamentalists do, and, as such, fundamentalism is more about a desire to exercise control over people than it gives expression to any authentic spiritual purposes.

In short, for the most part, religion is not the cause of the world's conflicts. Rather, religion has become a tool to be manipulated by those in power (whether with respect to familial, governmental, educational, or corporate forms of control). And, my contention is that most, if not all of, the people in power do not believe, in any essential way, in God, or accountability, or morality, and, therefore, have no qualms about engaging in the sort of Machiavellian tactics that use religiously-toned propaganda to get people to do what the power-elite desire and which the average person would not otherwise ever think of doing on his or her own.

Am I saying that religious people are free of any wrong-doing? No, I am not.

Nor am I trying to argue that any and all people who do not believe in God are responsible for the wars of the world, both present and past. Rather, I am saying that notwithstanding the spouting of religious verbiage by this or that leader, anyone who would seek to induce people to go to war in order to slaughter other people has little concern about either religion or morality and is primarily motivated by visions of money, profit, wealth, and control ... regardless of the costs to the rest of the world or their own citizens.

The normal inclination of most people – whether believers or non-believers in spiritual matters -- is to try to get along with other individuals irrespective of whatever philosophical and spiritual differences might exist. And, like Newton's laws of motion, people will tend to continue on in that same normal trajectory (i.e., not resorting to violence against their fellow human beings) unless acted on by an external force -- namely, the powers that be who are interested in nothing more than extending their sphere of influence, control, and power and who will use whatever means are at their disposal to accomplish this ... including fanning religious sensitivities.

Are there idiots within any given religious tradition who are delusional and believe that their God-mandated mission in life is to control what other people do or believe? Yes, there are, but such individuals are the exceptions that prove the rule – namely, those sorts of delusional individuals are human beings who have become infatuated with the idea of controlling the lives of other people, and as such, they are all brother and sisters under the skin with those non-believers who seek to dominate the world for their own personal reasons which have nothing to do with religion and have everything to do with being caught up in a frenzied compulsion and obsession that seeks to control anything and everything.

1 comment:

martin heywood said...

Thank you for taking the time to write and post this article. I am glad that to find that your sufi perspective on these issues is to confront them rather than suggest that they are a sympton that does not directly concern those engaged in "spiritual matters".