Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eleven Lessons Learned After 9/11

The atrocity of 9/11 and the bloody fury that it subsequently unleashed have profoundly dominated the political, social, economic, and religious debates of the 21st Century. These catastrophic events have-directly or indirectly-touched and impacted almost every individual, family, community and nation on the face of the earth. And this author is no exception.
A decade characterized by reckless rhetoric and brutal violence came to an end. In that period countless number of people have been killed, massive amount of properties have been destroyed, and enormous amount of resources have been wasted, yet the world remains more volatile, more divided, and more insecure than ever before.
In order to reverse course, we must do away with our old ways and focus our collective energy in paving the way for genuine healing process. Of course, this is easier said than done. Because doing it would require partners from all sides. It would also require great deal of critical thinking, commitment and sacrifice. And, perhaps more importantly, it would require honest assessment of the failures of the past.
It is time for all individuals, families, communities, and nations to identify their own learned lessons, and to reflect upon them lest we find ways to prevent such colossal man-made human tragedies from ever reoccurring. In that spirit, here are my most important learned lessons:
First: In order to justify their evil deeds, human beings tend to deliberately shut off their conscience.
While the human being is innately good, by and large, he (as most are men) carries the potential to commit more savageries than the beasts in the jungle. Unlike the latter, he can commit the most atrocious of acts even when he is belly-full. He could commit horrific mass violence and murder innocents; he could repress and oppress; he could plot wars; he could exploit, destroy, poison, rob, and use rape as a weapon of war. Worse, through rationalization, he could effectively justify his ill-advised decision to sustain his evil deeds. He could convincingly mislead himself with falsehood, or fiercely present an argument that deceives or bullies the collective mind of the masses, or simply shut off his conscience.
Second: Extremism-in its holistic sense-is the biggest problem facing the world.
Extremism has its stereotypical and its professionally sanitized version. It has the likes of al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab on one hand and the Neocons and Right Wing Extremists on the other. It has the militant religious fanatics as well as material and power-driven secular humanists and in betweens who consider violence as the first or the only option to problem-solving. While the stereotypical one's intention, anger, hate, and tools of war are often explicit and are belligerently overt in their claim to culpability, the professionally sanitized ones' are more clever, covert, and stealthy in their operations. Both groups compete to manipulate the psyche of the masses; though the latter one, through its mastery of the art of public relations, double-speak, and propaganda, almost always turn the tables on the former. And both groups are ruthlessly oblivious to the fact that, unlike a situational one, sustainable societal transformation cannot be forced; it can only be inspired with good intention, vision, and deeds.
Third: Empathy is a critical moral virtue.
It is what affirms our humanity. It is what compels us to feel the pains of others and to care for even those whom we have no direct relations. And nurturing that divine gift is what ultimately inspires us to coexist by accepting one another and by making space for one another; because, after all, our rights, security, and values are protected to the extent that we protect the others'.
Fourth: Blurring certain definitions makes 'perception management' more effective.
Because there is no universal definition of the concept, terrorism is something that is subjectively familiar to all, but objectively known to a few. Contrary to common perception, terrorism is a wicked and lethal tool used by individuals, groups, and states alike, mainly for attaining a political, economic, religious or a secular ideological objective. And because they are driven by fallacious set of assumptions and zero-sum objectives, those who employ such means recognize no moral boundaries to confine their indiscriminate violence.
Fifth: Reason and commonsense never had worse enemies than fear and paranoia.
The latter twin create the breeding ground for groupthink- the total surrender of one's capacity to think, inquire, decipher and deduce to the more aggressive, coercive, and menacing will of a group or that of an authoritarian leader. In the past decade, phrases such clash of civilizations, mushroom clouds, and Islamo-fascism were routinely used to stir emotions and manipulate the will of the people.
Sixth: Context and perception are essential elements in understanding complex issues and concepts.
'What?', 'Why?', 'Who?', 'When?', 'Where?', and 'How?' are all essential questions to getting adequate background. They are the impetus that drove perennial questions that advanced human faculty and paved the way for civilizations throughout history. Moreover, our perceptions are often shaped according to the level of information we have, and ignorance simply fuels our arbitrary bias, prejudice, and hateful predisposition.
Seventh: Justice is the foundation of peace and security. 
Despite certain well organized and relentlessly vociferous talking heads, policy-makers, and think-tanks who promote the ill-conceived notion that certain individuals, groups, communities and nations have more rights than others, the protection and preservation of the human life and human rights is an obligation upon all of us- leaders and laities alike. In other words, our collective objective ought to be to help setup a fair process in which treating others as we would like to be treated is our top priority. And, make no mistake; he who proves fixated on the notion that justice is always found on the same side of the human divide surely has no sense of it.
Eighth: Faith has a positive role to play in conflict resolution and international relations.
One of the central pillars of Prophet Muhammad's teachings was that "God is gentle and kind and He loves gentleness. And He grants through gentleness and kindness what He would not grant through cruelty and violence". True, throughout history deranged and violent zealots have used religion to quench their blood thirst. However, in its most authentic sense, religion has a positive role to play in spreading goodwill, promoting altruism and self-policing. Despite its negative image in the ideological popularity contest, more atrocities were committed around the world by secular orders, ideologies, or ideologues. Slavery, Colonialism, Nazism, Fascism, Stalinism, Leninism, nationalism, tribalism, dictatorships, the mass killings in Hiroshima  and  Nagasaki , the killing fields of Cambodia , and the Rwandan genocide are but a few examples. Yet, religious leaders are seldom invited to take their respective roles in advancing peace processes, even when conflicts have their roots deep in religion.
Ninth: Introspection illuminates the mind and the heart, and patience and forbearance fuel it.
As they walk on the tightrope of history, nations find the right balance through introspection; by looking within themselves through a process of self-assessment in order to keep their respective visions, motivations, attitudes, judgments, shortcomings and historical dispositions in check. It is through this process that nations can learn from the wrongs they commit by way of commission or omission. And, more importantly, as in people, it is what inspires nations' sense of proportionality in their actions and reactions. However, nothing defuses the profound power of introspection more than lack of humility and a stubborn sense of denial.
Tenth: There are those who exploit tragedies to boost their own political and financial interests.
They are from all walks of life. They craftily setup diverse partnerships, networks, and industries around the world to enormously overinflate threats, promote policies that sustain division, impose selective punishment, and provoke perpetual rage. They carry their objectives aggressively, persistently, belligerently, and with impunity. And, in order to achieve their objectives and drain all resources, they create an ever-living boogieman, a permanent enemy, and ubiquitous mirage of terror that must be preempted and chased across the globe. They do this by saturating the market place of ideas with disinformation and by inculcating the masses with a phenomenon that the young Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, refers to as in the title of her book, The Danger of a Single Story. To better understand this phenomenon, all one has to do is think about the religion Islam, or the 1.3 billion Muslims of all colors and ethnic background who practice it, and reflect on what image first comes to mind.
Eleventh: Dialogue cultivates an environment where the common good is evaluated and negotiated; and trust is built and sustained.
Like moderation, humility and compromise, dialogue is in short supply. And, regardless of how people demonize one another as a monolithic personification of evil, there are good people in every group, community, society and nation. There are those who want to do no harm; who readily build solidarity with the voiceless and become their relentless advocates while enduring vicious abuses for their choices and actions. And it is these groups and ambassadors of goodwill who resuscitate and nurture our sense of hope.
The 19th Century Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard was right when he famously said "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards". In this case, we all must look back in order to understand what happen 10 years ago and the consequences of our actions and inactions. However, like in rearview mirrors, looking back must be done deliberately and indeed cautiously.


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