As we approach Thanksgiving, the news is full of tragic violence in Beirut, Istanbul and Paris, among other places. While we pause to send our heartfelt condolences to those mourning the deaths of loved ones over there, people here are focused on the likelihood that a major terrorist attack will occur somewhere in the U.S. It is as if, suddenly, the only threat in the world is the blood lust of ISIS.
How easily we bifurcate our memory. How fast we have forgotten the nine African American Christians murdered in Charleston and the three young Muslims murdered in Chapel Hill. There are more. I could go on. In fact, the threat from so-called “jihadists” may be no more than that posed by insane and hate-filled men right here.
We are scared right here in Detroit.
In this atmosphere how can we celebrate Thanksgiving? What is there to be grateful for?
We have reasons to be ill at ease. But despite that, there are also reasons to be grateful. We should be grateful for the work we are doing and the success we are having as we insist on civil dialogue. We can be grateful that so many of us have questioned Governor Snyder’s hesitation regarding Syrian immigration. Where is the compassion in that?
Recently, former CIA director John McLaughlin, commented in OZY.com that there are three things we must do to combat terrorism: “Destroy their leadership; Deny terrorists safe haven; and Change the conditions that give rise to this phenomenon. At this point, we have to focus on the first two, because the third is too complicated and long-range.”
I suppose a military response is inevitable and in some ways may also be necessary, though you will be hard pressed to show where our long-term policy of large-scale military response has made matters better. What could work, changing the conditions that have given rise to these rapacious militants, McLaughlin rejects for the short term.”
Nevertheless, we cannot pretend that inattention to the conditions that give rise to terrorism – marginalization, joblessness, inequality, bigotry, disrespect and so on – will work well, if at all. The interfaith work we do is very practical in the long run. The right to believe or not believe according to our consciences must be protected. We do our best to espouse and employ the highest and best values of compassion, equality and unity that our various religious traditions maintain. We should be grateful for the contribution we are making in that respect.
In the face of so much fear, the interfaith community insists on civil dialogue and respect. Our educational programming and conciliation efforts are critical now and for the long term. We call out bigotry and work for goodwill, so that we can live together and be a model for other communities to observe and possibly follow. We can be grateful that we are trying hard to live by our principles and put forward alternative approaches so that the military options are not the only ones pursued. It is complicated; it is long range. That is our role.
Robert Bruttell, IFLC Chairman
Raman Singh, IFLC President