Is Islam really to blame?

I’ve grown increasingly troubled by the rhetoric focused on Muslims in America. For more than 15 years now, Muslims have been targeted by fearful Americans that do not understand Islam or the teachings of Islam and it’s promotion of peace and complete rejection of violence. What is interesting though is that there is blood on both sides of the fence and we need to hold up some mirrors to see the true enemy. What I don’t understand is why a double-standard exists when there is clearly verifiable violence perpetrated from Christians as there is from radial Islamists. Something about a pot and kettle…..

Islam is inherently violent, Christianity is inherently peaceful, and there is no such thing as a Christian terrorist or a white male terrorist. But the facts don’t bear that out. Far-right white male radicals and extreme Christianists are every bit as capable of acts of terrorism as radical Islamists, and to pretend that such terrorists don’t exist does the public a huge disservice.

SOURCE: 10 of the Worst Terror Attacks by Extreme Christians and Far-Right White Men

We don’t need to review our current events of the last few decades either, there is history of Christians being violent in our distant past as well. The Crusades were overruns of countries, spreading the word, with bloody and violent encounters with people who didn’t immediately yield to the Church.

…unite the Eastern and Western branches of Christendom, which had been divided since their split in the East–West Schism of 1054, and establish himself (Pope Urban II) as head of the unified Church. Similarly, some of the hundreds of thousands of people who became crusaders by taking a public vow and receiving plenary indulgences from the church were peasants hoping for Apotheosis at Jerusalem, or forgiveness from God for all their sins. Others, historians argue, participated to satisfy feudal obligations, gain glory and honour, or find opportunities for economic and political gain. Regardless of the motivation, the response to Urban’s preaching by people of many different classes across Western Europe established the precedent for later crusades.

SOURCE: Crusades

From the beginning, our young country had established this precedent that Anglo-Saxon enlightenment was the only true way of life and anything that threatened that had to be removed or eliminated. Our expansion into the West displaced hundreds of thousands of civilized Indian tribes from lands that they had occupied for generations prior to any “white man” setting foot on North American soil. Our own arrogance as “Americans” justified our belief that we were saving Indians from having to adapt into our Eastern culture.

Expansion and Indian removal created some phenomenal problems for the new American nation in terms of its moral character. How can this unique experiment in the new world — this nation that prided itself upon its democratic institutions, force Native American people westward? How do you rationalize the taking of land and the usurpation of property?

The argument that was used was, “This had to be done to save these poor Indian people. They don’t fit in the East, so we have to move them out beyond the frontier where they can do their Indian thing unmolested. This is the only possible way to save them.”

The hypocrisy of this is obvious because many of the people, though not all of them, who were removed were very sophisticated and relatively “civilized” people. For example, the literacy rate of the Cherokee nation is higher than that of the white South up through the Civil War, yet the tribe was moved westward as an uncivilized people, so that their land could be open for American expansion.

SOURCE: Manifest Destiny: Native American Displacement Amid U.S. Expansion

I hope this gets out to a wider audience because after having written all of this in one place, it makes me physically ill that we’re STILL, in 2016, thinking like we did in the 11th century, 17th century, 19th century, and the 21st century. Time to get a new blueprint, because replacing the target of our hate is getting old and will eventually come back to bite us.

I’ve started listening to understand. What would happen if more did that?

Listen to understand, then speak to be understood

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I’m not a typical American, at least that is how I think of myself. Politically, I generally lean left and support socialist views, however have an open enough mind to recognize that no one “group” is completely correct in their policies or agendas. My approach is to see the problem for what it is without the fodder that is thrust upon me from mainstream media, pundits, or other sources that would be served well by my sheepily following. I follow quite a few blogs and read news from dozens of sites so that I can absorb and hopefully understand what is being reported or said. Conclusions and viewpoints are formed once I believe I have enough information to do so and generally don’t make judgements without a lot of facts to support that judgement. This system doesn’t always work to my benefit, as I’ll demonstrate, but my reaction is that of someone who truly has an open mind: acceptance that my original view was flawed in some way.

An interesting post on In Saner Thought titled Burn Baby Burn yesterday got a lot of comments with good discussions back and forth. The post was about the fires in Tennessee that devastated Gatlinburg and surrounding communities. You can read the comments for yourself if you’re interested, for this post though, the details aren’t necessary. The rumor of radical Muslims starting the fire came up in one of my comments and was immediately countered, which started a back and forth between myself and John of The Ripening Wanderer. He is a self-described conservative and his blog clearly indicates that he is correct in the description 🙂 I however, was interested and didn’t want to let it (my point) go without defending, and he posted an article that supported his comments quite well.  So well in fact, it changed my view.

The point that stood out to me was this one, spoken by Brigitte Gabriel to Saba Ahmed:

“There are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today,” Gabriel said. “Of course not all of them are radicals. The majority of them are peaceful people. The radicals are estimated to be between 15-25 percent according to all intelligence services around the world.”

“That leaves 75 percent of (Muslims being) peaceful people. But when you look at 15-25 percent of the world’s Muslim population, you’re looking at 180 million to 300 million people dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization. That is as big as the United States,” Gabriel continued.

“So why should we worry about the radical 15-25 percent? Because it is the radicals that kill. Because it is the radicals that behead and massacre,” she said.

The article concluded with this, and ultimately what altered my original view:

Ahmed continued to miss the point and whine despite claiming that she cared about the Benghazi victims. That’s when talk radio host Chris Plante jumped in and drove it home: “Can you tell me the head of the Muslim peace movement?” after he made it clear that he understood her point and agreed that the war won’t be won with the military alone.

“I guess it’s me right now,” she responded.

SOURCE: WATCH: Conservative’s PERFECT Response After Muslim Says Most Muslims Aren’t Terrorists

I had not considered that the radical Muslim population could actually be so large, a point that is rarely if ever given in mainstream media. The exchange between myself and John on the blog post was enlightening in that although I generally lean left, I need to not dismiss other sides of the equation as it ends up just being imbalanced.  At no point did I consider the fact that there wasn’t a defined leader of the Muslim peace movement.  The point made by Chris Plante implied that peaceful Muslims were complicit in allowing the radical Muslims to exist without any resistance was powerful.

We have a very interesting climate in our country right now, fiercely divided and dug in like ticks.  Protests in the streets by Clinton supporters creates imbalance. Negative rhetoric by Trump supporters to anyone not supporting Trump creates imbalance. Freedom of speech is all well and good, but when it’s exercised to someone elses detriment, it seems ineffective. I’m not saying we should all be politically correct, but we have to admit that we don’t always listen when listening is necessary. It’s a two-way street.  There has to be, needs to be, a better way of solving our problems that doesn’t throw groups of people under the bus.

John properly supported his statements with the source that led him to his belief. I read the same source and came to the same conclusion that he did. It ended up changing my opinion in a way that brought both of us to the same playing field, shaking hands, sitting down and having a coffee. I think it was a Starbucks Peppermint Mocha Latte, because it’s the holiday season. THIS is something that, in our social world, usually doesn’t happen because it’s so easy to “unfriend,” “block,” and “unfollow” the people who even hint at us questioning our opinion comfort zones. That place we would all live in a perfect world. That perfect world doesn’t exist, never has, and like in The Matrix, a perfect world would end up being rejected anyway. A belief that is stronger now that I’ve finished the Black Mirror series on Netflix (post on that coming soon).

I want to thank John, here, now, for taking the time to show that his point of view was not just conjecture. He chose to listen and understand me, before trying to be understood.

It takes time to learn to listen and understand others, especially when their views and opinions are based on questionable sources. It takes time and control to not get angry, hateful, or dismissive of others when what they’re saying doesn’t match what you think or potentially know to be true. It takes practice to actually listen rather than just hear as there is a difference between listening to coherent intelligent words and hearing “blah blah blah”. I wasn’t always open-minded, in fact I lost friends in the past because I refused to listen to what they were saying as it wasn’t what I believed. I attribute this growth to the fact that I’m older, wiser, and intolerant of behavior that is anything but respectful. My time is finite when in person, my energy measured, and disrespect doesn’t earn the privilege of my time or energy. You can learn to disagree with someone without being disrespectful. We all have views, opinions and passions; we need to embrace that in ourselves and others.

If we can’t learn to move past ourselves, how will anything ever get solved?

A year later and I’m a happy introvert

I’m working from home today and I’m already on my fourth cup of coffee.  My Keurig isn’t the newest and the coffee has recently not been as hot as it should be, so I tend to drink it down rather fast.  I have my personal laptop playing Spotify in the background.  It’s playing the new Flaw album that came out only a few weeks or so ago and I’m amazed that they’ve kept the sound they had from 2001, yet making the new music relevant and fresh.  I’m in my basement office despite the house being entirely empty; daughter is at school and wife is at work.  Only the dog and cat are here to keep me company, but neither of them like the basement if I’m honest.  Like they know it’s a hole in the ground with a heavy two-story house sitting on top of it.

A basement is where you put the things that you don’t want normal visitors to see in your home.  The place where things are taken to be forgotten or stored for the next time it is appropriate for them to be taken back out.  The place where you can hide from the normal stresses and problems of the world if only for a little while until it is time to ascend up the steps.  I often see the basement as a pretty damn good metaphor for how my life is lived and conducted.  The basement is the place I go to remove myself from normal life and descend into a world of my own making, where my decisions are my own and thusly, I own the decisions I make.  Normal problems of life don’t follow me down here and in most circumstances, they don’t return until I’m ready to face them again.  In the past, I’ve spent hours and days in a figurative basement I created in my own mind shutting out everything except the most critical of things.

Fifth coffee down.

It is only now, while I’m sitting in a literal basement, that I finally see the potential for damage that my own descent into introvert holes can create.  There are people in my life that need me to be present in both physical and mental capacities, people who depend on the idea that I’m engaged as much as they are in the circle of life we’ve created together.  This was something that I did not truly understand until I wasn’t a member of the circle we created, where I had to be invited and even ask if it was okay to enter again.  A personal journey into my own life, as I now understand, required that jolt to the system that not being at home last year forced me to take.  At first I was a reluctant passenger, not wanting to admit that I was the cause, not wanting to admit that I had a problem.  In reality, I did have a problem, I was the cause, I was to blame.

After a few weeks, I knew that something had to give.  I had to learn that in order to get what I needed to stay out of the introvert hole, I needed to force myself through situations where I was uncomfortable.  Force is such a strong word.  Perhaps instead of force, I needed to choose to be in situations where I was uncomfortable in order to get into situations where I could retreat into solitude.  The people around me, the closest ones, needed to understand from me why this was a necessity.  That is exactly what I did, finding all sorts of online blogs that I could share with my wife to help her understand my introverted nature from her extroverted point of view.  We were, from the beginning, like oil and water, but I know now that is okay.  It’s okay to not be the same and see the world differently because that is what makes us unique and complimentary to each other.  We’re suited for different situations that, in turn, makes us together prepared for every situation that one or the other shares taking the lead on.

I’m okay with what has amounted to a continuous journey of learning.  Nothing is absolute and nothing is ever a problem that can’t be overcome.  The amazing thing about all of this is that not only had my wife given me another chance last year, but, together we have worked to get to a mutual level of understanding we can both be happy about.  We have started to, through actually talking (go figure), recognize the signs in each other when support is needed vs. solitude; taking charge vs. just observing; talking vs. listening.  We are by far not the perfect couple.  I’m scared of the perfect couple, it’s not natural.  Perfect couples, to me, are like sleeping volcanoes that will at some point blow up and decimate everything and everyone around them.  My sister-in-law is the Queen of bottling things up, creating pressure, and then to explode suddenly over something that essentially is trivial at best.

Sixth coffee down.

After a year of discovering with my wife at my side helping, I’m now in a good place where I feel that problems are recognized and talked about before they end up causing a larger problems.  We both talk a lot more now than we ever have in the past and it took us almost losing our marriage to understand why this is so important.  In a time where people get married and divorced at ever-increasing frequency, I’m happy with the fact that we decided together to work through our differences and adapted to our marriage at 16 years and stopped treating it like we were at 1, 5, or 10 years.  Marriages fail, in my opinion, because one or both participants failed to adapt to the change that marriage demands.  People get older, wiser in some instances, and therefore, it is logical to assume that a marriage needs to change in order to accommodate and stay strong.

I will always be an introvert.  My wife will always be an extrovert.  We understand that somewhat now.  We are cognizant of the fact we’re different people who need different things; sometimes not at the same time.  She gives me the time I need when I need it to regroup, collect, and process my thoughts.  I give her the time she needs when she needs it to connect and feel included to our lives.  We decided together to put the effort into our relationship despite the bumps and road blocks that life inevitably throws our way.  It wasn’t an easy lesson for me to learn personally as I have lived my life for more than 35 years clinging to a mindset that avoided life.  Enlightenment, to me, is understanding how you want things to be around you, but knowing that you’re not in control of anything other than your own actions.  The acceptance of that fact is what makes us choose to do things that aren’t what we want to do, but rather what we need to do in order to live.

Racism is easy, Understanding is hard

Inspired by: White Lives Matter group protests outside NAACP in Houston’s Third Ward

I support free speech as much as the next warm-blooded American. I’ve even taken positions that weren’t always popular due to the popular position being against what I stood for or supported. What we have lately is a tragedy of American freedom in that it seems we’re posturing more to antagonize others than to support a position. Protesting for White Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, whatever is your constitutional right. Using symbols of racism and hate to take a peaceful protest and turn it into something more akin to what we had in our past is crossing a moral line. At the moment that the American Civil War was over, the confederate flag became the symbol of racism and hate. At no point do I see that flag and think to myself “southern heritage” as the man in this article indicates is their reason to have them at the protest. My parents lived in the south for more than 15 years and during visits, I would encounter people who gave the impression the war was never won. Their views of the world were very narrow and I actually felt sorry for them for not having the opportunity to see the world any differently than their ancestors that fought in the war so many years ago.

Black Lives Matter has been warped into a battle cry against racism by whites onto blacks. I’ll let that sink in a little before I continue. The incident in Milwaukee partially proves my statement. The coverage of that was significantly less than coverage of the previous incidents in other cities. Milawaukee has a primarily black government, black police force, and black population. The majority of news coverage was not of the victim drawing a gun on the police officer and refusing to put it down. The majority of news coverage was not of the police officer using deadly force in self-defense against a gun being drawn on them. The majority of news coverage, actually, was the riot that broke out in protest of the police shooting where there was little to no Black Lives Matter protests. Why did everyone riot in the first place? I’ll admit there might be some naivety on my part here and welcome comments of differing points of view. I’m left being very confused at this fact because my understanding of that organization was the protection of all black lives against hate of all kinds.

Now, in Houston, there is a group of white people holding confederate flags protesting in front of an NAACP office with a banner that reads “#WhiteLivesMatter”. I’m disgusted by this display of hate to the point where I *had* to write about it while still at work. I get that the protest was against the NAACP and other black organizations in their failure to speak out about events that took the lives of white police officers. I don’t dispute the fact that every single person in this protest had a right to have said protest. What I am disgusted at and definitely dispute is the blatant display of items that were used in a purposeful manner to incite violence. Up until I read the line in the article where the group held assault rifles, I had an open mind. Assault rifles do not convey anything close to resembling a peaceful protest! I’m pro-gun, have been for a long time, but assault rifles in my opinion cross the protection vs. deadly force line. I see no reason short of fatal collapse of government where an assault rifle would be necessary. Owning one and keeping it in your home is one thing, but carrying it openly at a protest send the wrong message.

Why have we as Americans become so fractured as a society? Where did we go so wrong that guns and violence replaced conversation and mutual respect? Questions I think we all need to find an answer to before escalating posturing on both sides degrades into an all out war. I personally do not treat anyone differently until given a reason to do so, and then when given a reason, I offer my understanding and walk away. The thought of violence to solve problems really never enters into my mind and would absolutely never be an answer to anything I considered productive. One of the reasons I write is to convey my thoughts and feelings in a way that helps me to understand. It isn’t to make anyone upset, mad, or offended. I respect different points of view in that they’re ways I can broaden (not limit) my understanding of the world. Too many people are closed off to anything other than what they know, which in my experience, is often very little and matches what they learned from their parents and grandparents. My father chose to break that cycle and I am further breaking that cycle by being even more open-minded than my father was with us (he definitely has his moments). I’m instilling in my daughter an ability to see the world with an open eyes and an open mind, to see that there are peaceful answers to any problem and given the chance, people can be good.

I’ve had several deep conversations with acquaintances over the last several weeks that have been truly enlightening. They’ve provided a different point of view that in turn expanded my understanding in a way that allowed me to clean my “glasses” a little more. Prejudice, ignorance, racism, and other hate will keep your glasses dirty or foggy. Learning to understand others around you without any of that helps to clean them or provide a clearer picture. It’s easy to lean on anger and hate; it’s a lot harder to fight that reaction and instead lean on respect and understanding. Articles such as this one don’t help the growing problem, they only serve to exacerbate it.

Why some whites are waking up to racism

Inspired by the article of the same name published by The Washington Post

It’s my lunch hour when I usually read the news from the previous days events. As I opened this article I was preparing myself for a one-sided and biased article about all the things “whites” do, or not do, to support their “non-white” neighbors. Before I even started reading the first word, I was already in a frame of mind that was making me angry at the lack of dialogue and increasingly negative rhetoric in the media. As I started reading though, I was surprised as to the tone of the article and was immediately guilty for feeling angry at the onset before even starting to read it.  The title of the article, while completely appropriate, implies something all together different out of context, at least in my opinion.

Reflexive actions

We all have reflexive initial thoughts about everything we experience through the day. Whether negative or positive, they’re the actions and thoughts that we were brought up to believe by our parents. As much as I’d like to think of my parents progressive and enlightened, they’re not. Little comments and facial expressions when certain topics come up tell me they’re not. I have several examples from my past where the reflexive thought turned into the action of speaking out loud with truly negative and hurtful consequences. I immediately realized, even as I was saying the words, it was utterly wrong and very much a white stereotypical statement. In all cases where this has happened, I’ve alienated co-workers and friends and lost friendships to never get back again. The consequence of a reflexive action is damage that can’t be undone, a statement that can’t be unsaid.

Black Lives Matter

I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t completely understand this movement despite having read quite a bit on the subject. I admire and respect the fundamental meaning that is being implied and supported, however what confuses me is how it can be warped and twisted to justify what seems to be escalating levels of violence. I’ve known for years that answering violence with violence, creates a slippery slope of exponential consequences to the point that it seems there is no end to how far it can be taken. To even begin to understand something is to admit that you just don’t understand in the first place. Then, once there is a small dialogue open, listen to the other person, really listen.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood” – Steve Covey

No one seems to listen anymore, they have their dialogue already queued up and ready to fire out their mouth not truly understanding themselves in most cases why they’re even angry. I am inspired right now to find the local BLM chapter and attend some meetings to understand the problem and then seek to find ways to help, not fix, the root problem. As much as I like to think that I understand certain things, I am naive in a lot of ways to the world outside of my circle of influence. Having watched the video embedded in this article, I’m left with more questions than answers due to the fact that there are so many meanings behind the singular phrase.

Enough blame to go around

Police, blacks, whites, Hispanics….. It’s no one person or groups fault. We’re all to blame to varying extents to the problems we’ve created. I’m in a place where I recognize this. I fully accept that I’ve not done everything I can to help the situation. In this age of technology and instant communication, the injustice and inequality is being brought to the surface and shoved in all our faces. It’s saying “Here I am, you can’t hide from me, you’re isolation is no longer tolerable.” I’m excited to see that we’re finally all waking up to the problems we’ve been hiding or suppressing since the 1950’s, because in many respects we as a nation have not moved forward from this point. Stop blaming and pointing fingers, stop the negative rhetoric, stop wasting energy that only serves to divide us as a society further apart. I’m a logical and open-minded individual that is willing to listen to anyone provided they’re not judging or putting me into a category based on my outward appearance. I’ve said this before, and will say it again, everyone I meet starts at the same level of respect and acceptance until their actions dictate otherwise.

Individuals are smart, “people” aren’t

We’ve all heard it before, mob mentality. A group of people will tend to follow someone if they see others around them doing the same thing. It happens in nature all the time in flocks of birds, herds of deer, etc. An individual is instinctively vulnerable and perceived as weak. In nature, the individual often will become dinner for a predator. In our case, we have to fight the base instinct of individuality being weak and question the crowd if something doesn’t seem right. A large crowd of people listening to a singular leader on a megaphone will chant along with them regardless of whether they think the person is right or wrong. In a group, you’re individual view is not important or overruled, for most people, it’s impossible to fight that. There have been times that I fundamentally disagreed with a group and had to force myself to walk away. The group didn’t speak for me and I disagreed with their point of view and disassociated myself so that I was free to have my own view and opinion that I felt was the correct one to have. This is one of the reasons I never agreed with “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” as I disagreed with their purpose being anything other than a protest against the Black Lives Matter movement. I have since removed posts to Facebook that contradict this statement as they were made without understanding all the facts.  I even wrote about this subject before, but I left that post published to provide me with perspective.  My anger in that post was apparent and it was based on my naivety of the movement in general.

Listening, tolerance, and repair

There is nothing we can’t fix given the right amount of effort to do so. I’m sure if I was still in contact with the people I alienated with my intolerant comments that I could start to fix the damage done. I can only take that so far though as it requires an equal amount of effort from both sides, which is the true root cause of our problems. No one is listening to each other. Hate an anger from the past is being instilled into each new generation going forward. Someone or something has to break the cycle. What has to happen for all of us to finally stop and listen to each other? After 9/11, we united as a country behind a single idea, we don’t tolerate terrorism in any form. What has to happen for us to unite behind not tolerating racism, inequality, and hate has not happened yet. That is what truly scares me, all the horrible things that have happened in the last few years hasn’t been enough for us to question or ideals and morality. It would seem at this point that we’re doomed to repeat our mistakes from the the last century.

What is the next generation learning from the hate?

That’s a question I ask every single day to remind myself I choose to be part of the solution, not the problem.