In the year of Buddha’s death, his ten primary disciples were joined by an additional 500 men at the Cave of the Seven Leaves. It was at this location (near Rajagaha, the capital of Magadha), that the convening council defined the faith. A century or so later, a second council divided the faith.
When Prophet Muhammad died, the discussions were much more immediate and probably more passionate than those of the Buddhists. These discussions began prior to his burial. It was under a portico that Abu Bakr was declared the first Caliph of a nascent Islamic State.
The world has rounded many a political bend since Buddhism and Islam made their respective appearances. But it is Islam which continues to present herself as the biggest challenge to a secular order in a modern world.
Earlier this week a professional colleague sent me a daily brief from MEMRI, The Middle East Media Research Institute. I am not on the MEMRI mailing list. My tastes in research and journalism do not lean toward the dryness of the product. I prefer things which make the taste buds dance. But I took a moment to read what was sent.
The name of one individual highlighted in the piece caught my fancy. So I found myself engaging the cursory ten minute search for a digital footprint. Scanning the same-name website of the individual, it was noted that a psychological posture anchored itself in al-Qaeda stylized thought. Ahhh, yes. We imagine ourselves to be intellectual. But it is the intellectualism born within captivity and not found in the wild. And intellectualism developed from a captive childhood state never achieves the greatness of thought which the soul imagines. Imprinting is for ducks. But humans achieve greater potential by other means.
The author of the website opined about “Christian bullets”. His words reminded me of the writing of two men who influenced Humam Khalil al-Balawi. He honored them in his final testament. I had read the writings of the men long before al-Balawi killed seven C.I.A. operatives at Camp Chapman (Afghanistan, 30 December 2009). It saddened me to read his braggadocio final words circulated on a jihad portal. And this week it troubled me again, reading about “Christian bullets”. New day, more of the same and it is all about imprinting.
If we are going to modify inanimate objects with religious adjectives and speak of “Christian bullets” we must also be willing to discuss “Muslim machetes”.
I keep a distinct calendar now:
November 13, 2015 – Paris attack
December 2, 2015 – San Bernardino attack
February 11, 2016 – Columbus, Ohio attack
We know the drill now. Innocent people are ambushed. We sit back and wait for the name. We file our nails and call our friends. “Watch’a bet? His name is Muhammad!”
Mohamed Barry entered Nazareth Mediterranean Cuisine and asked a waitress about the owner. The owner is an Arab Israeli Christian. Thirty minutes later, “Watch’a Bet” returned with a machete and started hacking away at the patrons. Why he did it we will never know for sure because he was stopped by a nameless bullet. But perhaps he did read about “Christian bullets” online, hence a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Do you read things which might make you uncomfortable? I like Sam Harris. He is an atheist. And his thoughts challenge my own – with discomfort. But the man is a free-ranger of the first degree. “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason” holds an honored place in my library. While he derides what he considers the flummoxed logic of Christians, he reserves a good share of his spleen for the barbarity on display from the “Watch’a Bet” of the world.
My camp is with the flummoxed. But within the demographic is a kindness, mercy and love which is hard to beat and almost impossible to define. It is part childhood imprint but it is also an organic and ever-changing flow of what we believe. We have not been to the Cave of the Seven Leaves nor seated with the Companions. But our belief is that our mischief was dealt with when two rough hewn pieces of wood were placed into the ground by Roman Centurions. Grace flowed out to us – and we are its living channel.
I like the words of a Muslim friend: “To each, his own.” Yes! To each, his own.
For me, it is Christianity. For Sam Harris, the enormous exercise of faith required to deny the existence of a god. But between book-ends of faith and no faith is room for all.
Approximately ten percent of Muslims remain in a distinct category known in generic manner as “radicalized”. They sincerely believe that asymmetrical attacks are the means to bring about a new global order. The imprint is strong. They have not learned how to take their imprint and test it with cross-pollination of thought.
One thing for sure is what the Western world believes. Our model works for us. The wishes of the minority will be relegated to the bone yard of bad ideas. In the meantime, I keep my calendar. And my new meme is “We don’t have time. We do not have the time to bring reform to Islam.”
When I speak of “we” it is in reference to the West. Our collective efforts might just come to naught. And it is not so much about time alone, because it includes an element of impatience. That impatience hearkens with each new notation on our calendars.
Do you want to live in a world of Christian bullets and Muslim machetes? Or do you want better for your children?
A secular order does not mean “the end of faith”. Rather, it denotes an accommodation for private practice of faith with a vibrancy and joy which does not threaten a religious counterpart. My firmly held belief is that faith is best practiced in private with seasonal and limited allowances for expressions of faith in the public square. No bullets and machetes allowed.