Lessons After Paris: What ISIS Can Teach Us

The human body wrapped in a gay flag which symbolises a muslim gay person.
The human body wrapped in a gay flag which symbolises a muslim gay person.

Acquire knowledge. It enables its possessor to distinguish right from wrong; it lights the way to Heaven; it is our friend in the desert, our society in solitude, our companion when friendless; it guides us to happiness; it sustains us in misery; it is an ornament among friends, and an armor against enemies. - Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)

All experiences, even the horrendous, have something to teach us. Daesh, also known as ISIS, and its crimes included. Admitting so may break our hearts, yet being succored by the heat of our anger and anguish is the greater destruction, for it is our own undoing. There is a deeper conversation starting to happen that each of us, with our entire being and in our communities, must continue to foster and develop for the sake of peace, in respect to the victims, their loved ones and in their memory.

As an Arab American, an immigrant-raised Muslim, a New Yorker, a husband, a gay man, a citizen of the world, a humanist and an ordained interfaith & inter-spiritual minister, I cannot stand silent after the attacks in Paris, Beirut, Sinai and the countless others that have gone unnoticed. None of us can. We can see that the vacuum created by our silence has been filled with an ignorant, violent and hopeless interpretation of Islam, one that desperately needs to stay true to its name as well as modernize. All of us in this day and age are citizens of the world, and are thus required to speak up.

The City of Light was attacked because Daesh is indeed affronted by enlightenment, pluralism, diversity of people and ideas - modernity itself - that that city and the rest of us represent. Beirut, the "Paris of the East," was equally in the crosshairs, as were the airline passengers, for the sectarian and political differences Daesh has with Hezbollah and Russia, respectively. We are each in the crosshairs as well. In many ways, I am Daesh's worst nightmare just by being who I am, as likely as you, for celebrating modern values like equal and full rights for women, GLBTQIAA, and all faiths and non-faiths. I celebrate living in as Daesh calls it, the Grey zone, because that is where life is; black and white is a simplistic and anachronistic view of life, bereft of richness, nuance and intelligence.

This brings us to what wisdom lies in this madness, a wisdom that has come to focus as our shock has subsided.

Ignorance is the root of all of this. Whether it's education that bars women from equal access or the teaching a skewed and intolerant interpretation of Islam, we progressives must speak up.

Islam began as a testament to equality and enlightenment, and it must reclaim its place and itself as a force for peace. Daesh's actions have demonstrated they want nothing more than repression and war. We cannot feed into that and debase ourselves by accepting the premise of their worldview. There is a greater truth that we all know yet readily forget in the barrage of horrendous news that careens across our consciousness. The truth is that life is a patchwork of cooperation, overall a beautiful tapestry that at times may be broken, frayed at the edges and stretched at the seams by fear, doubt, and distrust. That broken fabric is what Daesh sells, for it is all that it knows.

We must address the fertile grounds of ignorance and injustice that seeds this violence. Daesh preys on our brothers and sisters leading quiet lives of desperation, diminished if not destroyed by their violent, incompetent, oppressive and / or corrupt governments. Further remove hope by having little economic opportunities mixed in with high discrimination, even upon emigrating, and Daesh has all the recruitment propaganda they need. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and as warped a timepiece as Daesh may be, it is time for us to wholeheartedly act.

Sharing a greater vision is what is needed, demonstrating who we really are, based on rule of law, and demonstrating freedom, equality, fairness and compassion by keeping our doors open, integrating immigrants and refugees into productive members of society. Each country has it's own work to do in assimilating new members of its society: France really needs to expand what it means to be French and welcome its sizable immigrant population into the fold (some having been there for generations and still not accepted as French!). For the US, we must continue to welcome the refugees, have a fair, timely yet rigorous process, but get real about the Visa situation where anyone can come over on a flight and do harm, all while remembering that we are a nation of immigrants. Nativist backlash, whether demonstrated by the deplorable treatment of our Mexican and Latin American neighbors or Syrian refugees, plays into fear - right into Daesh's plans!

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity." - Pema Chödrön

Compassion is the answer. Somewhere deep down we all know that retaliation is a fool's errand. We just hope we're the last ones standing. Yet it begs the question, what is left standing? What is the quality of our lives if we do not try and address the root cause of the issues without retaliating blindly in a reactive posture? If there's anything we've learned since the the post-9/11 deception of the war with Iraq, doing more of the same thing doesn't lead to a different result. We will only foment further violence and recruitment material for Deash. Last point, and perhaps the most controversial - I will not call Daesh my enemy. In every way, we disagree - tactics, beliefs, and agenda, but I refuse to see the world in a the "divide and conquer" paradigm.

If there's anything I've learned, it's that life is not lived in the black and white. We in the west, we that are progressive and tolerant in our world views, enjoying the richness that diversity adds to our lives, must acknowledge that our voice, our speaking up is the exact thing that undoes Daesh. We have work ahead of us that requires us to push back forcefully against the forces of ignorance, both in western political parties ranging from Le Pen in France to notice in the Republican Primary, as we as in the mideast with Daesh, Wahhabism, the Taliban and a whole slew of supposedly religious movements based in misdirected disenfranchisement.

Compassion and truth must win. We must speak up - fellow Arabs, Muslims, and all citizens of the work must speak - we cannot be silent, for that choice is an acquiescence that has gone on for far too long. Our voices are what will undo the institutional discrimination that plagues many western nations; our voices will give hope to those back home that need hope and a greater vision for what is possible for themselves, their daughters, their sons, their livelihood, their vote and their voice. Our voices will demonstrate that Daesh is nothing but an empty promise disguising fear and ignorance. We stand and we continue to stand steadfast and resolute for Peace and Justice.