Monday, June 13, 2016

Faith and madness

So now I go back to Friday, in the wake of 50 dead. I go back to what the world could be, and should be, and sometimes is when sanity prevails and men and women of substance stand together and refuse to let hatred tear them apart.

I go back to Muhammad Ali's memorial service in Louisville, less than 36 hours ahead of the madness in Orlando, less than 36 hours before a young man all twisted up by hatred and ideological manipulation decided to shoot gay people simply for the crime of existing.

I go back to Ali's memorial because there were Muslims there and Christians and Jews, gays and straights and men and women and former presidents. I go back to it because there was no division among them that day, no impulse other than to honor a man who embodied the true tenets of his faith as surely as a madman would embody how far from those tenets he and the other madmen have strayed.

The tenets of Muhammad Ali's Muslim faith made him over time a man of peace who hated no one.  The perversion of that faith made the madman seemingly hate everyone; his ex-wife describes him as a man angry at everyone and everything to the point of mental instability. And so he did what mad people do in America, which is grab his guns and go on a killing spree.

And now 50 people are dead and more than 50 others wounded, and the madman went out in a blaze of glory that has undoubtedly already delivered to him a rude awakening in the afterlife. Because the devotees of radical Islamism are not children of any God, let alone Allah. They are, in fact, as far from being Muslim as the hooded cowards who used to string up African-Americans in Jesus' name are from Christianity.

I go back to Friday to remember that. And it would do all of us well to do the same thing, because inevitably there will be forces out there who will attempt to exploit this abomination, who will confuse faith with fanaticism and, out of fear and ignorance, indict an entire religious community for the actions of criminals who have nothing to do with that community.

Radical Islamism is not a religion but a global scourge that targets people of all faiths indiscriminately, and it must be opposed with every weapon at our disposal. But in the opposing, we must not lose who we are as a nation. We must not make Muslims the enemy, anymore than we made Christianity the enemy when Timothy McVeigh did his dark work. That won't make us safer. It won't make us stronger. It won't make us more American. It will, in fact, remake us into something fundamentally un-American -- and it will only deliver more angry souls into the hands of the Islamic State or whatever comes after it.

So what do we do to protect ourselves from the madmen?

I don't know. I don't think there's any definitive answer. Terrorism has always been with us; it always will be with us. So will madmen. The madman in Orlando was American born and bred. He was a security guard carrying not one but two concealed carry permits, and he had never been charged with a crime. And although he had been questioned twice by the FBI for alleged radical statements, he'd done nothing for which he could be held -- unless you want to make America a country where expressing an opinion can get you locked up without due process for an indeterminate period of time.

There is a country like that. It's called North Korea.

Look. The things that make America the nation it is are also the things that make it vulnerable to madmen. That will always be so, even if we build walls and indict entire faiths and in myriad other ways decide not to be America anymore. All we can do is fight the madmen wherever we can fight them and foil whatever bloody work they plan.

As we mostly have, in the years since 9/11. As we are in the Middle East, where IS is losing on all fronts. And as we did in Los Angeles, later on the same day of the slaughter in Orlando, when police discovered a man sitting in a car loaded with weapons and bomb-making materials who was reportedly on his way to L.A.'s Gay Pride parade.

The man was from Indiana. And he was apparently no radical Islamist.

Madness comes in all forms. Something worth holding onto today, and every day.

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