According to the FBI’s database of Hate Crime Statistics, in 2010 (the latest year for which numbers are available) there were 160 hate crime incidents involving anti-Islamic bias in the United States. Such incidents have seen a marked rise following the September 11th terrorist attacks of 2001 and have recently made headlineswith various incidents around the country, ranging from arson attacks on mosques to pig parts being thrown at the site of a proposed Islamic center.
Many people have at some point heard, or are at least vaguely familiar with the question, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” – a reference to the pointless theological debates that consumed much of European academia during the latter half of the Middle Ages. Although it turns out this particular phrasing was most likely never actually discussed (not appearing in print until hundreds of years later as a retroactive jab at Thomas Aquinas and his “scholastic” brand of philosophy) it continues to serve as a handy metaphor for any dubious intellectual endeavor lacking in apparent practical value and without any foreseeable means of resolution.
“Does God exist?” Of the near-limitless variety of questions that can be posed by human beings, few are as profound, as important (or to certain fanatical Nietzsche lovers, as inane and tiresome) as this one. Few other questions have such a powerful effect over daily life, politics, and human interactions as this one simple query, and any given individual’s reply to it speaks volumes about his or her worldview.
For billions of people on planet Earth, its answer is a resounding “Yes!” – a declaration of faith so central to their lives that even a moment’s hesitation or doubt can induce feelings of severe guilt and internal conflict. For a large and growing multitude however, the answer to this question is instead a confident but qualified “No.” And yet, for many others still, the only sensible reply is “Maybe,” “I don’t know,” or even “It’s impossible to say.”
“There is a war going on for your mind;” a war being fought on battlefields and on billboards, in universities and Sunday schools, in blogs and boardrooms, capitol buildings and city parks. From Wall Street to Main Street, from Kabul to Kansas City, the combined facts of seven thousand years of civilization and seven billion human beings struggling to eat, breathe, live and believe are all coming to a head. It has many names and many forms, running the gamut from Terror to Women to Drugs to Christmas—all inextricably linked by the immense power of ideas and the belief systems that propagate them.
Viewed in the context of most everyday activities and situations and in line with Aristotle’s idea of the “Golden Mean” (which states that virtue lies at the midpoint between two vices; i.e. courage lies between cowardice and recklessness, etc.), it could be said that a moderate stance is generally better than an extremist one. For example, being a moderate drinker seems to strike a pretty good balance between being healthy and having fun, as opposed to the opposite extremes of being an ascetic teetotaler or a raging alcoholic. Likewise, being politically moderate, if nothing else, tends to generate far less strife during dinner conversations amid mixed company or at large family gatherings.
This is a test. This is only a test. Had this been an actual religious emergency, the omnipotent creator of the universe would surely be sending plagues and pestilence, lightning bolts, or perhaps a herd of stampeding unicorns to trample all of the blasphemous infidels slandering his good name. But…. being as no such divine punishments have thus far materialized, I guess we’ll just have to settle for the inevitable intervention by a mob of his angry, self-proclaimed minions here on Earth. Or, failing that, I suppose any highly-opinionated Internet surfers will suffice.
The events of September 11th, 2001 are arguably the worst thing that has ever happened to America – worse even than Pearl Harbor – but not for the reasons you might expect. What makes them worse is the grand irony that’s been piled on top of the insult and injury; ten years later, it’s now clear that the biggest blow we received that day was neither the loss of innocence nor the loss of life but rather the government’s hysterical reaction to it all, spearheaded by the Neocons and other fear-mongers of the Far Right. This has done far more to destroy our civil liberties and way of life than anything the terrorists ever accomplished on their own.
It is a well-known quirk of human nature that when things go well in life, people often try to find someone to whom they can express their thanks. When things go badly, they look equally for someone to blame. And if there is no one to thank, or no one to blame, then they make someone up. Plentiful harvest this year? – thank God. Healthy children? – God. Won the lottery? Survived a plane crash? Scored a touchdown…? – God.
When it comes to misfortune, however, people tend to get a bit cagey, as they’re not so eager to point the finger at the almighty creator and master of the universe. Hit by lightning? – “Unlucky, my friend.” Killed in a plane crash? – “It must have been his time to go.” Diagnosed with terminal cancer? – “God works in mysterious ways.”
America today is facing a crisis of liberty perhaps more profound than even that faced in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. On one hand are the continuing militarization of civilian police forces and the steady erosion of civil liberties embodied by the Patriot Act, the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, and the just-passed National Defense Authorization Act. In addition to trashing the protections of the Bill of Rights, these laws authorize and promote the sale of surplus military hardware (including grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers) to civilian police departments nationwide – the vast majority of which is being used, not to combat terror, but rather in enforcing the over-thirty-year-old and increasingly futile War on Drugs.