Tuesday, June 06, 2006

[political-research] Bloglines - Deepak Chopra: "They" Aren't Going Away

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Deepak Chopra: "They" Aren't Going Away

By Deepak Chopra on 9/11

For most people the truly frightening thing about Islamic fundamentalism is its implacability. As one observer said right after 9/11, the most shocking thing to Americans about the 19 hijackers is that they spent a year living here, enjoying the fruits of the American way, and yet they still hated us. Jihadists are machines of fixed intent, immune to reason. What can tolerant people do in the face of unswerving intolerance? That's the key question facing us versus "them." "They" are fanatical, crazy, suicidal, demonic--pick whatever alienating word you like. Nor do we have to limit ourselves to the jihadists. I remember a right-wing Christian fundamentalist on CNN saying, "As long as you liberals and baby murderers despise us, we aren't going away." Which puts in a nutshell why "they" are so terrifying.

When I first started to give public talks twenty years ago, the topics were innocuous. I was a Boston endocrinologist who became convinced that mind-body medicine was real, that stress reduction and meditation were good things for people. Hardly a radical notion. Yet when I was invited to speak at a hospital in western Colorado, pickets marched with signs that read "Down With the Hindu Satan."

I realized with a shock that for these people I was "them." The outsider who defiled American values and threatened a way of life. Ever since, my approach to "them" has changed. I see that it takes two not to tango. One side does the alienating, the other side feels alienated. Hard as it is to hear, fundamentalism grows out of genuine grievances--poverty, tyrannical governments, illiteracy, the absence of free speech and a secular middle class. Arab countries all suffer from these ills, no matter how rich the thin top layer of society may be.

Right-wingers in this country also feel aggrieved. Their beefs center on fear of change, isolationism, inbred bigotry, but most of all, the contempt being felt from us, the liberal progressive center of society. Boston is a long way from Cheyenne in a hundred ways. Yet in both cases "they" are wearing a mask, behind which we all share common values. At the very least, Arabs want to feel secure from us as much as we want to feel secure from them. The way that people of tolerance must deal with people of intolerance is to reach out and find common ground.

It doesn't matter how wishy-washy or idealistic that sounds. We are reaping the whirlwind by using the opposite approach of militaristic belligerence, fear at home, obsession with national security, and a growing demonization of "them." One can't predict how long America will pursue its present futile tactics. Too many people still believe that "they" are inhuman monsters. But speaking as someone who used to be "them," I know that the way of peace is the only one we can trust.

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