“Lean in a little closer
And I'll tell you what I'm dreaming…
I see time without beginning
Space without an ending
I see bodies strong and running
With minds not comprehending
Have pity on your brother
Please have pity on your sister
Take pity on each other
And on every living creature
Open my eyes
I can't believe it's real
It's a jungle outside
People just survive
They can't reach the high ideal”
- Todd Rundgren
[from “Hawking” - a song for wheelchair-bound, computer-voiced scientist, Stephen Hawking.]
THE FORGOTTEN ASPECT -
In today’s dreadful mix of politics and religion, few seem to recall the basic moral components---especially the vital ingredients of understanding, sympathy and compassion. Empathy!
There are folks who actively retain an essential regard for their fellow Humans---any and all of them for crying out loud! Even the poor, the needy and the downtrodden---whether the varmints deserve it or not! The intemperate, unwise and foolish as well. Yes, even the sinners!
Some forgive those who trespass against them, but I don’t see very much these days where someone actually goes out of their way to show empathy for persons of an opposing ideology who would probably return the favor by registering their name on a hit-list.
That’s why I’ll have to hand it to Al-Hajj Frederick H Minshall---my fellow Alaska Voices blogger---for his June 27 letter to the editor, “Cox trial looks like persecution for speech, not for actions” (Anchorage Daily News).
Al-Hajj Frederick H Minshall displays unique empathy for the “Alaska Peacemakers Militia” guy, Schaeffer Cox and his moronic, radical gun-rights followers. Mr. Minshall is a non-militant Muslim, and these “’militia’ types,” as he puts it, “tend to be in the “’Christian Dominionist/White Separatist/Gun Fetish‘ camp.” Mr. Minshall will not, as he points out, find any sympathy for himself or his views among this pack of ideological twits.
There is, apparently, not enough weaponry floating around in America to suit these wild-eyed weapons-wavers. At a gathering of the “Continental Congress 2009” Cox drafted a declaration that the United States Government must be abolished if the government further restricts gun rights. The declaration was signed by many including our own Alaska Representative Don Young. Of course, there is also the Sarah-Todd-Palin-Alaska-separatist connection to these cashews. What’s next---baby’s first derringer?
And yet, Mr. Minshall sympathizes or empathizes:
“Problem is, their trial looks a whole lot like a group of folks being prosecuted -- or persecuted -- by government ‘authorities‘ for what they've said, not what they've done. That also happened in Alaska not long ago to Paul and Nadia Rockwood, a nice young couple from King Salmon who happen to be Muslim. That young brother accepted an eight-year prison sentence to spare his wife the same fate.
“Your rights become vulnerable to the precise degree that you silently accept violation of others' rights. Elementary civics, my dear Watson.”
-- Al-Hajj Frederick H Minshall
Reminded me of this poem:
Abou Ben Adhem---may his tribe increase!
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the Presence in the room he said
"What writest thou?"—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered "The names of those who love the Lord."
"And is mine one?" said Abou. "Nay, not so,"
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still, and said "I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men."
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem's name led all the rest.
- James Henry Leigh Hunt
I recall this odd poem from seventh or eighth grade. Even as a smart-ass kid I was strangely moved by it. According to online comments it was a favorite for teachers to either “inflict” upon or bless their young charges with.
The author does not appear to suffer “The White Man‘s Burden” as did another English poet, Rudyard Kipling, about a half century later. James Henry Leigh Hunt seems to have written his poem without any particular political slant. The poet used the exotic Arabic reference to implicitly acknowledge the Humanity of all tribes and religions---the moral of the poem.
There actually is an “Abou Ben Adhem Shrine Mosque.” Alas, it is generic as the poem and located in downtown Springfield Missouri, USA. It is owned by the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (more commonly known as the Shriners).
I don’t think I could be as gracious as Mr. Minshall (whom I don‘t know “from Adhem“); or Abou Ben Adhem (who apparently didn‘t exist); or the Shriners with their good works. I don’t seem to mind that googly-eyed Schaeffer Cox and his idiot followers will be “sighting in” through prison bars for a while instead of gun sights. They were, after all, amassing a lot of armaments while yapping about taking out various judicial and law enforcement officials---possibly two dead government lackeys for every one of their own lovelies arrested or killed. They called it “241”! “Two for one”…get it? Reminds me of the bit in one of Sacha Baron Cohen’s movies where two big “Muslims” in an aircraft are gleefully frightening a middle-aged White couple with their loud talk about how much they “love” their “nine-eleven!” Their “Porsche 911” that is!
As I write my generic morality tome there are al Qaida jackasses in pickup trucks descending upon ancient Muslim shrines and mausoleums in Timbuktu, Mali, Africa. Wielding Kalashnikovs and pick axes, these “militants” from Ansar Dine, who occupied Mali's vast north three months ago, have destroyed seven tombs of ancient Muslim saints they consider “idolatrous.” A spokesman said they were acting in the name of God and would "destroy every mausoleum in the city. All of them, without exception."
These goons are “Islamists” and they are busting up thousand year-old shrines---among them those of my favorite Muslim sect, the Sufis. Probably because Sufism is considered by some to be outside the sphere of the more rigid Islamist thinking. At least outside the calcified cogitation of these stunted souls.
Schaeffer Cox and his band of merry morons are also similarly motivated in their violent tendencies by a right-wing religion---in this case some brand, offshoot, faction, wing, sect, cult or schism of “Baptist” being promulgated by America’s Christian-right Mullahs. These American Taliban are as whacked as their Islamic counterparts---feuding with each other down through the centuries because they are so much alike. The Taliban and the American Taliban are consumed by parallel, creepy, religious anxieties and violent spiritual hatreds---with the rest of us always caught in the middle.
Good thing we live in America, right? You know, where it is less likely that these American-Taliban yokels will descend upon the Abou Ben Adhem Shrine Mosque in Missouri with jackhammers or fertilizer bombs.
These anti-government gun-proliferators have not exactly started an armed uprising in America…yet. But would-be murderers and assassins are not always too bright. Sooner or later one or more of these fools is going to start shooting or blowing things up…again. Let’s not forget our own homeboy, the Oklahoma City Bomber. Loveable First Gulf War vet, Timothy McVeigh also sported the same lack of empathy which seems to flatten out the personalities of all these religious-gun-cult types. To this chuckwad, dead children in the daycare center of the building he blew to smithereens merited barely a shrug.
Speaking of the Taliban---now there’s a pack of jackals all jacked-up on their own spiritual insecurities. They famously blew up the huge Buddhas carved into a mountainside in Afghanistan. Somehow I don’t think I’d get along with the Taliban---Buddhism is my favorite of the so-called “major” religions. Probably because it is not, in its founding essence, a “religion” but a personal psychology. I don’t think the Buddha cared much for huge stone representations of himself anyway. Not even small ones.
This compulsive-obsessive urge to destroy other people’s religious symbols is, in itself, a perverted form of idol worship. In my opinion, the gun-worshipers, militants and militias under discussion in this article fall into the category of religious fanatics. Some are terrorists and some are would-be terrorists.
I trust Mr. Minshall will forgive my playing around with words, numbers, militias and religions. Because Mr. Minshall may be onto something here. This country is awash in armaments. And afflicted with small minds and shrunken souls who seek to restore, evoke or fulfill their perpetually-unfulfilled spiritual longings by violently imposing them on others.
It’s the ones who are silent (and smarter) that are more worrisome. I know there are even more powerful arms caches out there than possessed by the “Peace Keepers.” And I do hear the chatter of fully-automatic gunfire from time to time right in my own extended neighborhood.
FIRST ANNIVERSARY---NORWEGIAN WOOD -
A crippling lack of empathy---that’s what it’s all about with the Norwegian Christian-coconut, Anders Behring Breivik. As if to prove Mr. Minshall’s point, this mass killer could, under Norwegian law, get a paltry 21 years in prison for killing 77 people last July if found guilty…and “sane.” Somewhat less prison time than the Cox “Peace Keepers” got in America for merely threatening murder while caching arms. Breivik could be held longer if deemed a “danger to society” or committed to mandatory psychiatric care if declared insane.
[Gun-rights advocates do have some good points---if someone on that Norwegian island had been packing armament, fewer kids might have been killed by Breivik.]
FROM IDEOLOGICAL CORRECTNESS TO PSYCHOLOGICAL CORRECTNESS -
Various articles from (AP) London show the weird, self-imposed quandary of psychologists attempting to categorize the mental state of this Norwegian whack-job and, by implication, others considered in this here tome. They are constrained by their own psychological correctness.
Some psychiatrists apparently “agree” that simply committing monstrous crimes does not mean a person is mentally ill.
"Everyone's first assumption is that Breivik must be insane because he's done such terrible things," said Dr. Simon Wessely, of the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London. "But it doesn't automatically follow that he must be mad just because what he has done is inexplicable."
“Experts“ generally conclude that Breivik is likely not insane despite his deadly bomb-and-shooting rampage. The far-right, anti-Islam Breivik has already confessed to committing Norway's worst mass murder, but insisted in court he is sane and described reports calling him insane as based on "evil fabrications." He said the worst thing that could happen would be for officials to declare he has a mental illness, since that would "delegitimize" everything he stands for.
[Schaeffer Cox also insists his wild mood swings between “Gandhi” and I‘ll-get-them are perfectly rational.]
Breivik claims the attacks were "necessary" because the victims---many of whom had some ties to the ruling Labor Party---had betrayed Norway by embracing immigration. Breivik claims to belong to an anti-Muslim militant group inspired by medieval crusaders and working with two other cells in Norway. Investigators have said they don't believe the group exists, and prosecutor Seven Holder noted that one psychiatric report described this as a "fantasy.”
"In a commentary published…in the British medical journal Lancet, Wessely writes that…for the 33-year-old Norwegian to be schizophrenic--- as some psychiatrists have suggested---his actions would have to be the result of delusions, or based on beliefs not shared by others.”
“As ghastly as his views are, there are other people in society who believe countries are being destroyed by multiculturalism and Islam," Dr. Wessely said. [Think Tea Party!]
“Breivik's extraordinarily well-organized and methodical massacre also undermines the idea that he was suffering from a serious mental illness. It doesn't tally with the kinds of disorganized crimes usually committed by people with mental health problems," Wessely said.
One Norwegian psychiatric report found Breivik to be insane, while a second pronounced him sane. A panel of judges is hearing weeks of testimony to decide which is correct. A personality disorder, like psychopathy and narcissism, has been suggested, accounting for Breivik‘s complete lack of empathy for his victims and his emotionless demeanor in court.
"The way he perceives the world is probably within the bounds of normality," said Dr. Paul Keedwell, a psychiatrist at Cardiff University. [Yikes!] "But because of the personality disorder, he may be overwhelmed by a sense of strong anger and indignation when he believes people are not listening to his point of view." Keedwell hypothesized the crimes could have been the result of a series of “bad decisions” after Breivik had his mind "warped" by far-right propaganda.
I find all this psychobabble somewhat nuts in itself---that this bird merely acted crazy but might not be technically insane. He also acted stupid but could no doubt be found technically “intelligent.”
The Cox crew and the King Salmon couple didn’t actually kill anyone, but both displayed what some would call “stupid behavior.” Let’s cut them some slack and allow them to take the politicians’ plea…“poor judgment.”
Mr. Minshall raises some critical constitutional issues of free speech. I guess that’s what I admire about Mr. Minshall---he is a Muslim in a Nation hostile to Muslims, yet quite willing to push constitutional issues to their limits.
Constitutionality aside, however, sheer stupidity and carelessness can get people into trouble here in America. Mr. Rockwood from King Salmon didn’t just “happen to be a Muslim“---he was a convert and “strict adherent of the teachings of radical al Qaeda cleric Anwar al Awlaki.“ Also, “nice” people don’t compile hit-lists while simultaneously researching armaments, explosives and detonating devices. He also lied about his activities when confronted by authorities.
While Mr. Minshall’s main point is well-taken, Muslim-convert Paul Rockwood was, at best, seriously confused. He was bright enough, however, not to go to trial like the totally-delusional Cox, who talked himself into a lengthy prison-term. And, apparently after his wife got caught with the hit-list, Rockwood cut a deal to keep her out of prison.
Certainly we can agree that the more radical of these weapons-worshipping religious lumps do lack empathy. Maybe that’s the whole point of the Shriners and their generic shrine---that love of fellow Humans transcends the gloss of ideology and dogma. It certainly is the central core of esoteric Buddhism---compassion for all sentient beings. It also appears to be the central core of Mr. Minshall’s views.
All morality is qualified---relative. The Dalai Lama has stated that compassion does have a “selfish” component since it tends to bring a peace of mind to those who hold the sentiment. He recommends it highly anyway!
The more radical al Qaeda, Taliban and Peace Keeper types are all fundamentally disabled as Human beings by a profound lack of empathy and compassion. Neither worthy of nor deserving empathy themselves---but all the more in need of it for that. Abou Ben Adhem would understand.
- Rudy Wittshirk
Don’t feel left out, “Freeoonix”---even anonymous online commenters can be our “brothers”…or “sisters” as the case may be.
On a more chilling note, an old acquaintance sent this:
“With more and more Americans becoming angry over what's happening to this country and the middle class, I'm expecting riots in the streets in the not-too-distant future. Our political leaders and the very rich should be very afraid of what's coming, especially because of our heavily-armed
Requiem for empathy -
With all the religious posturing and politicking these days, one would think that the concept of empathy would be more popular. After all, some sort of selfless consideration for each and every one of our fellow Humans is fundamental to most religions.
I am disappointed, however, that the various churches choose to emphasize the “smiting” over the smiling. There is not a lot of public preaching about pure empathy. There is, apparently, an implication that mere acknowledgement of empathetic tendencies is a sign of weakness and an indication of weak faith.
I can empathize! Empathy costs nothing but is exceedingly difficult. As a believer in “straight ahead” empathy myself---rather than a believer in religion---I can‘t always muster the feeling either.
EASY MEAT -
Even my poster boy for empathy got into a comment-squabble (see comments below) with an obviously disturbed boy or girl (anonymous) who is, at the least, a drama queen with no discernible opinions (maybe just inarticulate)---and at worst, self-loathing and self-destructive. My empathy runneth out…