[Last update: 18 September 2001]

Fear of Other Beliefs

by Linda Oats
My strong belief is that we each have a right to hold our beliefs and that "different" does not mean "wrong" just as "alike" does not mean "right." This appears to be such a simple concept, yet is apparently so incredibly difficult for us human beings to honor. Intolerance of differing viewpoints seems to be at or near the core of the conditions that lead to atrocities like we've experienced this week. It seems that when we believe that the "way I see the world" is exactly the "way the world is," this is the beginning of a potentially devastating journey on a continuum of fear toward three of its many offspring...anger, hatred and killing. Bullying in schools is one example of how this seems to manifest, where "You're different from me" escalates to "you're wrong and I'll bully you" to "I'll hurt you physically" to the increasing number of incidents in our schools of "I'll kill you." I think most people would agree that there's little if any wisdom in intolerance so extreme that it leads to killing others who disagree with the "way I see the world." I also think most people would agree that it would be unthinkable for adults to consider killing children who have killed other children as an act of "justice." Wouldn't it make much more sense to work to understand what has contributed to a child's taking another's life in the first place and spend our efforts restoring balance in those areas? I wouldn't begin to assert that this is an easy nor quick nor permanent remedy but one that requires constant attention. Yet is does seem to be a prudent approach.

As I see it, any time any of us belittle, ridicule, etc. others whose opinions different from ours, we're contributing to the creation of a world of fear...and subsequently, of anger and hatred if not of killing. I so deeply believe in the importance of striving to consistently honor, as best we can, differing viewpoints without an attempt to forcibly "convert" others to see the world as we do...merely to be open to examine and understand viewpoints that differ from our own, especially those so fervently held as those of terrorists. It's my belief that through understanding of others can we co-create solutions that address the core of behaviors...and therefore behavior changes and more sustained commitment to change versus enforced compliance.

I cannot even imagine the experiences and subsequent mindset that could result in a person's flying an aircraft to their own sure death, taking so many others of us along...physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We know of eighteen who were willing and can only speculate that perhaps uncountable other hopefuls are awaiting their chance to take such action. As I sit here writing this, I just received a phone call from a friend relaying that today a Taliban member has threatened retaliation should they be attacked and insinuated they presently could have thousands of operatives established and imbedded in the very fabric of our United States, poised to take further action. The well-thought-out attack so precisely executed Tuesday, regardless of who is behind it, makes it abundantly clear that there are terrorist capabilities far exceeding anything conventional wisdom has considered...until now.

I cannot envision a scenario where historically-used military action, or reaction, can dissuade terrorist beliefs of this magnitude. Regardless of its enormity, military action doesn't even approach the surreptitious, invasive and pervasive potential that terrorists have. For example, how can a dropped bomb anywhere stop one or any number of suicide terrorists from simultaneously driving bomb-laden trucks into U.S. state capitol buildings, or elementary schools, or shopping malls, or Friday night football games throughout the United States...if they're so inclined?

Here's a brief description of my understanding of the accounts from ABC's John Miller, one reporter who has met with and interviewed Bin Laden, as to how Bin Laden operates: people from around the globe...including our very own United States...of varied age, ethnicity, religious beliefs, etc. attend classes led by Bin Laden's group not unlike we attend universities. There's a curriculum of terrorist courses, i.e. intelligence infiltration, chemical warfare, car-bombing approaches, utilities sabotage, etc. etc. When participants...volunteers..."graduate" if you will, they return to their respective homes with their new "skills and motivation" and are encouraged to find applications for these skills, again not unlike our model of corporate seminars/workshops. Should they see an "opportunity" for widespread and "effective" applications, they're encouraged to call upon Bin Laden for his consideration, counsel, if not funding and mobilization. If this is an accurate account of at least a part of what we're really up against, can't we consider transforming our approach...allow the changing world of "war" to change our methodologies of exacting "justice" that so very often haven't led to peace but to even more fear, anger, hatred, bloodshed and death? Continued economic sanctions as we politely call them have and continue to result in hundreds of Iraqi children dying monthly from malnutrition and lack of medical aids. By most accounts, this combined with our most notable, spectacular military attack on Iraq and the Persian Gulf have had little impact on Saddam himself. Some "message" we're sending.

Our ancient ancestors knew of the power of human intentions, and it seems our world is becoming reacquainted with that same knowing. "An eye for an eye" approach, though passed down through many generations couched and protected in not-to-be-questioned religious dogma, deserves serious reconsideration. Considering the many debatable perspectives of wars waged on this planet, one is inevitably, "who's to say whose eye was taken first?" Following the bombing of the World Trade Center (1996?), Bin Laden was quoted as claiming America to be the enemy to fight in order to clear his path to God. WHY do they see their acts as retaliating against the enemy? Specifically in the events of this week, it's appearing as though the terrorists received their flight training from U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. Was Bin Laden himself a former CIA associate? In most terrorist attacks, we find that some if not much of their weaponry was manufactured by and purchased from U.S. firms. In some cases it's widely believed that U.S. government entities have knowingly or unknowingly, directly or indirectly supplied weaponry and intelligence to various terrorist groups. It becomes increasingly difficult to point of single finger at the perpetrator of violence and to know from whom to seek "justice."

These terrorists willing to die for their beliefs must surely consider their viewpoints to be, using your words, Mr. Thompson, "realistic observations," just as you and I believe ours to be. A difference is the lengths to which they're willing to go to support theirs. WHY are they willing to die...and WHAT conditions might alter their need to take such extreme actions? I contend that most of us haven't a clue and, sadly, won't unless we're willing to truly understand their viewpoints and life experiences.

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