The topic of security has drowned the airwaves since the Christmas Day attempted attack on the Northwest flight landing in the Detroit Metro airport. The issue has primarily been talked about from the perspective of technology. The discussions ensue and it seems that with all the intelligence we have amassed to work on the issue of terrorism that the simple issue of human relations has escaped the conversation.
We, as a nation, can throw billions of dollars at technology and still not be safe. The issue seems not to be an issue of technology, but an issue of human relations. If we took that same stack of money and put it into experiential education learning about others and programs that bridge differences between people, our country would be safer than any amount of security through technology will make us.
This is best related through an Arab folktale. There was once a man with his son and a donkey. At first the man rode the donkey and the son walked beside. The people said, “How can you let your son walk while you ride?” So, the man got down and let his son ride the donkey and walked along side. Then the people said (roughly translated), “This child has no home-training, how can he ride and make his elder walk. Does he have no respect for his elders.”
The man made his son get down and they both walked. The people said, “How can you waste the purpose of this animal, it is not a human-being so why are you treating it this way?” So, the man then got back on the donkey and put his son on too. Well, then the people were outraged and said, “How can you abuse this animal like this? It is just a donkey, it can not hold the two of you?” The man and his son then got off the donkey and carried the donkey on their backs. The people thought they were crazy. So the man and the son left the donkey.
There are two morals to this story. One is that you can never please people. The other is that there are many perspectives on the same issue. It is the latter that applies to this situation. As a country, we have yet to understand that we are playing right into the terrorists’ plans. We have allowed them to win some battles. First, there has been serious discord sewn between American Muslims and the rest of the country. The masses have felt that abuse toward American Muslims is acceptable. Second, the idea of fear has permeated to the point that people are putting more faith into systems instead of the only thing worthy of worship – God.
Technology is only as effective as the people using it, and we hire people to use the technology with basic education. They do not have the education to know the differences of cultures and body language, so this is a feigned security. It is a technology fashion show that is expensive. We are spending money on something that will not seemingly benefit us thus further depleting our resources.
Ignorance is abound. The very few people who have been allowed to speak and given a voice in the mainstream media about Muslims and Islam do not know accurate information about it. They have been well-funded – certainly enough to drown-out all those who do. Their ideas of Islam and the sword are just far off the map. For those who know Islamic history know that Islam spread in times of peace at much greater rates than it ever did during the times of the sword. So this claim of the Muslims wanting to kill all these infidels is just really far off the mark. The real issue is one of human relations.
When we consider terrorist attacks committed by Muslims there seems to be one central issue – human relations. If we look at the profile of 9/11 terrorists, these were men who were known to be womanizers and drinkers, engaging in activities known to be forbidden for Muslims. Part of the reason they got to that point of transgression was out of the influence of their surroundings – the poverty, corruption and social injustice they saw in their own lands and in other Muslim lands. When this influence combined with their need to redeem one’s self, they mistakenly believed that attacking people they felt contributed to this poverty, corruption and lack of social injustice would give them that forgiveness that they desperately wanted.
This is not the way Muslims correct their behavior. They ask for forgiveness and do not repeat the same misdeeds. It is a step-by-step process. However, there are people who are led astray as these men were who think they can accomplish this with a field goal.
This most recent attack in contrast seems to bespeak another side to the human relations issue. Young people of all backgrounds have a strong sense of justice. When they do not see justice, they want to do something about it – though they may not have the necessary tools to do so. When there is an adult offering a way to correct social injustice in a seemingly valid way, young people may not have the psychological faculties to know the extent of the wrong they are entering. They may have an internal sense which tells them something is not quite right, which is why I think this young Nigerian man waited so long to perpetrate his terrorism – because he was not fully convinced. But, once you have entered down this road of terrorism you are dead if you fail or if you succeed whether you realize your mistake or not.
The point is that in America we have a tradition that has been highlighted be many great people. Like President Kennedy who asked us to remember “to whom much is given, much is expected.” And yet, something has changed in our society. We are not looking at what is happening to the other. We also do not realize in this economic crisis how much more we still have than the other. We are not focused on human-relating and these people will continue to scream out until we do.
What we do seem to be doing is mesmerizing Americans with this technology discussion and, at the same time, giving the rest of the world the impression that Americans are ex-Brits who have become the same imperialists all over again. We have occupied many countries in recent times and now, in very code language, have people thinking we are about to occupy Yemen, a Middle-Eastern country with great religious and historical significance. Yemen is full of oil. This is reminiscent of Iraq. Not every American has knowledge of Muslims and the Middle East, but most of Middle Easterners have knowledge of America. And, our current image is one where we seem to be raping these lands of their resources.
To the other, we have a President who delivered a great Cairo speech, who seems to understand but also seems to be the only one in the Administration or cogs of government who does. No human being who has an ounce of self-worth and self-esteem will sit still when others are trying to oppress them.
What we need in this time of uncertainty is not more technology, but more human relations, more understanding of different perspectives and working with that to achieve peace and social justice. Otherwise, we are all just one of the many perspectives of the man, the child, the donkey, and the masses. Instead of working toward peace we will continue to spin out of control into a threatening world.
Heather Laird is a Michigan-based writer for mainstream and Muslim publications and a Fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. She is also one of the conveners for the 1st World Congress on Muslim Philanthropy in Istanbul, Turkey, and she has spoken at various community events in southeastern Michigan and at numerous universities in Michigan on topics concerning Muslims and Islam. A version of this article originally appeared at Examiner.com.