Friday, 21 September 2012

The Loudest Voices

A story posted by one of my Muslim facebook friends hit me today. It was a long post by someone who appears fairly religious, on an Islamic website, telling upset people to stop killing innocent ambassadors, stop feeding the hate trolls, and get a bloody grip.

I will admit, the whole issue had me in two minds.

One side of me wants to give in to primal instinct, and accuse the Muslim world of wholesale hypocricy. "We don't insult your Jewish and Christian prophets!", you hear again and again. That's because we don't give a rat's ass about prophets. Prophets are your holy cow. That's cool, but we have ours, which are different, and which we're equally sensitive to. Americans are sensitive about 9/11. Israeli Jews? about the holocaust. Germans are even more sensitive on that same subject, because, as a German doctor who moved to Tasmania put it to me, virtually every German member of our generation found himself at some point rocking up home and accusing grandpa of committing warcrimes. Chinese have an entire string of them. Japanese massacre, British colonialism, opium wars. Everyone has a sensitive spot somewhere. Stabbing anyone in that soft spot is an unnecessary exercise in being sadistic, cruel and insensitive.

I've spent the last 37 years of my life seeing Arab and Muslim leaders maliciously poke knives into my sensitive spot, for some populist gain, because me and my country happened to be the shiny object they needed to distract their people from the dysfunctional way they ran their own.

I used to feel the way muslims feel about this Mohammed film (and I'm sure a fair number of Israelis still do), but eventually I got used to sucking it up. I got used to routine exercises like the annual holocaust denial convention staged and state-sponsored in Iran, produced with every intention to stab us where we hurt.

If you run into an Israeli that doesn't understand what all the touchy feely fuss with the Mohammed thing is about, now you know why. We learned to suck it up to avoid giving cruel people power, by not giving a shit about what they think. I can't recommend this enough to my Muslim friends.

As Tom Friedman wrote this week in what appears to be the first column I've ever seen him write in anger, many people in the Arab and Muslim world need a good hard look in a mirror, if they intend to go demanding western countries get their hate-mongering rabid dogs under control while employing violence against innocents to make the point.

Another side of me says that whole approach is more about ego-rub and less about what's good for any of us. Muslims are no more a one big "they" as Australians or Europeans or Israelis are (you sure do get used to lumping them into a one big "they" when you live in Israel tho). As Friedman writes in his column, "theirs is a complex society". And with the decrease of dictators to rally or hide behind, the Muslim voices saying "this is absolutely crazy, and it ain't doing us no good either" (words mine, gist Waleed's), have grown bolder and louder.

A couple of weeks ago, in a university lecture, we discussed the way corporations attempt to redefine what they're about in Australia, from "We measure ourselves with money" to "We measure ourselves with money, our social impact and our environmental impact". This is commonly referred to as the "Triple Bottom Line".

Our professor called it whitewash.

Being a devout Muslim himself, he proceeded to teach about business backgrounds in middle-eastern countries, particular details of Sharia and the long list of wonderful tenets he believes Islam is all about.

I caught up with him after the class and we had a chat. I said that maybe to the board of big old dinosaur like BHP Billiton, the triple bottom line is indeed whitewash. But to many companies, in particular, an entire generation of greentech and other companies whose corporate culture was founded after environment became an issue, it's a core belief. It's in their DNA. The people who run them and the people who work in them genuinely believe that it's about more than the profit you make.
And if you want these guys to win out, you need to park the bloody cynicism and stop referring to their efforts as whitewash, simply because to a company like BHP it is.

I told him I can do the same to him and his rosy view of Islam. I grew up in Israel. I can run an entire university course about the dissonance between his professed ideals and what I've seen the Muslim world do. Not only to others, but to itself.

We shouldn't do this. Cynicism is giving up on the people with the good ideas, throwing in the towel and letting the people with the atrocious ones laugh at you. Cynicism is a loser's consolation.

For the good ideas to win - ideas like mature, tolerant Islam, ideas like the triple bottom line, we fundamentally need two people.

We need the guy who will say them with a straight face and mean them, and initially this will happen when the reality on the ground grossly disagrees with him. Remember he is the avaunt-guarde of those better beliefs.

Then we need the other guy, who is asked to park the ugly reality he's well aware of, take a leap of faith, transcend his cynicism, and admit the possibility that the first guy stands a chance.

In these and so many of the bigger problems of the world today, we need more brave people who would risk being either of these two guys.

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