Extremists and laughter

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If we could just get these people to laugh – I think that could turn things around.

To have them catch themselves laughing joyfully about something that does not involve mass calamity, blown up buildings, or dead hostages.

Rather than drone strikes, I think we should try a different approach. Let’s kidnap extremist leaders and force them to watch a few episodes of Everyone Loves Raymond, or The King of Queens, or The Office. Or at least lobby our representatives to dump some defense dollars into researching what tickles the funny bone of an extremist?.

Because laughter allows us to forget our troubles (if only for a moment) – it is a uniquely human ability (sorry, I do not think those Hyenas are actually laughing) – and genuine laughter is one of the few human experiences that provides “oneness with the moment”.

And let’s be honest, if it’s a really, really, really good laugh, one of those so-hard-you cried-and-could-not-catch-your-breath laughs, you remember it forever. It gets stored in the laugh reservoir portion of our brain, so that we can draw upon this reservoir during those times when we’re stuck in the desolation desert.

I think extremists spend their entire existence in the desolation desert and their laugh reservoirs are a big sandy pit.

If you know any extremists, tell them a joke, try to get them to giggle (do not try to tickle them – that could be dangerous).

Tolerance is a flower that is slow to bloom

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Fill in the blank:

“The majority of Muslims _________________________”

are peaceful

are rational

are fond of Americans

want more freedom

Americans have been told over and over that the majority of Muslims are all of these things. And most Americans want to believe this to be true, if only to convince ourselves that the act of flying planes into buildings was an aberration of Islam, rather than the normality of it.

But watch the news this week and all you see are Muslim mobs, heaving with hatred, burning American flags and storming our embassies. Cable news network’s provide us with 24/7 coverage complete with expert analysts – most of whom labor to explain that the protesters represent a small percentage of the overall population, and that fringe elements were exploiting a situation (the posting of an inflammatory video about Islam) as an excuse for perpetrating violence against the west.
Although I believe there was an element of truth to the analysis – the most important lesson to learn from this week’s violence is this:

In Islamic nations, when it comes to blasphemy, almost all Muslims are in agreement. In other words, no one is free to speak out against the teachings of Mohammed. And if they do, violent retribution is deemed (in the hearts of many Muslims) an appropriate reaction that is in accordance with their teachings and belief system.

The idea of “I hate what he said, but I will defend his right to say it” is uniquely western. I think American’s forget, or get lost in the rhetoric about God given rights and American exceptionalism, that our ideas about freedom cannot be applied uniformly to all cultures. This is especially true of nations where Islam is the rule of law.

I am not saying that America should stop promoting western values like freedom and democracy, or not strongly condemn the violence that occurred this week.

I am saying that one of these values, the freedom of speech, have limitations (right or wrong), in countries ruled by Islamic law.

In America we have a saying that freedom of speech “does not give one the right to yell FIRE” in a crowded theater. I would argue that our world, made smaller by technology, has become a crowded theater – and that “FIRE!” is not the only word or phrase that can result in calamity.

So, how to coexist in this rapidly shrinking world of ours? Well first, all nations need to embrace tolerance and promote education about each other’s culture. Although this sounds simple and logical, tolerance is a flower that is slow to bloom

We sometimes hear from our own citizens that America is intolerant, but I think most of us recognize that America cultivates tolerance – providing a fertile environment where tolerance can take hold, grow, and spread. But here’s the hard reality; such an environment does not exist in nations ruled by Islamic law. Because this is the case, we should not expect tolerance to take hold, grow, and spread at the same rate in Egypt as it does in America. That would be like expecting corn to grow at the same rate in Antarctica as it does in Iowa. That said, we should resign ourselves to the fact that in Islamic nations, it could take generations before we see any significant changes.

President Obama was right when he said he did not know if Egypt and Libya were allies of America. Both these countries have governments newly born out of the Arab spring. Our alliances with these new governments will be formed (or not formed) based in part on how they respond to situations like this week’s outbreak of violence – only then will we know if they are truly allies of America.

The United States government should do everything in its power to persuade these governments to change. This includes putting conditions on the aid we send them. It is fair and appropriate to ask in exchange for our aide, that these governments commit to cultivating an environment in which tolerance can  prosper. Without such commitments, the violence will never end.

“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them”

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I remember how those words, spoken by then candidate Barack Obama, caused such and an up-roar in America.

Yesterday, as violent uprisings spread throughout the Arab world, I thought to myself these same exact words, used to describe attitudes of Americans in small midwestern towns, could also be used to describe the  Islamists storming our embassy in Egypt and Libya.

What does it mean to “cling” to one’s religion? Well obviously it’s not a flattering comment (that’s why so many people got pissed). It’s kind of the opposite of saying people are getting strength from their religion. It conjured up images of angry, white (only because a black man said it); uneducated families huddled around their own prejudiced thoughts while holding a bible in one hand and shotgun in the other.

What Barack Obama was saying was that when times are tough, especially economically, people grab onto these two things (religion and guns), not as a means to get them through difficult times, but as a way of nullifying what they believe to be socio-economic injustice. I may not have all that you have, but I have Jesus Christ and a semi-automatic hand gun – and that trumps everything!

Those extremists storming our embassy have been on jelly-side down side of the socioeconomic sandwich for generations – for many of them, the only thing they have is their God and their religion.

Insult that, or demean it in any way, and they see it as an attempt to take away the one thing they believe they have that is superior to all things material, their God.

Men and greeting cards

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Men cannot get through reading any non-humorous greeting card that contains over 5 sentences.

We are completely incapable of toughing it out in that situation. If someone is watching us, we pretend to be reading it – but rest assured we are not. If no one is there when we receive such a card, we still pretend to read it – not sure who we are pretending for. When we are done pretending to read the card, we place it on the sofa table in the standard stand up fashion – when a card is in that position, it is assumed to have been read.

Sorry, but this is all true. If you want men to read a greeting card – make it a funny one – or make it a short one.