Tag Archives: conflict

Is It Ever Okay to Offend an Entire Faith (Islam)?

Golden Rule behavior demands that we treat others as we would want to be treated given understanding of that individual’s circumstances.

Knowing that the Islamic faith prohibits depictions of its prophet Muhammad, is there ever an acceptable reason to produce and distribute cartoons about and including drawings of Muhammad?

Just after a $10,000 prize was handed out in Garland, Texas yesterday to the best caricature of Muhammad, two Muslim men attempted to shoot their way through the conference. Their assault began just moments after they were believed to have tweeted, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen” and stating their loyalty to the Islamic State. A police officer used his service pistol to kill the assault-rifle-armed attackers before they could inflict substantial harm.

In the immediate hours following the shooting, many media commentators questioned whether conference organizers had brought the attack on themselves. Given this reaction, is it ever acceptable to purposely offend? Following are seven questions worth considering in determining your answer:

  1. Was the offensive behavior—the caricature and condemnation of Muhammad—solely intended to offend, or was it pursued to achieve a higher purpose?
  1. If a higher purpose—or at least a serious purpose other than creating offense—was intended, could another method achieve that purpose without the offensive action?

Continue reading

10 Desirable “Unbelievably Small” Outcomes

Secretary of State John Kerry commented today that a military strike against Syria would be “unbelievably small.”  Kerry has to know that “unbelievably small” does not describe any successful military strike. This phrase does, however, describe a number of desirable government outcomes.

Here’s my short list:

  1. Unbelievably small federal debt
  2. Unbelievably small poverty rate
  3. Unbelievably small unemployment rate
  4. Unbelievably small political contribution limits
  5. Unbelievably small number of people entering the nation illegally
  6. Unbelievably small number of eligible food stamp recipients
  7. Unbelievably small high school dropout rate
  8. Unbelievably small number of drug addicts
  9. Unbelievably small college tuition bills, and
  10. Unbelievably small crime rate.

There are plenty of others, but I’ll stop there. In Secretary Kerry’s defense, his unscripted comment that America might not need to act if Syria gives up its chemical weapons may have stumbled on a better solution to the crisis than any previously suggested.

Zimmerman, Trayvon, Segregation and A Gun in My Back

I watched parts of the George Zimmerman trial and read about more, but didn’t see the full trial. Still, I was not at all surprised by the not guilty verdict, even while sensing that both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman could have acted differently to avoid the conflict that turned deadly. I learned as a youth that appearances can be misinterpreted and situations can turn wrong quickly. I’ve tried to keep that in mind throughout my life.

At 18, a group of friends and I went digging for golf balls in the Fox River aside a golf course in St. Charles, Illinois. When we returned to our cars with buckets and boxes of wet, muddy golf balls, a half-dozen police cars came screaming around the corner and officers came running out of their cars with guns drawn, throwing us up against the cars. Only after substantial discussion and dumping all our golf balls did the police realize that we were not really in the neighborhood to burglarize homes. We had cut through a yard on our way to the river. The owner had called police. But we were teenagers in dark clothes and fatigues. Our dress helped make the owner and police nervous.

That same summer, many of these same friends and I were chased through fields near a St. Charles movie theater by police again running with guns drawn. We had no idea why we were being chased, but didn’t want to wait around to find out. We were playing war with toy guns at the time, which we quickly dropped and did our best to avoid capture. It was only just before friends sang Happy Birthday to me on my 18th birthday in the St. Charles jail that we learned one of the game players had climbed the roof of the theater to gain a sight line and had scared moviegoers and management into believing an armed robbery was underway. Appearance put our lives at risk that day in a way none of us had anticipated. A police officer was actually sanctioned for not shooting one of our friends when he turned with his toy gun drawn when he was told to freeze, thinking it was someone else in the game trying to get him out.

Two days ago, my son and I were playing golf in Port Marnock, just outside of Dublin, Ireland. On the 15th hole, a group of 10 young, drunk teenagers ran up, surrounded our cart, tried to steal a golf ball and began badgering us. One sat down in the cart and tried to take control of it. Another started snooping in so I grabbed my wallet and cell phone, then took the cart key. After five minutes of politely suggesting that the kids needed to just get on their way, one turned to us and asked, “Do you know what it feels like to have your head smashed in with a golf club.” The lone girl in the group egged the boys on to be men and fight. My son and I kept our cool, but became insistent that the kids needed to just get on their way. Perhaps we had the good fortune that neither of us was particularly scared even though we were outnumbered substantially. The kids appeared to be 13- to 16-year-olds and none were individually imposing. Finally, the kids grew tired of us not giving in to letting them take our cart or nearby golf ball and ran off to steal another of our golf balls further down the fairway. I can’t help but think how badly this situation could have gotten if the kid threatening to hit us with golf clubs had reached into the bag just two feet away from him and started to come after us. There would have been no winners from such a confrontation, regardless of the outcome. Would we have acted only to deflect blows coming at us, or attacked back to avoid taking a golf club beating? I have little doubt we wouldn’t have just stood and taken whatever blows came our way.

Did Trayvon deserve what happened to him? Of course not, but it doesn’t mean that George Zimmerman wasn’t justified in responding in self-defense. Since the war-game arrest and golf-ball gun in my back, I’ve been careful to avoid unnecessary conflict and tried to be aware of when others might see me as threatening, crossing the street if necessary to allow others to feel comfortable that they are safe. That restraint served us well in Ireland as well, and may have made a difference in the lives of some of those kids. I don’t know if race played any role in the Zimmerman/Martin confrontation. But I do know that conflicts can develop, impressions can be inaccurately created and situations can go wrong even when everyone involved is of the same race.

P.S. — Everyone else in Ireland was delightful and we enjoyed dozens of great discussions with people around the country. I highly recommend a visit to anyone looking for a friendly destination. I also genuinely appreciated the concern shown by golf course management after the incident.

Immigration, Segregation, Mothers and National Survival

In recent weeks, issues of race, language, immigration and the potential for broader conflict have elevated considerably following a national report showing that  racial segregation is expanding at a dramatic pace. That this study took place and subsequent consternation is taking place in the United Kingdom should offer no relief to those of us worried about the long term impacts of segregation in the United States.

A recent column in Express laments Britain’s move toward looking like America: “In such places as Detroit and Baltimore a white person is as rare as a truthful politician. There are entire school districts that are white, black or Hispanic. It is important to stress this is wrong for everyone involved, from black to white and every colour in between. Segregation is not the way forward; integration is, yet we are further away from that in this country than ever before.”

The Express columnist noted former Equality and Human Rights Commission Chairman Trevor Phillips saw accelerated segregation coming eight years earlier when he warned Britain was “sleepwalking into segregation” and allowing “ghettoes” of different races and faiths to flourish. “Predictably he was shouted down and bizarrely even branded a racist,” the columnist wrote.  (Segregation is Madness.)

Long-term segregation, along racial, language or religious lines, has led to violent confrontation in nearly every country through human history where it has been allowed to flourish. Those who suggest it won’t happen here believe the conditions for conflict won’t exist in their lifetime. I believe we are merely awaiting the final demographic shifts and ascension of exploitative, self-serving politicians to turn growing divisions into conflict if we don’t begin acting to create more integrated experiences.

There is no greater gift that we can give to mothers on this day than to ensure their children do not end up fighting in senseless conflicts driven by divisions we saw coming, but then allowed to happen.



Politicians Exploit Language Differences

It’s not just in the United States that we find politicians exploiting language differences for partisan advantage. The link below highlights how language differences turn into political division (this time in Canada).

Maintaining a common language and elements of common culture are among the reasons that immigration reform is critical. We want and need to welcome immigrants. But we want those who come here to share a common language as quickly as possible and to learn how our government works (or should work in any case). Both of these happen with legal immigration, but not with many entering illegally.


We want to encourage citizens to be bilingual and trilingual, but a common language contributes to the nation’s stability and longevity. Without it, we have to rely on politicians to not exploit differences. That hasn’t proved workable of late.


Is segregation ever the answer?

Tomorrow, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. As we do, it’s worthwhile to also celebrate the man whose teachings guided Dr. King. Benjamin Elijah Mays was a minister, college president and Dr. King’s spiritual adviser. His life story and views are worth remembering. A quote on the importance of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, from the attached article, stands out as one of his many crucial insights: “Make no mistake—as this country could not exist half slave and half free, it cannot exist half segregated and half desegregated.”

Unfortunately, America is again being divided by politicians more intent on securing the advance of the Democratic or Republican parties than on finding common cause and uniting the nation behind it. America is resegregating – in the communities in which we live and the viewpoints to which we expose ourselves. For decades now, we have created racially segregated political districts, yet appear surprised that politicians act on the personal gain they accrue from fostering divisions. With today’s second-term presidential inauguration, it’s clear we’ve come a long way from the nation in which a young Benny Mays watched his father be forced at gunpoint to remove his hat, salute and bow to a mob of white men simply because they were white. But we still have a very long way to go to eliminate racism perpetuated by some people of every race.



Are We Becoming Greece or Argentina?

The attached opinion piece by a noted historian points out challenges America is creating for itself with its continued divisive political culture. The most critical point:  it is the poor and middle class who truly suffer when we follow policies with a history of proven failure. Nations divided – whether by economic class, race, ethnicity or language – end up with violence on the streets.