February 23, 2007

Build, not burn bridges

A column I read on an online newspaper recently set me thinking. Something about religion, terrorism, and the disruption of flight schedules. The writer laments how innocent people are being killed by terrorists, and rants on about how some Malaysians were ambivalent about terrorists or even support them. She has extremely valid concerns. What concerned me as well, however, were her bigoted expressions in referring to Palestinians as people "with a penchant for violence", and the use of statistics to associate a particular religion (Islam) with terrorism.

To justify her point that one religion preaches more or less violent ways over another, she asked readers to do an internet search on "Islamic terrorists" and "Buddhist terrorists" where the phrases register 711,000 and 1,910 hits respectively. Out of curiosity, I Googled up the phrases "female terrorists" (14,300 Google hits) and "male terrorists" ( 2,260 Google hits). It doesn't take long for one to see the absurdity of using these sorts of numbers to assert a point of view. As far as searching the latter phrases on the internet are concerned, the results at most reflect the number of people talking about Muslim terrorists, and not even terrorist websites themselves. After all, those she would term as terrorists would not call themselves terrorists on their own websites.

The argument on whether religion and violence are compatible or not ultimately lies in one's interpretation of it. Furthermore, a study done by political scientist Robert Pape, who analysed every known case of suicide terrorism from 1980 to 2003 concludes: "religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organisations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective."

To assert that the cause of terrorism is something inherent whether in religion or race, is not only unfounded, but also irresponsible, as this closes the doors for dialogue between communities and within our society. Let alone it being a pointless exercise in which to demonise an already marginalised group by the international media. We ought to examine what supports terrorism and what it thrives on. This is not an excuse for violent actions, which we must condemn, but in looking for explanations and ways to stem factors that support these actions.Ê

My concern is that as there is already such deep polarisation between the "west" and the "Islamic" world, shouldn't we look to build bridges instead of burning them? Continuing to possess and to expound this kind of prejudiced worldview without the slightest awareness of its implications only serves to further divide people.

We should be engaging with one another across communities, if not actively, at least to keep check on whether one's own worldview, is fair, or otherwise, to support the latter efforts. To see, and help fight injustices suffered by your neighbours is one way to build bridges. Failing to do so would be a lost opportunity and a detriment to our own fight against the deepening divides in our society.

Unfortunately, until we learn to engage with each other without reacting negatively in the first instance to stereotyped views, it will be extremely difficult to reach out across communities.

The writer is a psychologist by day and a singer-songriter on other days. She likes to pay her bills on time.

Published in The Sun Fri, 29 Sep 2006 (http://www.sun2surf.com/article.cfm?id=15642)

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