This past week, a Florida pastor with a flock of up to 50 people made headlines around the world for sponsoring a “burn a Koran” day. Protests from the State Department, Defense Department, as well as from Christian notables poured in until finally he rescinded his plans. Much has been made about the threat of radical Islam, and the fact that most Islamic people are peaceful in spite of the radicals. While this debate goes on, I read about how Islam is taking over European cities like Amsterdam and Paris, where their citizens are being beaten by Islamic thugs who don’t approve of their religion or lifestyle and that Western Civilization is falling to a new Islamic threat, and people objecting to building an Islamic community center near Ground Zero in New York City.
With all the protests on both sides, I have to say there is an elephant in the room no one is speaking about that is an unspoken threat in this ongoing debate. Western Civilization is based on post Enlightenment values regarding the value of human life, and fair and ethical treatment of people as well as animals. For this reason, most Western countries have outlawed capital punishment and much of corporal punishment as well. Our laws and values as a civilization are based on these ideas. Unfortunately, these values are limited to Western Europe and the Americas. Prior to the Enlightenment, human life was not considered in itself sacred, and murder and torture for political and religious reasons were common in the west. The Crusades and Spanish Inquisition, and the Reformation have bloody histories. After the Enlightenment, we exchanged those values for less draconian, more humane rules of engagement. The problem with these new rules, is that they only work if everyone operates by them.
The Middle East does not accept post Enlightenment values but rather follows the Koran, which has a different set of values and therefore, a different operating system than we use. In the Middle East, human life is not valued like it is in the West. If a person steals in the west, they may go to jail, but that is all. In the Middle East, they very well may have their hand chopped off. In the West, if a woman is unfaithful to her husband, she may divorce. In the Middle East, she may be burned alive.
We try to interface with the Middle East assuming we all accept the same values, but if they don’t value human life as we do, our negotiations are not on a level playing field. We seek to avoid violence, while they train their children to be suicide bombers. The failure of this kind of engagement is best seen in Israel. They seek to use diplomacy, but are met with violence. The west tells them to turn the other cheek, but they get that cheek slapped as well. I am not advocating fighting fire with fire. When you do that, everyone gets burned. Nevertheless, if we don’t all play by the same rules, how can there be meaningful engagement?