With the recent death of the “alleged” (I really don’t want to get into this particular debate) Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, Lady Gaga cancelling several concerts (due to death threats and condemnation from Muslims) in the Philippines, and the outcries against Muslims handing out Qurans in Germany, I have been involved in a fair few debates over how we should treat others when they mistreat us. Considering that the “Golden Rule” can be found in pretty much every religious and secular moral code ever devised, and that around 33% of the globe profess to be followers of Mr. Jesus “turn the other cheek” Christ, I find it strange that so few people are wiling to even try living by these ideas.
First off, let me say this; I understand that Lockerbie was a truly horrific event. I really do feel for all those that lost loved ones or were otherwise affected by that terrible act of terror. I have never lost a loved one, and can therefore not even contemplate how that would make me feel or act. I cannot comprehend what my emotional state would be if a terrorist took my Mother or Grandparents, but it undoubtedly would be markedly different from how it is now. However, despite this fact, I still do not agree with the protests against the early release of al-Megrahi. By releasing him on compassionate grounds, the Scottish elevated themselves and their belief system far above that of their attackers. They turned the other cheek, and won the real battle: the battle of ideas.
By stooping to the same moral level of your attackers you remove your right to judge, and, in the same stroke, remove any moral requirement for them to behave better. For example, how can the German Legislators that last week called for the Salafi’s not to hand out Qurans in Germany condemn the same practice (or worse) in Indonesia? The answer is they can’t. Their moral high ground has been eroded. How can Americans that protested the “Ground Zero Mosque” (which wasn’t a Mosque), or others like it, also condemn Saudi Arabia for its lack of Churches or Christian clergy? The answer is they can’t. Their moral high ground has also been eroded. How can Israel condemn Palestinian suicide bombers while at the same time disenfranchising millions, stealing land (settlements) and launching their own rockets into Palestinian territory? The answer is they can’t. Their moral high ground has been eroded. How can Americans expect terrorist attacks to stop when they continue to torture enemy combatants, have their representatives publicly vilify Islam, and bomb innocents? The answer is they can’t. Their moral high ground has been eroded. And in turn, what reason is there for the Salafi’s, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, or terrorists to begin behaving better? The answer is, there is no reason. They are behaving in a similar fashion to us. There are no grown ups in these examples.
Now, none of these examples are perfect substitutes/offsets for each other. There is no such thing as a perfect offset in morality. But they are similarly bad acts, in similar areas. I am also not saying that the victims of terrorist attacks, suicide bombings etc. etc. are personally responsible for the attacks they received. However, as countries/religions/belief systems we are perceived by outside groups as single entities, just as we perceive “Christians” or “Muslims” to be largely single entities. And, therefore, the bad actions of some will reflect poorly on the rest of us. The bad actions of a few degrade all of our moral standing. They remove all of our right to judge, and expect better behaviour.
What is the answer? The answer is to behave better than our enemies/opponents. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and the American Civil Rights movement did not win their fight because they stooped to the same level as their oppressors. No, they rose above, and they conquered. In a similar fashion, Gandhi did not stoop to the level of the British, and Mandela did not stoop to the level of the white South Africans. They all turned the other cheek, and led by moral example. They thought better than their opponents. They acted better than their opponents. And they defeated their opponents through force of behaviour and morality. In other words, you win a battle of ideas by having and practicing better ideas. You do not win a battle of ideas by following your competition, until the battle devolves into nothing more than a slapping competition.
Many people will think I am being unrealistic, too optimistic, or just down right naïve. This is probably true; I am, after all, only 22 years old. But to me, winning is all-important. The battle between religions, moral codes, and government systems all take place on the field of ideas. As does the war against terrorism. To win a battle of ideas such as the ones we are all currently facing on multiple fronts requires that you not allow the actions of your opponents to change your morals or behaviour. When the actions of terrorists lead to the acceptance of torture, you have lost. When the actions of religious fanatics in a foreign country lead to the end of religious liberty in yours, you have lost. When the act of a terrorist allows you to forget the simple act of compassion to a dying man, no matter who he is or what he has done, you have lost.
Perhaps these are just the last remnants of my Christian faith and upbringing, but I have always considered acting morally and with love to be preferable to stooping to someone else’s level. If someone slaps me and I can smile back at him or her, I have dealt him or her a blow no physical strike can match. Granted, I am rarely successful at this, but I try, and it is my constant aim to achieve it. I will not allow a terrorist, or a criminal, or a religious extremist to change my morals or strip my compassion, because then they have won. They will have won the battle of ideas.