The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

April 23, 2013

Anson Burlingame, guest columnist: Keeping our faith with common decency

JOPLIN, Mo. — After watching events unfold in Boston, I am interested in better understanding why the marathon bombings happened and have some thoughts along those lines.

Two bombs exploded, killing and maiming innocent people. It was, in all probability, an insane attempt to make a political statement. However, the response was heroic and apolitically professional.  

That response was a superb achievement by citizens throughout the Boston area and law enforcement agencies of all sorts throughout Boston, America and probably the world. Capturing the killers was handled masterfully, even beautifully, if such a word can be used to describe professionalism on the part of law enforcement in America today.

Now that the perpetrators have been killed or are in custody, the why will start to consume the public’s interest. It is going to take time to sort it all out. However, I am willing to start looking at and thinking about the why. The answer will probably have the word “radicalization” in it. Specifically it will involve the radicalization of two young men in the Muslim faith.

However, if we are honest with ourselves, such radicalization should be considered not just in Islam but rather all faiths and, yes, politics. The basic question we all should consider is: How do we uphold our “faith” (not just religion) and still function with some degree of grace in a modern society? How do we as individuals speak and act gracefully in matters of religion, politics, charity, public behavior, public debate, etc. in a civil society?

There is much to be done in that regard today in America, in my view. And I see no way for government to do it all for us.

One man has stood out in all the commentary flying around. It is the uncle of the two men. He was first shown on TV Friday night when one of his nephews was at large and the other was already dead. He was an angry and disgusted man essentially condemning his two nephews for their actions and calling for his nephew to turn himself in and ask for forgiveness.

On Saturday morning he was again on TV, a little calmer but still firm in his belief that his nephews were “bad” men causing grave harm. He is also angry that their actions might bring condemnation on all people from his country. I will not start a rant against Chechnya, but I will consider further condemnation of radicalized Muslims or radicals of any faith, religion and again, yes, politics.  

I have started reading the Quran and have read the Christian Old Testament. I do not condemn either Islam or Christianity in their entirety as “bad,” but I do suggest that some individuals interpreting those religions are simply nuts. They become radicalized in their attempts to keep their faith.

Across the board, American society is becoming more and more radicalized — rich vs. poor, liberals vs. conservatives, Democrats vs. GOP, Christians vs. Muslims, union vs. management, the list goes on. If you are worried about more radical Islam bombings in the streets, well, why not worry about more bombings of abortion clinics tomorrow? If you want to keep your faith with your politics, then why not worry about those who call for the other side to be “squashed like cockroaches”?

Radicalization in many forms is taking place before our eyes across this land, a land that always inspired freedom for expression but with an underlying common decency when such freedom was spoken or written.

There are just as many political zealots as there are radicalized Muslims in our midst. I see it right here in Joplin. The political zealots can never find any good on the other side of the aisle and are just as bad as or perhaps worse than the religious zealots in spreading such nonsense around.

How can all Americans learn to keep their faith and still function with common decency in a modern society? That seems to be a bigger problem in America today than I have ever observed.

Anson Burlingame lives in Joplin.

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