Many of us around the world have been closely following the news during and following the terror attacks in and around Paris, France that killed over twenty people, including the majority of the editorial staff of satirical journal Charlie Hebdo, three police officers, and four Jewish civilians, as well as the perpetrators of these hate crimes. Ordinary people caught up in a mind-boggling chain of events, responding to the best of their abilities to survive, to help others in danger.
In the aftermath of these tragic events, an encouraging swell of support for freedom of expression and compassion for the fallen and admiration for the heroes who saved lives has been accompanied by a rise in hate crimes in France against Muslim places of worship and businesses. Of course, the majority of Muslims living in France are not extremists or fundamentalists. They are French citizens who have lived in France for generations and who wish to live their lives peacefully and to be respected for their beliefs.
Also in the news are the worrisome demonstrations orchestrated by PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) which some say drew anywhere from 17,000 to 35,000 in Dresden, in eastern Germany. This group represents dissatisfied nationalists who wish to hold responsible Muslim immigrants and immigration for their economic and social ills, although relatively few Muslims live in east Germany. The group claims they are not racist and don’t wish to exclude well-integrated Muslims, but they have received support from the extreme right.
While many German citizens and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel have actively spoken out against this worrisome rise in nationalism and desire for racist-driven political policies, it is important to consider the sources of both nationalism and religious fundamentalism. Both are rooted in the same soil: fear (desire to control) and lack of self-awareness.
The reflex to blame one’s discomfort, fears, lack of security or well-being on another individual or group (scape-goating) is an age-old social problem. The solution is a simple one, yet it requires in-depth work. An entire revamping of the way we think across all cultures and all religious belief systems. The truth is that all spiritual paths at some level recommend similar ideas: we all have a true self and a false self, and that to find inner peace, we must learn to recognize our conditioned mind’s reactions in its thoughts and emotions and desires. To observe those responses rather than react to them. This is the process of self-awareness that leads an individual to understand that he or she is not the sum of the various identities that he or she has accumulated over a lifetime.
Peace comes from repeated experiences with awareness. When a person begins to progressively connect with his or her source, hatred is no longer possible, and fear drops away. One no longer needs to blame another for circumstantial problems, which now are interpreted as learning opportunities rather than misfortunes.
How to combat both extremism and fundamentalism? As parents and educators, we can teach our children with positive reinforcement and without shaming them. We can adopt an approach that emphasizes self-awareness and responsibility for self that promotes empathy for others, compassion for self. In this way, our upcoming generations will expand in wholehearted living, encompassing environmental concerns, social and cultural growth. We can live with one another, and we can see reality without twisting it to measure up or down to any one belief system. We don’t need to constantly create drama and tragedies in order to come together and bond as nations. We are already one in heart. It is time to make this practice available to all, and we can each make it happen by doing this work ourselves, by teaching it in our families.