Letter From New York August 31, 2014

Or, as it seems to me…

Yesterday was the postcard version of a Hudson River Valley day: the sky was a soft blue, the temperature and humidity was moderate. It was a perfect day for the things I did: Saturday chores, going to the Farmer’s Market and collecting fresh fruit and vegetables [ah, the cantaloupe and donut peaches were succulent], followed by a trip to Olde Hudson for cheeses and pate – all in preparation for two friends coming over for a dinner of nibbles and bits over Prosecco and white wine. I took a long walk around my circle, stopping to chat with one of my neighbors. It was a perfect country Saturday.

I slept in lazily today, hitting the snooze alarm more than once, stretching slowly into awake land, followed by a pot of French Press coffee and some time on the deck overlooking the creek, catching up on the world via the New York Times and BBC News, both of whose apps I have on my iPhone. Soft yellow sunlight danced across the deck while the creek flowed lazily down to the pond. 

But then the skies grew darker and the sunlight danced offstage, the blue sky was replaced by nickel grey; checking the forecast I see that thunderstorms are predicted for the afternoon.

It felt the sky grow darker as I read the news stories, each one a bit darker than the last. Yesterday evening, my friends and I didn’t confront the happenings in the world until long into the evening. The news of the day came up and we skittered away from it immediately, only returning to contemporary events when we were deep in the evening, comforted by a glass of Prosecco or two.

Out in the Mideast, ISIS is seemingly being more than somewhat successful in creating its Caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq, cleverly using all kinds of media to further their cause and to recruit supporters from the West to come and devote their lives to Jihad. In the Middle East their message is harsh and brutal: see what we are doing, watch this beheading, see us massacre Syrian or Iraqis, watch us kill the apostate Shia.

In the West, their message is more tempered: come and be with us, you can give up your job and fat life in the West for Jihad because you know your heart is empty and depressed. Jihad is the cure for depression, according to Mohammed.

And to give oneself up to a cause bigger than you can give anyone a thrill of exhilaration, a sense of deadly purpose to the confusion of life and this is what ISIS is playing upon to disaffected Muslims in the West. Come join us; your wives and children will be safe and cared for while you fulfill the Prophet’s higher purpose for you. 

And it is working some; at least two Americans have died fighting for the cause in Syria, one who lived in my home state of Minnesota at least for awhile. It’s hard for me to imagine a Minnesotan fighting jihad in Syria but it has happened. Rather than stressing how good a Western passport is for importing terror to the West, new recruits are being encouraged to burn their passports as a sign they have turned their back on the decadent West and embraced the jihadi cause. We will secure the Caliphate first and then turn our attention to the Satan in the West.

All of this is frightening. Airstrikes have beaten back ISIS in several quarters but the war goes on, as it will go on, as impassioned young men and women, fighting for something they feel is greater than themselves, more important than themselves, seek to upturn the borders made a century ago by the western Allies after the Ottoman Empire fell.

It is amazing and distressing and almost incomprehensible to me that so many are so seduced by such a brutal interpretation of Mohammed. It is as Christians only were responding to the harsh and cruel in the Bible and leaving out the rest – or at least it seems to me. The Islam I studied in college was not so cruel, so harsh, so brutal. It embodied empathy and poetry and human virtues in ways Christianity was not doing in the medieval west.

But here we are. Bloodlust reigns as it often has in human history, always leaving behind a trail of tears.



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