Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Empathy for the Other

The emotion I keep coming back to with recent events in the Muslim world is empathy.
Here's an entire, race, religion, region, and many generations who have lived in the shadow of the greatness of their ancestors. Distillation, early cryptology, trigonometry, optics, early understandings of the human eye, early attempts at producing gliders, the crank-shaft, the banking cheque system, etc. All were invented/discovered/rediscovered and promulgated by the Muslims at different heights of their civilization.

Then, well after the decline of their civilization, you have the enlightenment, industrial revolution, global communications, space pioneering, information age, and the digital age all seeming (and sometimes literally) flying over them just out of their reach. There has been an explosion of innovation and quality of life in the world but it has not been distributed evenly.

Compounding this you have the rule of the last several decades by tyrannical rulers in most of the Muslim world resulting in reduced freedoms and opportunities for multiple generations. And sometimes these regiemes seem (and sometimes are) propped up by those who are enjoying the greater quality of life, greater peace, and greater freedoms than you have.

Being immersed in this kind of environment and legacy with a generation or two not knowing anything else, I can empathize with a people who seem to be easily agitated or don't understand that liberty requires freedom even (and especially) for those who are disrespectful. It doesn't excuse violence or hatred, but it does give me empathy towards those who act that way.

But I'm hopeful (some would say naive). The "Arab Spring" could well be the beginning of a kind of Muslim enlightenment where generations wake up and return to much of the greatness which they are inheritors to. Of course it will be messy, the US revolution and establishment were messy too. But the fact that millions of Muslims are now beginning to breathe the air of freedom gives me hope.