Weapons of Mass Compassion

I rarely look at the comments section of news articles I read. Yesterday, while looking at an article on the Jordanian pilot, I inadvertently scrolled down too far and came across a comment with the Isis video embedded. I watched it,

The major news organizations and Google will not show these videos because they are disturbing and because of the propaganda value for Isis. I think this is a mistake. It is one thing to hear that a human being was burned alive, it is quite another to watch footage of him placed in a cage, doused with some flammable liquid, and set on fire. It is disturbing, haunting. It will stay with you. But I feel the propaganda value works against these murderers. By viewing the video I don’t feel I am complicit in their terrorism, rather I am seeing for myself the extent of their cruelty, their barbarism, and I am enraged. I sympathize with the anger and the calls for vengeance.

Yet, I understand that is an emotional reaction, and I know violence is not the answer.  This is a very different enemy than the West has ever faced. We are going to have to think differently than we have in the past in order to solve this problem. Aerial bombings, boots on the ground – these are simple and worn-out solutions for a complex situation. We need a long-range strategy that is bold, innovative, and visionary, and the first step in implementing it should be to address the root causes of Arab terrorism.

Simple solutions work best for those who want to ignore the complexity of the problem and cast this as a “war with radical Islam.” But it is not really about Islam or religion. We are not talking about holy crusaders, but thugs – disaffected, frustrated young men, many of whom don’t know much about Islam, but know a lot about poverty, high unemployment, inequality, injustice, and they have idle hands and minds. This is nothing new. Earlier generations of young men and women tried to find meaning for their lives by becoming Marxist revolutionaries. I know from my own experience, radicalism and revolution can seem very romantic, but adopting a radical ideology alone does not satisfy, nor, in most cases, is it real and true and understood in the same way that Lenin or Mao understood their revolutions.

Compassion will also help us find a solution.

A new interview show called Speakeasy recently premiered on PBS. In this program, Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame recipients, Grammy Award winners, and legendary iconic musicians are interviewed by people they themselves select. For instance, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters chose to be interviewed by newsman Bill Weir, and Carlos Santana chose Harry Belafonte.

pde_118086978_speakeasy-santana-belafonteDuring his interview, Santana called Belafonte and some other men and women whose humanistic spirit he admires, “weapons of mass compassion.” I like that. Much better than the other thing.

Elsewhere, Santana, who just published a memoir, The Universal Tone, has said,

Compassion is a far more powerful weapon than violence. Lets us all become weapons of mass compassion.”

And I say, let’s be the boots on the ground who search for Weapons of Mass Compassion wherever we are, for we need all of these we can get. I suspect we could be much more successful at finding WMCs than we were finding WMDs.

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9 thoughts on “Weapons of Mass Compassion

  1. Thoughful essay, David.
    I think social media holds some possibilities. It could hold up to public scrutiny and derision those wealthy people and organizations that are pouring money into ISIS and paying for its heinous crimes. Somebody is paying for its weapons (the weapons industry being another concern) and its food and clothing. Social media could also present options to those who, as you say, see some romance in signing up to a cause even if they don’t know what the end result is supposed to me.

    1. Social media is a double-edged sword. It has assisted the terrorists greatly in getting their message (their videos) out and has been an important recruitment tool. But I would rather err on the side of openness and the free flow of information and ideas (even when I may not like the ideas) and that’s why net neutrality, which I believe you posted something about on FB, is so important. What has made the Internet such a beautiful thing is that up to now it has been largely free and completely open. We must work to keep it that way.

  2. I’ve struggled with whether to watch the video or not. In the end, I decided not to because I hear so much of what is done in Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of war – which as you so astutely point out is not war but a puerile mentality wielding weapons. The very fact of such unthinkable (though tragically completely imaginable) atrocities is enough to raise my anger, frustration and desire to retaliate. And there emerges the entry point of practice!

    Good post, David. I can’t say I’d go along with the Weapons label but absolutely agree with the need for us to go looking for ways to encourage compassion to arise over and over.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lynette. Whether to watch a video like that or not is a personal choice. I do not believe CNN or Google should take it upon themselves to decide to censor viewing of the videos. There is probably an argument to be made that they have the right to choose what content they want to share with the public, but I think it is a weak one since their business is to provide news content, and what Isis does is, unfortunately, news. If we are going to stand up for Charlie Hebdo and say satire should be allowed even if a particular group finds that satire offensive, then we should be consistent and say we’re going to show these videos so that the public can see for themselves regardless of how disturbing they might be.

  3. Great article, David,

    I haven’t watched that video myself, and I’m not sure if I will. I’ve fallen into periods of -perhaps excessive- fascination with recent wars and I don’t want to go there again now. As far as delivering the news, I think there can be self-censorship by media outlets, out of respect/sensitivity to families and potential young or impressionable viewers. Whether this particular case is a mistake or not, I cannot say. I have a hard time getting inside the minds of young people who might feel called to fight with ISIS. As you say, and I’ve read elsewhere, these are not devout Muslims; they are disaffected youths who presumably see hope in what ISIS has promised: an Islamic state, free of the ills of contemporary society. And likewise, I appreciate that you connect this with a similar hope offered in the 20th century by Marxism (and the horror that caused).

    1. Thank Justin, and thanks for leaving the comment, too. I probably would not have watched the video if I hadn’t stumbled upon it. But I have been curious about these Isis videos for a while now and I suppose it would only be a matter of time until I went searching for one. I also have a hard time understanding the mindset of Isis followers and yet I can understand very easily the causes behind their motivations. I think this is more or less a phenomenon that has been around for age morphed into a 21st nightmare.

      1. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I was wondering about another comment Santana made, which I couldn’t quite make out, at about the 39-minute mark, when he says he wishes CNN would give an hour a day to – it sounds like he says something about Lotus. Any thoughts on what he was talking about? Forgive me if it’s something obvious about Buddhism – I’m not familiar with the terminology. I want to use the entire quote in something I’m writing about the 1960s. Thanks!

        1. I’m sorry I don’t remember what the specific reference was to, and I have deleted that recording. In general, he was complaining about the sorry state of cable news today. How they should devote some time to stories that would enlighten and heal people as well as simply inform them.

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