What’s Going On?

Overshadowed by the consuming war theater in the Middle East, a quiet little drama is quietly playing in Africa that has captured very little attention or critical acclaim. Unquestionably, it’s a battlefield in the global war against terror; but this skirmish adroitly demonstrates how to intelligently confront the enemy.

“For only love can conquer hate.”

The Christian Science Monitor is among the few who have given any attention to this particular show. That’s where a colleague discovered the story, and passed it on to me.

The scene is East Africa, which has witnessed its share of terrorist attacks. In 1998, Al Qaeda bombed the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. From there, the group has also attempted to shoot down an Israeli airliner, and sink oil tankers and US Navy vessels in the Red Sea.

“We don’t need to escalate…”

In 2002, more than 1,500 U.S. troops were deployed to the area to root out followers of Al Qaeda. They found none. What to do? They launched a pre-emptive attack to stem the growth of Islamic militants among this largely Muslim population.

I’m not sure if someone noticed that the violence on the big stage was merely spawning more violence—or if, in the stillness of the East African countryside, they heard a small voice that whispered, “Terrorist recruitment flourishes when there’s discontent with living conditions, whether it’s in Djibouti, East Africa or Detroit.”

“We’ve got to find a way to bring some understanding here today…”

For whatever reason, the soldiers put down their guns and picked up construction tools. Since 2002, they have built more than 30 schools, 25 clinics, and a number of new wells and bridges in mostly Muslim areas.

“One place we went to, they considered the U.S. to be warmongers,” 96th Civil Affair Battalion sergeant Richard Crandall told the Christian Science Monitor. “We built a school; and when we left, they said they considered us friends.”

“…Don’t punish me with brutality”

How do you stop terrorism? I dunno. Acting as if you came from a country where most of its citizens claim to follow the Prince of Peace clearly seems to have some merit.

“We are trying to dry up the recruiting pool for Al Qaeda by showing people the way ahead. We are doing this one village, one person at a time,” Maj. Gen. Timothy Ghormley, commander of the joint task force based in Djibouti, reportedly said. “We’re waging peace just as hard as we can.”

What’s going on?

From where the Loud Mouth sits, it appears that the great Motown sage, Marvin Gaye, has ascended. Once a soloist with backup singers, he’s now a 1,500 voice choir. Go, Marvin! Go, Marvin!

Selfish is Good. Really Good.

If I see that photo of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s lifeless blue face one more time, I think I’m going to barf. It was on the home page of the Yahoo! news section. It was on the front page of the newspaper outside my hotel room. Sitting at the airport, I was treated to the big screen version.

Who decided that the world needs this graphic evidence? Pity the folks who were trying to digest food while watching the news.

Let’s be clear, I’m not a fan or mourner of Mr. al-Zarqawi. I do, however, understand why he was here–and why he’s not.

Big picture: When the casting call was announced, his soul eagerly chose the role of heartless killer in the world theater. Unfortunately, he didn’t slow down long enough to read the one and only stage direction: “Whatever you do will be done to you. Now, go act your heart out. See ya when you get back.”

Most of us think that Life on Earth is a lot more complicated than that. I don’t. We think there’s a long list of rules to follow and hoops we must jump through to please God.

Let me ask you: Is True Love hard to please? Would an unconditionally loving parent punish you eternally and sadistically for not following directions? Jesus certainly didn’t think so. But he was a bit radical. To him, the vindictive judgmental God portrayed in Hebrew Scripture bore no resemblance to the God he knew. Our vision of God reflects in the way we treat others.

The God that Mr. al-Zarqawi and legions of Christians and Jews profess to know frequently solves problems by vengefully killing and torturing those who do not agree or obey. That God, according to ancient scribes, favors some of his children over others, and is prone to genocidal rampages. It’s easy to see why al-Zarqawi and other followers of this God believe that brutality is the “right” way to handle large and small scale disputes. Like Roman pagans, these people gloat about their kill by putting it on public display. They judge their killings as justifiable and holy; the identical act by others is evil. Fascinating stuff.

My guess is that these folks have either acclimated themselves to the heat and head-bumping in the karmic clothes dryer, or they simply haven’t noticed that their behavior is not divine. A wise teacher once admonished, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. Condemn not, that ye be not condemned.” On another occasion, he rephrased it, “All those who take up the sword perish by the sword.”

In 21st century Loud Mouth-speak, all of it translates to, “Whatever you do will be done to you.” If Mr. al-Zarqawi knew that, I wonder how it would have affected his choices? More important, how will it affect yours, moving forward? I’m not talking about some of your choices, but all of them. I’m talking about making a conscious decision to be really selfish. Make life all about you.

Let’s pretend for a moment that you’re a really selfish person: You want to be treated well; you want others to respect your property, your person and your relationships, want folks to be generous, loving, patient, and forgive you when you’ve been an absolute creep. How can a selfish person achieve these results? Treat others well, respect their property, their person, and their relationships, be generous, loving, patient and forgiving. You can’t protect your best interest without protecting the best interest of others.
You don’t want anybody to steal from you? Don’t steal. You don’t want anyone to cheat you? Don’t cheat. You don’t want anyone to harm you? Don’t inflict any kind of pain upon others. Take selfishness to new heights.
Remember, whatever you do comes back to you. Don’t take my word for it. Ask Mr. al-Zarqawi.