Don’t React; Respond

My last post dealt with the injustices, at least as seen through these Western eyes, of Sharia law; it’s harshness and lack of humanity. Since writing that article another Muslim/Western crisis has arisen, one I originally determined not to comment on as I had no wish to appear anti-Muslim, but as the Western media seems determined to whip up an anti-Islamic frenzy (at least, in America) I feel the need to instill a little understanding, if not sanity, to the situation.

The event referred to is the imprisonment in Sudan of British school teacher, Gillian Gibbons, for naming an innocent teddy bear, Mohammad.

In truth, however, my subject goes way beyond this single event. In many ways the jailing of Gillian Gibbons results from eighteen Saudi Arabian, and one Egyptian, hijackers committing the acts we now know simply as 9/11. Except, it was not so much from that act, as from the aftermath, that arose the events leading to Mrs Gibbon’s ordeal.

Recently, a blogger friend asked me this question:

“When you are outraged, do the words just flow or do you take time to pick and choose and rewrite?

Many years ago I learned perhaps one of the greatest and most relevant lessons it is possible for we humans to comprehend. It consists of just three words, which if we all adhered to them, would change the world we live in almost overnight.

It is this: “Don’t react; respond.”

Like everyone else, I get outraged at the many heinous crimes afflicting humanity today. Sometimes, I receive comments or emails railing against views I have chosen to express. I have a choice: either to react to those vituperations with similar rhetoric, or to calmly analyze what the protagonist is saying and offer my own measured response.

To answer the blogger friend’s question, when I am outraged I find it better to do nothing until the rage is passed, then I no longer feel the need to react, and I can address the subject with at least a modicum of logic and impartiality.

What has this to do with Gillian Gibbons and 9/11?

In the aftermath of 9/11, the world turned its sympathy and love towards the United States. Had America, in turn, chosen to respond to that sympathetic element, this planet would today be a different place altogether. Instead, under George W Bush, America chose to react to 9/11. We all know the results of that reaction. The aftermath has produced a split in the world between East and West. Muslims view the reaction of America to 9/11 as a holy war against Islam. The incumbent US administration has done nothing to counter that view.

America is known as a powerful nation and Muslims worldwide are frightened and insecure, fearing their religion will be taken away from them by the “Evil Satan” of America.

Let me suggest a possible scenario. First, I would point out that while teddy bears are imprinted in the Western psyche as cuddly, adorable, toys designed to make kids (and the more mature among us) feel secure and loved, this is not the case for Islamic children. Stuffed toys are not part of the Eastern culture. A bear is considered a violent, dangerous, animal in most parts of the Islamic world, so a stuffed one called Mohammad is tantamount to calling the the most holy prophet, violent and dangerous.

Now consider an American schoolteacher, say in Alabama or North Carolina, introducing the class to a pet mouse, and calling it “Jesus Christ”. Would not the strictly Evangelical Christian community raise vociferous objections to such a blasphemy?

I think so.

Don’t misunderstand; the charges against Mrs Gibbons are absurd in any logical person’s assessment. However, we’re not talking logic; this is not about response, it’s all about reaction.

The reaction from the more militant Islamic community in Sudan is based on fear. Fear of America, of the West, and most of all of George W Bush and his reactionary administration.

Most mature Islamic leaders, both in Sudan and throughout the world, condemn the reactionaries demanding Mrs Gibbon’s head on a silver platter, but it’s just another weapon for them to fight with. They know America is far too powerful to be kept at bay, should that nation choose to wage holy war against them. Mrs Gibbons is simply a pawn caught up in a reactionary game. Almost certainly, diplomacy will win the day and she’ll be released soon.

If you stamp hard on the paw of a dog, even a relatively friendly one, the sudden pain will cause it to instinctively try and bite you. It’s a pity that, as human beings, we have not yet evolved beyond the primitive instincts of a dog, and still have not learned that a considered response is superior to an instinctive reaction.

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7 Replies to “Don’t React; Respond”

  1. Ah, the measured response. The sign of true maturity, RJA. I call it my 24 hour rule and it has saved me from my own enraged irrationality so many times. Whether it be email, phonecall or letter. I write out the rage and don’t send it for twenty four hours, knowing my future self will take a different perspective on the situation.
    Like you say, how different the world would have been if a response had been made after 9/11 rather than this horrific quagmire of never ending reactions.
    And thanks for the teddy bear enlightenment. Nothing is ever as it seems. I am sure saner hearts will prevail for Gillian Gibbons.

  2. Your theory is quite convenient inasmuch as it allows you to expplain Muslim hyper-touchiness without blaming Muslims for their own barbaric predilictions. The trouble with this theory is that it doesn’t explain things like the fatwah against Rushdie, which long predates Bush.

    As for your “mouse named Jesus” example, you might indeed find people who were offended, although if the offender were from a different culture it would almost certainly be excused. However, whatever offense was taken, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be able to find 10,000 Christians in all of America willing to march for such a teacher’s execution.

  3. “Don’t react, respond” is such a wise motto. I’d add to it though, RJ for ordinary folk (as against governments) – Don’t forget to respond, or shrink from responding, ‘cos then apathy sets in.

    The teddy bear incident is peculiar. As I understood it, the kids chose the name for the teddy bear, so they can’t have seen it (a bear) as anything to be feared. If the teddy bear was the biggest of all the stuffed toys, perhaps the kids were, in their childlike way, being respectful to Mohammed. I’m assuming these were all Muslim kids, because I also read that it was a Christian school.

    Britain’s response so far seems to have been sane and measured. Let’s hope for a sane and measured outcome.

  4. Wisewebwoman, I’m sure that sanity will eventually prevail – after the manipulating, opportunists in charge in Northern Sudan have made their own particular point/protest.

    Twilight, it is a (private, fee paying) Christian school – where Muslim pupils substantially outnumber Christian children.

    RJ, while I completely agree that a whole population shouldn’t be blamed for their leaders’ actions (or inactions), I also feel that certain leaders need sometimes to be ‘reminded’ of certain things – and sometimes ‘reminded’ in a way that works.

    Cheerful, I think you’ve added a nought too many to the marcher numbers.

  5. WWW – hindsight is a perspective we can all benefit from rather than committing ourselves to immediate reaction. Like any good detective, an examination of all the available facts is necessary prior to reaching a logical conclusion.

    Cheerful Iconoclast – welcome to Sparrow Chat. Your observations are, on the surface, justified and mirror the feeling of many in the West. However, you make a similar mistake to the one made by the American administration prior to the invasion of Iraq. You fail to factor in the question of culture difference. The “hyper-touchiness” and “barbaric predilections” you mention only exist when measured against Western culture. Sharia law is harsh. Adultery is punishable by stoning to death; thieving can cause the culprit to lose a hand. Blasphemy against the Prophet is also punishable by death. This is the law most Muslims are raised to accept. It may be harsh by Western standards; we may wish to walk into these countries and change it, but it is not our right to do so. A majority of Americans are in favor of the death penalty, yet Europeans find the concept horrific and unacceptable, totally barbaric. An example of a culture difference, even within Western civilizations. It was not my intention to suggest that Muslim extremism began as a reaction to America’s reciprocation after 9/11, merely that it inflamed it. The atrocities of 9/11 resulted from Muslim extremism; America’s reaction further fueled it. The fatwa against Rushdie resulted from a book that was viewed as a direct insult to the prophet. Again, while not justifying it, it is necessary to recognize the huge differences between Eastern and Western cultures. Unless we recognize and accept these differences as real, neither side will ever lose its fear of the other. In some ways the Eastern cultures are hundreds of years behind our own, but we cannot force them into modernity overnight. We must also accept that there are aspects of Eastern culture way ahead of our own, that we also can learn from.

    Finally, another commentator points out that only 1,000 protesters demanded the death penalty for Mrs Gibbons, not the 10,000 you suggest. Figures are irrelevant, and whether a mouse named “Jesus Christ” would arouse 1,000 protests or 10,000 is pure conjecture. As a Brit living five years in America, I can only state that one of the greatest culture shocks I suffered was realizing this nation was as much a theocracy as any Middle Eastern country. If there is any difference, it is only that America is more efficient at disguising that fact.

    Twilight – as is so often the case, true facts concerning this incident are in short supply. Apparently it was a “Christian” school with a majority Muslim students. A strange combination, leaving one to wonder whether this school was attempting Christian missionary work that upset the locals? I’m only surmising, but it’s all we can do, as the media tells a different story on every channel. Of one fact we can be sure, this is a political story, not a religious one. There is no love lost between the British and Sudanese governments, the latter being a bunch of crooks and despots pillaging their own countrymen in their furtherance of power. Mrs Gibbons “faux pas” was an opportunity to whip up anti-British sentiment, although the 1,000 strong group demanding her execution were hardly inflamed by anger and a sense of injustice. Most were seen to be laughing and enjoying the occasion, leaving an assumption they were probably well paid for the turn out.

    TOB – there have been times when I’ve said, “If Bush had invaded Sudan to relieve the gross suffering of its people, I would have supported him.” I share your opinion of the Sudanese “government”. Reactive? Perhaps, but I’m only human and it galls me that America will use its immense military power to secure oil wells, yet is too cowardly to utilize that power in a truly humanitarian cause.

  6. I just had to stop by, R.J., to compliment you on a seminal article. I saw it eons ago and benefited from its wisdom immediately. But my post-surgery recovery has prevented my RESPONSE until now.

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