23 February 2011: Middle East risings bring hope

The Middle East uprisings bring hope

In his book “The Universe in a Single Atom,” the Dalai Lama makes a basic factual statement that likely goes unnoticed for its significance by the casual reader: “The evolution of the human brain has occurred over a million years.”

Harmless enough, but can you imagine the Pope or an ayatollah saying that? So the significance is ultimately not the statement itself, but the fact that it is made by one the world’s top spiritual leaders.

The Dalai Lama further states, “We must begin by putting faith in the basic goodness of human nature.” Thus, according to this Holy Father, as opposed to the one that rules from Rome, humans are naturally good. Where they go haywire is in their dealings with this world of illusion.

The riveting events that have shaken Egypt and now spreading to other Middle East and North African countries are germane to the rest of the world as it comes down to this: We’re all in this together.

How each of us reacts to those events reveals our worldview, offering the individual the opportunity to assess his/her essential life philosophy. Are those people just like us or are they fundamentally different? In other words, do they hold within themselves the same hopes, dreams, desires, and aspirations as we in Clear Creek or are they incapable of high-minded processes such as liberal democracy, free enterprise, and human rights?

Those who premise their worldviews on a struggle between forces of good and evil are handicapped when it comes to seeing the essentialism of the events: people, who while differing culturally, wanting, nevertheless, that which we take for granted.

If one approaches life from the good v. evil perspective, a dreaded enemy is requisite, whether the devil or communists or Islamist terrorists. And it’s important for Good to do what he/she can to ensure The Enemy is always there, for if he disappears, Good’s whole world collapses and he/she looks like a fool.

To be sure, there are people who do bad things, and some of them are legal Americans. Imagine that! But they pale when compared to The Enemy. Imagine if we could disprove the idea of a Tempter. The Catholic Church, for one, would go out of business. Imagine if we came to understand that people up in arms are so because of grinding poverty and political repression, being denied their inalienable rights, you know that Jefferson thing.

A core question for us is not whether Muslims can create a secular state but whether Arabs are capable of being democrats rather than autocrats and serfs. When religion is removed from the equation, the answer is more obvious: Of course.

We should keep in mind that liberal democracy—ever notice we never say “conservative democracy”?—is a relatively recent phenomenon. It was 500 years between Magna Carta and the American Revolution, and the Japanese Diet (parliament) is a post World War II development.

We should, as well, remind ourselves of the great contributions by Arabs to our learning. If you find multiplying 6 x 12 = 72 easier than VI x XII = LXXII, thank an Arab. And if, like me, you found high school algebra challenging, thank an Arab. Did you know the meaning of the word “algebra” is “reunion of broken parts”? If I were taught that at my Catholic high school, I might’ve been a whiz—or not—at solving quadratic equations!

While Ptolemy, an Egyptian who lived around 100 CE, erred in believing the Earth to be the center of the universe, his contributions to the study of planetary motions were profound and advanced for his time.

The laundry list of Arabic contributions to the whole of our understanding in medicine, math and science is extensive.

Perhaps if the West had not invaded the so-called Holy Land in 1096 CE, this clash between civilizations could’ve been avoided. So, I suppose we can lay the blame at the feet of Peter the Hermit and Pope Urban II, a former holy father.

“We need to anchor this faith in some fundamental and universal ethical premises” continues the Dalai Lama, that “transcend the dichotomy of religious believers and non-believers, and are crucial for welfare of all mankind.”

It comes down to moving beyond superstition and prejudice. As the Pakistani general said to Greg Mortensen in “Three Cups of Tea,” “the enemy is ignorance.” Which means the solution is education, a conversation about which I’d love to have with Gov. Hickenlooper and topic of next week’s column.

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