"What Unites America With Islam"
an essay by William R. Stimson
About the author:
William R. Stimson is an American writer who lives in Taiwan.
More of his writings can be found at http://www.my-hope.com/
We Americans see terrorism as a symptom of problems within the Islamic
religion and the Arab and Islamic cultures generally. We have become fairly
expert about what is wrong with them, and have yet to ask ourselves, "Is
their culture and their religion the only one that has gone wrong?" It is
time we do ask – for so long as we persist in seeing the problem as theirs
alone, the solution will elude us.
America and Islam are convulsed today in a Jihad of unprecedented proportions.
But it has nothing to do with Islamic terrorism or the arrogant exercise of
American power. Underneath all that is a Jihad that is real. It's not making
headlines or entering into the calculations of either side. Yet it will carry
Quietly, one person at a time, a wave is building that started at a glacial pace
before the dawn of recorded history and picked up momentum several thousand
years ago. It's documented in the ancient Hindu epics, the Buddhist sutras, the
Bible, and the Koran. Lau Tzu wrote about it in China; Ralph Waldo Emerson in
Concord, Massachusetts. One man at a time, over the millennia, has taken on his
self in battle.
To take on the self in battle ("Jihad") is to enter the domain of the sacred.
The images and language describing the process and its outcome, like in dreams
and poetry, are necessarily metaphorical — fatally misunderstood if taken
literally. There is no other way than metaphor to express what cannot be grasped
by the mind or expressed directly in language. The moment we open our mouths to
speak this truth, we miss it. The instant we think we have it, it's gone. This
is the stuff of which religions are built.
Each religious tradition comes from a specific people who lived in a specific
place at a specific time and uses images familiar in that context to convey a
truth that is the same across all religious traditions. Only the metaphors used
to describe the truth are different, not the truth. The truth is one. Everything
is connected. Everything is sacred. We don't, any of us, individually or
collectively — Islam or America — exist apart from that whole; but are
interwoven in it by a billion, billion strands. Each is sacred and each must
somehow be honored. We neglect any single one at our peril.
Yet because each religion expresses this same truth in its own language, with
its own examples, and in a way congruent with its own culture – those who know
religion only at its surface, as a belief system, and who have not undergone the
arduous self-confrontation (Jihad) necessary to actually experience its inner
reality and be transformed by that — see conflict between traditions where there
is none, and plant discord where it doesn't exist.
The Taliban zealot may wear one robe while riding his steed through the hills
and another at the wedding, sipping coffee in the tent. It's not a different man
who wears the two different robes. Nor is it a different truth just because some
culture from the past carved it into a huge Buddha statue on the rock, while his
own would build it instead into a graceful mosque with minarets. Yet he
destroyed the rock carving thinking he was doing a service to the mosque.
Those who have only tasted the surface of religion, and not its depths stir up
all manner of trouble. Because of the financial muscle of American Jewish and
fundamentalist Christian campaign contributors, the President of the United
States is hostage to a tiny handful of die-hard fundamentalist religious zealots
in Israel, hell-bent on settling Arab lands. The wrath of Islam strikes out at
Yet, in ways the terrorists could not fathom, Jihad – not their fake campaigns
of slaughter, but the real life-and-death struggle with one's own soul – is
already well underway in America today, and throughout the West; happening from
within, as a natural and organic process of the creatively evolving modern
society and its vibrant and diverse sacred and secular traditions.
One by one, individuals in every civilized nation are breaking out of the shell
of conditioned religious ideas and beliefs and winning their souls back. One by
one, the realization is dawning on people all over the world that the holy lands
are not geographical places at all but the way any place looks when seen through
the compassionate eyes of enlightenment. The holy war has nothing to do with
killing but is more akin to the arduous struggle of a hatching chick with its
shell. Jihad is a confrontation with the conditioned self and a breaking through
that false identification into a direct experience of the sacred, the eternal.
This direct experience of joy and love for all things is the paradise or heaven
of all the religions. The death we have to undergo to get to this heaven is a
death of the ego. It happens while we're still alive, as does our rebirth as a
completely new person, with a much deeper and truer sense of our interconnection
with everything and everyone. Religion is not about what's different between
peoples, but about what's shared in common. It's the place where we touch, not
where we fight. This is the emerging paradigm.
It is a paradigm of connectedness, cooperation and mutual assistance. In it,
there is no notion of a separate existence. Everything gives to and receives
from everything else. We take our being -- our very essence, our real substance
-- from innumerable others and are intricately and inextricably connected with
them at every moment in our lives. This realization brings about a behavior that
serves others and makes their interest primary.
You don't see this in America's conduct today. As the global superpower it would
be world leader — never suspecting a leader is leader because he serves the
whole, not just himself. In every tiny detail of diplomacy or trade, America
selfishly pushes for its own narrow advantage — oblivious to the price it will
pay down the line. It's embarrassing to see America stand against measures to
stop global warming, stand against efforts to wean the world's youth from
tobacco, stand against the attempt of farmers in poor countries to sell their
products to us. The list goes on and on.
All that's wrong in the world, on a national or individual level, comes from an
illusion of separateness and a blindness to interconnectivity. This illusion
occasions great suffering, an immense pain that the separate ego, individual or
collective, must constantly strive to overcome. Always, it uses the wrong method
– and struggles to become stronger, more self-contained and to extend its grasp.
Not content with ruining itself, it ruins the world around it. It functions as a
cancer, a spreading disease. It mobilizes every strand for its own inferior and
sickly purpose, and undoes the miracle of creation, like some black rot will a
fruit from the inside. There's a hole in the ozone. The tropical reefs are
dying. Swaths of the American West are poisoned with radioactivity. The Arctic
This is the way the separate self treats the most exquisite natural ecosystems.
It similarly abuses children, batters loved ones — corrupts religions. A whole
religion can and does go wrong when the egoic mind worms its way in, lodges in
important positions in the hierarchy, rises to the top – takes over. Nations go
wrong in the same way, and institutions, and individuals. None of us come away
clean. We're all in this up to our neck. But the instant we emerge from the
illusion of a separate self, our behavior changes. Grace and compassion fill the
world as we begin to live in a way that honors the divine ray that shines
through and connects us all.
This transformation is happening everywhere today. It -- not silly Islamic
terrorism or bungling American hegemony -- is the main item on the global agenda
at this time. If it didn't happen now, mankind would not survive – that simple.
Neither would chimpanzees, swordfish, California condors, or whales.
We are on the point of turning a really massive destruction around by
transcending the state of mind that brought it about. We've ruined the Earth.
We've done damage to each other. And now – it's happening everywhere –
individual by individual, we're discovering we all belong together and are part
and party of the same fabric. One by one, we are reordering our affairs in such
a way that the planet and the human community can become healthy once more.
We've subverted and twisted every sacred tradition into its opposite. And now –
its happening everywhere – one person after another is beginning to stop looking
for the problem outside and start seeing that the illusion of separateness is
the root problem. "We" are not apart from "them." We serve ourselves by serving
them. Anything we get at their expense – we will pay for dearly down the line.
Individual by individual – all over the world – is undergoing a change of heart
and redirecting his or her life so that it honors and pays tribute to all
religions, cultures, nations, races and species.
The Tibetan Buddhist monk picks up a caterpillar struggling across the trail and
puts it safely on the other side so that it won't be stepped on. This is the
state of mind that alone will put an end to the lunacy of terrorism and to the
greed, arrogance and selfishness of the West. Reconciliation won't come about
with high-tech armies or smart bombs, deluded suicide fanatics or homicidal
maniacs hiding away in caves and directing global conspiracies. It will happen,
and already is rapidly and silently -- one person at a time, them and us the
same, in an exponential fashion. It cannot fail and nothing can stop it --
because what unites us all is stronger than what divides.
Copyright © 2004 by William R. Stimson
Originally posted: 2004-DEC-08
Latest update: 2004-DEC-09
Author: William R. Stimson
Originally published in Association for Humanistic Psychology