The ultimate test of a civilized people is not how they act when things go well. It's easy to be kind, fair, charitable and forgiving when there's no war, the economy is strong, and the weather is great.
No, the real test of a civilized people is how they behave when the chips are down. Do they turn mean when attacked? Do they forget about forgiveness when someone they love is hurt? Are Constitutional rights forgotten when vengeance is needed?
The other day I saw this posted on a Facebook page. WARNING: This is graphic and shows a man dying.
The video itself is shocking enough. I don't care who it is, watching a man die should never be funny. Even our enemies are human beings, and at the least we should mourn the tragedy that made this man want to kill us.
But what's really disturbing are the comments, both on the YouTube page and on the Facebook page where I saw it. People think this video is funny. There are comments like, "Hahahaha" or "LOL!" or "He deserves it the f---er!".
I didn't seen one comment (other than my own) about how tragic this was. Nobody even contemplated this man's life, how he was probably born into circumstances that 99% of Americans can't even comprehend. Nobody considered that the United States and Europe have a long and sordid history of imperialism and colonialism, and that Islamic people have some legitimate reasons to dislike us. Terrorism and the Islamic radical philosophy are evil, but men like the one in this video are in many ways victims of the evil leaders who cynically use these men's poverty, frustration and ignorance to recruit them as cannon fodder.
I think Americans are failing the test of civilization. Uncivilized people have a simple view of the enemy. The enemy is stupid, evil and wrong, and when they are maimed or killed, uncivilized people celebrate. A truly civilized person sees that life is never that simple. Each person who dies is a complex story, not a simple good-or-evil equation.
Terrorists see the world in black and white. They see us as evil imperialists who are out to destroy their culture and religion. Are we really any better? If we insist on seeing them in black and white, then the only reason we're not terrorists is that we have food on our tables every day, shoes on our children's feet, and schools for them to go to. If we see things only in black and white, then we're really no better than the terrorists, because if we were in their shoes, we'd do exactly what they're doing to us.
The world is complex, not black and white. Let's all try to be civilized, not be a facade of civility, but a deep civility that comes from genuine understanding of what motivates our enemies.