For many, tragedy is a mystifying experience, because the human mind struggles with the apparent lack of rationale for such emotional experiences taking place. There are, however, times when tragedies like the Paris Terror Attacks coincide with other events to give the senseless deaths of victims a purpose. Thanks to the so-called Charlie Hebdo shootings and the protests by Muslims around the world decrying the publication’s disrespectful depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, Martin Luther King Jr. Day serves a special purpose this year.
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was an amazing individual, because he helped lead America to a brighter future and rallied the oppressed to demand reasonable treatment while, most importantly, rejecting violence. Through his leadership and hardships, Dr. King was able to both help people realize they could have a brighter future where people would be judged on their character instead of their race and convince the beneficiaries of an oppressive society that change needed to be embraced, not rejected.
Sadly, the vision of Martin Luther King has only been partially fulfilled. Not only are protesters in America fighting to deal with the shooting deaths of too many young blacks at the hands of police, economic disparity is an all time high for all races. That said, the reality that Americans are voicing their views on these issues as the rest of the world stands against terrorism and marginalized Muslims stand up for their right to be respected as human beings demonstrates the vision of Dr. King is far from dead.
With that in mind, it is important to better understand the Muslim perspective when it comes to issues like the Charlie Hebdo shootings. Western-backed governments in the Muslim world have managed to significantly suppress the needs and wants of their Peoples. Even in the wake of the Arab Spring Revolutions, the demands of many have either gone unmet with ineffective or nonexistent government responses while their efforts to improve their lives have only resulted in violent crackdowns and terrorism. Consequently, the interests of too many in the Muslim world are continuing to be suppressed.
Meanwhile, it is important to understand terrorist groups have been cheered for years in the Middle East for their attacks on Westerners, whether right or wrong, because many Muslims see the West as the cause of their problems. When considering policies of Western governments that have favored oppressive governments and the amount of Western dollars that have been pushed into the pockets of brutal dictators, it is easy to see why people in the Muslim world would feel that way.
At the same time, there is a long history of conflict between European Christians and Middle Eastern Muslims going back to the First Millennium. Instead of resolving longstanding grievances between Christians and Muslim populations, recent history has only solidified views that Westerners have no respect for the Peoples and beliefs of the Muslim world. Ironically, religious individuals hailing from the political Right often-seem to be the ones who share outright distain for anything Islam, even as these self-proclaimed Christians bemoan any apparent disrespect of their own religion.
Consequently, the Charlie Hebdo shootings represent a situation where the West and the Middle East can come together or conflict. When Muslims see the actions of Islamic extremists being used to sell images intended to disrespect their way of life and Western leaders preaching the virtues of free speech without condemning the disrespect, these disenfranchised individuals find themselves pushed beyond their ability to tolerate mistreatment, especially since incidents involving Islamophobia are likely the only time many of them are hearing the free speech argument.
Frankly, anti-Western protests are also far more acceptable to Middle Eastern governments that have been more than willing to suppress dissent against their unresponsive governance. After all, it diverts attention away from their failings and curtails Western influence. This is, of course, problematic for the West, because the anti-hate speech message of countries like Russia, i.e. their efforts to suppress dissent becomes even more appealing. More importantly, this miscommunication pits Westerners, who are trying to condemn violence and oppression, against Middle Easterners, who are trying to condemn the mistreatment of Muslims.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a man with a dream who saw a brighter future for all, but that dream is only possible when people reject violence and embrace each other. Unless the Peoples of the world can respect the needs and wants of each other, this future is not possible. Consequently, the Paris Terror Attacks and Martin Luther King Jr. Day coincide to serve the purpose of uniting the Christian and Muslim world against terrorism, against hatred, and against oppression.
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