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Fanaticism has many synonyms. Where do we draw the line between passion and devotion resulting in extremism and radicalism?  Does it depend solely on who is defining the words? One’s own point of view?

Settlers in the New World were fanatics. Of course they didn’t operate with our kind of technology, but they managed atrocities without the internet. Today we revere their courage and fortitude. If they had to kill some Native Americans along the way and engage in cannibalism when times got tough, so be it. Revolutions the world over are not tea parties either. Take a look at world history and all the lands confiscated through war or greed or religion over millennia. Were all those people fanatics? Did they kill just to gain their spoils of war? To make their god the real one? Or to “make a better life for their children and grandchildren?”

We weren’t there for all that history. But, we’re here for the history being made today. We’re confused, outraged, fearful. Yes, it is complicated. Why kill innocents? Why indeed? Killing goes on day and night all over our planet.  

Sometimes we’re the perpetrators. Daily, we get some snippets of reprehensible acts from elsewhere on the globe. Everywhere conflicts rage. Human beings mistreat and murder their fellow human beings sans arret. Today, we get all the gory news 24/7 on our televisions, smart phones, and other electronic devices.

On November, Friday the 13th, we mourned over the Paris carnage. Presently, we have difficulty understanding why a man and woman in their twenties with a six-month-old baby would chose to obliterate and wound his co-workers. Is there some way to understand these actions? We could pretend to do the “walk a mile in someone’s moccasins” exercise. We could attempt to see their world from their perspective rather than ours. Scholars are busy doing this. Evidently, they thought their child would lead a better life because of its parents’ actions. Really? Without doubt something extraordinarily radical led them to that belief.    

It’s relatively easy to deem the “other” as the misguided one. How could our own point of view be wrong? There is no excuse to kill the "other." There is little justification for murder under any circumstances. We’re facing a difficult time in this 21st century, and although we ourselves will see our demise before the 100 years are up, we’re surely helping to define the paths future generations will follow, ready or not.

Religious wars. Phooey. That’s old unenlightened stuff. We’re a new century; let’s invite everyone in. Is there a chance to wake up, sort out differences, learn to live together and share the planet in a caring way? Yes, it is complicated. No one person is in a position to orchestrate this, but in our own communities, we can work toward these goals. Let everybody worship his/her god however they choose to do so. What’s the problem there? Does anyone have all the answers?

As Mary Caroline Richards (1916-1999) wrote, Love is not a doctrine, Peace is not an international agreement. Love and peace are beings who live as possibilities in us.  

Those more educated peoples of the world have an obligation to inform and enlighten their societies. Maybe governments can help to bring this about. Maybe the United Nations can assist. Mostly, it should come about at the grassroots level, one person, each community at a time. So, where do we go from here?  Right now. This day. Let us start where we are. Let’s all learn some tolerance. Yes, it is complicated. And, this is a simple solution.

Sandra Brian Lore

Sandra Brian Lore had a typical small-town and suburban life outside Chicago — until she served for 32 years in the Foreign Service.

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