In the October 1st issue of Time, Karen Armstrong writes: ''Islam is not addicted to war, and jihad is not one of its 'pillars,' or essential practices. The primary meaning of the word jihad is not 'holy war' but 'struggle.' It refers to the difficult effort that is needed to put God's will into practice at every level -- personal and social as well as political. A very important and much quoted tradition has Muhammad telling his companions as they go home after a battle, 'We are returning from the lesser jihad [battle] to the greater jihad,' the far more urgent and momentous task of extirpating wrongdoing from one's own society and one's own heart.''
That's precisely the point we need these days.
It reminds me of the Gospel anecdote of the Mote and Beam: the self-righteous see motes [specks] in others' eyes, but fail to see the greater evils [splinters] in themselves. The struggle is not to blame someone else for the condition of the world but to start with our own flaws -- something you'll find over and over in the Bible.
As Rabbi Michael Lerner points out in another article in the same issue of Time: ''We in the spiritual world see the root problem here as a growing global incapacity to recognize the spirit of God in one another, what we call the sanctity of each human being. We live in a society that daily teaches us to look out for No. 1, to keep our focus on our own financial bottom line and to see others primarily as instruments to help us achieve our goals and satisfactions. We are consistently misrecognizing one another because we fail to see one another as embodiments of the holy. We have built a world out of touch with itself.''
Lerner makes a damaging case against our political, economic and moral ''beams'' which have made the U.S. so disliked in the Third World. But we are also guilty individually.
Self-interest is pandemic in America today. We are too apathetic about the evils of our society. We accept too many corrupt politicians, too many corporate misdeeds, too much hunger and poverty and homelessness. We're too fond of our toys -- our Game Boys, computers, big screen TVs, SUVs, RVs, pickups and boats.
We no longer accept compromise as feasible. We complain about taxes and prices and big government and then cuss potholes as we drive our gas guzzlers to cash our Social Security checks. We commit too many small crimes -- from littering to running red lights to peeing in streams.
We don't know our neighbors and accept no responsibility for our neighborhoods. We criticize education, then prefer to pay for it with gambling. We confuse our wants with needs. We don't know the meaning of altruism and ignore the Golden Rule. We expect other people to want to be like us and then get upset when they aren't.
In a time of crisis, we often think of ourselves first -- buying extra food, filling our gas tanks before the stations jack up the price. That happened in good old Galesburg, folks, just as it did elsewhere. It was only later when we all started buying flags and collecting money for victims. Me first, then you.
And if you say you can't do anything about some of these, then think again. You can write a letter, sign a petition, go to a City Council meeting, picket, boycott, any number of things. But first of all, you can get the beam out of your eye.
I know it's easier to blame someone else -- to complain that somebody ought to do something -- than to go out and do it yourself. But that's precisely Muhammad's point and mine.
The real villains in this world are those who claim they're not responsible for the condition of the world. Until we accept we're all responsible in some way, we can't expect the condition to improve.
And we can expect our critics and enemies -- from the Unabomber to Osama bin Laden -- to attack us in any way they can.