I can remember the first time a teacher said, “I don’t know,” in response to a student’s question. It was a wonderful moment. Suddenly, learning and knowledge was a process. Something we arrive at only with effort and which always exists in a state of flux. While certitude is useful in an argument, it has no place in real knowledge.
Right now, I’m still trying to intellectually process the political assassinations and near massacre that occurred in Paris last week. There are so many threads that go into it, attitudes towards immigrants, racism directed at second and third generation French people, economic stagnation, freedom of speech, whether or not satire should be a form of protected speech, hate speech laws, whether religion should be open to criticism, the low social status of cartooning, the Islamist goal of creating a world-wide caliphate, the encouragement by Islamist groups in Muslim majority countries of “lone wolf” attacks in Muslim minority countries, the role of Saudi Arabia in spreading Salafist Islam, the growth of anti-Semitic attacks and I can go on.
It’s been hard to think with all the cacophony. Everyone is yelling and it’s hard to think.
Yet a minute ago, I saw yet another comment warning against “painting all Muslims with the same brush.” I don’t know what corners of the internet other people go to, but I haven’t seen this. I don’t doubt that it happens, but it doesn’t happen in places I frequent.
I don’t believe in collective guilt. Considering people as individuals first and foremost is a core part of liberalism. It should go without saying blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few is against liberal beliefs. At the same time, I can’t help noticing that in all this hand wringing about the possible backlash against Muslims, no one seems to be talking about the Jews. Where is all your hand wringing for the increasing anti-Semitic attacks against European Jews?
Saying that we can’t talk about Islamic terrorism because it might create a backlash against Muslims is like saying we can’t talk about the current conservative, hawkish government in Israel and its policies towards settlement, the blockade of Gaza and the treatment of non-Jewish citizens because it might create a backlash against Jews. Of course we talk about it. If someone blames all Jews for the actions of the current Israeli government, they are in the wrong because collective guilt is wrong. We don’t stop the conversation, nor should we.
There’s something happening and we don’t know what it is. We’re not going to figure out what it is and how to respond to it by remaining silent. We don’t start every conversation about Israel by saying, “I hope no one blames all Jews.” We don’t start every conversation about racism by saying, “I hope no one blames all whites.” Despite what some people might like, we don’t start every conversation about sexism by saying, “I hope no one blames all men.” So, I am not going to start every conversation about people who kill in the name of Islam by saying, “I hope no one blames all Muslims.”