If you’re like me, you are sick of hearing about ISIS. We can barely watch television without being forced to endure yet more disparaging coverage of the supposed atrocities of the Islamic caliphate. Pundits drone on endlessly about its so-called terror tactics, and even “open-minded” journalists criticize the organization for its views on women — only because those views differ from our own. And nary a day goes by without some hysterical loudmouth getting all critical about ISIS just because they sometimes engage in a little beheading.
I thought we, as a society, had progressed, but apparently not. It’s sad this bears repeating, but who are we to judge others?
Looking at photos of burned Yazidi villages in Iraq, slaughtered Christians in Syria or headless corpses of innocent Western journalists, it’s too easy for us to make pat denunciations. “Those ISIS guys are the very incarnation of evil,” we might say, our heads swelling. “The sort of people who ought to be erased from the planet.”
Well, well. Who died and made you King Solomon, up there on your fancy recliner, wearing your Nikes of Everlasting Wisdom, sipping from the Travel Mug of Moral Clarity?
You know, those masked ISIS fighters shouting “Allahu Akbar” as they mow down a hundred bound and blindfolded men might be repulsed by things you do, too. I’ll bet if they watched a grainy video of the way our teenagers behave on spring break, they’d conclude we were downright uncivilized, but would that mean their culturally-assigned judgements are correct?
My best friend’s daughter turned vegetarian after spending two months in India, and now she gets livid about eating meat. For her, killing animals is every bit as savage as killing humans, and all of us are committing murder, day after day, she says. Who’s to argue she’s wrong? What’s peanut butter to me, is putty to you. It’s all subjective.
We Westerners get all hypercritical about the practice of beheading innocent people just because we’re not used to it, that’s all, just as most of us aren’t used to eating fried grasshoppers like they do in Mexico, or seeing men with painted faces wear gourds on their penises, as is the custom among certain South Pacific peoples. But that doesn’t mean any of it is wrong. What actually is wrong is thinking we’re right.
I doubt you would appreciate the folks from the Islamic caliphate getting worked up about the way you live your life, about the television shows you like to watch, for example. Imagine an ISIS pundit going on Fox News and saying that you shouldn’t watch “The Bachelorette” anymore because it’s degrading to women, and it goes against all standards of decent entertainment. You wouldn’t like that at all, and you’d even be inclined to say, “Leave me alone, because in my culture, this is just something we do.” To take this analogy further, what if ISIS grew to be a world power, got ahold of some drones, and started bombing you, saying it would only cease if you stopped going line dancing every Thursday night.
“That’s cultural imperialism,” you’d say. And do you know what? You’d be right.
Joan K. Walsh is an renowned thinker, writer and commentator. She is author of the books “Let Me Speak, Please, Now” and “Move The Fuck Forward.”