Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and President Barack Obama
Dear President Obama:
I would like to help you achieve the elusive legacy of The President Who Brought Peace to the World, especially the Middle East.
First, a couple of questions. Let’s say you are issuing gun permits. Would you give one to someone who asserts, “Your group is the Satan and all of you deserve to die!”?
Also, imagine you are conducting negotiations for your group. After you sign the deal, the head of the other group announces to its members that they made a fool of you and are going to destroy your group. Then they broadcast it to the world to see. Would you consider the deal a good one?
Yet this is precisely what you have done. You are now allowing Iran to buy huge amounts of conventional weapons in exchange for monitoring its nuclear operations. At the very same time that you were announcing that you made the world safer from Iran, the world watched broadcasts of its leaders presiding over mass rallies cheering, “Death to America! Death to Israel.”
Iran is publicly gloating over trouncing the most powerful nation in history and making a mockery of its leader. Deep down, everyone knows it. The ones dancing in the streets were the Iranians, not the Americans.
Our ignorance regarding freedom of speech
Iran has been able to defeat us because, unfortunately, we no longer study freedom of speech. As a result, we have been outlawing speech that should be permitted while permitting speech that should be outlawed.
Freedom of speech is in the first Amendment. It is the most basic ingredient for a happy, vibrant society as well as the major deterrent to government despotism. We need to be free to say things that may offend people, including criticizing our government and ridiculing each other’s religious beliefs. Otherwise, how will we ever find out what we’re doing wrong?
Freedom of speech does not permit all speech. It only permits speech that can cause subjective harm, meaning that it can hurt people’s feelings. This includes insults, criticisms, and expression of unpopular ideas. If you say something I don’t like and I get upset, I actually upset myself. You do not deserve to be punished when I upset myself.
On the other hand, freedom of speech does not protect words that can cause objective harm, meaning they can hurt our bodies, possessions or deny us liberty. It means that if you say them and I get hurt, you are the one who hurt me. Such actions include yelling fire in a crowded theater, spreading lies about me to get me fired from my job, and inciting violence against me.
Incitement to violence is a particularly serious crime. Those who incite violence are guilty of the violence even though someone else physically committed it.
Political correctness has warped freedom of speech
Sadly, freedom of speech has been turned on its head because of political correctness. This doctrine, firmly implanted in our society over the past few decades, tells us that the worst thing we can do is offend people’s feelings, especially regarding their membership in a group of perceived lower status.
Thus, we now find ourselves in the absurd situation of allowing Middle Eastern leaders to incite genocidal violence because we’re afraid of hurting their feelings! While group-based hatred has become a grievous crime in democratic nations, we somehow think that their hate-inciting talk is a benign expression of cultural identity, nothing we need worry about.
A way out of your dilemma
You have withstood relentless demands to label the rampant violence by followers of the Muslim faith as Islamic terror, or Islamic fundamentalism. Not wanting to offend the world’s Muslims, you insist that Islam is a peaceful religion.
You happen to be correct. The term Islam means peace, from the same root as the Hebrew word, shalom. To effectively counter the argument that so much of today’s mass violence is obviously committed by Muslims, it is essential to accurately identify the source of the violence.
The power of memes
A meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture,” as defined in Wikipedia. It is a non-physical entity passed on through learning.
The most dangerous weapon is not a nuke but a meme. Nukes on their own don’t hurt anyone. A meme can make a person with a knife more deadly than a nuke.
The cause of most of today’s warfare is not a physical weapon but a meme that has infested millions of people’s minds. Leaders can’t get their flocks to become soldiers by telling them, “Go sacrifice your lives in battle so I can become even more rich and powerful.” They need to inspire them with an idea they believe is worth killing and dying for.
I dub that idea “the infidel meme.” It proclaims, “People must adhere to my precise beliefs about God or it is my divine duty to kill them.”
This meme has been around for thousands of years, at least since Biblical times. While it has been universally replaced in democratic countries by freedom of religion, it is still going strong in many theocracies, especially in the Middle East. Thus, we even see members of sects of the very same religion zealously killing each other in the name of their very same God, each believing they will be rewarded with virgins in Heaven. Without this meme, most of the world’s religion-based violence would not be happening.
The infidel meme is a profound violation of the Golden Rule. The person infested with it would not want people to kill him for having the “wrong” belief. Yet he believes it is his duty to kill others for having the “wrong” belief. Furthermore, if their God does indeed exist, it would be hard to imagine him wanting his followers to kill each other for holding somewhat different beliefs about him.
The simple solution: Fight the meme
To make the world safer, don’t waste your energy placing sanctions against nations pursuing nukes. Instead, place sanctions against nations that officially promote demonization of other national, ethnic or religious groups, or permit its leaders to do so. Supporting these nations, as we are currently doing, makes us accomplices to mass murder.
When the leaders of nation A publicly declare “Death to nation B,” don’t even bother wondering whether it is an indication of possible future violence. The declaration is the violence. It is the evil. In fact, it constitutes an act of war. Not only is it insane for B to sell weapons to A, B is justified in using military force to destroy A’s government before the reverse has a chance to occur.
Fortunately, there is no need to engage in warfare. Sanctions and education are more effective weapons.
The nations that still harbor the infidel meme need us far more then we need them. Deprived of commerce with the West, they will be forced back into the Middle Ages. Confronted with such a possibility, leaders will need to seriously consider whether the infidel meme is worth the cost.
Monitoring the infidel meme is much easier than monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities, which are purposely conducted in clandestine, hard to reach locations. By its very nature, the meme is disseminated in public: in airways, newspapers, textbooks and places of worship.
Memes are best fought with counter-memes. President Obama, you are master communicator and speechwriter. Thanks to the ubiquity of cheap electronic communication, you are in a better position than anyone in history to promote peace by replacing genocidal memes with loving ones.
Film yourself giving sermons worthy of the Islam of peace to the Iranian people and post them on Youtube. Inform them that because you love them and wish them peace and prosperity, you must condemn their government’s criminal promotion of genocidal passions. Expose the immorality of the infidel meme and how it is causing massive destruction among their own Muslim brethren. Enlighten them about the Golden Rule, how it is the only rule Allah would condone, and how, like the West, they can achieve peace and prosperity by forbidding hatemongering. Your logic will be unassailable and earn praise from all the world’s moral authorities.
The Obama sermons will go viral. Every Iranian will want to listen to them, as will most people in the world. You will start a revolution of peaceful thinking with almost no expense of American lives or money. Before long, weapons manufacturers will need to begin retooling for plowshares.
So please, President Obama, combat the infidel meme. If Jews and Christians could get rid of it, so can Muslims.
Israel “Izzy” Kalman is Director of Bullies to Buddies, a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule to reduce bullying and aggression and solve relationship problems. A longer version of this article can be found on his blog.