This dream of absolute disconnection from an “evil world” is what all fundamentalists (religious and secular) seek as their collective salvation. In the not too-distant past, such disconnects were far simpler to achieve: head to some desolate place beyond marked borders, plant your flag, and fight off anyone who dared to trespass. This is why religions – as a rule – have always burned hottest along frontiers.
But that’s the thing with globalization: it engulfs frontiers, reformatting local cultures at a disorienting speed. Alongside all those networks arrive unprecedented economic opportunities that have – over the past half century – shrunken the share of humanity suffering extreme poverty to an all-time low of 10 percent. But that global force of change creates enormous local frictions, unleashing all manner of social tensions, civil strife, political revolutions, and extremist movements – all of which put people on the move and further accelerate globalization’s blending dynamics. It’s one thing for your world to be transformed by my networks, but quite another if that process drives you to my doorstep in search of your better life.
Discarded refugee life vests
But that’s exactly what continues to happen. Muslims fleeing the Middle East and North Africa for Europe and North America don’t seek to replicate in these new environments the harsh life they left behind. Yes, they want to retain their cultural and religious identities amidst this disorienting transition, but who wouldn’t? The key point is that they seek the combination of social peace, political freedom, and economic opportunity that only a pluralistic, diverse nation-state can provide. These people aren’t seeking refuge in authoritarian regimes; they’re seeking legitimate sanctuary in countries whose capacity for tolerance ensures it. So, again, when we unduly oppress Muslims within our ranks, we essentially endorse ISIS’ message of intolerance and apartheid. We feed their strength while dissipating our own.
In the end, it’s our diversity that renders our nations truly resilient. Indeed, that melting-pot mindset defines these United States – the world’s oldest and most successful multinational union. It’s what makes us resilient in the face of all the vulnerabilities that our open societies present to our enemies as logical targets. The West can – and should – never hope to harden itself sufficiently to withstand any attack without suffering internal perturbations. We cannot firewall ourselves off from this wonderful world of our creating and still thrive.
Instead, we must continue to grow our collective resilience from the bottom-up – family by family, neighborhood by neighborhood, and community by community. Resilience helps people where they live by fostering communal bonds built around the basic human instinct for empathy beyond kinship – that rarest of behaviors in nature. All who are willing must be invited to join in this effort, because, the bigger our “tent” is, the sooner we prevail in this struggle to define humanity’s future.