Zach, outbound to India

Hi there everyone! The date is 19 February 2015 and it's time for me to make another journal entry. This one will be a majorly different, as I'm going to talk chiefly about a current affair that is weighing heavily on my heart and mind at this hour. I ask that you read with an open mind and be ready to evaluate some things about yourself. I have wanted to say these words for a long time, but haven't felt quite sure how to put them. As you read these words, know that I have considered each one carefully and ask that you do the same.

What I want to say, in introduction, is that safety is overrated, and that if you make it the first priority in your life you'll never accomplish anything. Let me explain. No one wakes up in the morning and says, "I can't wait to be safe today!" It just doesn't happen. For an outbound, for any human being, safety should be a factor, not a goal. So what does that mean in real life? It means that you don't evaluate the decision of going to India, as so many do, by the possibility of disease and the relative lack of living standards. It means that you don't stay in a bad situation simply because of your fear of the bad possibilities of change. It means you don't refuse to draw a line in the sand because you're afraid of its finality. Now, that doesn't mean throwing your brain away. But listen. If you wait to seize an opportunity until all risk is gone, you'll never seize an opportunity again. There's always the presence of fear when you're going into a dangerous or uncertain situation - everyone who denies this is either lying or stupid. In this instance, I turn to the wisdom of John Wayne: "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway." When in doubt, turn to John Wayne.

This brings me to my main point in my undefined list of points, world affairs. The issue that I specifically want to discuss is ISIL, which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The Levant, in this instance, is a broad and loosely defined group of territory that is generally accepted to include Syria, Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and Israel. They've obviously been directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, regardless of religion. By the way, the Atlantic made a really great article about it, I suggest you read it. So why am I bringing this up? Because I, thanks to this exchange, have a vastly different perspective than almost everyone reading this journal. I am currently in a country where the majority faith is not some flavor of Christianity or Atheism, but where instead I am in the minority as far as population is concerned. Indeed, as I've noted in past journals, every morning I'm greeted by the sounds of Muslim prayer, and in fact it's one of my favorite things to listen to. It's beautiful. Even though I'm not a Muslim or a Hindu, I can respect those religions, and much more importantly, I can love the people who belong to them.

Here's the rub, though. There's now a force in the world, a force that controls more territory than the United Kingdom, that inherently cannot practice that same empathy. This force doesn't rest until its enemies are dead or subdued, and it defines 'enemies' as anyone who stands in the way of the execution of a medieval style of government. Completely take away the fact that they're Muslims, because most Muslims don't act this way, and because, frankly, it doesn't matter what religion they profess. If they were Christians I would be condemning them more strongly than I am now (as would the media, I'm sure). I could care less if they were Muslims or Christians or Athiests or worshipped the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It really doesn't make a lick of a difference.

What does make a difference is what they're doing. Their territorial expansion, treatment of civillians, and apparent relish of showing it all off to the world is evil. Let me say that last word again. Evil. It's become something of a four-letter word in our society, as has its opposite. Everything in the West has become so relativized, to the point where we can't call a spade a spade - "it might look black, and it's definitely not a club, heart, or diamond, but we can't absolutely call it a spade." That sounds funny, but it's essentially where we've drifted to as a society. We refuse to call evil by its true name. The effect of this is that our resolve weakens to such a critical state that we - we who have the mightiest armed forces in the history of humanity - frequently leave conflicts bitter and unsure of what we gained or hoped to gain, with far more casualties on either side than is preferable. We did not have this problem during World War 2, and we won decisively - although it took a terrible cost.

It was a cost that we were willing to pay, however, because we knew two things. We knew that we were protecting the world from a force that knew no notion of compromise to its horrible, stated ideal, an ideal which, if it reached fruition, would neccesarily result in the loss of life and freedom for millions of people. In short, we knew what would happen if nothing was done. The second thing we knew was that there was no one else who could stand in the gap. France was an occupied ruin, England was on the verge of collapse, and the whole of central and eastern Europe was already lost. Of course we entered the war due to the attack on Pearl Harbor, but we could easily have left Europe alone if we so desired. So, in full knowledge of the cost to ourselves, not knowing the end result, we entered into the war and the rest (as is, I suppose, all of this that I've been writing) is history.

So what does this have to do with you and me, with my exchange, and with ISIL? A variety of things. To start with the simplest point, it relates with ISIL in that the historical similarities (as understanding the past is among the surest ways to predict the future) between Nazi Germany and ISIL are striking. Each are motivated to reclaim a lost empire (German-speaking peoples; ancient Caliphate territory), each are highly influenced by a radicalized religion (Nazi-infused Protestantism, Radical Islam), and each shows a blatant disregard for international reaction. The similarities don't stop there, though. What's important is that we look to history and learn from it so that we don't repeat it. Can we let ISIL, as we let Hitler, annex soverign territority with impunity, while implementing fear tactics and propoganda on a mass scale, and expect a different result? Of course not. And I'm not advocating for the traditional response of sending in the troops. But we cannot make the same mistake as we made with Hitler - that mistake of allowing the 'final demand' of a dictator, or of refusing to back up our condemnations with something a little more solid. I'm no tactician, and ultimately what I'm trying to say goes far deeper than our interaction with ISIL.

What I'm trying to say is (and this ties in with you and me, as well as my exchange) that we, Western Civilization, need to take a step back and take inventory. Do we believe that good and evil exist? If the answer is yes, then we need to recognize where things stand in the world, whether we are on the side of good or evil, and where everyone else stands. If the answer is no... well, if the answer is no, on what authority is our or any code of laws based off? If there is no right or wrong, there cannot, by definition, be any rights. This is something that has been really hammered into me over the course of my exchange, that good and bad, right and wrong, do exist, and that they have nothing in common. When I see injustice on the streets and in the classrooms here, I know deep down that it is wrong. If you've read any of my earlier entries, you'll know some of the stuff I'm referring to.

It isn't easy to have such a view of the world, I know. Absolutism is viewed nowadays as archaic at best, judgemental and xenophobic at worst. But take away the public perception. Remember that good and evil, if they exist, are and have to be polar opposites. There is no white in black, there is no black in white. Am I arguing for the existence of such a world? Yes, I am. While I would love to reside in the comfortable, responsible-free zone of the relativist, the world isn't "Fifty Shades of Gray". If, for example, you peeled open an orange and found it infested with maggots and reeking of corruption, save for a small clean spot the size of a dime, would you say the orange 'has good and bad aspects' and proceed to eat it entirely? I certainly hope not. Ask any metallurgist - if there is anything in gold that is not gold, it's not pure gold. In the words of an ancient Greek logician, A is either A or non-A.

The time has come to draw a line in the sand, and to not be afraid of its finality. Take a stance and stick to it. Find your resolve and guard it jealously. Don't be afraid to learn and to grow, but never betray what you know to be true - what you know to be right. Otherwise, if you have one foot on each side of that line, or if you choose to not see the line, I can promise you that what is on the other side won't care. Evil won't take the time to thoughtfully consider your well-crafted and politcally correct opinions of careful neutrality, no matter how well-intentioned, because it's already come to this black and white viewpoint that the world hates. And guess what? Evil doesn't draw a distinction between the committed and the noncomitted. It subdues or destroys everything it can.

So, before I close this journal entry out, and before I get myself into (any more) trouble, I'll leave you with this. When one asks people who they want to be, what they want to do, the answer is usually that they want to "be a good person", or "live a good life". If there's no good or no evil, their lives are by definition aimless. Ask yourself the same question. Do you want to be a good person? Regardless of the answer, you must choose for yourself how to define good. And, once you've done this, once we've all done this, we can start looking at the world and using the resources of good to destroy the works of evil.

Thanks for reading this, everyone. And thank you Rotary for being so committed to your goal of raising thoughtful, passionate youths, that you've given me the platform to make a statement such as this and are brave enough to post it.