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Simply said, it is more effective to teach people how to help themselves than just to go on helping them. Societies, like children, need nurturing in their growth process.

After sustenance, we see the humanitarian issue as being a most fundamental basis for nurturing if peace is ever to prevail.

Too often societies view other societies as threatening. They compete for the minds of youth at impressionable ages. It should be no surprise that rogue societies and sects are schooling their children first in the "good book" (substitute Qur'an, Talmud, or even superstition) knowing that what they teach will leave indelible impressions, difficult to change. A common result is behavior limited in its expression. While many children are wise enough to know better, others become believers and project there personal belief systems upon others in all ways possible. Their grievances radicalize not only themselves but others toward extremism and terror.

Having said that, most historians agree that religion in some form is necessary for most people in their quest for meaning in their lives. Others like Bertrand Russell find deep purpose in life without any apparent religious trappings. While his contemporaries often regarded him as a heretic in morals and religion, he was deeply concerned about humankind and its place in the universe. That feature set him apart. Like Isaac Newton, he had the courage to question the very nature of God.

Historically speaking, faith-based learning for moral guidance is present to a degree in nearly all cultures. However, overdoing governance by religion has brought problems, like the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Thirty-Years War. It has generated backlashes most recently expressed in Communism. More sensibly, America's founding Fathers saw fit simply, yet firmly, to separate church and state.

Limit youth to faith-based learning and they miss the broad swath of history, technology, and the nature from which all these spring. Youth, spoon-fed and molded according to "the scriptures", rarely develop an ability to think for themselves. More critically, they will not learn how to think in ways that improve political and social systems or develop new art, science, and technology that spring from them. Is it humanitarian to put young minds in such straight-jackets?

We believe freeing minds for Critical Thinking provides a better way.

This historic process of freeing human thought was painful and came only slowly in the West and required much accommodation by both church and state. Medieval and modern history speak for themselves on this score. Democratic societies are fundamentally humanitarian and have ways of providing at least roughly equal opportunities for education and life. As much as it seems paradoxical, only minds free to be open can live in peace.

Societies under religious, feudal, or despotic governance are selective not only about what constitutes education, but who gets one. When women are proscribed from taking active part, such societies further limit their own potential. Islam is the most prominent example in our day, but the Authoritarian disease" exists in all societies.

Humanitarian aid with food and shelter is fundamental. But it is no way enough. The way out of hunger is enabled by literacy, broad education, and a developing middle class. Entrepreneurship is the next big step by which societies can help themselves. Nation building begins first with individual and group building.

For two millennia, the Jews have been a most entrepreneurial culture in action as well as in education. Despite their small numbers, entrepreneurship is their big example (and gift) for the world. And like their Muslim brethren, the Jews have contributed mightily to modern society, most importantly in the sciences and business. They are not limited by their scriptures in their ways of thinking or creating new insights and perceptions. Morally, Jews stand equal to others of the world's great religions. As members or our species they share with us all the good and bad genes that define Homo Sapiens. They are neither better nor worse than the Palestinians. Richer maybe, but not better in any humanitarian sense.

Despite their small numbers, Jews belong to what is rightfully a great religion—it provided the roots for monotheisms that followed from Abraham.

In the long view, equalizing opportunity of education and freeing individual expression may offer our best chance to make resorting to terror obsolete. After the basic language, reading and writing skills, such an education would be broad and embrace history from many viewpoints. The full ranges of natural history, philosophy, and religion as a matter of choice would be central to such an education. Literature, arts, "soft" sciences such as politics, psychology, sociology, and governance would be equally important. "Hard" sciences such as chemistry and physics, engineering, and technologies derived from science and engineering, would follow as skills and techniques develop. In all cases, leading students to insight would be the teacher's guiding light as well as the enablement of preparing people to use what they know. Present school systems too often fail miserably on most of these scores.

Modern communication and travel afford additional or easier means to address many of these developmental issues:

  • Identifying humanitarian needs one-on-one via electronic travel using language translators and video cams can provide an immense sense of togetherness and community.
  • Living for a time in another culture does wonders for one's perceptions of the world. Humanitarian requirements are seen to take many forms.
  • Providing emotional support and understanding along with food, goods, and services bring people together as they grow toward better things.
  • Facilitating information transfer by developing and engaging in dialogue with people in other societies is key.

It is difficult to imagine how peace can exist until these basic features become commonplace the world over. This is being humanitarian.

Sadly, what we are seeing in Afghanistan and Iraq, are knee-jerk reactions by Authoritarian personalities who firmly believe theirs is the right and only way.

While we must chase down the hardened terrorists and their organizations, we must also find ways to provide the human touch, lest we continue to be viewed as ogres. The world is our stage to dance upon, to war upon, or anything in between. Means abound for us to employ in moving away from war to the dance.

We can be humanitarians or terroristic despots, or anything in between.

To be a humanitarian simply means: we care for each other. A humanitarian in action expresses that principle.

The choice is ours to make, in the voting booth.


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