On an Air Canada flight a few weeks ago, I sat in front of a group of Cenovus oil rig workmen. Before take-off, two of the workmen proceeded to viciously kick me in the back multiple times, calling me a rag-head. They yelled, ordering me to give the passengers sufficient notice should I decide to bomb the plane. Biting my tongue, I chalked their behavior up to ignorance. I placed my computer bag between my back and their well-placed kicks and noted not a single person on my flight spoke-up.
The seven original sins are a classification of our collective human vices. But as Eleanor Roosevelt, former U.S. First Lady, so potently put it, "so much attention is paid to the aggressive sins, such as violence and cruelty and greed with all their tragic effects, that too little attention is paid to the passive sins, such as apathy... which in the long run can have a more devastating effect." Apathy is not one of the original sins. It could be argued that the most dangerous human quality is actually apathy -- bereft of conviction, not from an individual's lack of awareness, but from an utter disdain bred of sheer complacency.
Apathy will extinguish the preciousness associated with life if all one feels is the softness of their skin. Americans endlessly debate whether liberty is a treasured constitutional right or if it is something fundamentally different today. Does security edge out the timeless principle of liberty -- dispensing with the refrain of "land of the free" and substituting it with "homeland of the secure"? The recent controversy surrounding a class taught by the U.S. military underlines the pervasiveness of our societal apathy. The class instructor taught students that Islam must change or the United States "will facilitate its self-destruction," ultimately bombing Islam's two holy cities of Mecca and Medina not unlike Hiroshima and Dresden. Only recently was the class terminated when a student objected to the course material. Apathy best epitomizes those officers, cycled through this class over two years, who never felt obliged to tell anyone how wrong all this was.
Apathy will also extinguish the significance of faith if all one feels are hands clasped tightly in prayer. There are many Muslims who have been inculcated -- told if all they do is focus on daily prayers all their problems will disappear. There are also those Muslims who have been led to believe that they should renounce this material world. They will only find happiness in an afterlife amidst frolicking women and rivers of milk. With such conviction who, then, from amongst the Muslim community, will speak for the 300 Muslim-Shiites who were murdered in the last three months in Baluchistan? It seems Muslims are more interested in flogging Uncle Sam than speaking out against banned extremist groups that stop passenger buses to execute all those identified as Muslim-Shiites; or how a Sunni-ruled Bahrain can openly conscript Pakistani mercenaries to brutally contain a Shiite population insisting on equal and democratic rights.
The word "liberty" is defined as "free from compulsion." Once any government legally empowers itself to compel their citizens then liberty, as an ideal principle, vanishes -- never to return. In our post 9/11 world, having to choose between liberty and security is wrong. Those politicians who sacrifice liberty in the hopes of greater security deserve neither and will get none. Conversely, people of faith need to make some important choices. They need to take full accountability for their religious beliefs. There can be no "moderate" position; because once faith is ceded to a religious clergy it will invariably be pimped out at each and every street corner.
Apathy finds itself in our lives in surprising ways. The ensuing plot is ultimately tragic, but should every citizen pull his or her own weight their voice would add a genuine dose of humanity to these most outrageous of stories.
Follow Shahid Mahmood on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Shahid_Tweeting