So here we are again.
In the space of less than a year, we’ve seen Australia come to a standstill with the Lindt Cafe terror siege. We’ve seen Paris come to a standstill with the Charlie Hebdo massacre.
And now, just a mere 10 months after Charlie Hebdo, the people of Paris have just experienced the bloodiest terrorist attack in their post WW2 history.
It boggles the mind. It enrages our moral imagination.
We cry. We pray. We tweet.
But what are we to make of it all?
Here are 5 important things we should consider, in the face of this horrific atrocity.
1) Islamist Terrorists Are Driven By More Than Just Politics
Religious Theology is the key motivator for groups like ISIS.
A little while ago I was talking with some non-Christian secular friends, and we were discussing terrorism. It quickly became clear that my friends believed terrorists were driven only by political/social concerns.
And so if we could only dialogue with them, and address their social/political concerns (which we in the West are mainly responsible for!), then the terrorists would lay down arms. And all would be well.
Writing in the secular magazine The Atlantic, Graeme Wood says the following about the motivations of groups like ISIS:
But focusing on [political and social factors] to the exclusion of ideology reflects another kind of Western bias: that if religious ideology doesn’t matter much in Washington or Berlin, surely it must be equally irrelevant in Raqqa or Mosul.
When a masked executioner says Allahu akbar while beheading an apostate, sometimes he’s doing so for religious reasons.
We’re not going to defeat the terrorist threat by misunderstanding what motivates them. And when it comes to Radical Islamic organisations like IS, their theology is key to their motivation.
2) Christians Must Take The Lead In Responding With Love, And Not Fear Or Hate
In a climate of fear, Christians must love like Jesus.
The most natural response to terrorist events is to become afraid, and anxious. After all, if a terrorist massacre of this magnitude can be carried out so easily in security conscious Paris, then it can be carried out anywhere in the western world.
And so we fear.
We fear going out.
We fear going places.
Because we fear death.
And yet, thanks to the Messiah, Jesus, Christians don’t have to fear death anymore.
We’ve already been raised from the dead spiritually, to eternal life, in the here and now (Colossians 3:1). In fact, we’re now united with the Messiah’s resurrected body (1 Corinthians 6:15). The worst a bullet from a Kalashnikov can do is bring us face to face with our glorified King Jesus.
And so we’re freed from fear.
But we’re also freed from hate.
Having been forgiven much by the Messiah, we’re now free to love much (Luke 7:36-48). Having experienced mercy firsthand, we’re now free, we’re now driven, to show mercy and love to others.
Including to our Muslim neighbours.
Instead of distancing ourselves from them, or treating them with contempt, we should get to know them. We should welcome them into our lives.
Just as Jesus the Messiah loved and welcomed us.
3) We Need To Talk About Islam: Is ISIS Islamic?
To what extent are groups like ISIS motivated by Islam?
Secular commentators like Peter Hartcher from Fairfax media would say ISIS is not Islamic at all:
They are neither Islamic, nor a State, just blasphemous barbarians.
We reiterate that the sanctity of human life is guaranteed in Islam
Thereby implying that ISIS, and people motivated by them, are not practicing Islam.
But is that really the case?
Graeme Wood again, in the same article as above, writes:
Many mainstream Muslim organizations have gone so far as to say the Islamic State is, in fact, un-Islamic. It is, of course, reassuring to know that the vast majority of Muslims have zero interest in replacing Hollywood movies with public executions as evening entertainment.
But Muslims who call the Islamic State un-Islamic are typically, as the Princeton scholar Bernard Haykel, the leading expert on the group’s theology, told me, “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion” that neglects “what their religion has historically and legally required.”
I can understand why Islamic groups are keen to distance ISIS from Islam. But if we’re to defeat a foe like ISIS, then we need to have an intellectually honest and mature discussion about the link between Islam and ISIS.
4) We Need to Talk About Islam: Islamic Leaders Need To Stop Scapegoating
Terrorists need to be held accountable.
I was most distressed by the recent press release from the Australian National Imam’s council, that I mentioned earlier.
It starts off well, by stating that the Grand Mufti of Australia, and the Iman’s council,
[M]ourn the loss of innocent lives due to the recent terrorist attacks in France.
We would like to convey our deepest condolences to the families and friends of the deceased.
So far so good.
But then, the statement takes a very interesting (and disturbing) turn:
The recent incidents highlight the fact that current strategies to deal with the threat of terrorism are not working. It is therefore imperative that all causative factors such as racism, Islamaphobia, curtailing freedoms such as securitisation, duplicitous foreign policies, and military intervention must be comprehensively addressed. [emphasis added].
Unless I missed something, the highest Islamic authority in Australia failed to blame this terrorist attack on radical Islam.
And instead blamed it on westerners, and their governments.
If I didn’t know any better, that’s victim blaming.
(I’ll be writing them an email asking for an urgent clarification of their press release).
That doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that the leaders of our Islamic communities are understanding radicalisation and terrorism, or taking it seriously.
UPDATE: The Grand Mufti has clarified his statements after coming under political pressure, saying:
We wish to emphasise it is incorrect to imply that the reference to causative factors provides justification for these acts of terrorism. There is no justification for the taking of innocent lives.
5) We Need To Talk About Islam: Tarring the Whole Islamic Community With the ‘Radical’ Brush Will not make us Safer.
The vast majority of western Muslims are appalled by terrorism.
ISIL leaders would be ecstatic to hear that Muslims have been reportedly threatened and attacked in England, America and here in Australia because this evil organisation has it in their heads that if they can make Muslims the enemy of the West, then Muslims in France and England and America and here in Australia will have nowhere to turn but to ISIL.
I think he’s got a fair point.
If we demonise all Muslims here in the West, then we shouldn’t be surprised if they turn to organisations like ISIS.
(It’s worth saying that Aly’s argument is only plausible because ISIS is, to one degree or another, Islamic. Many Christians across the western world are also starting to feel demonised by our wider secular culture, because of our views on human sexuality. But we won’t be running to ISIS as a result).
Fairfax Media’s Peter Harchter put it this way:
The former ASIO chief, David Irvine, said last year that we should thank the Muslim community in Australia, not blame it. Mainstream Muslims are central to the task of rooting out extremists.
I think the trick will be getting beyond the PC ‘radical Islamist terrorism is not Islamic’ narrative, in order to effectively counter their ideology/religion, and yet doing this in a way that protects the freedom of religion of the Australian Muslim community (as long as the practice of their religion doesn’t contradict core western freedoms).
Yesterday When The War Began
Whether we like it or not, the civilised world is in a war with radical Islam. Paris wasn’t the beginning. But it certainly brought it home to us. Again.
And chances are, this war will continue for generations.
Christians will need to be at the forefront of this war, by gently helping our secular culture understand the theologically driven motivations of groups like ISIS. For only then do we have a chance of defeating our common foe.
And yet, at the same time, we Christians must take the lead in loving our Muslim neighbours, and advocating for their freedom of religion.
Are we up to the task?