I have spent a great deal of time this weekend following social media and the response to last Friday’s events in Paris. I saw numerous responses to the tragedy expressing condolences from people who honestly seemed to wish they could do more than write a note. At some point in the weekend it dawned on me, where was this support for Russia and Lebanon? Where were the Facebook profile pictures shaded by the Russian flag; where was #prayforBeruit? ISIS has been systematically attacking countries who have been hostile to their political ends in the Middle East. Why is it our media coverage has only focused on one of these? This is a global problem, not simply hitting the Western World. I truly think one of the first steps toward ending the problems in our world is acknowledging the problem extends to the whole world and caring for it within the whole world not simply in our backyard. I wonder if we will ever be able to truly end this type of terrorism if we only care when reaches a country thoroughly like our own.
Beyond this, I was troubled by many reactions I saw posted. These fall into three basic categories:
I call this the Donald Trump reaction because the post I remember read, “Donald Trump’s wall doesn’t seem so stupid now does it?”. My answer is still YES IT DOES. We cannot turn tail tuck ourselves into a protective shell and isolate from the rest of the world. We have responsibilities to the world we cannot turn our backs on everyone else. Even if one would not agree to my moral rationale for responsibilities, there are fiscal reasons. The people of this world are interdependent and were must work with them all. One purpose of terrorism is to scare the victim. If we isolate ourselves, they win because we have run scared.
A number of people have cheered loudly on Facebook when France launched airstrikes against ISIS targets. I am not willing to say that a valid response to ISIS does not include force, in fact I am all but certain some level of force may be necessary. But, force should not be celebrated, force should not be cheered. Like a parent punishing a child, there should be some degree of displeasure in using force. We should not celebrate killing even terrorists who have harmed the world terribly. We should not dehumanize them the way they try to dehumanize others. In the end such vindictive comments only drag us down their level. This is exactly what they want They want to rationalize their hatred for us by showing we are vindictive, hateful, ignorant people who want to destroy them. Terrorists want to make us like them and we must rise above this to show them honor and dignity, even if force is necessary.
This position has been famously expounded by Bill Maher and recently by Joann Sfar. The basic theory is that by eliminating all religion we can eliminate the basis for such violence, because such violence is founded on religious beliefs. This so simplistic and uneducated a response that I almost feel compelled not to include it. But, these individuals are violent people using religious beliefs as a mask and rationalization for their attempt to establish political control over people. This is not so much about religion as creating an empire. If these terrorists were fighting purely for religious reasons they would not attack those of the same religion. These terrorists are trying to gain land and prestige by attacking anyone who does not believe they should be in power. They honestly do have a religious background, and honestly think they are religious, but, that does not mean they act inside the religion. If a “Christian” bombs and abortion clinic, sensible Christians respond that such actions go against the beliefs of the Church. Sensible Muslims have condemned the acts of the terrorists. Making such a fight about religion is exactly what the terrorists want because it lends them credibility.
What is the proper response?
I do not have a detailed answer, the events are too fresh, and I am not sure I am smart enough to provide answers for such a complex problem. But, I can provide some starting places. Pray, not simply for the victims and their families, and not generically for the world; truly and specifically pray. Pray for us collectively and yourself individually to have a proper response to the unsettled world around us. Pray for God to intervene, but, also for us to intervene in God’s name. Pray for the terrorists, that light and love would shine in their hearts; that they would discover the joy of God. This is incredibly hard, but:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)
Or again: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14 NIV)
Second, we must respond with humanitarian support. I praise those countries in Europe who have taken in so many refugees of the Syrian war. Now we should remember World War II, and not the allusions to the Nazi party. In the late 1930’s civilians began raising money to bring Jewish refugees to the U.S. and other countries to escape the Nazi regime. We can learn from that example. We can rebuild war torn countries, we can raise money to bring refugees here, it will be difficult and demanding, but, it is hard to hate someone who has saved your life. While we all Pray for Paris, do not forget Paris is not the epicenter of the conflict. Let Paris be the trigger to a great wave of prayer and compassion sweeping through the world.