What should Christians do about escalating atrocities by pseudo-Muslim extremists like the misnomered “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”?
Huh? The 2.2 billion followers of Jesus Christ should just bear ISIS-perpetrated and -inspired bloodletting without fighting back?
Let’s clarify the do-nothing answer.
First, it doesn’t mean humankind — all civilized people of every religion, race and righteous living — should not take steps to end the violence. By all means and within moral and legal strictures, deploy myriad security, economic, diplomatic and other capabilties and mechanisms to thwart the killers and destroy their forces and resources.
However, counter-terrorism efforts should never become a purely or mainly Christian campaign, seemingly pitting the faith against the one terrorists wrongly claim to defend. This propaganda is exactly what ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Jemayah Islamiyah, Abu Sayaff, and other extremist cabals want to falsely cloak their atrocities in Islamic garb.
If battling self-styled “jihadists” is portrayed as Christianity vs. Islam, they’ve won. Then 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide can potentially be recruited for Allah. Indeed, terrorist and media use of “jihad” to include extremist acts wrongly lends religiosity to barbarity. For true Muslims, jihad is a holy struggle against evil in the soul and society, never the killing of innocents.
As UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon rightly pointed out last year, “Islamic State” is neither Islamic nor a state. Anything that seems like a Christian crusade against it and its ilk could make many Muslims accept the extremists’ distortion of Islam to blasphemously cloak their demonic attacks with heaven’s blessing.
To repeat: Terrorists are not God-fearing Muslims; they are diabolically driven killers who misinterpret or misuse the Koran and Islamic teachings to justify their evil carnage.
Christians should not help these monsters propagate their distorted view of the great faith of Islam by fighting them as a religious group. Rather, in solidarity with all peace-loving peoples and faiths across the globe, especially true Muslims espousing the very meaning of the word Islam — peace — the adherents of Christianity must fight terror as part of institutions and forces of the entire civilized world.
Before action, prayer and solidarity
Second, any Christian response to terrorism must begin with prayer and spiritual discernment. In the blaze of terrorist brutality, it is almost impossible not to be inflamed with righteous outrage and the imperative to act with urgency and intensity.
That’s exactly what terrorists want: Christians and other targeted groups mobilizing guns, gunships, and gung-ho troops, against extremists, and thus portray their diabolical terrorism as holy war. Also likely to exploit unprayerful, undiscerning action are demagogues seeking power by preaching nationalist, ethnic or racist bigotry.
Plainly, if Christians do not first seek the grace and guidance of Christ, they may well fall prey to leaders and movements advancing un-Christian agenda, like a top American presidential hopeful whom Pope Francis recently and rightly called un-Christian.
With prayer and discernment, Christians can divine not just how to fight terrorism, but more important, why.
It should never be because we hate and wish to decimate terrorists. Hence, the first prayer in the face of their atrocities is Jesus’s first words on Calvary: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Christians must first wish that these killers repent their grave sins and seek forgiveness. That may seem impossible, but we must pray for it nonetheless.
Of course, we must also defend peace, human rights, and social harmony. That is heaven’s will in earth, and humankind’s efforts to establish global security is central to establishing God’s kingdom of peace, justice, and love in the world.
And that sole goal has no room for hateful, vengeful violence, even as it may require the defensive use of deadly force against lawless threats to society.
For sure, the battle against terrorism may lead to morally suspect or outright ungodly acts. But with prayerful discernment, Christians can minimize such excesses, and correct them if they happen. That circumspection is crucial in forging solidarity with other faiths and peoples — especially Muslims — so indispensable in defeating terror.
Christians must join hands with Muslims
Make no mistake about it: only by persuading Muslims to join hands with the rest of the civilized world in fighting terrorism, can it be beaten. Killers claiming to serve Allah can only gain if a sizable segment of worldwide Islam supports them.
If even just a one in 100,000 Muslims becomes enamored of terrorism, that’s 16,000 extremists scattered across the globe and blended invisibly in society.
If it takes, say, 15 people to execute a terrorist act, that’s more than a thousand bombings, shootings, kidnappings, and other attacks, not counting ISIS depradations and decapitations.
There is no way security forces alone can cope with that mayhem.
What’s worse: repeated carnage would spur draconian measures, including wholesale wiretapping and interrogation torture; plus massive repression and attacks against Muslim areas.
Indeed, such measures are already being pushed after just two incidents in Europe. They would not only violate rights en masse, but incite more terror.
Only by getting the great majority of Muslims actively countering the twisted thinking that portrays mass murder as jihad, can the extremist explosion be defused.
The ultimate anti-terror strategy: sacrifice
Persuading Muslims to take on the extremists among them is best done with prayerful, discerning spirituality. Kneeling together before God, believers cannot but renounce violence against fellow worshippers from different faiths, and stand up together against killers claiming holiness.
The other way to win over upright Muslims to the anti-terror cause is the hardest part of doing nothing: sacrifice.
Like Jesus nailed to the Cross and early Christians facing hungry lions in Roman arenas, the spectacle of defenseless children, women and men dying for their faith cannot but make righteous Muslims doubt, if not deny that massacring Christians is part of Islam.
Sadly, there will be many more such bloody spectacles before they stop. We pray for the grace and guidance to pray and discern, join hands in battle, and sacrifice for peace and faith in the face of today’s martyrdom. Amen.