Sunday, November 15, 2015

What should we do about the jihadists in our midst?

How do we deal with those who are responsible for the Paris bombings in which 129 people died and another 352 injured, some very seriously? The Islamic State has already claimed responsibility in an online statement that appeared in Arabic and French. Although it appears to be genuine, it was not immediately possible to confirm its authenticity.

The ISIS statement mocked France's involvement in air attacks on suspected ISIS bases in Syria and Iraq, noting that France's air power was "of no use to them in the streets and rotten alleys of Paris." What lies behind this defiant language? What motivated this outrage? And why Paris?

Are these bombings simply a response of ISIS to the coalition bombings in the Middle East or is there more involved? I suspect that there is more. The goal of ISIS is not simply punitive, but it wants to generate division, discord, and fear in Western countries.

ISIS wants to up the ante in this war by bringing it to Paris, the capital of France and an iconic symbol of the struggle against ISIS. Almost 1,500 of the coalition troops in the Middle East are French, which is the largest European contribution.

According to French prosecutors, eight terrorists were killed, seven of whom were suicide bombers, A total of three groups of extremists mounted the attacks. Authorities are now investigating a fourth band of terrorists who may have fled Paris and may be hiding in Belgium.

The French newspaper Le Monde reported that one terrorist has been identified as a French citizen in his 30’s. Meanwhile, a Syrian passport was found on the ground at the French stadium, one of the seven sites hit by attacks. The passport belonged to a migrant who was registered as a refugee in Greece in October, according to Le Figaro, another French daily.

A Belgian official said two of the seven people wired with suicide vests were French men living in Brussels, and among those arrested was another French citizen living in the Belgian capital. The new information highlighted growing fears of homegrown terrorism in a country that has exported more jihadis than any other in Europe. All three gunmen in the January attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and a kosher supermarket were French.

Francois Hollande, President of France, declared three days of national mourning. He squarely put the blame for the attacks on ISIS, The visibly shaken Hollande called the carnage "an act of war that was committed by a terrorist army, a jihadist army against France."

The war with ISIS is not a conventional war, but something much more dangerous; this war involves jihadists who are living in our midst. They are intent upon destroying the influence of Western society, which they perceive as decadent and evil, and establishing a caliphate in the Middle East. They cannot be fought in conventional ways, with armies, but 

ISIS is prepared to use whatever tools it takes in order to accomplish this goal. Suicide bombings are a new tactic for ISIS in Europe. In the Paris bombings, ISIS seems to have employed not only Syrians who may have an ax to grind with the coalition but also French citizens who can blend in well since they speak the language fluently and not attract unnecessary attention.

The suicide bombers were unable to enter the stadium because of extra security measures

These jihadists are the most dangerous since they blend in so well. They are also the most terrifying since it is difficult to fight against them. All these jihadists are committed to the cause of ISIS, which wants to drive a wedge between the people of France. For them, religion is a weapon to turn the French against all Muslims, making the latter feel even more isolated and open to conversion to the ISIS cause. 

Hollande wisely called for the French people to remain calm and united, explaining, "What the terrorists want is to scare us and fill us with dread. There is indeed reason to be afraid. There is dread, but in the face of this dread, there is a nation that knows how to defend itself, that knows how to mobilize its forces and, once again, will defeat the terrorists."

Yet the question remains: How will the French defeat the terrorists? I do not doubt the resolve of the French, but the problem is bigger than France. President Barack Obama described the bombings as "an attack not just on Paris, it’s an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share." 

The universal values Obama is referring to are "liberté and égalité and fraternité," these were originally espoused in the French Revolution. They are inimical to everything that ISIS stands for. They are shared by people everywhere, according to Obama, and, therefore, ought to be defended.

Obama promised, "We’re going to do whatever it takes to work with the French people and with nations around the world to bring these terrorists to justice, and to go after any terrorist networks that go after our people."

Bringing the terrorists to justice will not be an easy task. Some of the bombers were killed in the attacks and others may yet be captured. But ISIS, as a whole, is difficult to fight.

Let us not begin by casting suspicion on all refugees coming from Syria and thus preventing many of them to be resettled somewhere in Europe or another continent. That would not be an appropriate response. They must be carefully vetted, but they must not be condemned as a group because of the connections of a few with ISIS.

Nor should governments around the world respond by severely limiting freedoms in the name of security. After hearing about the Paris bombings, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said as much when he warned that security measures should not detract from the freedoms that Canadians enjoy.

Yet there is a danger that the security forces in many countries will be supplemented extensively and granted powers that would effectively turn these countries into a police state. The French forces were so overextended after the Charlie Hebdo attack only ten months ago that they were unable to prevent these bombings.

Hollande's vow to wage war against ISIS does not bode well for the future of France or for many other countries. In Canada, Trudeau promised to revise Bill C-51,  the Anti-terrorism Act. 2015, which granted enormous powers to Canada's security agencies without the necessary oversight to prevent misuse of those powers. 

Another inappropriate response would be to intensify the coalition bombing missions in Syria and Iraq. ISIS cannot be bombed out of existence, although bombing may limit the spread of ISIS-held territory or even reverse it somewhat.

Trudeau is thus faced with an enormous challenge. He promised during the election to end Canada's contribution to these bombing missions, but now there may be public pressure in Canada for him to reconsider his plan. I hope indeed that he sticks to his plan and pulls out the planes.

This does not mean that Canada cannot provide humanitarian aid. It can and must do that. Also the training the forces of some Middle Eastern countries, which Canada is already doing, should be continued, provided that Canadian forces do do not involve themselves in direct conflict with ISIS.

Personally, I am against Canada's participation at all in the Middle East since the problems there are much too complex and ought to be solved by the people most directly involved. Western involvement serves the cause of ISIS by confirming to all Muslims its claim that it is fighting the evil West. Other terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram, make similar claims.

The coalition bombings may help to diminish the territory of ISIS, but at the same time they create new ISIS recruits in Syria when civilians suffer what is euphemistically dismissed as "collateral damage." In the West, the bombings have created support for ISIS as well, especially among some young people.

The proper response should not involve violence. We have to find non-violent ways to deal with the threat of ISIS. We also have to search for ways to provide security without sacrificing liberty. We must learn to make friends with Arabs and Muslims and not vilify them. Vilification is a form of racism.

Racism is also evident in the way the West is treating the Paris bombings. If they had taken place in a city in the Middle East, the world would hardly pay attention. Days before the Paris attack two suicide bombers killed 48 people in a Shiite neighborhood of Beirut, but that event received little attention in the world press as compared to what happened in Paris. That event was dismissed as sectarian violence. It doesn't affect us directly.

The same thing happened after 19 people were killed in Baghdad. Before that there was Ankara, where more than 100 people died. Paris attracts more attention because it brings the war much closer to home. This is now too close for comfort! After Paris, even Canada is no longer safe.

So what can we do? As I wrote in last week's post, we must learn to accept the stranger in our midst. That is the best response to the jihadists who threaten the West. It may seen naive to speak about love in this context, but I assure you that is what we must display. Not a declaration of war.

We must not fear them, because if we do they have won. Instead, we must find a loving way to resolve the problem. Such a resolution involves repentance on our part: a willingness to change our hearts. That will not be easy. There are no easy solutions to the challenge posed by ISIS except to respond in love.

A memorial to all the people who were massacred in the Bataclan Theater 

The words "Kyrie eleison" (Lord, have mercy) are found in the liturgy of many churches. What most people don't realize is that mercy here does not refer to justice or acquittal, which is a very Western interpretation, but to God's loving-kindness and compassion for us, his children. In his love, God forgives us, and he expects us to do the same. "Make love, not war!"

If God extends such love to us, ought we not try to emulate this love? Is this not what the love of neighbor means? This is a hard saying, the disciples of Jesus said to him. Indeed, the command to love is a hard saying, but there is no alternative for the Christian.

Therefore, I propose that we use diplomacy. Instead of revving up the coalition bombings, let us seek alternatives. I realize that this flies in the face of what many voices are crying for today: to escalate the war. But that is not the solution that I wish for as a Christian.

We can best respond to the jihadists in our midst by showing love to Arabs and Muslims, not by further alienating them. We can begin by welcoming the refugees that are already banging on our doors. The war in Syria, in which many Western nations are now involved, caused the flood. Thus, we must welcome these refugees for that reason alone. But our primary motivation must be love.

Proper screening will be necessary, but that should not deter us from issuing a warm welcome to them. If we lock our doors, as some countries have already, we demonstrate our lack of faith in God in whom alone we must place our trust. God is our security, not our armed forces. He alone can drive away our fears and the darkness that surrounds us.

May God bless France and the rest of the world and grant us his peace!


  1. Brother Art,
    A prophetic call for a radical response.... but you have to go further and help us understand what the radical love of Jesus looks like in this mess... how to show it.... how would radical love shape shrewd and disciplined diplomacy.... Thanks for your work and your determination to hold onto the way of Love.

  2. Karl,
    Thanks for your gracious comment. I don't have the answers to all your questions. For that I need a community that believes the same and can help work out what radical love means concretely. But I can tell you some things that it does not mean: bombing ISIS, since that has never worked in the past nor will it in the future; turning away refugees out of fear of terrorism; and relying on our armed forces and the police to provide security for us.

  3. A strong loving shalom community is security.... am I hearing you right? providing succor for the people on the Jericho road who've been victimized by violence.... stopping to help even though that is costly and makes us vulnerable. You remind me that these are the kingdom ways to deal with danger and fear. How can I live up to that Jesus-way of life in this society? How can the Community of Jesus, the Church, live this response so clearly and so strongly that we become salt and light for Republicans and Democrats, for politicians, for diplomats, negotiators.... Am I living this? I confess I'm not. and frankly, I can't even imagine what it would look like for the Church to live this out.... but I know there is something in me that longs to be part of such a kingdom-shaped movement at this moment in history that the world would take notice,and follow Jesus.

  4. Good questions, Karl. God alone is our security, but we need a community to be able to discern his will and to help live it. I too can't imagine what it would look like for the Church to live out the Jesus-way, but I want to be part of it as well. (At his point I wanted to add a picture, but I am unable to do so, although I did send it to you privately).