Over the last few weeks, I have watched with horror the rapid spread of “Anti-Islamic” sentiment both in Canada and the US. It has genuinely frightened me to see, even in 2015, how racism can be so easily embraced and “celebrated” even among the Christian community. On television and social media, the words “Terrorism” and “Islam” are forever linked. We have politicians suggesting only “Christian” refugees should be admitted into the country and not “Muslim” refugees. We heard a US presidential hopeful saying he will shut down mosques and register all Muslims in the country in a database. Prominent church leaders have expressed publicly that Muslims should not be allowed into the US. It seems a foregone conclusion in most people’s mind that terrorism is marked by a Muslim label.
That, is both wrong and un-Christian.
While it is true that terrorist organizations like ISIS operate under an Islamic banner, their actions have been condemned by the Muslim community worldwide, stating in no uncertain terms that ISIS and others like them do not represent Islam. Why do we then insist on identifying terrorism with Islam? We have seen plenty of similar examples in the church: For those of us a little older, we will remember back in 1993 in Waco, Texas David Koresh led his “Branch Davidians” community into a violent clash with the authorities, resulting in the death of the entire community. They claimed to be a Christian sect and were acting in accordance with the Bible. Yet I do not know a single Evangelical Christian today who would consider David Koresh and his followers representatives of Christianity. In fact, we would not even use today’s ever so popular labels and call them “Radical Christians” or “Extremist Christianity”. We would simply call them for who and what they were: a misguided, dangerous cult that was not in any way representative of the religion they claim to follow. Why do we insist on doing otherwise with ISIS and Islam?
The truth is, apart from the “Islamic label” there are plenty of infinitely more important factors that speak to the who, why and what of terrorism: The history of the region, civil unrest, political instability, a history of violence; extreme poverty and the global economic injustice, just to name a few. In other words, there is a story, a context, a narrative to how terrorism came to be. And it is much, much more complex than simply a group of “extremist” Muslims deciding to come together and do bad things.
That, is where the “Christian” response need to start from. When Jesus came into contact with someone, he saw beyond the “easy labels” that people had slapped on the person: The adulterous woman, the woman at the well who was married multiple times, the demon possessed man who lived with the pigs, and so on. In many of his stories he made it a point to challenge popular discriminatory labels that people put on others: The parable of the good Samaritan, The story of the tax collector who prayed outside the Temple are good examples. Part of the “Christian worldview” involves seeking to understand the narratives and stories behind each person. When we do that, everything changes. It changes the way we understand the global problem of terrorism and what may actually work as solutions (as opposed to the popular macho bravado of “bombing the sh*t out of them”). It changes the way we view the refugee crisis and our appropriate response. But more importantly, it changes the way we see ourselves, and our place and responsibility in this world.