Terrorism – More logical than loving the enemy?

Some, perhaps many, Muslims hate the West. The dislike varies according to what question is asked, when it is asked and where. Generally speaking, what is detested is sexual freedom being exported around the rest of humankind. And there is anger about the West’s political support for Jewish occupation of Palestine.

What is controversial is the degree of minority support for terrorism: terrorismthe extremist Islamists who turn themselves into suicide bombers killing people at random in busy streets in the West in revenge for what is seen as the dropping of bombs on innocent Iraqi and Afghani citizens.

I would suggest that to try to begin to understand Islamic terrorism, one needs to consider a similar attitude towards violence, for religious ends, centuries ago in Christendom, when atrocious actions were justified by religious authority: the cruel methods used in the Inquisition: the Crusades seen as holy wars: and the burnings and beheadings of heretics during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Terrorism and Christ’s message

Down through the ages, both the Quran and the Old Testament, appear to support the violence inherent in terrorism. One notion of jihad in Islam is the idea of armed struggle against what is seen as persecution and oppression.

The threat of retaliation is the norm in world politics; not surprising, given the extent of violence in human history.  An instinct for getting our own back seems to be a natural knee-jerk reaction when a great injury is suffered.

“It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works.” (Confucius)

The violence present in Islamic and Christian reprisals, contrasts dramatically with Christ’s message about goodwill towards those who we count as the enemy.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Jesus Christ)

Many Palestinian Christians in the intifada, resisting Israeli occupation, are frustrated by Christ’s unique teaching about turning the other cheek and loving the enemy: it stops many from engaging in terrorism.

So what logic is there is in loving one’s enemy, a teaching that even if it were possible to fulfil would seem to amount to appeasement?

Violence of terrorism provokes violence

Were we to follow the old idea of revenge embodied in the teaching of `an eye for an eye’, would we not have a more fractured and divided world? With escalation of retaliation, people would be provoked into more feelings of hate. Conflict and social disorder would be more likely to emerge. Soon everyone would be blind.

In response to Apartheid in South Africa many commentators had thought that bloodshed and violence were inevitable because a people can take only so much injustice and despair. But they were wrong. There were outbreaks of violence by black people but the overwhelming response to the violence of oppression was peaceful protest.

“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.” (Noam Chomsky)

Despite the great anger felt, the struggle was to be based, not on hatred, but on the hope of freedom and reconciliation. Not only was this in line with Christ’s teaching but it actually prevented civil war and dismantled segregation.  What makes more good sense than something that works?

Spirit of forgiveness contrasts with terrorism

It is hard to stop resenting someone who has done you wrong, and who lacks any remorse. The trouble is that bitter resentment eats away at us. It is possible to harbour anger for years especially if we continually avoid someone or allow ourselves to slip into the habit of not conversing with them when we do have an opportunity.

However many have discovered that if they allow a spirit of forgiveness to enter into their hearts then their anger subsides. I believe that the regular practice of forgiveness can reduce anger, depression and stress, leading to greater feelings of hope, and confidence as well as better relationships and physical health.

Pacifism and terrorism

I do not believe ‘turning the other cheek’ is about masochism which would be the case if it were to be taken in a literal way. Actually, I don’t even think it is about pacifism. The trouble with pacifism is that peaceful protest doesn’t stand much of a chance of working when the perpetrators of injustice are in too powerful a position to be bothered by critical popular opinion. Sadly, it seems that there are some evil people who only understand the language of force. And so many Christians fought for their country in the last world war believing it to be a just war against the tyranny of fascism.

No, I see ‘turning the other cheek’ as a picture of not mindlessly retaliating when we are injured. I see Christ’s message about love as a basic principle of goodwill to be applied as appropriate according to the demands and needs of circumstances. The spirit of loving the enemy ideally is to look for ways of resisting those who are an enemy to what is good: fighting the foe and using force where necessary but not feeling hate. You could even say practising tough love.

Hate of terrorism versus love of God

The command “Love your enemies,” certainly appears as a hard saying to the naturally minded person. It certainly is a problem how can we actually love those who we know hate us, and would, if they had the power, destroy us.

One important strand of religious teaching is if in our hearts we genuinely open ourselves to the power of a Divine Spirit of mercy and compassion, then our character can be transformed into a non-hating one.

This assumes a God with an unconditional love to all people who wants the best even for those who have fallen into wicked ways. A God, who as Jesus Christ, whilst even suffering the agony of crucifixion himself prayed for his enemies.

“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

IS – How to see Islamic State fighters?

ISSelf-named IS (Islamic State) fighters partly formed out of al-Qaeda in 2013. They were responsible for a humanitarian crisis: an estimated 1.2 million terrified and homeless Iraqis, having fled from them to the mountains, were exposed to soaring heat, often without anything to eat or drink.

Most Muslims are completely blameless. But the extremists behave barbarically. One historian has pointed out that many centuries ago Islam was:

“born into a world that (already) took for granted the right of conquerors to extort tribute from the conquered; to capture and keep slaves; to maim and execute rebels.” (Historian Tom Holland)

Nevertheless many of us are bewildered that anyone would be willing in this day and age to cause such suffering. How can we understand the mind-set of Islamic militants committing atrocities?

What inspires young men to join IS?

It seems that one factor is the thrill and excitement of combat: something that will appeal more to those young men who are bored, and frustrated in their everyday lives.

Another possible factor is the chance to find an alternative identity through belonging to a new movement: possibly an appealing prospect for those, wherever they live, who are not accepting or assimilated into the Western world culture with its values of consumerism, individualism, feminism, and democracy.

However, a major factor appears to be an increase in social status. Such people correctly or incorrectly feel applauded by friends and others in the wider Islamic world as IS tries to reassert the importance of Islamic society following the end of the Ottoman Empire and to emulate the history of Islamic ascendancy.

Many centuries ago, the Prophet Mohammed led military campaigns in present-day Saudi Arabia to unite disparate Arabian tribes under Islamic rule. Since then Islam had made very successful and rapid military expansions into the Middle East, northern Africa, Central Asia and even into parts of Europe.

There seems to be a yearning for a regained dominance among some of the young Muslims who are disaffected by the current prevalence everywhere of Western influence. They believe all Muslims should be joined together in one glorious political state, ruled by Islamic law rather than by a secular democratic system, and stronger than the Western powers that have long invaded it.

So is religion to blame for this mess?

There is consensus amongst Islamic scholars, reported by for example Javed Ghamidid, that the concept of jihad includes armed struggle against persecution and oppression. Whether the Koran sanctions defensive warfare only or commands an all out war against non-Muslims is said to depend on the interpretation of the relevant passages. Today, some Muslim authors only recognize wars with the aim of territorial defence as well as the defence of religious freedom as legitimate. According to polls, in Lebanon, Kuwait, Jordan and Morocco, the majority use the term to mean “duty toward God”, a “divine duty”, or a “worship of God”, with no militaristic connotations

However, it seems that when they do pay any attention to their scripture, the IS fighters tend to take the Koran literally rather than perceive any deeper humane message within its text and wish to compel people to follow the law to the letter.

A Koranic verse grants Christians tolerance in exchange for acknowledging their submission and paying a tax, and this has been interpreted as justifying the stealing of their churches and stripping them of their belongings. The result is homelessness and risk of starvation. Because the Koran makes no mention of the faith followed by the Yazidis, the men of that religion have been condemned as pagans and targeted for slaughter and their women and children taken into slavery. And Muslims deemed to be inadequately Islamic (such as Shia Muslims) have been crucified, beheaded or shot.

Religious belief without any charitable heart

Emanuel Swedenborg has always been known for criticising what has been called a ‘faith alone’ Christian theology: the doctrine that as long as you believe in Christ as your Saviour then you are justified in what you do no matter whether or not you have a charitable heart. In other words Swedenborg maintained that religious belief without love for other people and doing what is good is of no use: such a belief amounts to hypocrisy. For him

“All religion has relation to life, and the life of religion is to do good” (Emanuel Swedenborg, theologian)

He wrote about what he termed ‘persuasive faith’ as an imitation of true faith. People are persuaded of something when it suits them; when it gives them personal position, honour or gain. Religious knowledge with them:

“goes no further than through the ears into the memory, and from the memory passes out on to the lips. It does not enter the heart and from there into a confession of it.” (Emanuel Swedenborg)

I would suggest that the IS fighters have this kind of religiosity. It sounds as though they persuade themselves of their version of Islamic teaching: and that they believe in it if they see it as colluding with their dream of absolute power rather than for the sake of truth, or for the sake of what is good in life.

In 2008, a classified briefing note on radicalisation, prepared by MI5’s behavioural science unit, was leaked to the Guardian. The analysts concluded that “a well-established religious identity actually protects against violent radicalisation”, the newspaper said.

I strongly suspect that men who take sadistic pleasure in bombings and beheadings try to justify their violence with recourse to religious rhetoric. Taking the Koran literally they believe they have a licence to maim, enslave and kill. They completely fail to understand the spiritual communication from God which is supremely compassionate and wise.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems