I have long been a fan of the columnist David Brooks and this piece may be one of his finest. I know it is refreshing to my thinking right now regarding ISIS.
When I read “conservative” Christians respond to ISIS and the beheadings, the first thing I often hear is how evil Islam is… and the corollary that goes unsaid is unsettling. All that is wanted is a harsh military response and let’s get on with life. The unspoken corollary is often, “And we know Muslims aren’t worth saving. All of Islam is ‘radical’ Islam.” (We won’t say that first part because maybe Jesus COULD save a few… but that’s up to HIM… not us.)
We don’t respond well to criticism or people lashing back at us on the internet. We really don’t respond well to ISIS and their treatment of prisoners. We’ve gone back to an “eye for an eye” mentality. So many “conservative” Christians think Jordan’s respond of hanging two prisoners for the one pilot ISIS burned is the “right” response.
Brooks does NOT back away from the needed military response to ISIS. But he DOES offer tough thoughts on what it means to be “civilized.” I think he gives us the opportunity to understand once again that when Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” he just may have meant that.
These Islamic State guys burn hostages alive because it wins praise from their colleagues, because it earns attention and because it wins the sort of perverse respect that accompanies fear. We often say that terrorism is an act of war, but that’s wrong. Terrorism is an act of taunting. These murderous videos are attempts to make the rest of us feel powerless, at once undone by fear and addled by disgust.
We want to chest thump and match their barbarism. “You take a life, we’ll take out a village!” But that’s exactly the response they are looking for.
How should we respond?
The world is full of invisible young men yearning to feel significant, who’d love to shock the world and light folks on fire in an epic status contest with the reigning powers.
The best way to respond is to quiet our disgust and quiet our instincts. It is to step out of their game. It is to reassert the primacy of our game. The world’s mission in the Middle East is not to defeat ISIS, which is just a barbaric roadblock. It’s to reassert the primacy of pluralism, freedom and democracy. It’s to tamp down zeal and cultivate self-doubt. The world has to destroy the Islamic State with hard power, but only as a means to that higher moral end.
As citizens, we need to understand we can’t lose faith in a system we believe to be true: democracy.
As citizens of heaven, we need that understanding as well. While the “state” needs to deal with ISIS in a way that will deliver a fatal blow, that does not mean we need to live with this “eye for eye” mentality.
Psalm 23 is a constant reminder. He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies.
This is a hard way. It is not soft to talk of “loving” your enemy. It is the Kingdom way… and that way demands much of our soul.
Love your enemies… really.