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What ISIS Wants
Terrorism on one side begets a reaction of war from another. But fear is the source. Let’s shepherd our people boldly—without fear—through these difficult and confusing times.
Enemies change. At times they’re the ones we don’t like. Other times, they’re the ones who don’t like us. Often an enemy might be a whole group of people, like “those Muslims.” Or it could be those closest to us. Our own family members become our enemies in our worst moments. This Muslim thing has gotten a bit confusing of late. It feels easier to know who exactly our enemies are—where they are, and what they’re doing. ISIS is a good example. We feel like we know what they’re up to. They’re clearly evil. They’re in the Middle East (or at least we’re hoping they’re “over there”). And they should be stopped. In a sense, that’s the best kind of enemy to have. A clear one.
But this week we experienced a confusing “enemy moment.” A white American atheist man executed three Muslims in North Carolina. There have been several other incidents in the last year where American Muslims were targets, but this one jumped to the front page of papers and is trending on Twitter. Was he a terrorist? We haven’t seen that word being used in the media. But I think we can agree if it had been a Muslim shooting three white Americans in the head, we’d call it terrorism and be looking to uncover the evil plot behind it.
I’ve been living and ministering in and out of the Middle East for 32 years, with my family. We lived in Beirut, Lebanon for 12 years. I speak Arabic and understand Islam. In these difficult times of fear, terrorism, war, and senseless killing, how should we lead? As under-shepherds of Jesus’ flock, one of our most challenging roles may be to help our people question how they see their enemies. Here are three thoughts on identifying the real enemy and what to do about it:
Recognize that evil is real. No need to whitewash that reality. Some have given themselves over to evil. But Muslims are not the enemy. Muslims are people whom God loves and for whom Jesus died. Be extremely careful how we talk about our dear fellow Americans and citizens of our earth who come from a Muslim background. 95 percent of all Muslims want what we want: a good job, education, a future for their kids, and to just hang out on a Friday night, watching a movie and eating pizza with friends.
Use the “terrorist” label sparingly. ISIS and Al Qaeda are terrorists. But so are groups in Latin America, Africa and throughout Asia, all non-Muslim. Be suspicious of anyone who is quick to call a Muslim a terrorist for killing and not apply the same label to someone else. Are drug cartels in Mexico Catholic terrorists? The million people who murdered neighbors in Rwanda were seldom referred to as terrorist—and most of them were from a Christian background. Are the KKK terrorists? Was this man who murdered the Muslims in Chapel Hill a terrorist? And if so, was he an atheist terrorist?
The real enemy is fear. Fear is the devil’s workshop. Perfect fear drives out love. Did you catch that? Fear drives out love. It’s supposed to be the other way around, but it works both ways. Only one remains: Fear or love. The devil roams around like a roaring lion—not a biting lion—a roaring lion.
Identifying and naming what we’re afraid of might be one of the most helpful, and possibly underutilized tools Christian leaders have for ministering to those around us. ISIS has been so incredibly effective because they’ve mastered the art of fear-mongering. Their slickly produced videos are tailor-made to spread fear. They threaten. They terrorize. They roar. And we quake. What if they come here? We wonder. What if ISIS is just the beginning? And that’s precisely the fear response ISIS hopes to create. That’s what ISIS wants. The fear of the what-if is often more potent than the fear of what is.
Teaching these things to those who follow our examples may be difficult because the issues are complex. It’s the PhD-level of following Jesus. But recognizing what we’re afraid of and why we’re afraid is a huge step in being able to love an enemy. The radical fundamentalists of the world haven’t done that. They’re afraid too. From this pool, terrorists are born. Fundamentalism is a reaction to the society around losing the “way it used to be.” Fundamentalist Muslims see Islam becoming westernized and secular, so they react. A few become radicalized by extreme teaching. And a few become terrorists. This is where fear leads. Terrorism on one side begets a reaction of war from another. But fear is the source. Let’s shepherd our people boldly—without fear—through these difficult and confusing times. Don’t shrink back from asking hard questions about the roots of terrorism and why terrorists do what they do. And as we do, let’s make sure that the logs are out of our eyes first, so we can see clearly to lead others.
For more on terrorism see our Field Guide on: The 10 Most Influential Muslims on Modern Terrorism.
This post is from the blog of Carl Medearis. He is author of Muslims, Christians, and Jesus and the forthcoming Adventures in Saying Yes: A Journey from Fear to Faith.