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Making sense of the slaughter in Paris

The U.S. Administration’s response to the Moslem terrorists’ atrocity in Paris, France, has been as bizarre as the ‘guidelines’ it imposed on official speakers at gatherings marking the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.

On that occasion, the White House instructed speakers to to play down—or avoid mentioning altogether—al Qaida, the Muslim terrorist organisation that perpetrated the attack.

This time it still shrinks from calling a spade a spade. While its spokesmen concede the slaughter at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was an act of terror, they have studiously avoided naming the religion in whose name the act was committed.

Muhammad on his way to conquer Mecca

Muhammad on his way to conquer Mecca, from the Freer Gallery of Art

It is a rather like discussing the events at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, but omitting all mention of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

The terrorist attacks committed by young Muslims are entirely religiously motivated. They are being perpetrated by men for whom the slaughter of people who do not share their religious beliefs is a salvific act and a sacred duty.

Trying, as both Washington and the Europeans are doing, to make sense of what happened without involving clergy—Christian, Jewish, and, yes, Muslim—dooms the efforts to failure. After all, what theology wrought, only theology can heal.

And this demands us to confront the religious motive behind the attacks (indeed, the sole motive behind the attacks) honestly, squarely, and without equivocation.

In both America and France, we are told, the separation of church and state is a paramount constitutional principle. Religion has no place in the public square, and especially when it comes to dealing with such divisive issue as attacks by Muslim terrorists.

The politicians, however, have had well over a decade in which to work their magic, and they have failed—dismally. But this should not be altogether surprising.

A time hallowed political strategy for dealing with inconvenient truths is to sweep them under the table. This is what happened with the events of 9/11, and now the recent terrorist acts in Paris seem to be being treated in the same fashion—not just here but in Paris and Berlin. There has been a massive protest march—a nostalgic throwback to the Vietnam era—but few signs of any serious action.

We are repeatedly treated to the old saw that there is something ‘unIslamic’ about terrorism and that ‘Islam is a religion of peace.’ This is simply untrue. Islam was conceived and nurtured in bloodshed. For most of its existence, its primary instrument of conversion has been the sword.

Siyer-i Nebi 298a

The Prophet and his companions advancing on Mecca, attended by the angels Gabriel, Michael, Israfil (Raphael), and Azrael. From the Siyer-i Nebi, an Ottoman Turkish epic about the life of Muhammad. From Wikimedia.

The Conquest of Mecca in AD 630 was followed by four and a half centuries of Jihad, during which the Christian communities of North Africa and the Fertile Crescent were wiped out and Islamic rule extended by conquest to Sicily, much of Italy, and the Iberian Peninsula.

The Crusades are certainly among the most shameful episodes in the history of the West. But vicious and bloodthirsty though they were, they were a belated response to more than 450 years of Muslim aggression.

As Christians, we cannot deny the evils committed the name of our faith. But at the same time as repenting the violence, we cannot deny the long history of Islamic slaughter, conquest, and enslavement that prompted wicked men to repay evil with evil in the name of Christ.

That said, it is doubtless true that most Muslims are peace loving, and would like nothing better than to live in harmony with their neighbours of other faiths.

Yet a glance at the television and the newspapers daily attests to the unhappy fact that large numbers of Muslims who live both here and in the European Community are open in their contempt for their nominally Christian host nations and refuse to assimilate into the societies in which they live.

This is not a problem that can be solved by pretending it does not exist—the way apparently favoured by most Western politicians. Nor, from a Christian point of view, ought it be solved by expelling wholesale Muslims who refuse to assimilate.

Such measures would be unChristian. Jesus, after all, commanded us to love our enemies and to do good to those who hate us. But they would also probably be quite counterproductive, breeding further mistrust, hatred and, no doubt, terrorism.

To reach a solution, we must first identify the cause. People in the political arena attribute this Muslim hatred of things Western to the general poverty of the Islamic world. This is unpersuasive.

1684 Entsatz von Wien.

The Relief of Vienna, 12 September 1683, artist unknown. From Wikimedia.

In fact, all the evidence indicates that the cause of the hatred lies in the teachings of the religion itself. To be sure, there is a strain of Islam that is, indeed, peaceful and seeks to live peace with its non-Islamic neighbours. But this came about relatively recently—a development that took place following the defeat of the Ottoman Army by the Austrians and Poles at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

The Ottoman defeat enabled Islamic scholars to explore Christian thought in new and more open ways. Consequently, Christian humanistic ideas began to influence Islamic thinking. This was not received in the Islamic world with utterly unbridled enthusiasm.

The 18th Century theologian Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, in what is now Saudi Arabia, preached getting back to basics and purging Islam of the heresies and innovations derived from Christian thought. Thanks to the Saudis’ use of their oil money to fund mosques, schools, and social programs, Wahhabism has become the most potent force in the Muslim world.

But what Christianity wrought in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries—the years during which much of Islam’s most inspired spiritual works were written—it can repeat today.

We can help Muslim communities that uphold humanistic Islam to confront their co-religionists who promote the Wahhabist credo of violence. In fact, we cannot do otherwise—for in order to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, we must first win over the hearts and minds of the Muslims in our midst.

But for this to work, our political leaders must drop their policies of pretence and denial. Like it or not, faith must confront faith, and in this process there no room for politics—just straight talking.

While, as Christians, Jesus commanded us to forgive those who sin against us, we must make it plain that for forgiveness to be effective it must be sincerely accepted and acted upon. Our faith, moreover, does not require us to show an infinite tolerance for evil behaviour. Indeed, it requires us to lay down our very lives to protect and defend the innocent. GPH✠

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