Associate Professor of Homiletics at Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
On Friday afternoon in Philadelphia I was sitting in a movie theater watching James Bond take on a terrorist organization that had nefarious plans to take over intelligence data mining around the globe. The action scenes in the movie to destroy this terror group incorporated bombings, rampant gunfire, and sustained physical and emotional violence. When we emerged from the theater I checked my social media feeds and saw that it had "blown up" due to the violent terror attacks that had taken place in Paris. And I sighed, turned to my spouse and said, "It's happened again."
It is sad that I can simply say "It happened again" and people know it was either a mass shooting or a terror attack. These events have become all too commonplace in our world. The human tragedy and toll that accompanied this attack and all such attacks is significant. The desire is to wreck havoc on people and instill fear in our society. The desire is to destroy those who are different or who believe differently.
On my social media feed I saw two distinct groups of posters. The first were folks praying for and mourning with the people of Paris and for those elsewhere who are impacted by violence and terrorism on a regular basis - like those in Palestine, in Israel, in Afghanistan, and in other places. These folks were lifting up those who mourn, those injured, those killed, those in danger, those impacted by the attacks, and those first responders who work as police and medical personnel.
But they were also lifting up the people of Beirut who are recovering from a bombing two days before the Paris attacks. And they were lifting up the people in Baghdad who were impacted by a bombing at a funeral. These two incidences were not covered by the news media in the same ways as Paris. Is that because they weren't happening in the midst of a major world power? Were they not big enough news stories? Or was the lack of young white faces enough to keep the media away? I'm not sure but the violence they endured was just as devastating.
The second group of posters was rushing to judgment and condemnation of Muslim extremists before there was even a claim of responsibility. They were lumping all Muslims in the same camp as the radical extremists who they assumed had perpetrated this violence. It was not until much later that ISIS claimed responsibility but I saw post after post - some from noted politicians with an agenda to further their careers and view points and some from everyday citizens bent on denouncing all Muslims as violent killers. These posts were filled with vitriol and anger. There was little sympathy expressed for those killed or injured. These posts were about vengeance and retribution. Was it just too easy to go to hate and revenge?
The dichotomy was not lost on me. We live in a world of extremes and juxtapositions. The movie I chose to see last weekend was about a world-renowned chef reclaiming his life and falling in love again with his vocation. This week I saw a film about violence and terrorism. We live in the middle of both realities.
But I want to focus on the Sikh temples in Paris who opened their doors for people seeking shelter. I want to focus on the Parisian taxi drivers turning off their meters to drive people home from the attack zones. I want to focus on the thousands who are lining the streets of Paris to donate blood today. I want to focus on the doors of homes across Paris that were opened wide to offer safe spaces for those displaced by the police activities. I want to focus on the ways we can respond with grace and hope.
I want us to focus on the ways we can reach out to each other with compassion. I want to focus on creating dialogue to learn more about each other so that we don't stigmatize all persons from a religion or group with those who choose to act violently. I want to focus on the ways we can work together to bring about peace and reconciliation.
I want to focus on the ways the Divine - however we know the Holy One of our faith tradition - is calling us to love one another, to honor each other's differences, and to live in peace.
If we can focus on that - even in the midst of this newest violence in Paris, Baghdad, and Beirut - maybe we can find a way forward without having to say, "It happened again."
Lord, in your mercy.
Paris Attacks: ISIS Terrorists Do Not Act or Speak for Muslims
Doug Leonard is the Director for the Al Amana Center and lives in the Sultanate of Oman on the southern coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The Al Amana Center is rooted in the Reformed Church in America and works to create deeper understandings between Christians and Muslims though dialogue and common experience.
We must place our rage where it belongs, directed at terrorists not Muslims.
When asked, "What percentage of Muslims are linked to terrorism?" the most common guess is 1%. That answer is a gross overestimate. No one knows the exact number of people around the world who commit or contribute to acts of terror in the name of Islam, though we have very close estimates.
According to US State Department there are about 150,000 people around the world fighting in militias and terrorist networks who either happen to be Muslim or misuse pseudo-Islamic ideology to recruit. If we add to the fighters the number of Muslims globally who are estimated to be supporting terrorism by providing funding, weapons, logistic and strategic support, then the number increases to about 750,000 people globally. That sounds like a lot of people, and it is, but we must keep things in perspective.
Here is the shocking truth. 750,000 people equals only 4/100ths of 1% of Muslims globally.
Most of these groups are operating in fragile or failed states within North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, but also increasingly in western nations.
All Arab nations and the vast majority of Muslims within these nations are shocked and saddened by the events in Paris. Muslims are targeted, killed and displaced by terrorism at higher rates than Christians or other religious minorities.
The question is not, "Then why aren't Muslims speaking out against the Paris attacks?" The question is, "Why haven't you heard that Muslims are speaking out?" Nearly every leader of every Muslim-majority nation in the world has denounced the attacks in Paris. Nearly every Muslim organization has made a public statement against ISIS and terrorism committed in the name of Islam.
Muslims should not have to apologize for a crime that they are not responsible for. If you are Christian, did you apologize last spring to Muslims when Christians in the Central African Republic took up machetes and slaughtered innocent Muslims en mass in the capital city of Bangui?
If not, why not?
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