The Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls: The Intended Casualty


I find myself wondering many things in the days following the terrible attacks in Paris this weekend. 

I wonder who would bring a fake Syrian passport to their suicide bombing attack. Perhaps it was poor planning, but this doesn't seem like a poorly planned operation to me.

I wonder how a paper document survived a bomb blast that dismembered the body on which it was carried. Perhaps it was by chance. This does not seem like group that left things to chance.

I wonder why a terrorist who exploited the refugee crisis to find his way from Syria to France would leave clues to such a useful strategy for smuggling bombers into Western Europe and the United States. Perhaps it was a mistake. Perhaps that is the perspective of arrogance of which these very terrorists would accuse us.

I wonder how a terrorist who exploited the refugee crisis and left the evidence that he did so to be found has diverted our attention from the reality that all the other attackers seem to have been present in France and Belgium to begin with. Perhaps.

I wonder.

Why is that? It leads me to wonder about the intended casualties of the Paris attacks. Could it be that the intended casualties go far beyond the victims in France?

For one, could it be that the intended casualties of the terrorists are the hundreds of thousands of children, women, and men fleeing them in their own homelands? 

Could it be that the intended casualties were not the people of Paris but the very people most oppressed already by the same terrorists in Syria and Iraq?

Could it be that the terrorists' strategy has to do with enlisting the rest of the world as accomplices to their own work of oppression of the innocent? What I wonder is if the refugees themselves are the intended casualty.

Indeed, we're already seeing the strategy work. Presidential candidates have been quick to react in the basest of ways. Accepting the refugees, one says, is insane. Another has called for abandoning plans to accept even the minimal number of refugees promised so far. The media are fanning the flames. The governors of Michigan and Alabama declared that their states will not accept Syrian refugees through the United States refugee resettlement program, a program of which Episcopal Migration Ministries is an integral part.

But I wonder if even refugees are the intended casualty. I wonder if the intended casualty is not the only viable alternative to the terrorists themselves. With every reactive outcry I hear to abandon our own sense of compassion, I wonder if the intended consequence is decency itself.

Three of the presidential candidates now calling for an end to Syrian refugee resettlement have made what good Christians they are a campaign issue. Both the governors of Michigan and Alabama proclaim that they are Christians. I wonder if the intended casualty is our souls.

As I have made visits across The Episcopal Church this summer and fall, I have frequently been struck by the enthusiasm of Episcopalians, acting on their faith, to accept Syrian refugees. I have no doubt this is equally true in other churches. What I really wonder is if that flood of good will and welcoming the stranger was the actual intended casualty of terror this weekend.

We have a stark contrast between the terrorist vision and the vision of faith I have seen so often in the last few months. The contrast has nothing to do with Islam, Christianity, or any other faith. It does have to do with the difference between faith and ideology, with faith that has a healthy humility and fanaticism that has no sense of the ethical, no sense of decency, no sense of respect for the dignity and humanity of others who differ in whatever way. It does have to do with the difference between faith that overcomes fear and fear masquerading as faith.

The corrective, the only corrective, is to be true to our values. For me they are Christian values, but they are not unique to Christianity. They are, of course, the values of all people of good will of whatever faith or of no faith. For me they have to do with the tenets of faith that call for the love of enemies. For me they have everything to do with the teaching of Jesus, who said, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?" (Matthew 16:24-26)

The main thing I wonder is if the intended casualty of terror is in fact its only possible corrective, its only possible antidote.

What I wonder is if the intended casualty is faith itself.

What I wonder is if the intended casualty is goodness itself.