One of the biggest mistakes we make — as individuals, as societies — is the failure to identify who our real enemies are. When things fall down in our lives, we cast around for someone to blame, often failing to hold ourselves to account.
Within political and religious groups, this manifests as puritanism, cannibalism or the single narrative. For instance, when dissenting members are called out as inauthentic or compromised, or when the media is charged as the source of all problems.
Since 9/11, as well as more recent, atomised attacks in Europe and the UK, our judgment about what is against us has also been clouded.
It is not Islam, no matter what politicians and commentators say. To believe them is to take seriously the notions that it is ever possible to 'fight' religion as if it were a nation-state, that religion holds a single interpretation, that the only legitimate victims of religious violence are white and non-Muslim, and that human motivation is simple and direct.
We know this as blindness from what it does not — or refuses to — see. In Marawi, where a battle goes on between Philippine government forces and self-identified Islamists, a Muslim lawyer rescued 42 Christians from a burning building. In the exodus from the city, Muslims reportedly taught Christians Muslim prayers, in the hope that these can be credentials for passage. Such stories aren't unusual.
During a spate of assaults on Coptic Christians in Egypt earlier this year, Muslim neighbours provided sanctuary: 'Anything that happens to you happens to us.' In Mosul, Iraq last month, Muslim volunteers helped restore a Chaldean church wrecked by ISIS occupiers.
These are not feel-good stories; to reduce them as inspirational would relegate the work of peace to those most at risk of harm. But they do present a vision of a world that defies the cynicism and malice propagated by fundamentalists — both the brutal and genteel kinds.
It should always give us pause that Islamist terrorists and anti-Muslim agitators have something in common: pursuit of hegemony. Their resistance to evidence that Muslims and non-Muslims can peaceably live together gives something away. What if this is in fact what we are up against?
"The idea that we may never have all the means necessary to prevent every attack is unsettling. But casting around for a more concrete avatar upon which we can direct our fevered anxieties will not make us less anxious."
It does not mean that bad people aren't real, or that they are merely products of historical and political forces. They are very real. There are men — and they are usually men — with distorted understandings of how the world works, and who do not have internal impediments against committing murder and mayhem. As it happens, this applies both to Islamist radicals and white supremacists.
Such individuals are repugnant and scary, and threaten not just human lives but the proper conduct of democracies, including the rule of law. But they are nothing more than men, in the end, and there are institutions and systems in place to protect populations from them and bring them to justice.
No matter how much froth is generated in parliamentary chambers and the media, the truth is that the remit for law and order situations falls under law and order agencies. The resources and expertise required to keep us safe, from intelligence to police, are already deployed.
Yet people are still dying. The emerging nature of terrorist attacks — low-tech, street-level, lone actors — makes it difficult for us to cede control of the threat to law enforcement. The idea that we may never have all the means necessary to prevent every attack is unsettling. It absolutely sucks.
But casting around for a more concrete avatar upon which we can direct our fevered anxieties will not make us less anxious. An enemy that springs from our imagination can never be overcome until we open our eyes and wake.
Fatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She co-hosts the ChatterSquare podcast, tweets as @foomeister and blogs on Medium.
Main image: Rescued Christian evacuees from Marawi huddle with Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr, who supplied them with relief provisions before sending them to an evacuation center. Philstar.com, file
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Justin Glyn SJ
08 June 2017
Thank you, Fatima! Also worth mentioning that violence perpetrated by fundamentalists tends to target, first and foremost, dissidents within the community. Most IS victims have been Muslim.
09 June 2017
Thank you for your balanced article. However, are you suggesting that religious writing and interpretation that leads to demarcations between religions are not also the same source of more extreme forms of religious belief and expression? The examples you suggest as indicative of Islam not being a source of the violence and terror seem to be more examples of the human spirit acting in ways that defy the dogmas of different religions and religious adherence. Muslims helping Christians, atheists helping Muslims etc etc says little about one's belief system that is shaped by the code of practice one identifies with ... it says more about the individuals. It is where codes of behaviour are demanded by particular cultural references determined often by religious dogmas that we come to the point of people being willing to kill in the name of such codes. Christianity has been destructive at various times in history. Communism was destructive though deriving from noble intentions (like all religion). Today, there are SOME facets within Islamic belief systems (plural) that seriously problematic. We can't just smile and pretend such problems have nothing to do with Islam.
09 June 2017
Friedrich Nietzsche once said: ”There are no facts; only interpretations”. There ARE, of course facts. But when it comes to ultimate, fundamental facts, there are many that the human mind does not know, and in fact will never really know, and therefore we must rely on interpretations of what we DO know. Saint Thomas Aquinas said: ”God is so far beyond the capacity of the human mind that the closest concept we can form of God is to realise that a comprehensive concept of God is far beyond the capacity of the human mind“ All religions are interpretations by human minds of how to respond to the situations in which we find ourselves, and they thus propose a path to the Divine. Whether it be Islam, Christianity, Judaism or any other religion, if each religion is presented as a unique and God-guaranteed path to God, that interpretation can becomes an enemy, an impediment to knowing God, particularly if it implies that other interpretations are to be dismissed as false, or even perverted. Such presentations must bear some of the blame for the conflicts that arise between followers of these religions.
09 June 2017
According to the gospel of Luke Jesus taught us how to act as a neighbour towards anyone in need (The parable of The Good Samaritan), whatever their nationality or religion. And "Love your enemies, do good to them who hate you" (Luke: 6. 27) The challenge facing Christians is not to recognise who our enemies are, but rather how to act lovingly towards them. It may seem that some, maybe many, Muslims hate Christians (Or maybe the West perceived as a Christian force) but surely the first question we must ask is "Why do they?" Like the Irish hatred for the English it may be based on historical factors way beyond the practice of the Catholic faith.
09 June 2017
It is very simple: Thou shall not kill, and who ever hates his brother is a murderer. And If we support the death penalty we belong to the clan. Because, there are only two paths to choose from, no religious affiliation needs be mentioned. 1) The path of Truth and Peace. 2) The path of Lies and Abhorrence. And we shall be known by our fruits: our thoughts, words, and actions. 'Peace' 'Peace' 'Peace' ; a word worth repeating.
09 June 2017
Speaking of some Muslims and atheists helping Christian victims, Joe comments: "... it says more about the individuals. It is where codes of behaviour are demanded by particular cultural references determined often by religious dogmas that we come to the point of people being willing to kill in the name of such codes." While I agree that credit is due to those individuals who help victims, I would add that choosing to select and act on the harsh injunctions from a sacred text also says more about the individuals concerned than the particular sacred text or doctrines related to that text. The individuals who perpetrate terror attacks against Christians in Egypt, the Philippines, or elsewhere kill and injure even more of their Muslim confreres, which indicates individuals are at fault, not the religion as a whole.
11 June 2017
Ian Fraser. Well said. I wish I could convince even a few of my Islamo-phobic catholic siblings, friends, and parishioners that the number of extremist Muslims of whichever branch - Shia, Sunni, Wahabi (?) - is relatively small. Within these branches there are various religious and legal opinions. In some cases their hostility towards one another can be more ferocious than towards the Christian West.
12 June 2017
We DO need to identify our enemies, to avoid errors and problems. There are many Enemies, or perhaps a better description is Obstacles, to making universall spiritual progress. Some can come in appealing guises, just as ‘Satan himself goes disguised as an angel of light‘.
Religions are meant to be aids to knowing, loving and serving God, but it has been said, with a tincture of truth, “Everywhere good people do good things, and bad people do bad things. But to get good people to do bad things, Religion is needed”. This is true only IF and to the extent that any particular Religion is elevated, in the eyes of its followers, to the status of a false god, and accorded the homage due to God alone. To this extent, Islam, as interpreted by MANY of its followers, IS an enemy to progress. But so is Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism and other Established Religions, but only as they are understood by at least some of their followers. All Religions are fallible human interpretations of what our response to God should be, and need the purification and aggiornamento sought by Pope JohnXXIII and Pope Francis.
12 June 2017
Fatima, with respect, no one is suggesting all Muslims are tarred with the ISIS or El Quaeda brush. There are plenty of good Muslims who do not subcribe to Jihad and the incitement of extremism against their Western and Asian host countries.
However the increasing number of terrorist attacks worldwide is undeniably dominated by Muslim extremists. In fact 0ver 90% of these attacks are initiated by Islamic militant groups. Here is Australia we cannot afford to be complacent for a moment, even though the incidence of terrorist violence experienced so far are small compared with France, Germany, Spain, Idonesia, Israel and UK etc.
The landscape of a peaceful life in this lucky country has disappeared for good.
What Muslims must learn to do and impement is to police the militant Imams who preach violence against Western Civilization within their own ranks. Not sugar coat the problem by soothing words and incidents of sporadic nobility by a few Muslims to reassure we Westerners of European descent that the problem does not exist.
What we are facing in the future may well be the tip of the ISIS inspired iceberg.
13 June 2017
There are many Enemies, or perhaps a better description is Obstacles, to making universal spiritual progress. Some can come in appealing guises, just as ‘Satan himself goes disguised as an of angel of light‘. Religions are meant to be aids to knowing, loving and serving God, but it has been said, with a tincture of truth, “\Everywhere good people do good things, and bad people do bad things. But to get good people to do bad things, Religion is needed”. This is true only IF and to the extent that any particular Religion is elevated, in the eyes of its followers, to the status of a false god, and accorded the homage due to God alone. To this extent, Islam as interpreted by many of its followers, IS an enemy to progress. But so is Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism and other Established Religions., but only as they are understood and acted upon by at least SOME of their followers. The aggiornamento desired by Pope John XXIII and seemingly by Pope Francis is urgently needed.
13 June 2017
I think Joe, Uncle Pat and Ian Fraser are right. Recent events in the UK have shown that the British Muslim community are one with the rest of the nation and condemn terrorism. The aftermath of Manchester showed that the Far Right got no support in its attempts to set up an 'us and them' scenario. There is no doubt in my mind that there are some very dangerous extremists within the Muslim community who need careful monitoring because they are downright dangerous. Some, in the UK and here, such as Anjem Choudary and Abdul Nacer Benbrika, are in gaol for criminal offences and others will join them. We need to be careful of returning jihadis; those seeking to enter this country posing as refugees from Syria and hate preachers. The current terrorism is based on the 'exclusivist' Wahhabi-Salafi doctrine of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. We need to be careful of Saudi money and influence in both the local Muslim community and our universities. It is a matter of sensible vigilance, not scapegoating an entire community. Perhaps some basic knowledge of Islam amongst the general community might help?
14 June 2017
Robert Liddy. "Anonymous Christianity" clarifies what I meant when in my last comment I wrote; '' Because there are only two paths to choose from, no religious affiliation needs be mentioned.'' Anonymous Christianity is the theological concept that declares that people who have never heard the Christian Gospel might be saved through Christ. Inspiration for this idea sometimes comes from the Second Vatican Council's Lumen Gentium, which teaches that those "who no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and moved by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation"- Note: Even if 'I' have not seen the Truth in the little I have read by Karl Rahner - I do in this: His development of the idea preceded the Council, and became more insistent after it received its conciliar formulation. Non-Christians could have "in [their] basic orientation and fundamental decision", Rahner wrote, "accepted the salvific grace of God, through Christ, although [they] may never have heard of the Christian revelation." His writings on the subject were somewhat related to his views about the mode of grace... I also believe in Christ Jesus; ''He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.'' (Colossians 1:17) . And as a believer I can also see 'Him' (Matthew 25:40) in the thoughts, words, and actions of unbelievers. Can't you? Seeking ( even unknowingly ) and finding the Truth are equally meritorious via peace, charity and all humility.