‘Blessed are the peacemakers…’ Charlie Hebdo thoughts…

I often wonder what words Jesus Christ of Nazareth would utter if he had a conversation with a terrorist…part of that is just the wild nature of my own imagination, the other part is that I long to see the heart of such a person changed and transformed so that the rest of us might have a chance to understand what drives a person to end up in the darkness of that mental and physical place…

I don’t know what Jesus would say to a terrorist, or what that encounter might look like in its entirety, but in Matthews Gospel, after climbing a mount, Jesus gave a sermon containing some basic sayings known today, as the beatitudes in which he said…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

We have an issue today, in that unfortunately now, any language of/discourse on extremism, terrorism or radicalism has become inherently theological. Yet, those of us who are active as practitioners and (hopefully!) thinkers in the realm of religion know that the actions we have witnessed are carried out by the godless who are operating under a theological narrative. This has very little to do with what these individuals actually believe and more to do with what they feel (or fail to feel) as individuals…the turning of the tide here in terms of the theological narrative, is an issue and an urgent task for us religious leaders. (just putting that out there!)

Many people have said in the days following the fatal shooting of twelve workers at the Parisian Charlie Hebdo office, and the wounding of at least eleven others and more at a new situation today, that they expect, and indeed desire the Muslim “community” to come out en masse in condemnation against the attacks in Paris and elsewhere.

This is problematic.

I understand that people would like Islam to address many of the issues that are arising within that faith, I think people must accept that it is doing that as best it can amidst a plethora of other issues…I often wonder how Christianity would respond effectively to our faith being hijacked and entirely misunderstood and as result becoming even more divided and despised than it already is…there is something for people of faith to reflect on – what would I do, if I was a Muslim today? Would I be interested in a moratorium, in reform, in rigorous academic exegesis of my holy scriptures at the demand of the anti-islamic society in which I live…?

One of the problems is that many people speak of Islam as though it were Catholicism with a clear hierarchy and leadership, one of the challenges for Islam is that even if it chose to (and one of the complexities of Islam, is that it never has spoken as a whole, and therefore cannot easily speak as a whole, unlike many other faiths which through logistics, might eventually be able to do so) condemn the actions of the enthusiastic headless goats that abuse the name of their faith, it’s almost as though they are acknowledging a connection between their actions and the faith when many say and argue that the two are not connected. Though many Muslims have condemned the actions in Paris, for me, this isn’t a Muslim issue any more than the KKK were solely an issue to be condemned by white Christians….what happened in Paris, affects us all, quite literally – infact, when people are killed en masse, without purpose (as there is never a purpose IMO) it needs to be the problem of us all.

Again culpability lies where culpability is, and I have serious questions about the intelligence services in France, like our own in the UK, having information on who these people were and simply watching them which seems a failure in my eyes. I also find it startling that the attackers were able to escape from the scene and city so easily…sometimes I wonder how many people actually realise the proportion of europeans who carry out these attacks not just in Europe, but abroad! This should concern us more than it is.

Professor Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim theologian at Oxford University who I’ve followed for some time said via his Facebook page: ‘Every conscience must develop a critical loyalty: to have the courage to denounce and condemn those who act in the name of our religion and/or nation whereas they betray its very principles.
This does not mean, however, to have selective emotions and indignation depending on whether the victims are “ours” or not. Any innocent person who is murdered, any being who is tortured, any individual who is treated without dignity must find us standing up, consistent, clear and determined in our denunciation: whether it is a French, an American, an African, an Arab, a Palestinian, a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Hindu, an Asian …
France mourns its dead people, as Syria, Iraq, Congo, Palestine, Afghanistan or Pakistan does. The extremist terror, the indiscriminate violence through drones, the death of so many innocent people, the legalized torture is intolerable, appalling, and unacceptable. What is happening today is not an issue for the Muslims invited, again and again, to apologize … it is the responsibility of all of us, all human beings, as we are called to stand up and denounce, together, all the horrors, wherever they are in the name of our principles, on behalf of all victims, with the same force, the same determination, the same courage.’

I know that what one generation condones another condemns, we have seen that. But personally, I’m genuinely confused as to why we manage to understand the evil horror of twelve people innocently killed, but fail to respond in a similar way to the apprently legal?! killing of innocent people by many of our governments in war? 

At the end of the day, we all need to be peacemakers in today’s climate, and we need to take the task of peacemaking much more seriously than we have ever done before. The task of making-peace is really not the task of any one faith, or nation, or section of society…it is the job of every living being who considers themselves human. For me, this task requires more from us than rolling our eyes at what we see on our televisions, sharing images on Facebook and even the occasional status like or comment. It requires a longer, more effective transformational process of educating ourselves better…extremism is the fruit of passionate ignorance and to be content with being an ignoramus in the complexities of today’s world, is to definately be part of the problem. 

I don’t think that making peace has anything to do with the compromising of beliefs (infact, I think that adds to the issues), it means that I need to be confident in what I know, who I am, and what I believe, but humble enough to let you be you and open to the reality, that you, even though you are different and even though I may vehemently disagree with you might just be able to add to who and what I am and even what I think I knew…

The wise, loving, faithful, intelligent Muslims that I know either personally as close friends, or through the written word as academics, tell me that the extremists and their actions are NOT Muslim, that they do not represent any strain of the Islam they know and follow. I trust these people, and maybe that is what we need more of. The lack of trust, the hate, the ignorance and the Islamophobia that is so rife in our world today, leads me to conclude that it is not Islam that needs reform, but it is our society, in which the true peacemakers are few, and the deadly, dying and the dead are innumerable.

Is it acceptable for us to denounce, ridicule, disregard, or call for the reform of a faith that so many of us actually know and understand little about? I’m not so sure…

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