The Road to Terror
‘Jesus this song you wrote, The words are sticking in my throat, Peace on earth
Hear it every christmas time, But hope and history won’t rhyme, So what’s it worth, This peace on earth?’
Bono’s words from Peace on Earth stick in my throat too as we approach yet another Christmas with too few signs of peace on earth. We don’t hear much about Pax Americana these days; and talk about winning the war on terrorism is unconvincing. But as those for whom Advent means the coming of the Prince of Peace, we also look forward to a day when hope and history will rhyme. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we continue to live as people of hope. All too aware of living in a fallen world, a world of religious and secular fundamentalists, of suicide bombers and torture-interrogators, we wait in ‘eager expectation’ with the rest of creation (Romans 8:19) for the Reign of Shalom, God’s Kingdom.
Yet our waiting is not to be passive, fatalistic and escapist. Jesus became one of us, vulnerable to the political murderers of his day, a Middle Eastern refugee even as an infant. He modelled incarnation to us.
What then does it mean to incarnate peace on earth and in Europe today, where the debate rages on how to respond to radical Islam?
In the first place, it helps to understand where this Muslim fury has come from that seems suddenly to have burst upon the world at the start of the new millennium. In our last ww, we traced some of the roots of radical Islam, back through 18th and 13th century fundamentalists to the teachings of Ibn Hanbal in 9th century Baghdad. Osama bin Laden, al Qa’ida and the Taliban are all fanatical followers of such Islamism.
Secondly, it involves asking what response the Prince of Peace requires of his followers towards the followers of Islam and Islamism. That we will do in the next ww.
But for now, let’s identify some of the recent dynamics that have conspired to give us this unique and complex situation..
When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan (1979), volunteers came from all over the Muslim world to support the mujahideen. The CIA teamed up with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to arm, train and finance thousands of Muslim warriors, including Bin Laden, to resist the invaders. ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’, reasoned the Americans.
But, as one observer has put it, ‘they did not know they were feeding the viper that would turn against them to plant its fangs and spit its venom into the heart of the symbols that embody their financial and military power’.
Afghanistan became the crucible in which international brigades of fundamentalism and terror were forged by a decade of training and military action. Victory over the Soviets fostered grandiose visions of humiliating the one remaining superpower and regaining Islam’s lost golden age. Osama founded al Qa’ida in 1989, based first in Sudan and then Afghanistan. Al Qa’ida, meaning ‘foundations’ or ‘base’, was to be a movement to restore the foundations, to return to the fundamentals, and to undo the humiliation of the Muslim through the centuries.
The end of the war in Afghanistan released thousands of war-hardened militants to spread foment into other arenas including Algeria, Sudan, Egypt, Somalia, Yemen, Kashmir, Pakistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. In Afghanistan itself, the radical Taliban (student) movement emerged to win the civil war, enforcing strict Sharia law and offering shelter to Bin Laden and al Qa’ida.
During the first Gulf War (1991), the presence of American troops on holy Arabian soil had further humiliated radical Muslims. Add to this the unresolved Palestinian question and the time was drawing near for Jihad against the West, as well as those Islamic states who compromised with the infidel.
Meanwhile, in many western European nations, a growing Muslim population of guest workers had produced second and third generations of immigrant children. Struggling with issues of identity and acceptance, these youth sometimes formed the majority of the urban population under 21. Secular authorities had assumed such guest workers would be temporary; or that they would simply assimilate into the European culture; and that their religion would be as easily sidelined as Christianity had been in recent decades. Such assumptions have proven to be false.
Humiliation and resentment, real or imagined, historical and contemporary, combined with a strict reading of the Koran, has created fertile soil for today’s radical Islam recruiters.
This is not an issue that will soon just pass away. Globalisation brutally confronts us all with the issues. While some advocate the use of overwhelming force in response, Bono’s song warns: Who said that if you go in hard you won’t get hurt?
So next week we ask how the One who came to bring peace on earth would have us respond.