I don’t know quite how we should approach the violence of ISIS.
ISIS feeds on violence.
Members are horribly violent to people who are identified as being against them: Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidi, Westerners…
We all know that there have been and are other such groups that act with terrible violence: Baader Meinhof in Europe, The Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa, FARC in Latin America…
I read quite a bit of literature that seeks to tie a belief in violence to faith, or to non-faith, or to some noun somewhere. If I can just call them fundamentalists or rightists or leftists I will know they are not like me. And when I listen to people who commit acts of violence on behalf of an ideology I hear them using their belief system, or rage against a belief-system, to justify their actions.
Yet I am sure that within each group there are some who are not as committed to violence as their leaders and other members. They are culpable, as Albert Speer was culpable. They are ideologically linked by their use of symbolic black flags or by their silence whilst atrocities are committed, but one day there might be a book or film like The Railway Man that helps us see them as human because it tells their story rather than the story of their movement.
This leads me to think that it is the act that we must find abhorrent. The act of massacring a group of people is abhorrent. Cutting off a person’s head is abhorrent. Lining people up against a wall and shooting them is abhorrent. We call them ‘crimes against humanity’. We call them ‘sin’ or ‘acts of evil’. The permission a person gives their conscience to initiate violence is an act against God and society.
They are choices. It could be the rape of a young woman. It could be a Mafia revenge act. It could be a Mexican drug execution. It could be a bomb dropped on a neighbourhood.
There must be many people in places where violence rules who are not making this choice. There must be peacemakers, who, like some of the citizens of Missouri, go out onto the streets to try to tell the police and the violent protesters not to fight. We need to honour them and give them the headlines.
Yet I don’t think this helps us with ISIS. Whatever is wrong with Missouri, acts of violence are still seen as shameful by both sides. ISIS, in contrast, glorifies the pain of others, makes it into a grotesque form of public relations.
ISIS has really declared war on us all. Told us all we must become like them or perish.
We therefore must do all we can to stop ISIS and to support the Assyrian Christians, ordinary Muslims and Yazidi people. They are us, but they are stuck where ISIS thrives.