How To (and Not To) Respond to the Current Crisis in the Middle East
My heart is heavy.
Every day for the last week, media outlet have told their version of the current uprising stretching across the Middle East (Egypt, Libya, Yemen). Whether it’s pictures of embassies burned to the ground, rioting citizens, or highly politicized comics, the surge of content has been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.
And that’s because the events and corresponding responses have been anything but “feel-good” and hopeful.
My heart breaks because I know the events that are unfolding do not represent the majority of those who inhabit the Middle East. I spend a significant amount of time in there and have built deep, life-long friendships.
Just two weeks ago I sat around a table and shared a meal with Christians, Jews and Muslims in the home of a devout Muslim family in the region. A day after that, I served alongside Muslim youth workers who are promoting non-violence and reconciliation in the face of oppression and poverty.
On the same day, I sat with an Arab Christian who embodied Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount in dealing with daily injustice by saying, “We refuse to be enemies.” Lastly — and what keeps playing over and over in my head — are the words spoken to me by a Muslim friend named Omar who said,
“Please give this message to all of your American friends: We (Arab Muslims and Christians) desire peace. The violence you see in the news does not represent us. It is not the majority, it is the smallest minority of extremism. Please listen to our story and accept our friendship.”
Now I am back in the States and am seeing that the fear, hatred, and violence promoted by governments and media also is being promoted by Christians in response to the events in the Middle East. One Christian posted a picture of the world that had completely blown up the Middle East and labeled it “Ground Zero.”
The caption said, “There, I fixed it. Problem solved.”
This “solution” would mean the death of some of my dearest friends. My heart breaks because of the hateful stereotyping, racism and violent response being disseminated by Christians who in one breath proclaim the Jesus who calls us to love our enemies and in the next encourage their government to blow them up.
As followers of the pro-people Jesus, is this best we can do?
Is this a reflection of the Christian hope that was brought about by and through the acts of the Suffering Servant? Have we lost our imagination that leads to the participating in the restorative mission of God for the cosmos?
Friends, we can do better. We must do better.
How then shall we respond?
Grieve the loss of life. My heart breaks for the Americans who were killed in the violence and for their families. Ambassador Stevens seemed to be a man who cared about people and did well at engaging the lives and stories of those among whom he lived. He represented well what many Americans desire of foreign policy and relations. His loss, and that of his colleagues, is a tragedy.
Listen, Learn and Be Still. We would do well to slow down and listen to the stories of others before telling their story for them. Those that have stepped foot in cultures different from their own (whether domestic or international) know how much we have to learn as products of each of our unique upbringings and world views. Slow down, listen, learn and be still before jumping to words or actions that may do more harm than good.
Have eyes for common humanity before common politics and religion. We all inherently know that the diversity of humanity isn’t going to allow for us all to perfectly agree on politics and religion. Rather than look at people (again, domestically or internationally) through the lens of politics or religion, look at them through the lens of a shared humanity. All humans were made in the image of God. When we see Jesus in the eyes of “the other,” it is much harder to hate, hurt, and demean.
Pray. For the healing of others, from all nations and religions. For peace in places of conflict. For forgiveness from our blindprejudice. For courage for those who promote Kingdom values. For new friendships to be cultivated among former enemies. For your/our enemies.
Ask hard questions. How might have my political or social involvement perpetuated or sparked some of the recent events? Am I an objective observer or are there ways I can be part of the problem or part of the restoration? Is the form of Islam that is being portrayed in the media an accurate form of faithful Islam or a simply an ideological counterfeit?
Live a Different Narrative and Care for the Hurting Among Us. I have heard over and over again, “Oh, it’s those crazy, lunatic Muslim’s just doing what they do again. It is in times like these that, because of our role as pro-people people in the Way of Jesus, we must listen, learn, and share a different story — a more true story of Islam and all peoples of the Middle East.
Those of us that know and have experienced real life with the people who are now being labeled “insane terrorists” must bring to the dialog table the disconnect between perceived reality and reality.
We must acquire important resources that will help us better step into this situation with eyes for common humanity, justice, and the heart of God. We must live into the narrative God desires for humanity, which inevitably will lead us to care for the hurting; whether grieving families who have lost loved ones or people who are experiencing hate and stereotyping in our own neighborhoods because of the events half way across the globe.
Let us begin that process now.
Jon Huckins is on staff with , a collective of missional communities who foster leadership and community development. He also co-founded which cultivates difference makers through immersion in global narratives. Jon has a Master’s degree from Fuller Seminary and writes for numerous publications including, theOOZE, Burnside Writer’s Collective & Red Letter Christians. He has written two books: and . He lives in San Diego with his wife Jan, daughter Ruby. Jon blogs at JonHuckins.net.