The Theological Mistake of the King Hearings

By Jim Wallis 3-09-2011

There is no doubt, terrorism is real. And there are small groups of terrorists who threaten countless innocents across the world. They are waging a battle on two fronts. The first is physical and the second is theological. Both have consequences.

Of course, Americans want to protect their families and nation from physical attack by terrorists. And since 9/11 we are likely safer than before but, at the same time, terrorist threats have grown. And most Americans agree on the necessity of good intelligence and policing to protect against further terrorism. But it is a serious mistake to only address the symptoms and results of terrorism, without addressing the causes.

One cause is that the terrorists are making gains in the theological battle. The terrorist's ideology claims that every action they take is part of a global battle between Islam and the West. They want to convince the world that Islam is right and good, and that the West is wrong and Evil. And it helps the terrorists immeasurably when Americans say, in effect, that West is right and good, and that Islam is wrong and evil. Every time American voices say or imply that, it is counted by the terrorists as a victory. They love to point to those stories in the American media, and to use them to justify their cause, make themselves more righteous, and recruit more terrorists.

But the West and Islam are not at war. There is a small group of terrorists, motivated by both real and perceived grievances against the West, who justify their extreme response of violence against innocents by the continuing narrative of one side being good and the other evil. But, there is indeed a radical fringe of Islam that is fueled by hate and violence, and must be prevented from doing further violence. And the more they are marginalized, the less power they have.

The new hearings about to begin in Washington could make the situation worse. For Representative King's hearings, the medium is the message. And that message tells the story that the terrorists want to be told -- that Muslims are the problem. He doesn't say that, but the message comes through. By singling out the American Muslim community Rep. King is re-enforcing the story that the West and Islam are at war. That is a theological mistake and could result in another victory for the terrorists.

Make no mistake, we have to overcome terrorism. I'm grateful that we have not been attacked physically on American soil since 9/11. But our country is under theological attack every day in the polarized debate of the West vs. Islam, and that narrative must be changed. And Congressman King's hearings are more likely to reinforce, rather than transform that narrative.


Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. He blogs at Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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