After the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, the French government declared a state of emergency, which has now lasted three months and violated the rights of hundreds, according to a new report from Amnesty International. After thousands of house searches, nighttime raids, travel bans, and curfews, hundreds report being traumatized and stigmatized, according to the report which is titled “Upturned Lives: The Disproportionate Impact of France’s State of Emergency.”
In times of rising Islamophobia, President Obama made a plea for religious tolerance at the first visit to an American mosque of his presidency. A lot of Americans have never been to a mosque, the president said as he began his speech, shoeless per Muslim tradition, in the Islamic Center of Baltimore’s prayer hall on Jan. 3.
Last fall, 16 West Point cadets — none of them Muslim — signed up for an elective on counter-terrorism and created a Facebook page to appeal to young Muslims thinking about joining the so-called Islamic State group. The cadets aimed to convince those tempted by the terrorist cause to see jihad in Islam as a peaceful endeavor. For their project to succeed, the cadets knew, they would have to learn more about the faith, and build a social media platform that reserved judgment even on those who expressed admiration for committed terrorists.
As France marks the anniversary of the terrorist shootings that targeted a kosher supermarket and a satirical weekly, a new report warns anti-Semitism here continues to rise, taking a myriad of underreported forms.
“Violence targeting Jews and Jewish sites has led to a heightened sense of insecurity, and an increasing number of Jews are relocating in or outside France for security reasons,” U.S. advocacy group Human Rights First wrote in a report published Jan. 7.
Religion inspired countless other acts of forgiveness, mercy, and hope this year. But religion — or perversions of it, some would say — also inspired horrific violence: the “faith-based” cleansing of ancient lands, and bombings and shootings motivated by scriptural justifications. It was a year also of religious-inspired activism, seen perhaps most prominently in a pope who advocated for the poor and for a solution to climate change. Here is an overview of some of the most consequential religion stories of the past year, with thoughts on what to look forward to 2016.
Muhammad Ali aimed a powerful and impassioned message at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Dec. 9, saying that the recent global terrorism crisis has “perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”
Ali became a Muslim and changed his name from Cassius Clay during the height of his career as one of the greatest boxers in history. His message came in a statement following a week in which Trump cast doubt on President Barack Obama’s assertion that several American “sporting heroes” practiced Islam.
“I am a Muslim, and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world,” Ali said.
After the San Bernardino massacre, I, like other Muslims, worried about my safety.
I wondered what would happen if I went outside, given that I’m easily identifiable in my hijab. I wondered what that day, or the next or the day after that, would be like for me.
And that, I have decided, is ridiculous. I was not a victim that day.
President Obama sought to reassure the nation amid renewed fears of terrorism the night of Dec. 6, saying the terrorist threat has “evolved into a new phase” of attacks hatched at home by extremists “poisoning the minds” of killers already on American soil.
“I know how real the danger is,” said Obama.
“The threat from terrorism is real, but we will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us,” Obama said.
For the first week of Advent, my wife Amy preached about hope. She pointed out that having hope doesn’t mean necessarily that we see a way out of suffering. It does, however, give us a reason to try to keep working through it. We have to believe there’s another side to it. Another possibility. The potential for a new reality.
And that reality will never, ever be realized by responding to violence with more violence. It may make us feel better in the moment. It may seem to offer short-term relief. But ultimately, it makes everyone that participates become a little bit of what they hate. And the cycle continues.
Which story will we choose to try to live into?
Tashfeen Malik, the female suspect in the San Bernardino shooting spree, had expressed support for the Islamic State terrorist group and its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in a social media post, according to two U.S. officials.
While there was no indication yet that the extremist group, also known as ISIL or ISIS, directed the massacre in California that left 14 people dead, the posting represents the strongest link yet that the killings may have been rooted, at least partially, in terrorism.
French authorities announced Dec. 2 that they shut down three radicalized mosques.
After the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, the government proclaimed a state of emergency, which grants it wide latitude to conduct searches, make arrests, and ban public gatherings.
God’s been telling the story of restoration since Genesis when we were created selem Elohim, in the image of God. We were created into perfect communion with God. From Genesis 3 until the end of the Old Testament, we see a narrative of a people in exile and God giving opportunities for reconciliation and restoration of relationship that humanity is incapable of accepting. Reconciliation is an exchange of something worthless (our condition of sin) for something immeasurably worthy (communion with God).
In the New Testament we see a biblical narrative through Jesus of now-but-not-yet restoration. In Jesus we see the coming of the Kingdom of God and get to be reconciled back to God. We even get a glimpse of an eternity where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
If we truly believe we are the image of God, it changes how we approach the image of God in the world. Our call then is to actively partner with God in taking the world somewhere.
My son’s public school is amazing. The community is everything I had hoped it would be. There are several parent and grandparent volunteers who come in and out of the building daily to help in the classroom, playground and lunchroom. At first, I had wanted to make a big fuss about security and locking the front door during the school day. I thought that was going to be my platform, my soapbox. But after the crying incident, I decided that something in me had to change. I didn’t want to live in fear anymore. I didn’t want to let fear drive me. After some reflection, I had to shift that fear and move to a place of hope and love. Hope that this kind of violence would never touch my school community. Belief that our community is strong and committed and that love would ultimately win and have the last word.
All of us are understandably sad about Paris — devastated. Many people have used striped profile pictures, candles, and flowers to express our collective solidarity. But in the wake of tragedy, almost half of the governors of the U.S. have responded with fear, announcing that they will do whatever they can to thwart the acceptance of Syrian refugees — from cutting funding for nonprofit resettlement agencies, to demanding religious screening tests.
If there’s one thing I learned from some of my friends who are refugees, it’s how to respond to grief. And there’s no one approach and they didn’t always get it right. But sometimes they did: Some refugees, in the shadow of shocking sadness, sang more than usual, prayed louder, invited more friends over for dinner, cooked their parent’s recipes. None of them responded with terrorism.
From a religious perspective, the hardest thing about confronting evil is the painful human tendency to only see it in others, in our enemies, and not see any on our side because of the blurred vision caused by the specks in our own eyes, to paraphrase the gospels. In discussing ISIS, we should clearly use the language of sin — the enormous sin of the ideological hate of ISIS finding its victims all over the world.
French president François Hollande announced on Nov. 18 that France will continue to resettle refugees.
Over the next two years, Hollande said that France would welcome 30,000 refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, among others. This is even more than his September commitment of 24,000.
The joint statement — from the group who have experience of operating drones over Afghanistan, Iraq and other conflict zones — represents a public outcry from what is understood to be the largest collection of drone whistleblowers in the history of the program. Three of the letter writers were sensor operators who controlled the powerful visual equipment on U.S. Predator drones that guide Hellfire missiles to their targets.
…The four are represented legally by Jesselyn Radack, director of national security and human rights at the nonprofit ExposeFacts. “This is the first time we’ve had so many people speaking out together about the drone program,” she said, pointing out that the men were fully aware that they faced possible prosecution for speaking out.
I’ve thought about this obedience to vulnerability in light of the current conversation our nation has been having about the refugee crisis, in particular since the attacks in Paris this weekend. The fearful calls to close our border have been disheartening, especially as we begin to enter the season of Advent. Jesus, as God incarnate, saw our sin and flaws and darkness — our hostility even — to the Light and still made himself vulnerable to live among us and die at our hand. Through the cross he offered a generous hospitality to us while we were still enemies of God — a feast of himself, for us to taste and see that God is good.
It should not be any different for us as followers of Christ. As any Christian knows, being part of the Body of Christ is often a dangerous proposition. We are in danger of getting hurt any time we come into contact with another person. We will sin against each other, we will experience conflict, and if we’re doing it right, we’ll bear each other’s suffering. We are knit together with people we may not typically associate, people who view the world in ways we may find misguided at best and dangerous at worst. It doesn’t matter — we’re still invited to the same feast and we’re still joined together in the same family, drinking out of the same cup the way family members and close friends do.
Q: Al-Qaida is al-Qaida. Hamas is Hamas. But the Islamic State can be “ISIS,” “ISIL,” and “Daesh.” Why so many names?
A: Put the group’s Arabic name into the translation machine, and you get different renderings in English.
The first part of the original name — Dawlat al-Islamiyah f’al-Iraq w Belaad al-Sham — is straightforward: “Islamic State in Iraq.” But you’ve got some room for disagreement on “Sham,” which can be “Syria” or “Greater Syria” or “the Levant.” Go with “Syria” and the acronym becomes “ISIS.” If you choose “Levant,” your acronym is “ISIL.”
You could also say the “Islamic State,” the name the group now prefers. But many call that wrongheaded or offensive or both. It is not a state. And there is nothing Islamic about it, said Imam Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America.
“It’s misusing the name of Islam in such an ugly way,” he said.