Pope Francis raised the specter of a World War III “in pieces,” Muslims issued statements of condemnation, while evangelical Christians in America debated whether to speak of a “war with Islam.”
These were some of the responses by religious leaders around the world on Nov. 14 to the series of attacks overnight in Paris which left more than 120 people dead.
“This is not human,” Francis said phone call to an Italian Catholic television station. Asked by the interviewer if it was part of a “Third World War in pieces,” he responded: “This is a piece. There is no justification for such things.”
Displayed over a blurred image of Osama bin Laden, the headline on the cover of The New York Times Magazine for October 18 reads, “Do we really know the truth about his death? The mysteries of Attobad.”
Weirdly, the article is not an investigation of the truth about bin Laden’s death — it’s an investigation of other investigations. Jonathan Mahler decided to report on two competing narratives about the raid in Abbottabad. His article is a soul-searching reflection on how we can know which version of events is true, or if the truth about our government’s actions can ever be known at all.
After reading his article, it’s fair to wonder if we ever will. If our concern is to learn the facts of the raid, we may easily get lost in a tangle of facts and lies. But that is a truth in itself — a truth of how violence works to destroy the truth.
We need to state the obvious here: the subject of all this reporting is a death by violence. The subject of this story is not the truth. The subject is violence itself.
Our class studying terrorism found itself under terrorist attack.
You might expect these military men would be first in line calling for the use of force. You would be wrong. Veterans of the first Iraq war, they, like Gen. Colin Powell, warned that starting a war would be easy, but accomplishing anything good by the use of force in the region would be hard. Military attacks would "rearrange the rubble" and incite retribution and further cycles of violence. They urged other responses — political engagement, diplomacy, [and] legal and financial instruments.
As advisors to the U.S. Catholic Bishops, we also urged using “just peace” methods. Pope — now Saint — John Paul II urged President Bush not to invade Iraq but to pursue a just peace. The U.S. invasion would de-stabilize the entire region, cause worse bloodshed, and do more harm than good.
Today, as then, the military and religious leaders agree. We ought to notice.
My friends and colleagues are generally aware that before I began working at Sojourners, I was a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for six and a half years. What most of them do not know, however, is that I interviewed for that job — a five-minute drive from the Pentagon — on September 11, 2001.
Early that morning, I decided to take the Metro rather than drive to the USPTO’s offices in Crystal City, Va. I reasoned that if I got the job, I would want to get some idea about my future daily commute. This would prove to be a fortunate decision later on.
Even before the end of my trip to Crystal City, I had already heard news of the first World Trade Center tower being hit. When I arrived at the office, I hoped the interviewer would remember me after our conversation. He did — but considering the significance of all that happened that day, my concerns about employment now seem minuscule in hindsight.
Extremist groups like ISIS and Al Qaida are trying to radicalize young Muslims through well-produced and elaborate online videos and sweeping Twitter campaigns targeted at disaffected young men and women around the world.
Three London school girls recently ran away to join ISIS in Syria after encountering recruiters on Twitter. A Sunday school teacher in Washington state secretly converted to Islam and planned to leave home to join the only Muslims she knew — Isis recruiters she encountered through social media. In Virginia, a local imam meets with young men and women whose families fear they will answer the call of ISIS sent through their cellphones.
As one member of the local law enforcement told our group of 17 international journalists, “There is a terrorist in your pocket and it is talking to you all the time.”
Elhanan Shmidov views this illegal Jewish outpost, within earshot of the drumming ceremonies of nearby Palestinian villages, as the epitome of "self-sacrifice," where "good Jews" like him carry out the holy mission of populating this contested land.
Shmidov, like many of his neighbors, said residents must defend their place in communities like his throughout "Judea and Samaria," the biblical name referring to land that was once the domain of the ancient Jewish kingdom. He takes no responsibility for the Jewish extremists — whom he calls "wild weeds" within the pro-settler community — who carry out violence against Palestinians.
The increasingly radical Jewish militants who target Palestinians are the latest front in Israel’s struggle against terrorism. Israeli security authorities estimate hundreds belong to the extremist groups, but only about 100 have been involved in the violent attacks.
The government of Quebec has introduced two bills, both aimed at Muslims.
The first would attempt to stanch the radicalization of Muslim youth through a 59-point plan that includes expanding the powers of Quebec’s Human Rights Commission to probe hate speech — enhancing training for police and teachers to recognize signs of radicalization, dedicating a police unit to patrol social media, and establishing a hotline staffed by social workers to advise families and friends of suspected extremists.
Tackling their finances is perhaps the most effective way of restricting terrorist groups.
On May 3 in Garland, Texas, two gunmen opened fire at a “draw the Prophet Muhammad” contest sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, listed as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Police shot and killed the two gunmen. A security guard was injured. Most Muslims consider images of the prophet highly offensive, as Islam prohibits them. The attack comes almost four months to the day that four cartoonists at the French weekly Charlie Hebdo were killed by extremists offended at the magazine’s satirical depictions of the prophet.
Why do images of the founder of Islam — even cartoons drawn by amateurs — incite so much anger in some people that they are motivated to violence?
Everything must change.
Injustices around the world and here at home are coming to light despite a long, willful blindness. Half a world away, the long-muted voices of the victims of American military policy were allowed to break through the wall of propaganda and infotainment used to keep them hushed. A recent New York Times report reveals one of the worst-kept (actually un-kept, but vastly underreported) secrets of our government: that we often do not know who we are killing with drones.
And at home, in Baltimore, the death of Freddie Gray in police custody has caused long-simmering tensions – born of institutionalized segregation, nearly inescapable poverty, and a scourge of police brutality – to erupt in an uprising of passionate resistance, with destruction punctuating otherwise peaceful marches. Media coverage has given far more attention to the “riots” than to the systemic violence that has kept so many African Americans, not only in Baltimore but throughout the country, living in poverty and insecurity.
Just a few decades ago, Aleppo was home to about 170,000 Catholics, about a third of the city’s population. Since the war broke out, Jeanbart has seen a third of his flock reduced by death, dislocation, and emigration while Aleppo’s Muslim population has soared.
The threat of annihilation is constant, as Aleppo has become the main battleground between the government forces of President Bashar Assad and a motley assortment of rebels who include growing numbers of fighters affiliated with the fundamentalist terrorism of the Islamic State group.
The arrests of six Minnesota men accused earlier this month of attempting to join the Islamic State group highlights an unprecedented marketing effort being waged by the militant group in Iraq and Syria, U.S. law enforcement officials and terror analysts said.
It’s a campaign that is finding resonance from urban metros to the American heartland.
“This is not so much a recruitment effort as it is a global marketing campaign, beyond anything that al-Qaida has ever done,” said a senior law enforcement official.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the Islamic State’s slick multimedia productions, its use of social media, and personal “peer-to-peer” communication are proving to be effective parts of a sophisticated program aimed at the West.
“I don’t think there has been one case in which we haven’t found some connection to the videos or other media the group has produced,” the official said.
Federal authorities have identified more than 150 U.S. residents who have sought to join the ranks of the terror organization or rival groups in Syria. There is evidence that about 40 of those have traveled to the region and returned to the U.S. Most have been charged; an undisclosed number are free and subjects of intense surveillance, the senior official said.
The smallest subset of the group, an estimated dozen, represents those who have actually joined the fighting ranks.
Faced with a fierce enemy driven by Muslim extremist ideology, the government has cracked down on funding for al-Shabab, the Somali group that claimed responsibility for killing 148 mostly Christian students at Garissa University College a week ago.
This week, Kenya froze the accounts of 85 groups and individuals, including bus companies and Muslim rights organizations, allegedly linked to the group. It has closed down one hotel in Eastleigh, a neighborhood in the Nairobi commonly known as Little Mogadishu because of its large concentration of ethnic Somalis.
But the freeze on Muslims for Human Rights and Haki Africa, two nongovernmental organizations, raised questions, since they are known for their work on improving the lives of Kenyans and fighting for human rights of all citizens.
“I am amazed that these human rights organizations are believed to have been supporting terror,” said Sheikh Juma Ngao, the national chairman of the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council.
“I think the government needs to provide some evidence.”
Boko Haram’s leader has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a new audio message, according to a group that monitors extremist activity.
In the recording, a man claiming to be Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Nigerian terrorist group that has killed thousands, vowed to follow Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the U.S.-based SITE Intel Group, announced on March 7.
“We announce our allegiance to the Caliph of the Muslims … and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease, and to endure being discriminated against, and not to dispute about rule with those in power, except in case of evident infidelity regarding that which there is a proof from Allah,” Shekau said in a tweeted message that went along with the video, according to the Associated Press. Al-Baghdadi is the self-proclaimed head of the caliphate.
Flashpoint Intelligence, a global security firm, confirmed the recording to NBC News and said it was posted on Boko Haram social media accounts. USA Today was not able to independently verify the message.
President Obama said Feb. 19 that governments across the globe are obligated to confront the “warped ideologies” that lead to terrorism, “especially their attempt to use Islam to justify their violence.”
National leaders must also dispute claims that there is a clash of civilizations in the world, the president said during a second-day speech at the White House Summit on Confronting Violent Extremism.
“The notion that the West is at war with Islam is an ugly lie,” Obama said. “And all of us, regardless of our faith, have a responsibility to reject it.”
Obama also addressed summit delegates on Feb. 18 in a session devoted to discussing how local communities can help dissuade young people from following the path of violent extremism.
As my kids have grown into teenagers, their behavior has changed. My daughter is less interested in hanging out with me and prefers sitting in her room glued to her computer. My son plays Nintendo war games. When current events are discussed in our home, we sometimes disagree vehemently. According to Homeland Security adviser Lisa Monaco, I should be on my guard because these might be signs that my kids are about to head off to join the Islamic State.
Sounds absurd, right? But that’s the message to Muslim communities as part of the administration’s initiative to “counter violent extremism.”
In September, the Justice Department announced it was launching the program and piloting it in Boston, Los Angeles and Minneapolis. The stated aim was to bring together community, religious leaders, and law enforcement to “develop comprehensive local strategies and share information on best practices” for countering violent extremism. Although the initiative doesn’t mention the word “Muslim,” those adherents are clearly the targets. The secretary of the Department of Homeland Security has promoted it to Muslim communities across the country. It has the support of the White House, which is hosting a summit on the topic this week.