Whether ISIS is "Islamic," or a "state," it is definitely terrifying. As it terrorizes the Levant — killing Muslims, Christians, Jews, Yazidis, and other religious/cultural minorities in Syria and Iraq — and takes the lives of Western journalists, it strikes fear in the hearts of many.
Swirling around the alarming analysis are the rumors and realities of individuals from Europe and the U.S. joining the ranks of ISIS and fighting for their "cause."
The intelligence organization Soufan Group recently released a report stating that fighters from at least 81 countries have traveled to Syria since its three-year conflict began. Hundreds of recruits come from nations like France, Germany, the UK, and the U.S.
Of all the fearful intimations of this conflict, this feature seems to be the most frightening to many in the West. Could it be that my neighbor is a secret jihadi? Are redheads (a "pure" European stock) more prone to terrorism? Are mosques their hideouts? Regardless of the judiciousness of these questions, underlying them all is the question "why?" Why would someone leave the West to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
According to the Soufan report, those that leave for the Middle East to fight are typically 18-29 year-old men (some as young as 15) and some Western women who join with their spouses, or come alone to become "jihadi brides." These men and women are Islamic, often second or third generation immigrants, though very few have prior connections with Syria.
Why do they join? Is it religious devotion? Psychological imbalance? Tendency toward radical movements and anarchy? All of these motivations may play a part, but my argument is that these men and women who leave their Western homes for the dunes of terror are lonely.
These Western jihadis are isolated — that is why they join ISIS.
I write this essay on the eve of a US led air campaign that marks “the biggest direct military intervention in Syria since the crisis began more than three years ago.” There is no denying that ISIS/ISIL has captured the attention of the world through its religiously inspired acts of violence. The atrocities committed in recent months by ISIS/ISIL have left countless people of faith—including many devout Muslim leaders across the world—speechless.
Yet, one of the central aspects of religiously inspired violence is that it rails against silence. Whether it is Christian violence in Nigeria and Uganda, Hindu violence in Western India, Jewish violence in Gaza, or Islamic violence in Indonesia and Syria, acts of terror demand denunciation. The ubiquity of religiously inspired violence across cultures and religious traditions lends credibility to the belief of some that religion itself is the problem. My own Christian tradition treats our inclination to harm and even kill one another as symptomatic of our fallen natures; it is a mark of our propensity to evil. This is what makes religious violence so pernicious: it twists our one remedy so that it exacerbates the disease.
Violence—whether it arises out of a Quentin Tarantino film or a YouTube video of decapitation—captures our attention. Even as we are repulsed by the scope of human depravity, such acts of violence consume our attention. Scenes of violence are like a mirror into the darkest parts of our soul: we cannot bear the images we see, but neither can we turn away.
Here at Sojourners we have written a lot about nonviolence. We take seriously the words of Jesus that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. We believe that violence begets violence, or as Jesus put it, “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Personally, I take seriously the words of René Girard, the founder of mimetic theory, that we are now “confronted with a perfectly straightforward and even scientifically calculable choice between total destruction and the total renunciation of violence.”
Many Christians look to the Bible to justify divinely sanctioned violence against our enemies. Excuse me for stating the obvious, but Christians are not Biblians. We are Christians. As Christians, we should be putting Jesus first. Not Deuteronomy. Not Joshua. Not Judges. Not David. Not Solomon. Not Peter. Not Paul. Not the Bible.
And Jesus calls us to nonviolence. As one of the early Christians stated, the way of Jesus, the way of nonviolent love that embraces our enemies, is the way of the cross and the world thinks that way is foolish.
We proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Here in Kabul, one of my finest friends is Zekerullah, who has gone back to school in the eighth grade although he is an 18-year old young man who has already had to learn far too many of life’s harsh lessons.
Years ago and miles from here, when he was a child in the province of Bamiyan, and before he ran away from school, Zekerullah led a double life, earning income for his family each night as a construction crew laborer, and then attempting to attend school in the daytime. In between these tasks, the need to provide his family with fuel would sometimes drive him on six-hour treks up the mountainside, leading a donkey on which to load bags of scrub brush and twigs for the trip back down. His greatest childhood fear was of that donkey taking one disastrous wrong step with its load on the difficult mountainside.
And then, after reaching home weary and sleep deprived and with no chance of doing homework, he would, at times, go to school without having done his homework, knowing that he would certainly be beaten. When he was in seventh grade, his teacher punished him by adding 10 more blows each day he came to school without his homework, so that eventually he was hit 60 times in one day. Dreading the next day when the number would rise to 70, he ran away from that school and never returned.
Now Zekerullah is enrolled in another school, this time in Kabul, where teachers still beat the students. But Zekerullah can now claim to have learned much more, in some cases, than his teachers.
It’s been said that our politics are often shaped by what we see out the window.
Twenty years ago, if you would've asked me if I thought police treat people fairly regardless of race, I would have confidently said, “Yes” — just like 70 percent of white folks in the recent Pew survey. In fact, 30 years ago, if you would've asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I’d have said “a policeman.”
I grew up in a small town in Tennessee, which was still very segregated. Growing up, we knew the police officers by name. On more than one occasion, the police saved the day, and countless news stories celebrated the heroism and courage of police officers.
My mom and I used to go on walks together in a park, and I always looked forward to bumping into the officer who patrolled the park. She was tough as nails but always greeted me with an enthusiastic smile and a big bear hug. At the age of ten, she appointed me a “Junior Officer,” and she gave me a “real metal badge.” I felt like I was at the top of the world, and on my way to be officer of the year.
And then my window changed.
Pope Francis wrote to the president of Iraq, calling for an end to the “brutal suffering of Christians and other religious minorities” and urging political leaders to end the humanitarian crisis in the country.
Francis said in his letter to Iraqi President Fouad Massoum:
“I appeal to you with my heart full of pain while I follow the brutal suffering of Christians and other religious minorities who are forced to leave their homes, as their places of worship are destroyed.”
Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the pope’s official envoy to Iraq, delivered the pope’s message during his recent trip to that country. The two met at the Vatican on Thursday. The pope previously appealed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to intervene to end the crisis.
Earlier this week, Francis revealed during a media conference with reporters that he was ready to travel to Iraq to try to find a solution to the ongoing violence.
You know that time when the apostle Paul says “don’t worry about anything” I sometimes wonder if he could get away with that today.
For example: Did you know that Congress recently had an approval rating of 9 percent? To put that in perspective, 11 percent of citizens want the Unites States to be a Communist country . It’s a lower rate than people who would approve of polygamy! While this is sort of hilarious, it’s also pretty depressing.
Thank God (literally) there isn’t a poll on the approval rating of the church, but as a ministry leader in Seattle, trust me when I say that what makes the headlines is not what anyone would call good news. Throw into the mix the global unraveling we are witnessing in the Middle East, Iraq, and our own treatment of immigrants, and it’s sort of difficult to keep our collective chins up.
So yes, it might feel tough to log onto Facebook, or read the New York Times these days and feel like there is no reason to be anxious. Good thing for us the verse doesn’t end as a pejorative blanket statement. You know, the kind that so often feels like a cheap mandate to simply ignore reality? Instead, it names that that there lots for reasons for why we are surrounded by anxiety. But, in the eloquent paraphrase of the Philippians passage by Eugene Peterson, we are invited to:
“let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.”
Editor's Note: Rev. Alvin Herring is on the ground in Ferguson, Mo. Following is his account of the events of Aug. 17.
Last night democracy was trampled not as the media would suggest by the angry footfalls of sullen youth determined to disturb the peace and wreak havoc in their own community, but by the heavy march of a police force that seemed determined to create tension and antagonize young people — young people who are carrying the trauma of nights of unrest and lifetimes of dehumanizing racism.
We witnessed with our own eyes beautiful young people peacefully marching in step to cries of “hands up, don’t shoot.” We saw the very young holding older siblings’ hands and the old being pushed in wheelchairs by teenagers who had pain in their eyes but strong voices lifting up their laments to a nation that must find the will to hear them. And though they were clearly agitated, they were courageously hewing to the commitment to act peacefully in the face of an overwhelming police response that seemed determined to escalate an already tense situation.
Law enforcement was outfitted with the machinery of war. The officers wore military fatigues and carried automatic weapons. They were helmeted, with their faces obscured, and in the darkness they looked more like machines than human beings. They perched atop huge military vehicles with glaring lights and screeching sirens. It was otherworldly — and all of this to face down a group of wounded children, wounded tonight and many nights before this night.
During a recent visit to Kabul’s Emergency Surgical Center for Victims of War, the staff shared with us their sense of what's happening around the country, derived from the reports of staff working at several dozen clinics and at their main hospitals in two other provinces. They described Kabul as "a bubble." They told us full-scale wars are being fought between quite heavily armed forces in both eastern and southern Afghanistan, although the news coverage that goes beyond Afghanistan generally pertains to Kabul. The groups fighting the Afghan government include various warlords, the Taliban, drug kingpins, and foreign fighters, some of whom may be strategizing ways to cut off the roads to Kabul. The Kabul “bubble” can be quite vulnerable.
The borders now vanishing in the Middle East – the most radical transformations of the map here since the post-WWI Sykes Picot agreement – are being redrawn in chaos and fear. The bubbles that burst here are the hopes for peace in a world avid for control of this region and its resources. Unfortunately, durable structures of separation and domination make it difficult for many young Afghans to fulfill their longings to connect meaningfully, peacefully, and stably with a saner world united under one blue sky.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:9-12
War is always ugly. The loss of innocent lives is never easy to swallow. And yet, as tanks open fire on the humble homes of the Gazan poor and rockets rain down on a terrified Israeli populace we are compelled to ask, “How do we keep coming back to this profane and violent place called war?” Why do we consistently and continually fail to understand the simple principles of our own faith and the faiths of those who profess a belief in God?
These simple faith principles speak of a command to love one another and to have a deep and abiding respect for all life – especially innocent life. Then, why do we fail to love justice, peace, and mercy as God commands and seem so determined to visit such violence and destruction on our world and on one another?
Similar questions arise for me in my work as a pastor who labors in organizing people of faith to contend with the tough issues that we face daily in our country. Issues like the mass incarceration of our young, the struggle for human dignity by the poor, the lack of employment opportunities for those who desire only to feed their children and raise their families, and the millions who yearn to step out from the shadows of unjust immigration laws and be recognized as cherished citizens of an open and welcoming nation. These are the tough issues that bring me and so many other clergy and people of faith from the confines of the church into the streets and homes of those whose lives are tethered closest to the pain of injustice. In each of these instances the moral challenges seems so clear but the outcomes are incongruent with the faith principles that are designed to guide our hearts and direct our actions.
In response to the death of Michael Brown, many people are using the hastag #IfTheyGunnedMeDown on Twitter to consider the role that images used by the media have on the public's perception of vicitms.
Here's more according to the Washington Post:
The concern is how media will portray a dead child’s life after he’s slain by police officers. This is the stuff of#IfTheyGunnedMeDown, a Twitter hashtag that trended Sunday as part of the conversation surrounding the death of Michael Brown. Brown, 18, was an unarmed black teenager slain in Ferguson, Mo. He’d recently graduated high school. Black users shared pictures of themselves at their best — in uniforms or caps and gowns — juxtaposed with images that would garner less sympathy and perhaps paint more tawdry pictures of their lives.
VATICAN CITY — As he dispatches a top aide to war-torn Iraq this week, Pope Francis made his most impassioned plea yet for the world to halt the “slaughter” of Christians and other religious minorities by Islamic extremists.
“The news coming from Iraq leaves us incredulous and appalled,” Francis told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, as he cataloged the brutal “violence of every kind” that has driven hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and left women and children dead and dying.
“All this seriously offends God and seriously offends humanity,” the pontiff declared. “You cannot bring hatred in the name of God. You cannot make war in the name of God!”
Yet even as Francis called on the international community to find “an efficient political solution that can stop these crimes,” the Vatican also tried to make peace with the idea that U.S. military strikes that began last week were necessary and working.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God calls us to love and show compassion to the stranger, particularly those who suffer. But first, they must become real to us. And there is nothing more viscerally real, perhaps, than the face of a dead child.
Is it possible to let our hearts by broken by the dead children of our enemy? Is our God big enough to allow us to imagine that God loves those we fear and despise?
Not until, I believe, they have faces.
Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza – though religious fervor is alive and well in these embattled areas, loathing, horror, and hatred seem to reign, darkness to rule. In the grim night, we cannot see each other’s faces.
Across the country, dangerous people with records of domestic violence, stalking, and aggression have no legal restriction keeping them from obtaining guns. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to explore the intersection of domestic violence and gun violence. The hearing discussed major loopholes in the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which successfully prohibited some convicted domestic abusers from gaining access to firearms. Yet even with the prohibitions in VAWA, abusers who don’t share a home with their intimate partner and abusers convicted of misdemeanor stalking charges are free to keep the weapons they have and to purchase new weapons.
“I am here today to speak for my sister Zina. I speak for Zina and her entire family because Zina is not here to speak for herself.”
Elvin Daniel, and NRA member and gun owner, lost his sister to domestic violence with a firearm and testified today in support of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) S. 1290: Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act of 2013.
The tragic loss of Zina’s life is not an isolated incident. A study about the relationship between domestic violence and gun violence released by the Center for American Progress highlights how deadly this major loophole can be for thousands of women. The statistics are stunning:
- While 2.5 percent of men who are murdered are killed by a female intimate partner, 34 percent of women who are murdered are killed by a male intimate partner.
- Of all the women killed by male intimate partners from 2001-2012, 55 percent are killed with a firearm.
- More women (6,410) in the United States have been killed by a significant other with a firearm from 2001-2012 than U.S. troops have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The first thing that visitors and volunteers see at the Tent of Nations just outside of Bethlehem is a large stone on which are written the words, “We refuse to be enemies.” As Israeli settlements draw ever closer to their land and the Israeli Defense Forces destroy their orchards, the Nassar family continues to pay a heavy price in their practice of Jesus’ teaching, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).”
The Nassars refuse to divide the world into friends and enemies, challenging the rest of us to do the same.
As a Christian, I was raised to be pro-Israel. Since going to the region many times, I’ve become pro-Palestinian and pro-peace, too, which has led me to explore the narratives of Palestinians as well as Israelis. I grieve the deaths in both Israel and Palestine. Every human life has extraordinary value. The loss of even one life is a loss to all of us.
The horrible human costs and increasing danger the world is now facing in Gaza, Ukraine, and Iraq show the consequences of not telling the truth. And unfortunately, we seem to mostly have political leaders who are unwilling to admit the truth of what’s happening, deal with root causes instead of exploiting symptoms, and then do everything possible to prevent the escalation of violence and further wars. Instead we have politicians who are mostly looking for opportunities to blame their political opponents, boost their own reputations, and protect business interests. As people of faith, we are called to speak the truth in love.
It’s time for some truth telling.
Amid mounting protests in Europe against the Gaza conflict, political and religious leaders in the region have sharply denounced anti-Semitism within their borders.
“Anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish belief and synagogues have no place in our societies,” the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Italy said in a statement Tuesday from Brussels.
Fears of escalating unrest are perhaps sharpest in France, home to Europe’s largest populations of Jews and Muslims. Many have roots in North Africa, and violence in the Middle East resonates strongly here. Thousands defied a government ban against Paris-area protests over the weekend, staging pro-Palestinian rallies that degenerated into violence.
1. Afghan Taliban Bans Polio Vaccination Teams
"Afghanistan is one of just three countries, along with Pakistan and Nigeria, where polio is still endemic. There has been a rise in cases this year, with seven reported so far compared with just three for the same period of 2013, according to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative."
2. Communion in a Strip Club
"I found myself in a strip club years ago. I carried a meal, and that was about all I carried. And a dancer asked me if I thought Jesus was insecure. … I quickly told her no. I told her that Jesus was entirely secure, hoping she wouldn’t try to take my Jesus away."
3. This Is What Happened When I Drove My Mercedes to Pick Up Food Stamps
The birth of twins and a job loss — stories like these illustrate how close so many people are to poverty: " … the judgment of the disadvantaged comes not just from conservative politicians and Internet trolls. It came from me, even as I was living it."
4. Dismantling the White Male Industrial Complex
Christena Cleveland argues against the logic of the white man as the secret weapon in the fight against injustice. "… rather than contributing to the white male industrial complex and focusing most/all of our justice efforts on convincing and engaging white men, I propose a different strategy …"
5. The Failure of Christian Witness in a World of Violence
"Are we contributing to the epidemic of mockery and the glorification of violence in our world with what we share from our air-conditioned living rooms? If so, then the fact that we are privileged enough to have clean hands doesn’t make us any less guilty of the violence in our world than the suicide bombers and the drones."
6. 'Life Ended There:' Rare Interviews With the Children of America's Border Disaster
POLITICO Magazine puts faces and stories to the border crisis in this must-read.
7. How Hot Is It? Hot Enough to Ruin the Economy
“The increased number of excessively hot days guaranteed to come with the changing climate has the potential to dramatically denigrate worker productivity, according to recent study. … Productivity figures to be the biggest economic hit, though energy costs will certainly give it a run for its, uh, money.”
8. Cory Booker, Rand Paul Shine Light on Shadow Side of U.S. Justice System
A new proposal pairs an unlikely duo to confront the injustice of mass incarceration. Read what brought the two together to find common ground.
9. How It Feels to Love and Hate a Sex Offender
"Most people do not understand how sex offenders function and therefore do not realize the depth of their damage. … In the healing process, I've learned that the families of sex offenders, the secondary victims, just like primary victims, must learn to do basic things even when all our beliefs and emotions scream it is not safe."
10. This Land Is Their Land :The Braves, Chiefs, and Washington NFL Team All Play on Land Seized from American Indians
“It is easy to assert that the name of your favorite team expresses solidarity with the survivors of the long, sordid history of Indian dispossession. But what if sports lore included the specifics of how the U.S. acquired the land below your team’s home field?”
1. WATCH: Powerful Ad Shows What A Little Girl Hears When You Tell Her She's Pretty
“A new Verizon commercial cites a sad statistic by the National Science Foundation: 66 percent of 4th grade girls say they like science and math, but only 18 percent of all college engineering majors are female.”
2.Sandy Hook Dad on What You Can Do Right Now to Help Prevent Violence
“'Pick your eyes up from the sidewalk and look at people,' Mr. Barden pleaded, with tears in his eyes. Yes, we should call our representatives; yes, we should make our voices heard where laws are made. But we should also do what we can to foster empathy; to create a world where no one feels invisible and ignored — least of all those who disproportionately fall victim to our collective failure to care enough to act."
3. Facebook VP: Stop Portraying Me as Mother-of-Four Who 'Wanted it All''
"'When I got my post at Facebook it was all about how I was a mother-of-four who had 'won' the position, alongside pictures of my wedding,' she said, noting that the male executive hired at the same time came under no such scrutiny. Reports also said she insisted on working part-time, when in fact she was working a typical five-day week."
4. FIFA Go Home: Inside Brazilians' Struggle to Challenge World Cup
From Mashable: "Their goal isn't so much to change the current World Cup in any specific way; it's more to challenge — and, ideally, impact — the mainstream narrative surrounding the tournament, shifting its focus to the event's human costs and larger political context. To the billions spent on stadiums that won't be used again and the millions living in abject poverty."
5. Ikea to Raise Its Average Minimum Hourly Wage to $10.76
"The happier the co-worker, the happier the customer and the better the overall shopping experience," said Ikea's acting U.S. president, Rob Olson. "We wanted to be less concerned about the competition and more concerned about offering our co-workers a better everyday life."
6. The Decency of a Nation
A new index attempts to measure the 'goodness' of nations — based on the way they treat other nations, science and technology, culture, equality, etc. (Spoiler: guess who doesn't break the top 10.)
7.WATCH: 'Columbusing': When White People Think They Discovered Something They Didn't
"Macklemore Columbused same-sex marriage, just like Gwyneth Paltrow Columbused Eastern medicine."
8.Use of Drones for Killings Risks a War Without End
A bipartisan panel concluded that the use of armed drones "sets a dangerous precedent for lethal operations that other countries might adopt in the future," according to the New York Times.
9. Detroit Activists Call for UN Help as City Shuts Off Water for Thousands
“Detroit has too much of some things – stray dogs, abandoned houses – and not enough of others, such as residents who pay their water bills. The latest sign of Detroit’s decline came from the city’s water department, when it said in March it would begin shutting off water for up to 3,000 homes and businesses a week in an attempt to stop the utility from sliding even further into debt.”
10. PHOTOS: Inside a Detention Center for Migrant Children
The Customs and Border Patrol is overwhelmed by a flood of minors entering the U.S. from Central America.