Dear western democracies please bomb Syria
Lots of love,
…. there are better ways to deal with this evil threat – what is the Christian response?
During apartheid in South Africa the authorities had tried many times to demolish a certain small shanty town. One morning when most of the men had left, the army arrived with bulldozers and an ultimatum. They told the inhabitants, mainly middle aged women, they had 5 minutes to leave before the town was flattened. The women however sensing that the army were mainly youths did something unexpected. They formed a line before the bulldozers, removed their clothes and refused to move. The fledgling army boys fled in terror!
After the First World War in the southern United States the Klu Klux Klan re-emerged with their burning crosses and pillow cases. In a climate of fear and suspicion it was easy for them to terrorise lynch and burn former black slaves, and their members even included high-ranking city officials. In the end the KKK was defeated but not by weapons, or even arguments. They were defeated by ridicule. Their organisation was infiltrated and over several years their structures and plans, their secret signs and code-words were documented. Simultaneously a radio journalist began broadcasting the KKKs activities to millions of Americans adults. Even the producers of Superman got involved depicting the KKK as a new enemy, and broadcasting KKK code-words to millions of children. Most Americans found this hilarious. The KKK’s attendance fell at roughly the rate that they became a national joke.
What do stories like this have in common?
We could have spoken of Gordon Wilson and his absolute insistence on not hating but praying for the IRA after they blew up his daughter in Northern Ireland. There are others too. They are all examples of ordinary people demonstrating militant nonviolence. Society tells us there are two responses to violence, Fight or Flight, but there is a third way. Jesus introduced it in his often misunderstood dialogue on turning the other cheek, giving your assailant your coat as well as your shirt, and walking two miles when a Roman soldier ordered you to walk one.
These examples are not Jesus saying “be a doormat, let people abuse you”. Theologian Walter Wink* explains each example in turn. Let’s just take the easiest one: A Roman soldier asks a native citizen to carry his pack 1 mile. The Romans were harsh but by and large fair. In any occupied territory a Roman soldier could instruct a civilian to carry his 60-80 lb pack for one mile (and there would be mile markers on the road). But it was a significant misdemeanour to make a citizen carry it further. A Roman solider could get into disciplinary bother (as well as being made to look slightly ridiculous) if his superior officer discovered he had “compelled” a civilian to carry his pack more than a mile.
So Jesus says “insist on carrying it 2 miles – make trouble!” This is militant nonviolence and the people of his day understood these examples. He taught that our response to evil in this world does NOT have to be fight OR flight, there is a third way. Militant nonviolence:
- is subversive, yet it takes the moral high ground;
- forces one’s opponent into a situation for which they are unprepared;
- finds the creative alternative to violence – often using ridicule or humour.
Yes but we want to bomb Syria don’t we?
After an incident such as Paris– yes we do. I do. A part of me wants to see “somebody pay”. If somebody somewhere gets bombed we will feel better right? But this is an emotive response. We must be clear that bombing Syria (…and the French, Russians and Americans have already bombed it) doesn’t solve the problem and plays into the very plans of ISIS. We will inevitably kill innocent Muslims and we will become increasingly suspicious of Muslim refugees and communities in our midst. It then becomes easy (and even truthful) for ISIS to portray coalition bombing as a holy war against all Muslims. And it doesn’t even hurt ISIS – we akready know they are happy to die for their cause and there are more to take their place.
This is a war of intelligence. ISIS play it well. Vive la propagande!
What could militant nonviolence look like with ISIS?
Firstly, yes we should pursue individuals suspected of terrorist acts where we can. But after that this is a sophisticated war of minds, and minds are changed by making then deeply uncomfortable. Some suggestions:
- Match and surpass their propaganda war – ISIS videos are well made, widely available and compelling – we need to portray the reality of ISIS.
- Websites, messaging apps and social media are the heart of ISIS. Damage can be inflicted here. My former company had a product to stress-test websites – it sometimes involved knocking them out – “denial of service”. If Talk Talk and Ashley Madison can be hacked …?
- It is said that ISIS have revenues of $2million per day from oil – can’t we disrupt that?
- Positively welcome refugees – most are Muslims, their desire to live in the west is embarrassing to ISIS. Encourage Muslim neighbours and colleagues to socialise with non Muslims – the opposite to segregation – all demonstrations of unity such as that shown at Wembley undermine ISIS.
- And let’s stop calling them Islamic State which offends most Muslims) and call them something more appropriate.
We started with an imaginary letter from ISIS. But there is a real letter. An appallingly beautiful letter, and a compelling example of militant nonviolence. It’s from victim Antoine Leiris’ I will not give you the gift of hating you.
In a world that sees limited possibilities, Christians are called to think differently
This blog draws from the work of *theologian Walter Wink, his article and book.
Read the Bible passage on Bible Gateway.
The power of propaganda: my blog on how propaganda was used in pre-war Germany to indoctrinate a nation.
Chris Goswami is Director of Marketing for a Silicon Valley based company and a Minister In Training in the UK Baptist Church. His personal site is www.7minutes.net.