“Yes, the sweat just pours out of me” was the reply from a friend when I asked her if she sweated much on the steepest incline on the treadmill. “Me too, it’s very therapeutic, releasing all that sweat and toxins.” We laughed and continued to enjoy our multiple flavors of smooth ice cream at a Granite Bay Women’s Sandals and Sundae’s honoring volunteer’s celebration. I felt guilty celebrating. How could I enjoy a normal evening after the Manchester suicide bombing, and the London Bridge terrorist attack, not to mention all the other terror atrocities going on around the world ? Should I feel ashamed that I’m cheerful?
But celebrating life must go on. It’s the only way to defeat hatred and evil. As a survivor of IRA bombing campaigns, I know acts of terror like these are supposed to stoke fear, numb us, or silence us into submission. The 24/7 relentless news cycle can make us feel like we are under constant threat and attack. Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Marin County, just north of San Francisco and author of the “The Stress Proof Brain” says, “When we are constantly exposed to fear provoking media content, we become desensitized over time and experience a diminished reaction.”
Please let me just get this out of the way. None of these terrorist attacks are normal. Manchester is not normal. London bridge is not normal. The last attack in Iraq is not normal. No-one should normalize them. I think we are failing to be outraged by the outrageous. I think Christian leaders could speak up more and get a lot more hot and sweaty under their liturgical collars. I have to agree with Victor Marx when he shared recently on his Facebook page, “ It sure seems very few ministry leaders are willing to speak out in love and truth regarding the continued terrorist attacks around our world. I am going to speak up”.
A few years back I co-led an outreach to a mosque in Colorado Springs, the Mecca of Christian ministry, in partnership with Mountain Springs Church. My friend Shiekh Dr Muhammad Al Hussaini co-led it with me. It was an excellent exercise in promoting understanding of faith traditions and engaging in strategic dialogue between Christians and Muslims. After the heartbreaking images from Manchester, Muhammad who is Senior Fellow in Islamic Studies at Westminster Institute wrote in a Belfast newspaper, “the routine blandness of statements issued by certain self-appointed Muslim and interfaith leaders following this terrorist attack upon young innocents holds the very key to the problem. In absolute denial that this has ‘anything to do with Islam’ the Muslim Council of Britain and its partner organizations comment, ‘This is horrific, this is criminal’ and ‘This is and will always be a mindless and unjustifiable act,’ and, ‘The perpetrator of this vile action and their perverted ideology is an aberration of all humanity and all religions. “
Muhammad is saying that the denouncing of the ideology, a theology of violence is no more than a convenient untruth. The reality is the suicide bomber, faithfully and mindfully gave up his own life for a cause in which he piously believed, his actions justified and grounded in one particular shocking but nevertheless extant and valid interpretation of religious scriptures, which reading is shared by a rather large number of his co-religionists.
Does our national counter-extremism strategy take this into account ?
I’m also aware that a lifetime spent in grinding poverty as unwanted minorities in racist societies makes it easier for radicals to recruit. Or if you’ve grown up black and/or Muslim in a Paris suburb, or in a British industrial city, chances are that your life may be miserable and hopeless. You may feel like you have nothing in a world of plenty and no prospects for the future. A lot of bombers and knife-welding terrorists are young and they’re the most susceptible to radicalization. I know from personal experience that when opportunities are limited and economic deprivation is rampant, there’s often a personal choice to be made between choosing a highway of peace OR a highway of violence. Choose life and peace, not death and destruction.
Last week the archbishop of Canterbury went where other religious leaders fear to tread, and politicans hardly ever go. He too cut straight across the liturgical denials of those who preach that terrorists who blow themselves up crying ‘Allahu Akbar!’ are ‘not muslims’ and those who believe that slicing people’s throats on London Bridge shouting ‘This is for Allah!’ is ‘nothing to do with Islam’.
So in light of this revelation and the loss of such young life, I feel frustrated and angry. Are Muslim leaders hiding behind denial and lies publicly but in their mosques, teaching a theology of terrorism? If that is the case surely it is not enough for representative Islamic groups to issue pious condolences and ritual platitudes of outrage and condemnation in the wake of every proclaimed Islamist martyrdom. That would be fake and hollow. The archbishop of Canterbury suggests, and I wholeheartedly agree with him when he says, “The next post-atrocity statement from the Muslim Council of Britain (which appears to be the self-appointed body representing British Muslims) must correct and rebuke the Islamists with quranic injunction and hadithic exposition.”
The Imam is in the best position to educate, reform, correct and rebuke youth away from radical or extremist viewpoints.