Helen of Marlowe's Blog

Richard Groves: A question about terrorism

Posted in "North Carolina" by helenofmarlowe on December 22, 2015

Richard Groves is a local (Winston-Salem) former pastor with whom I have only a casual acquaintance.   I think his observations here regarding our understanding of terrorism are astute and worth sharing.  This was published in The Winston-Salem Journal on December 18.

Donald Trump, along with the entire right wing of the Republican Party, has been hammering President Obama for refusing to use the words “Muslim (or Islamic) extremists (or terrorists),” sometimes arguing that you can’t fight something until you can call it by its correct name, which makes no sense, but this is campaign season, lest we forget.

I have a different question: Why isn’t anybody willing to use the words “Christian terrorists”? Have you ever seen those words in print or heard them in a network’s “breaking news”?

The chapter on terrorism in the U.S. Code defines terrorist acts as “violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that … appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping …”

Terrorism is about intimidating or coercing a population or a government through the use of violence.

Make no mistake about it, terrorism works. Take it from an expert, the online al-Qaida magazine Inspire. In issue 9 (2012) writers gloated, “This is the life of Americans, transformed into fear of either an internal or external attack,” and “The terror felt amongst the people when an assassin strikes in the enemy’s land is of much greater proportion than him striking the enemy on the battlefield.”

The fear that is rampant across America, fear that leads many to advocate banning all Muslims from entering our country, is testimony that terror works.

But what should we call terrorists?

Two scenarios.

Scenario one: A man and his wife walk into a meeting room in San Bernardino, Calif., and open fire on unsuspecting holiday partiers, killing 14 and wounding 21. The community, indeed the entire nation, is terrorized. In seeming contradiction, there is urgent talk about tougher gun laws even as gun sales soar. The couple appears to have been inspired by an interpretation (or misinterpretation) of Islam. They are quickly branded Islamic terrorists.

Scenario two: A man walks into an abortion clinic armed with an assault rifle and opens fire on staff and patients alike, killing several and wounding many more. The community is terrorized. Potential patients stay away from the clinic and others like it. The assailant was inspired by an interpretation (or misinterpretation) of Christianity. He is quickly branded — a domestic terrorist.

Why isn’t he labeled a Christian terrorist?

The answer, of course, is that to do so would invite a firestorm of objections from Christians, claiming that the perpetrators of violence in the name of Jesus do not represent authentic Christianity.  [Jesus] was, after all, the Prince of Peace. Theirs is a perverted form of the faith. To attach “Christian” to their terrorist acts would be to associate all Christians everywhere with obscene acts of violence.

But that is the same argument that mainstream Muslims use when they condemn the bloody acts of jihadists.

According to the World Post (a partner of the Huffington Post), almost 70,000 Muslim clerics recently met in India and passed “a fatwa against global terrorist organizations, including the Taliban, al Qaeda and the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State.” One of the clerics said that he and others who voted to pass the fatwa wanted to say to the world that they don’t consider groups like the Islamic State to be true Islamic organizations — nor do they view members of these organizations as Muslims.

Why does the argument carry weight when it is used in defense of one religion, Christianity, and not when it is used in defense of another, Islam?

Logic and consistency of thought would seem to require that if we are going to speak of Islamic terrorists we should also speak of Christian terrorists when the situation requires us to do so. Or we should fall back on the religiously neutral and much less volatile domestic terrorists and international terrorists, which is the distinction made in the U.S. Code.

But logic and consistency of thought are early victims of rampant, debilitating fear. And this is campaign season, lest we forget.

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