After yet another incident of violence and horror in Nice, France, the analysis of causes and strategies to end the terror have restarted again like some kind of zombie that just will not die. Was the perpetrator radicalized by ISIS or an angry young man or just mentally unstable? Were the French police, government or security services prepared enough? How can the world stop the carnage? Rinse and repeat for the next atrocity coming to a country near you.
In just a few short years I have seen and heard of far too many acts of terrorism. It seems that after the initial horror, focus quickly turns to the objects of terror – guns, knives, bombs, airplanes, cars and now delivery trucks. If we can just stop the perpetrators from getting access to the objects of terror then we can minimize the impact of their actions. While limiting access to mass killing objects like automatic weapons can certainly help, this line of logic does not stand the test of practicality. The sheer enormity of the number of potential objects of terror that actually exist or the complexity of limiting access to them is overwhelming. Of course this doesn’t stop various levels of government or security to take steps to control access since after all we must do something, shouldn’t we? Somehow this makes us feel more secure…until the next new terrorist innovator finds another suitable object.
Once the realization sets in that the physical object is not the problem, we very quickly move to objectify the perpetrator. Homophobe, misogynist, hater, racist and my personal favorite – insurgent. If we can just label the perpetrator and then demonize others with a similar label then we can stop them. Problem is, until a perpetrator acts out their lust for violence and killing the innocent, how do you identify them? How many times have we heard that so and so was “nice” or “quiet living” or “well dressed” or “seemed a little quiet but not violent”? It seems there are no easy answers.
As they often do, the words of Jesus cut right to the heart of the matter (pun intended):
“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45
If I may add another sentence that extends the thought:
“For the hands do what the heart is full of.”
We are on the wrong track by trying to solve the problem by dealing with whatever object evil hands use to commit heinous acts or labeling the hands themselves. The real objects of terror are human hearts and that is where the focus must be.
The question that should be asked is – How does a human heart become an object of terror? Jesus’ words give us a clue with the word picture “stored up” and “full of”. Storing up anything is something that is done over a period of time. Storing up to the point of being full implies a long period of time. It takes time to create a heart full of good and conversely it also takes time to create a heart full of evil. Changing from one to the other will involve emptying the heart of one while filling it with the other. This is the true meaning of repentance. Changing your mind/heart such that something different comes forth from it. This something different is the fruit of repentance. By the way, much, much different than “I’m sorry”.
This emptying and refilling process is hard work and requires a commitment to brutal honesty and truthfulness. It will be necessary to consciously ignore the tendency to label, objectify or create no-go areas of discussion based on the politically correct concepts of the day that attach themselves to our modern consciousness – 180 characters at a time. So how about we get started with the emptying and refilling process?
- There are no special, privileged or favoured human beings. Male, female, black, white, yellow, red, hetero, homo, lesbian, queer, trans, young, old, Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist (sorry, the list is long and I definitely missed some). None are favoured, special or of more value than the other. Yes, all lives do matter but some lives need more attention until they are fully included in “all”.
- Violence that does harm or takes the life of another human being is wrong, unacceptable and evil and any person, group or religion that advocates it must be called out specifically without hesitation. Yes that means we must be unafraid of saying the words radical Islam or racist Christianity.
- Treatment of another human being as an object to be lusted after, enslaved, exploited or forced to obey will not be tolerated. Any system of thought or religion that propagates these ideas must be exposed and resisted. To be specific, your wife or daughter is not your possession.
- It is OK to expect to see the fruit of repentance through the evidence of a changed life and acts of restitution by the offender before trusting them again. This is not being unforgiving and in fact may save your life or that of your family.
There is a real risk at this point of being too generic and unspecific in approaching this challenge. Perhaps a few specific examples applied to recent events would be helpful.
- The horrific violence in Paris a few months back was described by some as “acts of terror against innocent civilians” or “an attack on civilized values of humanity”. These kind of vague statements do nothing to empty a heart full of evil and refill it with goodness. However, the following type of specific statement is much more helpful:
“Therefor I’m optimistic: now a humanistic Islam is getting shaken awake. Moderate Islam needs now to finally break cover and explain how to deal with the violence-glorifying parts of the Quran. The (psychological) repression that this has nothing to do with our belief doesn’t work anymore. We have to face this challenge.” – Mouhanad Khorchide
- Following the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Westboro Baptist group announced their intention to picket the funerals of those killed with signs stating such things like: “God sent the shooter” or “God hates fags”. A typical response to this group is to demonize them or call them “haters” or “hate group” which is really just a labeling exercise that does nothing to identify the evil that has been stored up in hearts that would participate in such a protest. A more effective approach that gets closer to the heart of the matter has been to counter their hateful signs with signs that express things like:
“God hates no one” or “No I didn’t” (as sign held up by someone dressed like Jesus)
- In Pakistan a young girl named Malala dared to stand up to the Taliban and insist that girls have a right to be educated as well as boys. She was shot on a school bus by the Taliban and fully recovered from her injuries. She has gone beyond just speaking against her attackers or labelling them as the terrorists and oppressors they are but has continued to educate herself, set up her own foundation committed to helping other girls receive an education as well as speaking with a loud voice:
“I speak not for myself but for those without voice… those who have fought for their rights… their right to live in peace, their right to be treated with dignity, their right to equality of opportunity, their right to be educated.” – Malala Yousafzai
These are but a few examples of the heart issues that must be confronted if we are to have any hope of eliminating or at least reducing the terror and atrocities in these times. Let’s deal with the real objects of terror by first specifically identifying the evil that has been stored up in them and then emptying them of it and replacing it with goodness, one clear thought at a time.
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