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ISIS, mirrors and freedom

What might a non-violent response to ISIS look like? By Joe Haward

The news of the beheading of David Haines has, for obvious reasons, been the focal point of conversation and news stories. As with so many others my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of David Haines, James Foley and Steven Sotloff.

If you're like me, what shocks me the most is the sheer brutality of the act.  Now I have not watched any of the videos that have been released and have no intention of doing so, but that does not stop me from recoiling inside at hearing of the brutality of the act. 

Hand of Peace/RGB Stock

How is it that one human being can literally cut off the head of another human being? 

As I have reflected on the nature of this violence I reflected on my own ability to act violently.

I am not a violent person, yet I wonder if there were certain circumstances and situations where I could spiral into a place where I no longer viewed the person in front of me as a human and lose all sense of compassion, empathy and common humanity and so inflict upon them brutality like we are witnessing in Syria?  If I was stripped of my identity, if those whom I loved were ripped from me, if I was deprived of sleep, food and peace could I commit these acts?

I have heard many times from many different people that if someone harmed their children they would do whatever it takes to exact vengeance upon the perpetrators. People speak very candidly about their ability for violence when the scenario of violence against their children is suggested. 

Perhaps there is something within all of us that is able to act in ways of extreme brutality to another human?

It is this truthful reflection that has further cemented my belief in non-violence and that non-violence is really the only true way to follow Jesus faithfully. If we are going to take Jesus seriously and to be faithful disciples then non-violence is not an optional extra, rather it is the brave pursuit of the narrow and treacherous road to peace.

You see, if we don't commit ourselves to this Jesus Way of non-violence then each of us is wholly capable of acts of violent brutality like that we are witnessing in Syria.  If we do not cry out with Jesus against violence and say 'It is finished!' then the violence will continue as vengeance is sought seventy-sevenfold.  There has to be those who say 'Enough! No more violence, it ends here with me'.

Perhaps there is something within all of us that is able to act in ways of extreme brutality to another human?

Undoubtedly we are asking the question of how to deal with ISIS; what should we do in the face of such evil? However, there are questions that need to be asked before this question like, 'Why do ISIS even exist?', 'Where are they getting their resources from?' and 'Who are they?'

We can go and bomb them of course, but bombing them does not destroy their ideology, rather it simply reinforces it, nurtures it, develops it and acts as a fertiliser to grow it. You think that bombing them will destroy them? Of course it won't because they exist beyond the parameters of Syria and the Middle East and so through the acts of violence from all sides the perpetual cycle of hatred continues.

I've said many times before that we need to imagine another way to violence. Jesus is the One of creative acts who reveals the reality of our situation and yet does not provide a mirror reaction in response, but rather shatters the mirror behaviour and leads us into another mode of being.  We must not, as Walter Wink says, become what we hate, or, as the Bible puts it, become that which we worship if our worship is of violence or anything other than God.   

If we use violence in response to ISIS we will eventually embody the very ideology behind ISIS and so mirror them in their brutality. If we are brutally honest though, much of the West's foreign policies and actions have been incredibly brutal and savage with little regard for life. It is far easier to say 'collateral damage' than it is to say 'we've murdered and maimed children'.  Once we've dehumanised entire populations of people then we can bomb and blast them with a clear conscious.

The ideology behind all acts of terror demands dehumanisation and the lie of superiority and unequal worth. The irony with all of this is that everyone is working from the same ideological system. So the members of ISIS are working towards a goal of self-realisation and fulfilment believing that through their brutality they will be able to impose upon the world a way of life that should be adhered to and followed without question.

Yet this is exactly the same as capitalistic consumerist propaganda that seeks to manipulate you into a mode of thinking that demands your allegiance in order to survive and thrive; buy this, become this and you will truly BECOME. It's all rubbish though, and we know it is, yet we still live like it might one day become true. So we cannot fight ISIS and acts of terror with the continuation of violence and rhetoric of freedom because it is all faulty, it is all leading us to becoming a people of hate and misplaced rivalistic desire.

Active non-violence is altogether different because it seeks to reveal the terror behind every violent act, reclaim the humanity of every person and imagine and practise forgiveness, reconciliation and prayer. This is not a limp and idealistic way of life, rather it seeks to be truly human in a world of dehumanisation.  

Remember that Jesus lived in a Roman occupied land where people were being violently killed on a regular basis. Zealots existed in the communities that Jesus preached in and he was well aware of the violence, tension and oppression people were under. Yet his life and message was of active non-violent resistance. The early Church followed the Way of their King and in doing so changed the world whilst being violently oppressed. The Church thrived despite the persecution because this non-violent way is able to imagine and practise a new reality that enables humanity to be human.

Active non-violence is not a limp and idealistic way of life, rather it seeks to be truly human in a world of dehumanisation

These men in ISIS committing these inexcusable crimes against other human beings need to be stopped, but they will not be stopped through bombs because their ideology will live on. They have been created by a system of violence and false promises, so it is this system that needs dismantling. Jesus is the Ultimate Victim who exposes the system for what it really is, who shows us that we perpetually sacrifice victims to restore our violent greed and misplaced desires. Because he has exposed it the Holy Spirit is waking us up to a Kingdom way of life, but it is a hard and dangerous road.

'When we resist evil with evil, when we mirror it, when we lash out at it in kind, we simply guarantee its perpetuation.  The way of nonviolence, the way Jesus chose, is the only way that is able to overcome domination.  

'To those trapped in assumptions of domination, nonviolence must appear suicidal - a crucifixion.  But to those who have looked unflinchingly at the record of violence in the everyday world, nonviolence appears to be the only way left.  And not just for Christians; for the world.'
Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers, p 207

The Revd Joe Haward leads This Hope Baptist Church in Newton Abbot. 

Joe Haward, 22/09/2014
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