Sharon and I watched “Of Gods and Men” last night, the story of the monks of Tibehirine, Algeria who were martyred during the war in 1996. (I’d seen it before in a jet-lag haze on an airplane; it was Sharon’s first time to see it–the movie is in French.) It is a moving story of life and death, of love, struggle, faith, and courage. Their witness is a faithful alternative response to Islamic extremism rather than the fear, Islamophobia, hate, and enemy-creation that is going on around us.
I wrote about Christian de Cherge on Read The Spirit and in “Interfaith Heroes.” De Cherge’s final letter home, released after his death, is one of the most beautiful testaments I’ve ever read. The movie ends with selections from the letter, which concludes with a note to his killer: “And to you, too, my friend of the last moment, who will not know what you are doing. Yes, for you, too, I wish this thank-you, this “A-Dieu,” whose image is in you also, that we may meet in heaven, like happy thieves, if it pleases God, our common Father. Amen! Insha Allah!” If you want a fuller read about the story, I recommend John W. Kiser’s The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria.
On our recent 2 months in the Middle East Sharon and I were in a constant context of the violence of the Islamic State. We had to change travel plans in Lebanon one day because of an ISIS incursion that left 8 Lebanese soldiers dead. We had students from Syria and Iraq whose homes had been destroyed in the wars. The Jordanian pilot’s death by burning stirred up so many in the region. Then the 21 Egyptian Christians were beheaded in Libya by IS just as we flew into Egypt. We preached at a church where some of the members were from the community of those folks and had just returned from comforting the families.
What should we do? More violence? That seems to be the only answer that the U.S. knows. Our invasion of Iraq led directly to the on-going chaos of the region. Our supposedly surgical drone strikes kill so many civilians that they have contributed to growing hostility in Pakistan and destabilization of Yemen. Peacemakers need to be like good football (a.k.a. soccer) players–you don’t go to where the ball is but where it will be. We need to not be reactive, especially with the near-sighted and narrow-minded 24-hour news cycle that fills so much of our media. Instead we need to do the long-range hard work of building the things that make for peace: Working for gender justice and the empowerment of women, building inter-religious connections and understanding, teaching nonviolence and conflict transformation especially with religious roots, supporting grass-roots reconciliation initiatives (and they are there!), and praying for one another and our enemies.