Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns and appears the second week of each month.
by Tom Beutel
If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18 (NRSV)
Two men appear side-by-side: one is dressed in orange and kneeling; the other, standing, is dressed in black, face covered with a ski mask, clasping a large knife. The first man condemns the US for its actions in Iraq and expresses the wish that he could see his family once again. The second man also condemns the US for daily attacks that kill Muslim people. Then he takes his knife and kills the first man.
The first man is American journalist James Foley, killed in August 2014. The second man is a member of ISIS, or IS (Islamic State).
There have been others, specific individuals beheaded, and nameless groups slaughtered. And that is not all – families, women, children, elderly, and poor have been and are being killed daily by ISIS, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and other terrorist groups and militias.
A primary strategy to countering these groups has been to seek a “coalition of the willing” to provide military and other support to defeat them. Used first by George W. Bush the term “coalition of the willing” described those who supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It has subsequently been used to describe military interventions that fall outside of United Nations peacekeeping operations. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coalition_of_the_willing)
But, it seems that as we ramp up efforts to defeat terrorism – ISIS in particular – things simply get worse: kidnappings, killing of civilians, ransom demands, and be-headings continue and become more frequent. All the while, ISIS attracts increasing numbers of fighters, spends lavishly on military and media campaigns, and occupies large areas and key cities in Iraq and Syria.
At this juncture there seem to be few alternatives. Nevertheless, it is never too late to make a start at finding ways to oppose groups like ISIS by other means, what political scientists call “soft power.” Soft power is a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com). As opposed to “hard power” which seeks to crush or destroy, soft power seeks to rob terrorism or other forms of violence of what it needs to persist.
The ways in which we put out fires provide a good analogy. Spraying with water or with chemicals is intended to smother the fire – to rob it of the oxygen it needs to keep burning. Scattering the fire, and removing nearby combustibles, robs the fire of another thing it needs to keep burning – fuel. The common idea is to create an environment in which the fire cannot flourish; alternatively, to change the environment from one which is favorable to the fire to one which is not.
Perhaps we could likewise create an environment that is not favorable to ISIS and other terrorist groups by forming a “coalition of the unwilling;” those who are unwilling to
- remain ignorant about what is happening
- see all Muslims as terrorists
- inflame emotions and harden positions by careless or hurtful actions or words
- support ISIS through unjust economic systems and self-centered life-style choices
- leave people without hope of a moderately prosperous and meaningful life
- do nothing, leaving things as they are
Joining a “coalition of the unwilling” does not mean that we will simply not “rock the boat,” but rather that, as Jesus taught, we will be peace-makers, taking intentional actions to promote well-being. While there will be some for whom any peacemaking efforts on our part will not be sufficient (“so far as it depends on you”), there will be others who will respond.
So, with a problem as big and as serious as terrorism what can we do? Even to begin to “unpack” the list of things we might be unwilling to do is a big job. Some things, like how we inflame emotions and harden positions by careless or hurtful actions or words, or how we support ISIS through unjust economic systems and self-centered life-style choices, are complex. But there are a few, relatively easy ways we could get started, both individually and collectively.
First, we can learn more about those who are part of ISIS – who they are, what they want, how people are attracted to them, how they acquire resources. Here are several links to get you started:
- How ISIS Came to Be http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/22/syria-iraq-incubators-isis-jihad
- ‘Deviant and Pathological’: What Do ISIS Extremists Really Want? http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-terror/deviant-pathological-what-do-isis-extremists-really-want-n194136
- The Ultimate Fatal Attraction: 5 Reasons People Join ISIS http://nationalinterest.org/feature/the-ultimate-fatal-attraction-5-reasons-people-join-isis-11625
- Islamic State: Where does jihadist group get its support? http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29004253
Second, we can provide aid for those affected by ISIS. This will not only provide needed help, but will contribute to an environment that is not conducive to ISIS. It removes fuel from the fire. Here are several links giving ways you can help.
- Mennonite Central Committee: Syria and Iraq Crisis Response Includes information, opportunities for advocacy, and resources http://mcc.org/learn/more/syria-iraq-crisis-response
- Mercy Corps: Safe Shelter from Cold Includes information, opportunity to donate, start a campaign, and stay informed https://www.mercycorps.org/articles/jordan-syria/safe-shelter-cold
- World Vision: FAQs: War in Syria, children, and the refugee crisis Scroll down for call to prayer, donation, and speaking out. http://www.worldvision.org/news-stories-videos/faqs-war-syria-children-and-refugee-crisis
Finally, as some of the above sites call for, we can pray, not only for those who are suffering from the violence of ISIS, but for ISIS itself.
Jesus calls us to pray for our enemies and reminds us that God “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45, NRSV). We should not take this lightly. Either we believe that prayer works or we don’t! If we do, then imagine what the effect might be if literally millions of Christians were to pray for the redemption and well-being of those caught up in ISIS. This is something each of us can do to “live peaceably with all.”