by Rebecca Brown
My generation (I’m a Millennial) used to ask, “What would we have done during Nazi domination?” In some ways, the question is no longer theoretical. The so-called Islamic State has come to represent a new threat to global security.
ISIS has captured the attention of us all. From domestic fears of rogue terrorism to toppling Middle Eastern stability, their violent momentum is real… People are afraid. I get it. We want to do something. I get it. So let’s do something today that will work.
I was at a Thanksgiving meal with young Muslims and Christians. We were sharing what we were thankful for and one person said, “I’m just thankful my baby has a warm place to sleep. Syrian refugees don’t have any security.” Another piped in, “Yes, ISIS is so horrifying…” After a few minutes of agreement, the newly immigrated Turkish woman said thoughtfully, “But is thankfulness enough? We should DO something with the blessings we have.”
Our conversation twisted and turned that night through our responsibility as global citizens, and I tried so hard to think of Jesus. What would be his response?
Worldwide, over 20,000 people have been recruited by the smooth rhetoric of ISIS and their self-declared holy war. Despite international attempts to end this terrible trend, men and women still risk their lives to join. Regardless of any success through military intervention, if violent extremists attract new followers, their threat remains.
So the question is, “What can we, simple civilian followers of Jesus, do in response?” The complexities of ISIS’s recruiting is beyond me, but I understand one story they tell: that Westerners (and Christians, in particular) are at war with Muslims.
Unfortunately, these groups have plenty of examples from recent events to help tell this story. According to the FBI, Muslims in America receive the brunt of a disproportionate amount of religion-motivated hate crimes. This violence toward Muslims has only swelled since recent ISIS attacks in Western cities. There is also a dominant stream of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S. today proposing extreme, fear-based discrimination against Muslims.
To a lot of people, hate toward all Muslims is an appropriate response to the violence perpetrated in the name of Islam. Unfortunately, this fearful hate is telling the story ISIS wants told. And—even more terrifying—this is how the ultimate Enemy of our souls wants us to behave.
But there is a way to slow down ISIS!
One U.S. Institute of Peace analyst suggests that the most effective weapon against ISIS’s recruiting is to equip those around the globe who are directly being recruited or affected by ISIS. Many newly-immigrated Muslims from the Middle East stay connected to their friends and family back home. Douglas Johnston at the International Center of Religion and Diplomacy says that “American Muslims… could become this country’s most effective ambassadors to the Muslim world.”
Thousands of voices from the global Muslim community continue to condemn extreme violent expressions of Islam (see examples of high-profile responses here, here, and here), and the vast majority of Muslims around the world have and want nothing to do with groups like ISIS, but ISIS recruiters are persistent and their lies are clever.
That’s where you (and Jesus!) come in.
We must help those who are vulnerable to recruitment EXPERIENCE a story that contradicts the story ISIS is telling.
Let’s include our Muslim neighbors, not exclude them. Let’s love, not fear. With our very lives, let’s create an overwhelming narrative of inclusion and support of Muslims in America—especially for those isolated, radicalized, and most ready for recruitment. As followers of Jesus, let’s be extremely kind instead of suspicious.
That way, when Muslims in America have a chance to talk with their family and friends in extremist-controlled territories, or when American Muslims are confronted with direct recruitment, they will have a lived experience of kindness that can override any story of an anti-Muslim West.
Acts of kindness can be as simple as friendliness in the supermarket, learning to say the worldwide Muslim greeting, “Assalamu alaykum” (hear it here), or eating at a Muslim-owned restaurant for a peace feast. More committed demonstrations of support can include visiting a mosque, committing to an interfaith group experience, or asking a Muslim co-worker to share his or her stories of being a Muslim in America.
Let’s be kind. Let’s tell a different story, one where all Muslims, especially the most vulnerable, feel loved and valued. What simple kindness can you do to love your Muslim neighbor?
Rebecca is Director of Development and Program Coordinator for Peace Catalyst International.