Thursday, February 19, 2015
A convert, a conversion story
"Is Obama right in not linking ISIS with Islam?" Chris Matthews asked Graeme Wood last night on Hardball.
Wood answered the way I thought he would. "Yes and no."
Wood's fascinating but scary piece in the Atlantic lays out the agenda of a movement that has taken to the massacre of innocents but also sets up governments where there was none. ISIS offers its true faith to people who, like many of us, are confused by the impulses a modern world glorifies when our basic moral character will not. It's ready with answers to questions billions of people ask, questions that have no easy answers in a swiftly changing world.
Hard as it is to admit, 9/11 was a work of art, a deliberate, evil, murderous, barbaric work of art. It disassembled our own Tower of Babel, a symbol of economic power and the lifestyle consumerism both creates and promotes, destroyed it magnificently. Muhammed Atta and his murderers didn't take out Hollywood or the Super Bowl, but they might have. They took out the World Trade Center because they wanted the world to know they wanted no part of that world or worldview. They were--and still are--a religious movement.
What Graeme Wood went on to explain was that he believed President Obama was also right to refuse-- passionately, even religiously--to link ISIS and Islam.
Last fall in Niger, I witnessed Tabasci, the holiday celebrating Abraham's discovery of the sheep in the thicket when he was ready to sacrifice his son, in a city where there were likely not more than 100 Christians total. I walked down festive streets crowded with holiday merry-makers, family parties everywhere, something part Thanksgiving, part Fourth of July. The holiday was religious, but there wasn't a trace of ISIS or a trace of hate.
ISIS is not Islam, but it derives its character from Islamic history. Obama is right in keeping space between the Muslims in our neighborhoods and Islamic terrorism, Wood said. But he's wrong if he thinks they aren't related. That's a distinction Bill O'Reilly and his disciples are not given to make.
Evangelical Christians can understand ISIS disciples because we share a story line, and it goes like this: "Once I was blind, but now I can see--the light of the world is _____________." You fill in the savior.
What was it exactly that pitched an entire nation of educated and cultured people into the bloody hands of madman named Hitler? How could a people so debase themselves into murdering millions of its own as if it mass executions paved the blessed way to national redemption?
Historians can give multiple reasons, and have. But something in that remarkable change remains a mystery that's understandable only by faith and belief. Faith is as dangerous as it is enlightening.
If anyone can understand the attraction of ISIS, any of us in the west, it may be its Christian believers, because ISIS doubtlessly believes. What it believes is evil: those who do not believe must die. But the roots of its terror, finally, is faith.
This morning's New York Times offers a nine-minute video that tells the story of a young Egyptian who became an ISIS militant. Watch the film or read the article and prepare to be chilled because a young man named Islam Yaken has an unforgettably powerful testimony. Once he was a prodigal, but he's found his way home. Today, he's dead.
That story's particulars are hideous, but its pattern is as old as a peculiar, miraculous blinding that once long ago happened on a dusty Damascas road.
If you've got nine minutes, watch the film or read the story. You'll find it here.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 7:02 AM