Monday, April 20, 2015

Say my name

You have been told over and over again – and by some awfully important and powerful folks – that the gruesome outrages committed more or less daily by ISIS and Boko Haram and Al Shabaab – and, most recently, some random Muslim refugees in a boat – are “not about Islam.” Some fairly well-informed and studious people seem to disagree with that. But, I get it. We live in an age where it’s much more comfortable to discuss workplace violence instead of terrorism – even when we’re talking about the same event. (Indeed, some folks, like Ben Affleck, are so disinclined to engage uncomfortable facts that their passionate denial about the roots of the terrorism is exceeded only by their desperation to deny their own personal roots.)

So let’s spare ourselves the whole mess about what is Islam and what isn't. Let’s not talk about whether ISIS, or Boko Haram, or Al Shabaab, or Hezbollah, or Al Qaeda – or some random Muslim refugees in a boat – were motivated by Islam to act as they did. Let’s put the perpetrators’ motives aside and focus merely upon the identity of the victims.

Those random Muslim refugees in the Mediterranean tossed overboard and drowned those who, as terrified as they were, called out to God and prayed with their hands folded. Al Shabaab, at the Westgate Mall and at Garissa University College, employed the simple expediency of asking potential victims if they were Christian or not. Boko Haram saves itself the trouble of even asking by simply attacking Christians at worship. ISIS on the Libyan beach expressly warned that beheading was the fate all Christians will face if they do not convert.

So if we cannot say these scores and scores of brutal, terror-filled, agonizing deaths have got to do with Islam, can we acknowledge  – for pity’s sake can we at least say out loud – that they incontrovertibly have got to do with Christianity?*

And more than say it in this space, can we hear it from the one fellow from whom we most need to hear it? Here is the Administration statement from last night, issued by Bernadette Meehan, the spokesperson for the National Security Council.

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the brutal mass murder purportedly of Ethiopian Christians by ISIL-affiliated terrorists in Libya.  We express our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Ethiopian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens.  That these terrorists killed these men solely because of their faith lays bare the terrorists’ vicious, senseless brutality.  This atrocity once again underscores the urgent need for a political resolution to the conflict in Libya to empower a unified Libyan rejection of terrorist groups.
Even as terrorists attempt through their unconscionable acts to sow discord among religious communities, we recall that people of various faiths have coexisted as neighbors for centuries in the Middle East and Africa.  With the force of this shared history behind them, people across all faiths will remain united in the face of the terrorists’ barbarity.  The United States stands with them.  While these dehumanizing acts of terror aim to test the world's resolve – as groups throughout history have – none have the power to vanquish the powerful core of moral decency which binds humanity and which will ultimately prove the terrorists' undoing.
That’s not nothing, I suppose.** As best I can tell, by acknowledging even barely that the victims were Christian, and were victims because they were Christian, it's a first of sorts. But it is not enough by miles.

Because I have to wonder. The President, in an act of staggering sophistry, used the occasion of the recent National Prayer Breakfast to state: “Lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”*** Now, as the death toll of Christians killed for being Christians mounts around the world, can't he simply say their name?****

* Yes. I know. ISIS and its ilk kill many, many Muslims as well. The killers in those cases would tell you in no uncertain terms that those killings are all about Islam, that as takfiri, they are condemning and justly punishing apostate traitors to Islam. But just for now, just for this space, since so few folks seem to want to, we’re going to talk about Christians.

** I’m sure Bernadette Meehan is a fine and important person.

*** Let’s be clear: He hardly needed to reach back 900 years for some awful behavior by Christians. On the most fundamental level possible, Christianity is about people so sinful, vile and evil that they all are damned to hell – except for the Grace of Jesus. And even those who claim Him and have received that Grace are, necessarily, sinners in the present tense.

That sin is not theoretical. It’s entirely too real, and all too often it’s even associated with the faith itself. That Midwestern gang of homophobic thugs who like to picket soldiers’ funerals and have the words “Baptist” and “church” right there in their name. Pedophile clerics are likely to go after the convenient lambs in their own flocks. No Christian deserves praise or even deference merely for being a Christian. Any Christian who would expect that hasn't really paid attention to his own theology.

**** It is rare -- in fact, I think unprecedented -- for this blog directly to criticize the President, I find the greatest danger is that some reader might imagine I support those who oppose him.

Remember, please Robert's Rule of Binary American Politics: Team R versus Team D is really just an intra-squad scrimmage by players from the same team, staged to distract the cheering fans from noticing that the stadium is on fire and their cars are being stolen from the parking lot.

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