Image credit: Mike Wilson
Josh Grear reflects on how as Christians we should respond to the recent violence across the UK, and how we can be peacemakers when the enemy is unseen:
"Over the past few days I have been reflecting on what a genuine Christlike response is in the midst of violence on the streets of Manchester and London. I have asked myself questions of what the nature of Terrorism is, its difference to ‘mere’ criminality, but mostly I have asked myself, how do we, as Christians, respond.
I am moved by the scenes of unity in Manchester and London - the refusal to move toward the rhetoric of hatred and revenge. While I am inspired by our capacity to express unity and hope in situations of communal trauma, I am left with the same question, what does a radical Christlike response look like, or more to the point; what does loving our enemies look like in a situation where our enemy is ‘unseen’.
What do I mean by ‘unseen’. I mean two things, firstly and initially, I mean that these young men and women blend in. It is not clear cut, they formulate a tiny minority of our population. We are not able to discern their identity on their appearance, their religion, their cultural practices, where they come from, their ethnicity, the languages they speak, and so on. Secondly, I mean ‘unseen’ in a metaphoric sense. These young men and women are often disenfranchised, those who do not fit into their community, have a profound absence of belonging and thus identity - a feeling of being lost and left behind. There is a profound absence of recognition of their being.
I have read an interesting article by Oliver Roy, a leading French expert on terrorism, through which he expounds that the three recent attacks by young ‘Muslim’ men are not driven by Islam, but are in-fact driven by cultural dislocation from their parents culture and a paradoxical attempt to identify with and oppose western culture. Roy suggests that it is this absence of identity and belonging that creates the space for fundamentalist violence to take root. It is precisely the lack of cultural connection and understanding of Islam that percolates a desire to kill. The inability to connect deeply with their ‘mother’ culture deepens the absence of recognition and connection.
This insight can enable us to explore further the question of what it means to love our enemies in the context of the ‘unseen’ enemy. Firstly, I would like to start by saying clearly that building stronger relationships with our Muslim brothers and sisters is a fundamentally important step to take when we consider what it means to build God’s Kingdom, but it is not an appropriate attitude to take when considering what it means to love our enemies. To clarify; if we were to respond to Jesus’ radical call to love our enemies by building stronger relationships with Muslims, we are making an implicit step of locating the enemy within the Muslim community contrary to the claims of the community itself. (To be clear, this does not mean we shouldn’t be building stronger relationships with Muslims within our communities.)
This leaves a deeper question again, what does a radical Christlike response to loving our enemies look like when our enemy is ‘unseen’? If we accept Roy’s analysis that fundamentalist violence takes hold in the vacuum created by an absence of belonging, perhaps loving our ‘unseen’ enemy means that we need to become introspective. We should, in our communities, and in dialogue with other communities ask ourselves why it is that young men (and women) from various backgrounds, contexts, cultures, and religions are struggling to find any belonging in their communities, are struggling to identify with the cultures of our communities. My belief is that loving our ‘unseen’ enemy begins with opening ourselves to critique. To challenge ourselves as to whether we are the inclusive society we claim to be. To, as far as possible, see ourselves from the unseen enemy’s perspective.
To love our ‘unseen’ enemy is to pursue social justice, to be affected by the other, to allow the experiences of those who have dislocated identities and an absence of belonging to affect our sense of identity and our expression of culture.
To love our ‘unseen’ enemy is to allow ourselves to be seen from their experiences, is to begin to see our systemic complicity in their structural invisibility. It is to be unified, in love, filled with compassion, not only for the victims of these attacks but for the people so broken, so hurt, so ill that they have chosen death over life.
Terrorism is defined as an act or threat of violence to achieve a political goal. At its root the choice to commit violence to achieve a political goal is rooted in the power of the world that uses violence and domination. A power that ‘The West’ uses daily in its foreign policy: the drone program, clandestine operations that kill suspected terrorists without due process, exploitation of ‘developing nations’, colonial and imperial history, and so on. As Christians it is imperative that we challenge the power of death which is so wholeheartedly embraced by the state and the terrorist alike. We challenge the power of death with the relational power of life. It is God’s very substance that is the challenge to our world and our way of life which calls us to be radically hospitable, radically loving, radically relational. Only by choosing the power of life over the power of death can we overcome death’s grip on God’s world.
There appears to be a deep irony within the dynamics of suicidal terrorist attacks. Deeper even than any claimed or espoused political aim, is the desire for recognition. I believe that within the act of a suicidal attack is a deep need and desire to be recognised. For when the terrorist strikes he is seen, both by individuals but more importantly by the systems and structures of the world around him. In his final blaze of glory the terrorist is recognised in his infamy. Through his abominable act he becomes recognisable.
If we accept that at least part of the act is a desperate need to be seen, to be recognised, then there is real importance, significance, and power in the need to introspect, to be challenged as to our complicity in the non-recognition of the ‘unseen’. It is an opportunity to remove our rose-tinted glasses. Rather than claiming “they hate our way of life - let us hold even more tightly to it!” We perhaps ought to ask ourselves, is our self-perceived way of life a part-truth? Have we created fantasies about ourselves, as well as fantasies about the ‘other’?
To love our enemy is to open ourselves to their experience of ourselves; to love our ‘unseen’ enemy is to begin to see ourselves from their perspective, so that we may begin to recognise them and their struggle for belonging, to practice radical hospitality and allow ourselves to be affected and changed by their detrimental experience of our communities and our cultures that leave them broken and alone.
When we love our enemy, we pursue peace; when we pursue peace, we are building the Kingdom of God; when we build the Kingdom of God, we enter into radical relationship with God and God’s created world, in which the beautiful dynamics of difference reveal God’s image in the world."
By Josh Grear
Brixton Team Leader