Such is the outrage many feel at what is happening on Mt Sinjar – where there are reports of thousands dying of hunger and thirst and exposure to the elements, surrounded by the savagery of ISIS – that it is natural that there should have been calls for ‘moderate Muslims’ to speak out; the scarcely-concealed implications seem two-fold: if they do not, then they condone what ISIS is doing; and they reveal that, effectively, all Muslims are the same. With the black flags ISIS use on parade yesterday in pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Holland, and in London, many have suddenly become experts on those passages in the Koran which permit the slaughter of the Infidel and the subjugation and slavery of captured women. The conclusion that this is a clash of civilizations is easily arrived at. It may well be so, but I would be reluctant to draw the conclusion that it was clash between two entities called ‘the West’ and ‘Islam’. Indicting a whole religion, like indicting a whole race, for the crimes of its extremists is not only un-Christian and morally wrong, it is counter-productive. The Jihadis thrive on sectarian divisions, and the more ordinary Muslims are made to feel they have to choose sides, the happier the extremists will be; after all, if the ‘West’ proceeds on the assumption that ‘Islam’ is the problem, the more difficult it will become for Muslims not to side with their religion and those who claim to be upholding it. If that is what we wish to achieve, then we are foolish.
None of that is to do anything but condemn the crimes committed in the name of Islam by ISIS. That great and good man, Canon Andrew White, has spoken, movingly, of the unbearable sights he has seen, and has called for military action – now. As one who opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003 because I could see that what has happened was likely to happen, I would support action now – for the same reason. If we do not act militarily now, the results will be even more catastrophic. But we will summon up another sort of catastrophe if we yield to the anger we feel at what is happening and blame all Muslims for it.
Anyone engaged at all in Christian apologetics is well aware of the way in which Scripture can be quoted out of contexts, or the ways in which our own fundamentalists can sound quite mad to others; as we would not want to be judged by them, or by the misinterpretations of Scripture, let us hesitate before doing that to others. As one anti-ISIS advocate has posted on Twitter:
I am Iraq. Ethnically & religiously diverse.
#ISIS wishes to divide my people. Will you stand by me?
Do we really want to send out a message to those Muslims who are being killed by ISIS, and those who are standing with the Christians and the Yezidi that we see them all as one? That is not what our Christian faith tells us, and if we cannot behave as Christ commands when it is hard, what is the point of calling ourselves Christians and doing so only when it is easy to follow his commands? Like St Peter we can walk out to grasp his hand – and fall because our faith is too small.
It is certainly time, and beyond time, to bring relief to those who have survived the horrors of Mt Sinjar (and may the Lord have mercy on the souls of the departed and the martyred), and to bring to bear against ISIS whatever force can be brought. This is a righteous cause. But we make it unrighteous if we reduce ourselves to the level of those savages who would lump all who do not believe as they do together and kill them; what is there of Christ in that? Yes, we should call upon all those who oppose the barbarism of ISIS to speak out – and that does not just include Muslims who have not done so – there are many others in our society who, whilst prepared to march for one cause, will not do so for another. We do not make any of that more likely by stigmatising all Muslims.
Yes, it is easy enough to point the finger at the ‘religion of peace’ when one sees what is being done in its name in Iraq; but we might recall it has been done to Christians where the crimes committed in the name of the Prince of Peace have also been used to condemn all Christians. If we confess the name of Christ, we must not yield to the temptations of Satan. He, and his ISIS disciples, would love nothing better than to set us against each other in the fashion some would call for. Prayer and donating apart, there is little enough we can do as individuals, but, as well as signing petitions calling for action, we can do one thing – refrain from playing the game of the extremists.
Is there much to fear from ISIS? Yes, so ISIS-phobia is natural. Do they represent Islam as they claim? No, they do not, any more than Christian extremists in the past have represented all of us. Let us not be frightened of a religion about which so few of us know very much. If we cannot heed Christ’s counsels in so much, let us at least deny the extremists what they would like; let us not add to the hatred and to the fear. Our prayers and voices should be raised for the suffering and for punishment of the guilty – but to indict a whole religion for the crimes of its extremists is to do the work of the latter. Let us deny them that, and let those who want to let loose the vials of wrath ponder the ending thereof.