08 September 2014
A better way?
Having passed the bus station in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, just minutes before the bomb went off killing 88 people and injuring more than 200, it caused me to ask the 'what if?' question.
Not so much 'what if?' my family and I had left a little later that morning, although that had crossed my mind, but 'what if' on a global scale. As we watch and read the news, one can't help but be struck by the worldwide impact of radical violent Islam - Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, I could go on –and of course, closer to home, New York, London, Woolwich. Radical Muslim groups are now part of our daily news diet. Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and Isis, vie with each other in their war, not only in the West but also with fellow Muslims as Sunnis and Shias embark upon what increasing looks like an Islamic civil war. Hundreds of thousands have died – mainly civilians - millions have been displaced, living in makeshift camps and hoping for safety.
Way back on 11 September 2001, two planes were flown into the World Trade Centre (a total of four planes were crashed that day) and almost four years later, four bombs went off in the London transport system.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in these two attacks. So back to the 'what if' question. What if president George Bush and prime minister Tony Blair, rather than declaring a war on terror, had found it in their hearts not to re-pay evil with evil? What if they had brought a leadership modelled on the life and teaching of Jesus and 'turned the other cheek'? What if, at these key moments of history, they had reached out to moderate Muslim leaders, both political and religious?
Our 20s and 30s initiative threadsuk.com often asks the question –what is the better way? Through articles, interviews and events, they seek not to solely critique the Church or wider culture, but to ask: what is the better way, what is the alternative?
So here I ask, could a better way have been found than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and numerous other operations around the world which have mobilised a generation of young Muslim freedom-fighters and left us with a legacy of mistrust and conflict which could continue for decades? 'What if' the governments of the West, most notably the US and Britain, rather than investing billions of dollars into weapons of war, had invested in healthcare, education, vital infrastructure and good governments in some of the poorest nations and among the poorest people who are so often vulnerable to extremism?
In his book The Reason for Suffering, Tim Keller recounts the events of October 2006 when a gunman took hostages in a one room school house of an Amish community in Lancaster county Pennsylvania. The lone gunman, having shot 10 victims, five of whom died were aged seven to 13, then killed himself. Keller records: "Hours after the suicide/murders, members of the Amish community visited the killer's parents and expressed sympathy for their loss and support for the hard days ahead.
When the gunman was buried a few days later, his young widow and three children were amazed to discover that half of those attending the funeral were Amish, who showed nothing but support and concern for the murderer's family… the forgiveness and love shown by the Amish community towards the shooter and his family was the talk of the entire country. The way they handled their suffering had been a powerful testimony to the truth of their faith and the grace and glory of their God."
So, 'what if' faced with the appalling actions of a small group of Muslim extremists, in initiating the events we now know as 9/11 and 7/7, two Christian countries had been more 'Christian' in their response? Could another kind of 'war on terror' have been fought - perhaps an effective one? Certainly the death toll would have been lower, the recruitment of Jihad fighters would've been reduced and I dare to suggest the world would have been a safer place.
As I write this piece, the great words of Jesus echo in my ears "blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God". If ever there was a time for the 'peacemakers' it is now. Let's pray that globally leaders will emerge who will be peacemakers in our generation, and let's act so that in whatever sphere of influence we find ourselves, we will be known as those who look for another way – the way of the peacemakers.