"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Running Away…

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One of the themes I’ve seen and heard clearly in the past week is that of what people do when faced with violence. This relates closely to my last ramblings about the willingness to sacrifice – and how tired I am of the endless hypocrisy about alternative approaches to deal with those who would have you dead.

The reality of our world is there is a minority, a small minority of fundamentalist adherents to a religious system of belief that have corrupted those teachings to the point that they celebrate and seek the deaths of the unbelievers. This was the same thinking that brought us 9/11, and has brought us a number of public beheadings of western reporters.

I’m not going to fall into western-centric thought here. I heard recently that the Kingdom of Saud regularly beheads as a part of its justice process (not fact-checked). The reality of life for most people on our planet is far less cozy that what we enjoy in the Western world. Short life spans, high infant mortality, little or no health care…the list goes on. We have it pretty good here in the first world.

So those western reporter’s deaths are only the ones that we sit up and take notice of, because these are people just like us. As was said about Rwanda by an un-named US intelligence officer…genocide is like a cheese sandwich, and who cares about a 3-day old cheese sandwich? The reality is that most of the first world doesn’t care about what takes place in the majority of the remainder of this planet. (from a book by Philip Gourevitch)

George Orwell captured this beautifully in a 1946 essay on Kipling’s poetry, saying that Kipling had one thing that “enlightened” people rarely possess, and that was a sense of responsibility.

All left-wing parties in the highly industrialized counties are at bottom a sham, because they make it their business to fight against something which they do not really wish to destroy…A humanitarian is always a hypocrite…[Kipling] sees clearly that men can only be highly civilized while other men, inevitably less civilized, are there to guard and feed them.

The reality for at least a part of our global concern is that we protest things primarily to bring ourselves relief from a sense of guilt. We rely on cheap labour in far-away places to bring us cheap electronics and clothes, complain when those things are not available, and favour discount stores over local family-run places. Orwell, while being very darkly pessimistic, is talking about just that contradictory philosophy. We don’t really want world change of any substantive sort, if it means we won’t be able to find cheap shirts from Bangladesh any more.  This ignores the other reality of our world, which is you need wealth to make other choices – for some, Walmart is not discretionary.

At its root, this thought process has a fundamental disconnection with reality. It’s internally contradictory, but the adherents feel righteous through their protests and stand on the moral high ground.  I try not to have such presumption, as I’m reminded daily that I am dust and ashes (a sing I’m just as deceived I expect).

There are many similar unjust patterns in our first world, without getting off topic: organic food that you can only buy if you’re wealthy, northern communities where the least expensive foods are the most highly processed (leading to an epidemic of diabetes). This was brought home for me at a church governance meeting a few years back, when someone put one of those feel-good motions on the floor to ban disposable plastic water bottles. One of the delegates from the Arctic pointed out that all of their drinking water came into their community that way, because they had no safe drinking water. If we were to ban those bottles, what would they have to drink?

We paper ourselves with feel-good motions to keep our deep sense of guilt at bay. Genocide (or safe water in the north, or no health care in Africa, Aboriginal land rights, or short life expectancies in the Middle East) is a cheese sandwich. As long as it’s not our cheese sandwich, it really doesn’t matter.

Now, back to the death issue. 9/11 happened because a group of religiously-motivated extremists managed to pull together a pretty amazing operation. It hasn’t happened again because much of the ability of terrorist groups to project power beyond the local area has been degraded (to use a not-so-lovely military word). That has happened through the (sometimes lawful, sometimes unlawful) application of violence. That the west is safer today than it was 10 years ago is still a point of debate, but we’ll likely never know for certain. What is certain is there has been no other attack (or attempt) of similar magnitude since 9/11.

Those who suggest alternative approaches to violence seem to miss one particular detail – the sort of people who were mounting and are attempting to mount these attacks are not interested in a rational dialogue, or even anything as basic as an end to the violence for clean water and hospitals. If that’s not self-apparent, I’m probably wasting electrons. The impact on Christians in the areas taken by ISIS has been horrific. If dialogue is the path of choice, I’m wondering why those proposing it are not stepping onto airlines to Syria to meet with the ISIS leadership to open those paths of dialogue?

The answer, I expect, is that talk is cheap. It is easier to brand the government as war mongers and to complain about what they’re not doing than to actually take some personal risk to effect a real change in the present state of affairs.

That there is evil in the world (a term I use deliberately) that seeks to destroy us for no reason than who we are, seems clear.  These extracts from jihadist instruction are pretty blunt (from a StratFor briefing note):

The Islamic State initially focused its propaganda efforts on calling jihadists living in the West to travel to Iraq and Syria, and thousands have responded to that call. However, that message changed Sept. 21 when Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Adnani published a message titled “Indeed Your Lord is Ever Watchful” in which he encouraged jihadists living in the West to conduct simple attacks. An excerpt reads:

“If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies. Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”

In addition, the fourth edition of the Islamic State’s Dabiq Magazine (also published in late September) contained an article entitled “Reflections on the Final Crusade” in which the author writes:

“At this point of the crusade against the Islamic State, it is very important that attacks take place in every country that has entered into the alliance against the Islamic State, especially the U.S., U.K., France, Australia and Germany. Rather, the citizens of crusader nations should be targeted wherever they can be found. Let the mujahid not be affected by “analysis paralysis” and thus abandon every operation only because his “perfectionism” pushes him towards an operation that supposedly can never fail — one that only exists theoretically on paper. He should be pleased to meet his Lord even if with just one dead kafir’s name written in his scroll of deeds… Every Muslim should get out of his house, find a crusader, and kill him. It is important that the killing becomes attributed to patrons of the Islamic State who have obeyed its leadership. This can easily be done with anonymity. Otherwise, crusader media makes such attacks appear to be random killings.”

The article explicitly called for leaderless resistance when it stated:

“Secrecy should be followed when planning and executing any attack. The smaller the numbers of those involved and the less the discussion beforehand, the more likely it will be carried out without problems. One should not complicate the attacks by involving other parties, purchasing complex materials or communicating with weak-hearted individuals. ‘Rely upon Allah and stab the crusader’ should be the battle cry for all Islamic State patrons.”

I saw recently the report of a young Christian man from the US who had died fighting against ISIS. He had apparently felt compelled, as a Christian, to participate personally in combating ISIS. This is not a positive example to offer for how to participate, but you have to admire his commitment to his beliefs.

Last night I listened to an interview with a nurse who was one of those giving aid to Cpl Cirillo at the war memorial. She related how astounded she was at the two types of people around her that day. There were those like Barbara Winters, on her knees performing CPR…and, she said, there were those standing around taking pictures or video taping the man dying (a far larger group). She couldn’t understand how people could do that when someone was in need. A woman who would understand what I’m (quite poorly) trying to say.

Watching the RCMP presentation of the video surveillance footage of the Ottawa gunman’s progress, one of the things that amazed me was the number of people running away from him. As he passed through the front gates on the hill, there were five or six people milling around who all scattered. After getting out of the car he stole from a driver for a cabinet minister (who also ran away) at Centre Block, there was another group who ran away, as the RCMP rushed to catch up.

The RCMP have some hard questions to answer about how the shooter got that close…and if he had been able to turn into one of the caucus rooms along that hallway, there might have been a number more dead including either the Prime Minister or Thomas Mulcair depending on if he had picked the right door or the left.  But that’s not the point.

The point is, he could have been stopped long before reaching Centre Block. If the soldiers at the war memorial had loaded rifles…if the 5 or 6 standing on the street banded together to take him down (or if even one of them did so)…if the driver of the car he stole tried to stop him…and so on. This, I’m realizing, is the reason I’ve completely had it with the hypocrisy of talk.

That hypocrisy is reflected in our willingness to stand back and to let people in uniform do our dirty work for us. When an enraged man beats another man to death on an LRT train, we stand and watch and complain that the emergency responders didn’t arrive quickly enough. When a gunman (for whatever reason) kills a soldier at the tomb of the unknown soldier, we either stand and take video, or run in the opposite direction.

When I was on post-grad studies (at a military university in a country far, far away), the departmental secretary complained to me one day that the Airborne Regiment were insensitive. This was before Somalia and the Regiment’s disbanding, and a video had come out that showed a group of Airborne soldiers being red-necked and racist. It was completely unacceptable, and her suggest was that they all be required to take sensitivity training. I asked her, if she was being held hostage in an embassy somewhere by rough men who had killed and would kill, who she wanted coming through the door to her rescue – a group of sensitivity-trained people, or a bunch of rough soldiers who were there to save lives, by taking lives. She looked at me in disgust and left the room. I had obviously failed to understand her moral outrage.

Thing is, I understood it perfectly. I didn’t like the Airborne video either, but I also understood who they are as a fighting unit. Without great explanation – they’re supposed to be rough around the edges. It goes with dropping behind enemy lines with scant supplies, little support and the requirement to “hold until relieved”. Perhaps stated a bit more bluntly – when you want to remove one dead tree from a forest, a chain saw is a good tool. When you need to remove all vegetation and trees over a 6 foot width for an oil allowance of 15 kilometres, you need something a little larger. The Airborne are a particular type of tool, for a particular type of job (and that job was not, as we found out quite horribly, peacekeeping).

Our reality is, that there is a small minority of radical fundamentalists who want us dead. They hate us, not because of what we’ve done, but just because of who we are. They will not stop until we are dead. How do you address that problem?

My answer is, I don’t know…this is a horrible decision to have to make. We could do nothing, and let them continue to conquer and kill, up until the point where they build enough organization to begin to launch attacks on Europe or the west directly. The decision to employ force is a horrible one that will have long-reaching consequences, and will leave more than a few souls stained in the process. In a broken world, sometimes the best choice available to you is to select the lessor of two evils, but then we shouldn’t be surprised. That’s what Christ told us the final days would be like:

4 And Jesus answered and said to them, “See to it that no one misleads you. 5 For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the [c]Christ,’ and will mislead many. 6 You will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end. 7 For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and in various places there will be famines and earthquakes. 8 But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.

9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will [d]fall away and will [e]betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, [f]most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. 14 This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole [g]world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24)

If we think we can create something different here, through the sweat of our brows, I would like to hear the proposal.  We’ve been told quite clearly that the world is a messed up place, and will be a messed up place until the end arrives.  That end will not be because we’ve finally gotten it right through proper legislation, but because Christ has returned. We have a bad track record of making heaven here on earth…and we will never achieve that because of the fundamental failings present in each of us (ignoring what an idolatry it is to even consider we can do such a thing).

So, people will complain, people will run away from danger and then complain the police weren’t ready, and at 0332 in the morning when a drug gang conducts a home invasion in the wrong house – your house – we’ll phone in a panic for those people in uniform to come and save us (and then complain about how long it took them to arrive).  Perhaps our neighbours will document the whole thing with their iPhones while they’re standing by, watching.

While my infinite hope rests in Christ, my hope among my fellow humans here on earth will rest with people like Barbara Winters – a civilian who chose to run back toward the gunfire because she thought someone might have been in need of her help. Note that her response to horror and danger didn’t involve and talking or dialogue.  People like that are the ones who make a real difference – the ones who are willing to endure immense personal risk for the sake of bringing help to someone in need. When given a choice between complaint without action, or frail human intervention doing the best we can to make things better, I’ll always opt for action, even while knowing I’ll often be wrong.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (Gal 5:14)

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Written by sameo416

October 24, 2014 at 9:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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