Category Archives: Terrorism

When #LoveWins is not enough.

Many years ago, when political slogans first became fashion accessories, Brother Ivo used to occasionally wear a badge bearing the slogan ” Wearing badges is not enough”.

The badge was lost somewhere along the way, and probably would not be worn now in any event, yet its recollected message was a useful reminder as images have emerged in the media, following the dreadful murders in Orlando.

Nobody can can blame those who have been lighting candles, holding vigils, and joining hands in Great Compton Street singing ” Bridge over troubled water” ; we instinctively want to do something, to show solidarity with the bereaved, and to reassure ourselves that we shall overcome.

Yet wearing badges is not enough. Hashtags do not cut much ice in the councils of Daesche, and the sad individuals trawling the internet to feed their homophobia or misogyny will view all this as confirmation of our moral weakness and national cultural degeneracy.

Terrorism is not new. Russian anarchists took to it in the 19th century, so did Irish Republicans. The tactic of the suicide bomber was developed, not in the Middle East, but by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Yet the present virulent strain began when a couple of thousand fighters were marauding around Iraq with little more than heavy machine guns mounted on pick up trucks, as the leader of the free world dismissed them as the ” JV (Junior Varsity) Team”.

The ISIS phenomenon was allowed to grow, when a decisive response by a more experienced or resolute US President might have prevented them from capturing vast military resource and, crucially, over a billion dollars in cash which has been used to swiftly mount a social media operation to outreach to the second generation immigrants in first world countries, who seem especially susceptible to their encouragement to actions such as we have seen in Paris, Brussels and Orlando.

The old adage ” nothing succeeds like success” applies in this field and it is worth reminding ourselves that the ” glamour” of the Waffen SS attracted recruits from France Holland Norway and Sweden. Even a few British prisoners of war joined them. There is something horribly attractive to young men in such gross and violent organisations, yet the converse is also true. Failure is not a great spur to recruitment. Young people especially, disassociate from it.

It is with this in mind, that Brother Ivo sadly concludes that the destruction of all semblance of ” Islamic State” is essential,: until it is, it will continue to function as a focus for Muslim youth when it wants to demonstrate its rebellion.

This sounds shocking. Many want to choose different “enemies”, less frightening ones. So the Orlando killings are blamed on the National Rifle Association, Donald Trump, Christian cake makers and those who disturb student sensitivities with challenges to their complacencies.

Yet one does not have to spend long considering the attitudes of militant Islam to start joining the dots between the extremist pulpit and the smell of cordite.

Though many kindly tolerant people find it deeply uncomfortable to associate their decent Muslim friends and neighbours with what -in other contexts -would be called ” hate speech”, it is unquestionably true that anyone looking for theological texts to justify the destruction of gay people, will not find the Koran lacking in such material.

We in the Christian Churches are struggling with a a handful of texts in our Bible as we try to be inclusive. Ours are less trenchant than those confronting moderate Muslims. Those seeking to read the Koran in a more ” gay friendly” fashion have infinitely more problems. One does not hear of “shared conversations” in UK Mosques; if they occur, it would not be safe to publicise them. Once that might have been conceivable; not anymore.

A recent international survey of attitudes to LGBT lifestyles shows that the Islamic world is resolutely hostile, with the percentage spectrum ranging from the high 70’s to 99%. Even in the UK 52% of Muslims believe it should still be illegal. In at least 10 Islamic countries there is a death penalty for gay behaviour.

Unless addressed, it must surely be the case that a growth of Islamic identity and population within the UK must have a potential for a cultural collision with the gay-friendly zeitgeist within the UK.

In parts of a London and other cities, we are seeing the defacement of public advertisements depicting females with less than Islamic modesty. The New Mayor of London is banning certain images from Transport for London for reasons couched in feminist terms yet congruent with Islamist attitude.

The likelihood is that “Culture Wars” may get worse before it gets better.

So how are we to head this off?

The !eft of politics in particular has been keen to attract support from sectional interests; they have not wanted LGBT people or Muslims to feel excluded from mainstream society. That sounds reasonable enough. It is an admirable aspiration. Yet what will be required of all sections of society if that is to be achieved? What if they are not interested, but inflexibly prefer to assert their religious and cultural rectitude?

Defeating Islamic State whilst holding the confidence of the UK Muslim population and simultaneously advancing gay rights, looks an increasingly difficult trick to pull off.

Wearing badges is not enough.

 

Conversations with Islamic friends

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Brother Ivo has been blessed with a highly textured life.

He has broken bread with Ministers of State and Ministers of religion. He has enjoyed the company of soldiers and peace activists, judges and murderers (of which more another time), artists and hippies, punks and businessmen.

It is that experience and enjoyment of humanity in so many forms which inspires him to try to write from different perspectives in a quest to be “interesting”.

On the evening of a terrible day when Parisian cartoonists have been foully murdered by Islamic terrorists, Brother Ivo reflects upon two very different Muslims he has known and shares those recollections before outlining some questions which he thinks we need to ask our Muslim friends, before reflecting how we need to conduct ourselves in troubled times.

In the mid-1980’s Brother Ivo had a friend, an elderly gentleman who had sought asylum in the UK as a political dissident from the military regime in Pakistan. He was related to opponents of that regime and flown to the UK with little preparation. He told two stories about how he had been brought to faith.

Once, when destitute and fearful, alone in a small rented room, he had given up on life, having been pretty secular, and had simply prayed to God that he had certain material needs and that if God wanted him to believe, the satisfaction of those rudimentary requirements would be a good starting point. It seemed a pretty poor start to a spiritual relationship but it apparently worked.

The next day he discovered that a neighbour had left a box outside the door with a note explaining that here were some basic goods he thought he needed. Unpacking the box he was amazed to discover that e verything on his list was there. His prayer having been thereby answered, he resolved to deliver his side of the bargain and to explore faith.

Flying to the UK with no plans about meeting immigration requirements, he again prayed for entry whilst on the plane, and somewhat against his expectation he was  admitted as a  political refugee.

He was a good citizen. He worked, was scrupulously polite, kindly and law abiding and so when the Salmon Rushdie story was all over the newspapers in the 1980’s  Brother Ivo invited him to speak at his church,  where he talked of his faith in simple and sincere terms charming everyone, until he was asked about the Satanic Verses.

At that point he surprised everyone by saying calmly and deliberately that if Mr Rushdie were present with us then, he would feel duty bound to throw himself at him and attempt to throttle him with his bare hands. It seemed all very odd awkward and improbable, and very un-Anglican too, but we prayed together and that was that.

We remained friends.

He gave Brother Ivo a small book he had written on the subject of political Islam which seemed to be the dreams of an elderly idealist ; it spoke of the recreation of the Middle Eastern Caliphate which seemed a highly unlikely prospect at the time. He even invited Brother Ivo to receive his hospitality in the tribal homelands,  when the politics of Pakistan changed, but that was not then practical which in retrospect was a shame..

The gentleman went on to become the first speaker of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain.

Brother Ivo’s next friend could not have been more different. A rather stylish artistic teacher who disappeared for a couple of years and re-emerged as a another “Salmon Rushdie” figure,  having won literary prizes for writing best-selling “magic realism ” books which were highly un-Islamic but internationally acclaimed. He had to publish under a pseudo name for fear of joining Mr Rushdie on the the Fatwa, not least because he had become a practicing Roman Catholic and was thus apostate.

Brother Ivo sponsored him to UK citizenship. The only other person Brother Ivo so sponsored was an East African Muslim with whom he worked in equal partnership. Readers may accordingly safely assume that Brother Ivo is no            “Islamophobe”.

Those of us who can point to a backstory of interfaith friendship and tolerance in these days of tension between Islam and western values have a particular duty to lead the discussion and ask honest questions on days like today.

Sadly this is often not done.

There is much tip toeing around sensitivities, especially within our Churches,  which too easily assume upon little scholarship that because we worship “One God” from an Abrahamic heritage, we share more values than perhaps we do.

Christians complain of religious illiteracy, and yet demonstrate much of our own, when well meaning clerics speak as if there is nothing much between Christians and the followers of the Islamic State that a few choruses of Kum By Ya cannot sort out.

In truth our faiths are very different and honest dialogue needs to dig deep with those willing to do so. How many are, is problematic.

Modern Christians, whether Liberal or “Bible based”, are happy interrogating the text of their Bible. The one group may see itself impelled by the Holy Spirit to find fresh expressions of the truth,  the other may be more strict in interpretation but is not greatly offended by seeking internally cross referenced validations. We have different translations of the Bible texts and it is possible to discuss how language has changed; nuances of translation are matters of interest not outrage

Such dialogue is less welcome throughout the Muslim community. One’s duty is not to explore but to submit. There is scholarship, but it is much more closely aligned to an assertion of an immutable, directly revealed text , and that immutability has been preserved at the cost of suppressing certain texts where difference was found. Whereas textual nuance might be the occasion for fascinated exploration by western theologians, there is no such liberty afforded the Islamic scholar.

Islam has a greater rigidity of thought than Christianity.

The God of Islam is not close to His People, authority permeates the faith. In addition to the direct words of God as taught to Mohammed  (albeit in fragmentary episodes) there are traditions about their prophet whose life is asserted to be the model for all good Muslims.

It is in this that so much of our inter faith dialogue will run into difficulty.

The modern view of Jesus for the Christian is suffused with Christ’s compassion to the errant and the inconsistent. (That is not a criticism).

Brother Ivo’s “Muslim convert to Catholicism” friend found that most attractive and an important contrast to his former faith; he  rejoiced that Jesus deflected the penalty of the Law in the case of the woman taken in adultery. He  recognised the awe inspiring generosity towards the thief on the cross. He would have identified that Jesus never killed or condemned anyone and neither did his Disciples or early followers. The closer one gets to the historic Jesus the greater the love and forgiveness. The power of Jesus example lies not in earthly success or conquest but rather in a lack of temporal power  in the example –  the incarnation. “This is what God is truly like”

In contrast Brother Ivo’s Islamist friend would have had no difficulty in asserting a number of illiberal principles based upon the deeds of his Prophet.

Mohammed personally condemned adulterers to death. He carried a sword         ( which Brother Ivo has seen) and used it in political earthly conquest. He massacred the  Jews of Qurayzah, and distributed their womenfolk to his followers. He expelled Jews and Christians from the Arabian peninsular and  taxed those in other conquered lands who would not convert. He ordered the murder of Abu ‘Afak and ‘Asma bint Marwan who mocked him in poetry.

One does not have to reflect long upon the contrasting lives of Jesus and Mohammed to see that reconciling an image of God between to the two traditions may not be as easy as many may  think,

Far from being totally un-Islamic, any objectively minded person can see that those who say they only seek to emulate their Prophet’s actions are not without justificatory material.

Brother Ivo has no doubt that whoever killed the journalists of Charlie Hebdo will be well able to cite episodes in the life of their Prophet to explain and justify their actions. His life is asserted to be the personification of that to which a Muslim should aspire. Brother Ivo’s old friend would have been kindness itself in almost every action in his life, yet he would have been impelled not to deny the Islamic integrity of the Parisian murderers.

The writer friend was very different. Eccentric in many ways, he had a much lighter approach to life, always blessing the compassionate and wholly at odds with  the zealot.

Writing tonight with anxiety as to how we can keep the peace with our many kindly Muslim friends who live lives of honesty and integrity without applauding violence, Brother Ivo offers hope in the words of his friend Salim who used to say –

“Whenever bad things happen in the world, people always say – look at that – that’s human nature, look how terrible it is is: but when you think of all the temptations , the opportunity to do evil, I always ask – why are so many people so good, and so kind and considerate – they don’t have to be”.

That is the text we need to hold onto tonight.

Islam has so many excuses for bad behaviour, and our Christian heritage is scarcely much better, yet somehow, most Muslims don’t behave like that, and Christians have largely given up on the persecution of others so all is not hopeless in the world. Thanks be to God.

How we deal with those who pose a direct risk to the innocent is a problem for another time.

For now let us grieve with the sorrowful, give thanks for the solidarity of people who want to live freely and peaceably together and resolve to open dialogues with our Muslim neighbours to discover how they manage to overcome their historic difficulties, how they pick their way through the theology to reach conclusions diametrically opposed to the violent Islamsist with their literal appeal to texts whist keeping within a theology that does not easily take to innovation in thought.

Whilst we are about it, we might ask similar questions of ourselves

 

Torture – what would you do?

Brother Ivo has lived a fairly broad life so, as the world considers the US Senate report on the interrogation of prisoners, you may not be entirely surprised to hear of a conversation he once had with a former work colleague who mentioned in casually that he had once electrically tortured someone.

Brother Ivo was young then, and even more idealistic, and was appropriately appalled. He could not but ask how this man, who he liked a lot, could do such a thing.

The story is short.

The  colleague had been employed as a colonial policeman in an outpost in Africa many years ago, when they captured a guerrilla fighter who had been working that night laying land mines. They had far too few men and resources to undertake a physical night search over a wide area. The guerrilla  had mines in his possession when caught so they had no doubt that lethal weaponry was out there somewhere targeting civilians.

The police station was equipped with an old telephone system,  and power was generated by a hand cranked generator which could deliver a powerful but not lethal charge. He had chosen to turn the handle and extracted the information.

The colleague then turned the tables on his interrogator.

“It is three in the morning, and the school buses hit the roads at 6 am. I had to make my decision: I turned the handle – what would you have done?”

That question has rested on Brother Ivo’s conscience ever since.

Would he have had the moral courage to stand by his principles, to look at the shattered bodies of children and into the eyes of grieving parents the following morning, knowing and perhaps explaining to them, “I might have stopped this, but chose not to”?

Alternatively would he have had a different type of courage, to have embraced the opprobrium of most right minded people and no small amount of self loathing, and inflicted the suffering on the would-be perpetrator so that the schoolchildren might live.

In either case, such problems rarely seem to present themselves at a time of quiet moral reflection with the academic support of expert moral philosophers on hand: like so many decision points, it came out of a clear blue sky, like a thief in the night.

Brother Ivo does not intend to answer that question today.

He recounts the story simply to act as a reference point for anyone thinking that they know what they would do in such extreme cases.

The truly fortunate never have to answer such questions. Many of us will offer an opinion over the news story as it unfolds, but whatever decision we think we might take, let us retain a degree of compassion for all and any for whom these questions are not matters of idle or academic interest only.

Prayer would not come amiss of both gratitude and intercession. as the Christas song agonisingly cries “Thank God its them instead of you”.