Military action is an obvious response. So obvious that France has already retaliated by bombing targets in Raqqa, the 'capital' of Daesh controlled territory (let's drop the 'IS' or 'ISIS' name). But - as commentators are observing, including Chris Trotter below and Nicolas Henin, writing in the Guardian, military reaction to the Daesh action is precisely what they have baited Western powers to do.
Some commentators are wisely urging that the first thing we do is think. Rightly so. We are fighting fire. Sometimes fire is well fought with fire (e.g. when the wind is blowing the right way, a fire burning towards a fire may stop the first fire). Other times it is a recipe for conflagration. My sense is that is the case with Daesh. Killing Daesh will spawn bitterness and bitterness will be the parent of future attacks.
If we do take up the invitation to think about things, we might think about the following excerpt from this Reuters' report (printed in our Christchurch Press today):
"George Dallemagne, a center-right opposition member of the federal parliament, traces some problems back to the 1970s when resource-poor, heavily industrial Belgium sought favor with Saudi Arabia by providing mosques for Gulf-trained preachers.
These brought with them fundamentalist teachings then alien to most of Belgium's Moroccan immigrants.
Pointing at Molenbeek, Dallemagne said: "The very strong influence of Salafists ... is one of the particularities that puts Belgium at the center of terrorism in Europe today."We may debate whether the Daesh are part of Islam, representative of some genuine aspect of Islam, faithful to some part of the Quran or not. The simple fact is that most Muslims most of the time since Mohammed have been and are peaceful people. Daesh represents a strand of Islamic theology/political philosophy known as Salafism, itself a form of Wahhabism (or is it the other way round?). Wahhabism is the form of Islam to which Saudi Arabia is loyal and about which it is zealous in proclamation. Not all Salafists are jihadists. Jihadi Salafism has five important characteristics, according to Mohammed M. Hafez:
- "immense emphasis on the concept of tawhid (unity of God);
- God's sovereignty (hakimiyyat Allah), which defines right and wrong, good and evil, and which supersedes human reasoning is applicable in all places on earth and at all times, and makes unnecessary and un-Islamic other ideologies such as liberalism or humanism;
- the rejection of all innovation (bid‘ah) to Islam;
- the permissibility and necessity of takfir (the declaring of a Muslim to be outside the creed, so that they may face execution);
- and on the centrality of jihad against infidel regimes."
Dallemagne's point is that Saudi Arabia's influence and funding undergird the spread of Salafism and Wahhabism around the world. If we in the West pause to think about a response to Daesh, are we prepared to think about engaging with Saudi Arabia, arguing against their not so benign support for the theology of Daesh terrorism?
Yes, I thought not. From Dave Cameron to John Key we see Western leaders cravenly refraining from criticism of Saudi. And, to be fair to their lack of fortitude, they are fearful of electoral consequences if we voters take our cars to the petrol pump and find their is no petrol.
Incidentally, do you remember a few weeks back when thousands of Syrians were pouring into the welcoming arms of Angela Merkel and Saudi Arabia offered to help out by funding 200 new mosques in Germany? Yeah, right!?
So our counter-theology to the theology of Daesh terrorism has some practical thinking to do. Even as we caution against military action, are we prepared to walk to work?
There is other work for such counter-theology to do. One work is to develop how we worship in a world of violence. Bosco Peters posts a large citation of a post entitled "Worship in a Violent World" by theologian James Alison. I urge you to read it. One sentence struck me in particular, as Alison points out how some worship can (un)wittingly divide humanity in two: "To the divinisation of the one, there corresponds the demonisation of the other, which is the dehumanisation of them all." If perchance the Christian community through its worship in challenging times demonises Muslims and dehumanises us all, what difference exists between us and the Salafist jihadis?
Finally, for now, thinking a little about theological aspects of the deadly situation Daesh has brought to the world, NZ commentator Chris Trotter argues that the Paris attacks are part of an apocalyptic provocation, that is, Daesh seeks to provoke Armageddon:
"And what purpose might that be? In his article “What does ISIS really want?”, published in the March 2015 issue of Atlantic magazine, journalist Graeme Wood observes that there is a temptation, in the West, to conceptualise jihadists as “modern secular people, with modern secular concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise – and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilisation to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.”
The apocalypse! Yes. Islam, like Christianity, contains within its ranks a growing number of devout, even fanatical, believers in the “End Times”. According to the Islamic State recruiters interviewed by Wood, these end times will begin when the West launches what proves to be a disastrous intervention in Iraq and Syria. In Woods own words: “The Islamic State awaits the army of ‘Rome,’ whose defeat at Dabiq, Syria, will initiate the countdown to the apocalypse.”
If Wood is correct (and there have been many challenges to his characterisation of the Islamic State) luring the “Crusaders” to this little town on the border of Syria and Turkey is critical to the unfolding of Allah’s plan for his people. Dabiq may be 300 miles north of Israel’s “Mountain of Megiddo” (Har Meghiddohn in Hebrew) but its theological location is identical. It is held to be the place of the last, decisive, battle between the allies and the enemies of God – Armageddon.
But, surely, no rational person could believe that such a battle is anything other than metaphorical? No rational person, certainly. But, in the Islamic State we are not dealing with rational people.
Which is not to say that we are dealing with fools."There is a great need for wisdom at this time. And prayer. In our eucharists we have the opportunity to worship well, to pray for Paris and all those suffering from Daesh destruction and to remember the way of the cross as the victory over the power of death.