Christianity and Islam: What American Christians need to know about Muslims
“We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones, and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth” – >Donald Trump, January 21, 2017.
(I’ll post more about the Middle East next week, but I thought I’d comment on the above quote from the President.)
Americans may be divided in many ways, but we all agree that the world must fight to destroy terrorism. We must strive to put our political and religious differences aside as we consider every possible means to defeat ISIS, Boko Haram, Hamas, and similar groups. So I hope that the Trump administration will forego politics as it sets up strategies to seriously weaken ISIS and the others at their source.
Terrorist groups need money and recruits in order to thrive. Weapons are expensive, and fighters who are killed or wounded need to be replaced. ISIS has been especially good at using social media to attract volunteers (30,000 by mid-2015!) and contributions. So if we make ISIS less attractive to potential recruits, it will become weaker and weaker, even without military action.
To get volunteers and donations, terrorist groups try to convince Muslims that Christianity is at war with Islam. Even worse, they say that Christian nations routinely invade Muslim countries in order to steal resources (like oil) and place Muslims under Christian control. The terrorists argue that God wants “true” Muslims to resist, using force where necessary. Young men (and some women) around the world like the idea that God wants us to use weapons against His enemies.
This is why ISIS claims to be Islamic. The leaders of ISIS are not interested in Islam, of course, any more than leaders of the KKK are interested in Christianity. (Do any Christians think that this group is “Christian”?) Instead, ISIS, Boko Haram, al Qaeda, Hamas, and the others use Islam to help them attract followers. Without the Islam connection, ISIS becomes no more than a group of thugs out for their own power and wealth. ISIS wants to be associated with “radical Islam.” For them, “radical” is a good thing, just as many Christians like to be called “radical.” So every time we use terms like “radical Islamic terrorism,” we are doing ISIS a big favor.
American Muslims, along with Muslims worldwide, work hard to teach local Muslims that Islam does not permit terrorism. (Check me on this: ask at your local mosque.) According to most Muslims, ISIS violates core teachings of Islam, and therefore, by definition, is not Islamic.
Therefore, based on the above facts, it is obvious that we are much better off labeling ISIS and the others “terrorists” without calling them “Islamic.” If we spread the idea that ISIS is not Islamic, then ISIS becomes less attractive to potential recruits, and ISIS will have a harder time convincing the world that Christianity and Islam are at war. And by refusing to identify ISIS as Islamic, we show support for our Muslim allies who are, in every way, fighting on the front lines against ISIS.
All of the above is no secret. Members of the FBI and intelligence organizations have spoken and written extensively about the methods used by ISIS, and about the strong relationships that American Muslim communities have with local law enforcement.
So why do so many politicians continue to call the bad guys as “radical Islamic terrorists?”
The answer, unfortunately, comes down to the two things we have to try to put aside: religion and politics. Many Christians distrust Muslims on a very basic level. A number of politicians use this distrust to create a scary image: a particularly bad form of Islam. “Radical Islamic Terrorism” is a much more frightening term than “radical terrorism,” and fear generates votes. Trump won the presidency in part because he convinced voters that he was the one who will keep Americans safe.
Responsible leaders should try to explain to the American people that our enemies want a war between Christians and Muslims. They should also stress that we need Muslim allies – those fighting ISIS in Turkey and Iraq, as well as American Muslims who regularly condemn terrorism. Refusing to call ISIS “Islamic” hurts ISIS while showing support for our Muslim friends. This may be politically unattractive, but it will help us to eradicate terrorism.
Will Trump decide that he needs American Christians to fear Islam?
Or will he put “America First”?