This is an actual picture. And that’s an actual church. That’s a sign above them that reads “Jesus Saves.” And that thing behind those three hooded men on the right is a piano, and they used that piano to sing songs about how much they loved Jesus. And as much as we might like to believe that this sort of stuff is a thing of the past, it’s not. We’ve still got churches who use the Bible to make a case for how we should be killing Muslims… We’ve got churches who preach about celebrating the deaths of the gay people who died in Orlando… We’ve got “church leaders” vouching for how a morally bankrupt dumpster fire like Donald Trump is a “born again.” And yet, here I am–A person who calls myself a follower of Jesus… Just imagine if people looked at me and judged me (and my religion) by the hate-filled, murderous, torturing, racist, deceived douche bags in this picture. That wouldn’t make ANY sense. We know better than that, right? Right???
And yet yesterday morning, terrorists detonated a car bomb that ripped through a crowded marketplace in Baghdad. The blast killed over 200 people–many of them children–and wounded hundreds more. Though–just like when 45 people died in the terrorist attack at an Istanbul airport–I doubt there will be very many people around these parts changing their profile pictures to the Iraqi flag to show their support. In fact, I’d be willing to bet a whole lot of you never even heard about it. Why do you think this is? Why would so many in this country come together in solidarity when terrorists attack Paris? Or Brussels? But we don’t come together in the same way when there are attacks in Istanbul? Or Baghdad?
I think this phenomenon has to do with keeping a clear “other.” It’s about maintaining an obvious “THEM” as a counterpoint to the “US” we are continually rooting for. And for so many people, the “US” in that last sentence looks a lot like white people. The “US” looks like the men under those hoods in the picture at the top of this page. And people in France and Belgium look a hell of a lot more like “US” than the people in Turkey or Iraq. Add to that the perception that people in France and Belgium worship “OUR” God and people in Turkey and Iraq worship “THEIR” God, and you’ve got yourself a fine recipe for tribalism. When the self-esteem of the tribe is getting a little low, nothing gives it a shot in the arm like a reminder the we are better than them. That’s “THEIR” tribe… Not “OUR” tribe. It’s us versus them… And the easier it is to tell “US” from “THEM,” the better. Language, skin color, the name they call God, the way they dress… THEM.
We don’t like complex story lines. We like clear lines between the good guys and the bad guys. We like simplistic narratives that tell us “They hate us because they hate freedom!” If there is an attack of some sort, it’s much easier to trigger our empathy if the people who were attacked look like we do, if they call God by the same name, if they’re one of “US.” We like story lines that provide simple solutions… Like calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” But things get a little more complex when you consider that many of the Muslims leaving their countries and looking for a safe place to live are running from THEM.
Muslims are far and away the biggest victims of terrorism. If Christians are killed somewhere, it’ll get shared a lot in the U.S. because it feels like it happened to one of US, but seven times more Muslims have been killed by Al Qaeda than non-Muslims. It’s difficult to determine the religious beliefs of the people who are killed in terrorist attacks worldwide, but most experts say that Muslims account for somewhere between 82% and 97% of the people who are killed by terrorists. So when bombs go off in a country like Turkey whose people (even though they have a secular government) are 96-99% Muslim, or in Iraq where about 95% of the people are Muslim, that story is a little bit more complex.
Here’s the thing: ISIS are a bunch of deceived, murderous ass holes. One of their goals is to get the world to think of THEM when it thinks of Islam. But no one hates ISIS more than Muslims. ISIS is not about Islam… It is about a demented ideology that kills people who don’t think like you do. This is what terrorists do. This is what ISIS does. They kill random people in an attempt to split the world even more starkly into “US versus THEM.” And most of the people they kill are Muslims. So this means that every time you accept the narrative that ISIS is somehow representative of Islam, you are helping ISIS be successful. When you equate terrorists with Islam (instead of a demented ideology that calls for killing people who disagree with you), you are actively working to HELP ISIS accomplish one of their main goals.
So last night I laid in bed and listened to people set off small explosions and fireworks in celebration of a country that was founded partially on the hopes of religious freedom. I truly believe one of the most patriotic things you can do this Fourth of July is standing in solidarity with Muslims. And if you call yourself a follower of Jesus, certainly one of the most “Christian” things you can do is to stand with your Muslim brothers and sisters against the forces of hatred in the world that would have us fearfully retreat into our little tribes. We can reject the dishonestly simplistic view of the world that attempts to divide us. We can reject the depraved PR campaign of ISIS that would have you look at your Muslim neighbor as one of “THEM” instead of one of “US.”
But if you are looking at a Muslim, you are not looking at a “possible terrorist.” You are looking at a VICTIM of terrorism. When you see someone walking around wearing traditional Muslim clothes, you are looking at a person who looks like a VICTIM of terrorism. If you’re looking at a woman wearing a hijab, you’re looking at what a VITCIM of terrorism looks like. If you’re looking at a Middle Eastern man wearing an Islamic skullcap, you’re looking at what a VICTIM of terrorism looks like (Also–just to be clear–If you’re looking at a man wearing a turban, you’re probably looking at a Sikh. Not a Muslim. A Sikh–A member of another really cool religion that is yet another VICTIM of prejudice and bigotry and violence in this country). If you’re looking at some Muslim kids walking through a grocery store, there’s probably a good chance those kids look pretty similar to the one of the dozens of kids who were VICTIMS of yesterday’s terrorist attack. We are all victims of the hatred and murder that seeks to divide us. When you look at a Muslim person, you’re not looking at one of “THEM.” You’re looking at one of “US.”
I’ve been away for a little bit… Taking a short vacation with my family. This weekend, I’m attending the Wild Goose Festival with a bunch of other freaky people like me. Your support has partially made that possible, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. If you want to help support this blog by becoming a Patron, you can do that. Otherwise, you can join the fun on Facebook and Twitter. Thanks for reading.