A Jihad For A Jihad

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There are many places in the developing world where religious groups come to power and begin the fanatical murder and systematic oppression of the unfaithful.

It’s common enough that widespread coverage of religious violence has brought the words “Jihad” and “Infidel” into our common American vocabulary.

Infidel is a latin word meaning “faithless”.

Jihad is an Arabic word that means “Holy War”.

When used in conjunction the two words conjure images of bearded men wielding swords and rifles, seemingly bent on establishing self-rule under Islamic law.

These two words have also become common place on Christian radio.  Just a cursory review of your local station will reveal many teachers claiming to expose “the truth” about Islam, and sermons from regional preachers quick to use Muslims to grind their ideological axes against.

This week I listened to a Christian radio station for 20 minutes and heard the words “Jew”, “Arab”, “Muslim”, “Jihad”, “end times”, “Jerusalem”, “beheading” and “Allah”, but never heard “Jesus”.

This isn’t a post about “the Muslims”; we already have enough of that.

As people groups come into conflict, religion also comes into conflict.  Unfortunately the violent struggles between ethnic groups often encompass two of the world’s largest religions, Christianity and Islam.  In the same way that video games and rock music get blamed for school shootings, religions often get credit for ethnic hatred that existed long before Jesus or Muhammad were born.

Since these conflicts generally occur in poor countries with little infrastructure it also means that the majority group can do significant damage to the minority group before reports reach the wider world.  When the cameras can finally arrive to inform western consumers, explanations filled with oversimplifications and generalizations rule the day.

This is a post about the folly of “righteous vengeance”.

One of the places currently degraded into violent ethnic and religious conflict is the Central African Republic.  Here are the necessary stereotypical generalizations:

The C.A.R. is a country formed out of the failure of European colonization.  In the 1800’s the French arrived in the region bringing both Christianity and a desire to exploit the territory’s vegetable and mineral wealth.

Unable to control the volatile indigenous people (Arab and European slave trade had already destabilized the region) France gave up the colony in 1960.  From that point on the country was ruled by despots funded by international commercial interest.

For years The C.A.R. was a group of ethnic clans stitched together by the French language and trade with Islamic countries.  The country limped into the 21st century with a majority population of Christian farmers and a minority of Muslim merchants.

In 2012 the local Government folded when Islamic rebels called “Seleka” came to power.

“In power for nearly 10 months, the Seleka were responsible for massacres, extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, and looting, as well as massive burning and destruction of Christian villages.” – CNN

Seleka claimed to be bringing “justice” on behalf of the oppressed Muslim minority.  To the rest of Africa it looked a lot like revenge; they sent in their armies.

International forces deposed Seleka and in the power vacuum the Christian population took to the streets to avenge themselves.  Today the UN Reports that the widespread violence has become a policy of ethnic cleansing taking place along religious lines.  Unfortunately it’s seen as a just and natural consequence:

“The current violence, hatred, and instability are a direct result of the human rights crisis that began in December 2012, when mostly Muslim Seleka forces launched an armed offensive that culminated in their seizure of power in March 2013.” – Amnesty

Revenge is always presented as justice.

“They started it, but we’ll finish it.”  Words like these attempt to justify retribution regardless of religion, but they become especially offensive when they come from the mouth of a Christian.  Christians are scripturally forbidden from taking revenge because vengeance belongs to God.

It’s easier said than done though isn’t it?  Don’t we all love to get back at the person who’s keeping us down?  In fact, we dream about the day when we can get out from under our enemies thumb.

The problem is that after we “get them back” they simply feel victimized and begin plotting their own “just revenge”.

Each person believes themselves to be unjustly aggrieved, and each person begins a Jihad that begets more Jihad.

The response we have when we get the opportunity to put our boots on the neck of our oppressors is largely determined by whether or not we take the words of Jesus at face value:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:43-45

I’m wondering how many people would use, “But they started it!” as an excuse if Jesus were to show up in the midst of their vengeance? Because Jesus  actually commands his followers to suffer injustice, for love’s sake.

Grace and Mercy are an “injustice”.

Our command is not to seek justice for ourselves, rather to seek the Kingdom of God.  This means setting down our “rights” like Jesus did.

Personal retribution reinforces the cycle of violence.  The command of our King is to end the cycle of violence by offering grace and mercy.  Not only does grace and mercy end the cycle of violence, it acknowledges Jesus as King and demonstrates that we are his subjects.

Jesus, through his death on the cross, still offers grace and mercy to us today.  He’s breaking our cycle of violence and rebellion with God.

In The C.A.R. the Christians have become the Jihadists and are cleansing their country of Infidels,  it’s an uncomfortable reversal of our old and tired stereotype that religion causes violence.

Truthfully, people cause violence and they simply appeal to their religion to declare their violence as justice.

We can call our revenge “Justice” or we can call it “Jihad”,
we just can’t call it righteous.

Wow. It's Quiet Here...

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