Radical Islam, specifically those radical Muslims dedicated to jihad against the West, have been on the mind of every American since 9/11/01 slapped us in the face with the depths of evil to which some will sink in the name of religion. Recent events in Syria, Iraq, Paris, and San Bernardino have made Islam/Jihad/radicalism the focal point of countless talk shows and FB memes all around America. As voices on all sides become more shrill and more insistent that the other side is wrong, maintaining any kind of mental balance becomes harder and harder.
Two responses have emerged to the wave of Islamic violence radiating from the Middle East in recent years. The first is that Islam is really a peaceful and tolerant religion, that groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Boko Haran are a tiny minority who no more represent a majority of Islam than Westboro Baptist and the KKK represent the majority of Christendom. Therefore any kind of extra vigilance directed at Muslims is nothing more than racism, pure and simple, just as detestable as Bull Connor turning the fire hoses on Birmingham's black children as they marched for justice sixty years ago. That is the position of our President and many in his party.
The other is a knee-jerk Islamophobia that regards every single Muslim on earth as a potential jihadist, secretly committed to the death of Western Civilization, opposed to all religious and political freedom, and ready to clap a burka over every woman in sight and turn every church into a mosque. These folks argue that all Muslims must be regarded with suspicion and excessive scrutiny, and Donald Trump has become their spokesman. You get the feeling that many of these people would be fine with forcing American Muslims to wear a yellow crescent on their chest and live in special camps where they could be de-programmed, or even eliminated. So we see the endless parade of "Lock and Load!" posts on FB that do nothing but feed fear and hatred.
The problem is that both of these responses are based on a false narrative. There are about 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. If even half of them were committed to jihad, our world would be awash in blood (yes, things in the Middle East are bad, but they could be so much worse than they are right now if ALL of the area's residents decided to rise up against the infidel!). A majority of the world's Muslims are not committed to killing or forcibly converting their neighbors, and the fact is that many of them are decent people, our friends, neighbors, and co-workers who despise ISIS just as much as we do. I mean, does anyone see Kareem Abdul-Jabar shouting "Allahu Akbar!" and blowing up half the crowd at a Lakers game? Of course not. But, if you treat 1.2 billion people as enemies, you turn more and more of them into enemies - which is exactly what groups like ISIS want!
On the other hand, ISIS, Al Qaeda, and their ilk are not the tiny minority some would have us believe, nor have they somehow "hijacked" Islam from its peaceful roots. Truth be told, their actions are closer to the actions of Muhammad and the first generations to follow his call to jihad - a bloody wave of warfare, slavery, and forced conversions that wiped out whole cultures and spilled over the Middle East and North Africa like a bloody tidal wave in the Seventh and Eighth Centuries AD. No one knows what percentage of Muslims world wide are "radicalized" - nor is there any exact agreement as to what that term means. But I daresay that the jihadists represent a far greater percentage of Islam than Klansmen and Westboro fanatics do of Christianity! (It's also worth pointing out that the Westboro goons, although they are often held up as an example of the most extreme and ugly perversion of Christianity out there, have never bombed a gay nightclub or cut the head off of someone they don't like!) So the threat is real, and ignoring it won't make it go away. But it's also something that is impossible to defend against 100% of the time.
So what do we do? What is the proper response to this threat that seems so menacing - and yet is not nearly as great as our media, in their endless quest for ratings, makes it out to be? In the wake of the Paris attacks, I made post on this very blog pointing out some of the dangers of taking the threat for granted. And yet, as I look around thereafter, I see the dangers of taking it too seriously. So here is what I propose:
First of all, we can't let fear make us quit being Americans. Being American means believing in religious freedom, rejecting persecution on the grounds of faith, even if the faith isn't one we share or find particularly appealing. We also can't let fear eat away our compassion - that means we try to help the victims of conflict, even when we have huge deficits at home. It means we try to offer some sort of shelter and aid to the victims of the conflict in Syria, even if that may mean bringing some of them here. But what if there are ISIS sleeper agents among them? So be it. As Americans, we accept a certain level of gun carnage every year as the price of having the freedom to bear arms. Far more Americans are killed every week by handguns wielded by their fellow Americans than have perished in all the terrorist attacks of the last ten years. Yet we on the right side of the political aisle scream bloody murder at the thought of anyone infringing on our Second Amendment rights. If we are willing to see that much blood spilled to preserve one of our freedoms, are we willing to bargain away other sacred American traditions for the fear that a hypothetical jihadist might strike at us after being given shelter and refuge? Are we willing to condemn men, women, and children to death and slavery to avoid a threat that most likely will never touch us personally?
Last of all, Christians must still be Christians. I'm not talking about the idiot Crusaders who slaughtered tens of thousands of Muslims in the name of a Savior whose words they could not even read. I'm talking about the fearless, blazing faith of Jesus and his disciples who were willing to face death by the cross, the sword, and wild beasts with the name of the Lord on their lips and hearts full of love for those who were screaming for their blood. It means that we must recognize that Jesus died for that radicalized Muslim cleric just as much as He died for you and me, and that above all we must pray for the salvation of the followers of Muhammad, that the love of God may conquer the forces of hate.
Our government has a responsibility, before God and the Constitution, to defend our lives, liberty, and property against those who would destroy us. That responsibility should be exercised cautiously, soberly, and, at times, forcefully. But our government ultimately answers to and reflects us, and we must not let fear turn us into a dark mirror image of those who seek to destroy us. We must remember who we are, lest we become that which we hate.