The horrific jihadist attacks in Paris have the world reeling. As Paris dominated the headlines, the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram massacred over 2,000 innocent people in Northeast Nigeria. In Iraq and Syria, the shockingly brutal jihadist group known as Daesh or Islamic State continues to wreak havoc. Just a few short weeks ago the world faced the horror of over 140 precious and innocent schoolchildren murdered by the Taliban in Pakistan. We keep all of the innocent victims in our prayers, and it is difficult to imagine the pain and grief these terrible attacks have caused their families and friends. Taken in their totality, Islamic jihadist movements represent the greatest threat to world peace and to civilization of our time. How can they be stopped, and what can people of faith do?
Jihadist movements must first be understood. These movements, sometimes called “radical Islam”, are not embraced by the majority of the world’s Muslims nor central to the Muslim faith. They instead occupy a dark corner in the Muslim world.
Modern Jihadist movements are based on an ideology of evil and death born in relatively recent times. The Muslim Brotherhood represents the foundation of jihadist ideology and began in Egypt in the early 20th century. The oath of the Muslim Brotherhood calls upon followers to pursue violent jihad and seek their own death as “their greatest desire.” Hamas, the Palestinian jihadist group that seized control of the Gaza Strip after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, defines itself in its charteras “the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood” and calls upon its followers to pursue jihad, kill Jews and annihilate Israel.
The campaign against jihadism is ideological as well as military. The ideology of jihad must be discredited, delegitimized, shunned and rejected, and this cannot happen without the help of moderate Muslims. As Christians we need to understand this and stand with them.
In every Muslim country facing the threat of jihadist groups there are people of good will who oppose them. In some cases they have had sufficient freedom and democratic institutions to effect positive change. The people of Tunisia recently elected a new Presidentcommitted to eradicating jihadist threats and ideology, and much of the Arab world applauded. The people of Egypt, a country perhaps best described as “partially free” in terms of basic rights, freedoms and democratic institutions, overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood and is engaged in a military campaign against jihadist groups in the Sinai. In Gaza, however, Hamas rules with an iron hand and there is no framework for even the possibility of positive change. The people of Gaza have no rights, no voice, and no freedom.
Christians can and must build partnerships with the many in the Muslim world who share our values. We can advocate for basic human rights including freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and support the development of democratic institutions. These principles are not “silver bullets” and offer no guarantee of immediate success, as evidenced by the setbacks of the “Arab Spring”. Without them, however, we can expect failure. The jihadists are destined for the junk heap of human history with no role in the civilized world but we must act to assure that destiny. Let us not despair, and seek God’s guidance in answering this challenge.