The Role of Shame in Terror Recruiting

It's been 16 years since 9/11 - and since George W. Bush declared the War on Terror. Yet military action has not led to a more peaceful world. In fact, terrorist ideology has spread. The problem is exacerbated when people try to fight the war on terror in their own way - against people who are not terrorists - but just happen to be Muslim,

Though people have been repeatedly warned that this is exactly what groups like ISIS wants - that warning seems to fall on deaf ears. Even Christians who have tools for peace, more powerful than any government, have bought into this futile pattern of response.

I've just read an insightful post by Leena Al Olemy titled "Terrorists Don't Kill For Their Religion, It's Something Else." In it, Olemy points to a common factor among people drawn to terror groups and actions. The common factor is not religious devotion she says - it's shame.

As more and more details emerge about the perpetrators of terror, we are discovering that these are not devout men - but rather, people with criminal histories, drug abuse issues, and sexual problems. The Paris airport attacker Ziyed Ben Belgacem for instance, had a criminal history that included drug abuse, theft, and the receipt of stolen goods. His toxicology report revealed the presence of alcohol, cannabis, and cocaine in his system. In a phone call he made to his father - while driving a car he had stolen at gunpoint after shooting an officer - he said "Dad, please forgive me. I've screwed up." Afterward he proceeded to Orly Airport in Paris, where he put a gun to a soldier’s head, declaring: "I am here to die in the name of Allah (...) There will be deaths."

What violent extremist groups like ISIS offer to the young men they recruit is a way to externalize their shame,  and be transformed from a social outcast to a hero by attacking a corrupt society. What amounts in Christian terms to a false gospel.

If this is correct the potential recruits of terror, could be just as open to receive the Gospel - a message that specifically addresses the burden of shame by revealing the self sacrifice of a loving God for the forgiveness of sin; which teaches people to respond to evil with love. I'll grant you though - American Evangelicals are the first people to forget this. But it is possible that the Church is called to have a larger, and more hopeful role to play in fighting terrorism than just supporting the military option.

On a final note, Here is another interesting article about just such a conversion - from the New York Times. March 24th, 2017. The Jihadi Who Turned to Jesus.  It tells the story of 25 year old Bashir Mohammed who leads a prayer meeting with Christian refugees in Istanbul. Once he fought on the front line of the Syrian Civil War for the Nusra Front - an offshoot of Al Qaiada. Now, his fellow Christians refer to him jokingly as an irhabi (a terrorist). But he is no longer a terrorist. Now he meets for prayer with people who in the past he would have seen as enemies. Just as Jesus brought Simon the Zealot together with Tax Collectors for his enemies - and brought Saul of Tarshish into the community of believers he once persecuted. Jesus shows us that the people who we think are the farthest from God are actually closer than we think.  Perhaps right at the door to the Kingdom. Will we open it for them, or shut it in their faces?

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