When It Is Difficult to Love


How does one love Daesh?
How does one love a racist who uses expletives and excrement to show disrespect for an entire group of people?
Before the tragic terrorist attacks on Paris, Friday November 13, 2015, my mind was occupied with the recent events at the University of Missouri. As a black woman in America, I have been on the receiving end of hateful racial slurs thrown my way, so I know how that feels. I know the sense of vulnerability. However, I must confess the insults never make me feel less about myself, and it always takes a few seconds before I realize that I have been insulted. I am usually lost in thought about what I am doing, where I am going, and what I will do when I get there.
I never feel less about myself because my sense of self is rooted in my faith. When I was a little girl in Sunday School, my teachers told me that I was a child of the king, meaning King Jesus who was one with the Father, the Creator God. I believed them then, and I believe them now. Since then, I have often thought about who or what God is and the character of God’s love for us. I believe that God was before the beginning and will be after the end. God has created all that there is on the earth and in the earth and all the galaxies inside an ever expanding universe. I believe that this creative life force in its essence is Divine Love, and this Love loves me personally. It knows my name and cares about me in the most mundane ways. I pray for God to help me find earrings and parking spaces.
So, I do not take insults personally. I usually wonder: what is wrong with the person who has tried to insult me. Similarly, terrorists do not frighten me. I believe that the same God who protects me every day from “all hurt harm and danger” will protect me from the terrorists, and if S/He does not, I will still give God all the glory and honor and praise. I wonder the same thing about terrorists that I wonder about the racist who wants to insult with words: what is wrong with these people?
What would make a person think it is a good idea to use human excrement to smear a wall at a university dormitory? Do they realize that the first person they must offend is themselves? They have to handle the feces. They have to smell it. They have to lower themselves to pick it up. What do they get in return? Do they think that the insult to another person in any way asserts their own superiority? I do not get the logic because in the end, these actions only make the perpetrator look small and ignorant and more than a little pathetic.
Further, I wonder: what is the goal of racist attacks? Do the white perpetrators want a return to an all-white campus? Do they want the return to Jim Crow, to the legal apartheid (apart hate) system in the United States? Do they want black people to lower their voices and their gaze in the presence of white people? Do these racists find their sense of self within the bankrupt and pitiful falsehood that is white supremacy?
The attacks in Paris and the threat of terrorism have eclipsed the excrement smearers at the University of Missouri. Bright and beautiful autumn days rich with the colors of the season and cool crisp days, and now snow in some places, have been made more somber by useless pointless murder. Since Paris there have been attacks in Nigeria and Mali and before Paris there were attacks in Lebanon and in Egypt. I understand the goals of the terrorists better than I understand the goals of the racist. The terrorist wants to terrorize, to make people so afraid that they will insist that their governments go to war. An asymmetrical war intends to lure strong nations into a trap of perpetual war where they hemorrhage blood and treasure until they become weak. Daesh thinks of itself as an Islamic caliphate that is at war with western powers. To win, it does not have to defeat the armies of the west, it only has to survive to await the coming of their version of the Messiah.
The moment the west reduces the capabilities of one of these organizations, another will arise to take its place. An ideology cannot be bombed or shot. It can only be defeated by showing that the logic of the ideology is nonsense. I say: the only thing that can defeat a nihilistic ideology rooted in a perverse interpretation of a medieval version of Islam is Love. Now the question becomes: how does one love a terrorist? How does one love a racist?
Rabbi, prophet of Islam, moral philosopher, and Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ of Nazareth teaches that we ought to love our enemies. How is this possible? Martin Luther King, Jr. teaches in his writings that this love of enemies does not require us to like them or what they do. The imperative is to love. This means a radical care for their well-being. This love is good will. At the same time, disrespectful, unlawful and murderous acts require justice. Terrorists ought to be brought to justice, and this means trial by jury.
Loving our enemies is a long way away from the response of various governments around the world who have declared war on Daesh. Governments are not equipped for this. Governments function through violence and the threat of violence. The problems come when nation/states no longer hold the monopoly on violence. A group such as Daesh can get its hands on weapons of war and begin a campaign of terror and territorial conquest that gives it the wherewithal to declare itself a state. It can take and hold territory. It can do extreme violence. Other individuals who have been inspired by it can do much harm, and other terrorist groups who pledge allegiance to such a thing as an Islamic caliphate can also kill thousands of people.
There is a place for both police and military force in fighting Daesh. However, this alone is insufficient. We ordinary people have a part to play, and this is where our love enters. I say: we cannot love our enemies through our own power, but when we allow Divine Love to love through us, when we allow Holy Spirit to guide us, when we allow reason to remind us that love and fear cannot coexist, then we are able to set aside our fear and let love in.
What does this look like in practical terms? I say and say again that the moral goals of life are sustenance and joy. We live to sustain life and then to find enough joy to make life worth living. El Hajj Malik el Shabazz, a.k.a. Malcolm X, once answered the question about what he wanted by saying that he wants what everyone else wants except more of it. The terrorist who say they want to establish a caliphate want sustenance and joy. The racist wants sustenance and joy. Much of the hatred they feel toward others probably comes from the fear that the Other may be a threat to these two moral goals of living. So, in practical terms, the answer is to address the real world needs of the racist and of young Muslims wherever in the world they are. This means proper education, jobs, and respect.
In my interpretation of just peace theory, I say there are three main pillars of peacemaking – truth, respect, and security. When we tell the truth about how the west has used and misused people across the globe, that is a show of respect. When we tell the truth about how racism has been used in the United States to keep poor white people poor, that white supremacy is a death-dealing ideology that even kills white people, we have at least the hope that the racist will turn away from racism. At the same time that we want our governments to protect us through force, our true security only comes when we are in right relationship with Divine Love and with our neighbors, our national neighbors of other races and our global neighbors, including Muslims. At the end of the day, our ability to love the unlovable and to forgive the unforgivable will help us to transcend our fears and the terrorists are defeated.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”

One thought on “When It Is Difficult to Love

  1. Thank you! I have been struggling to respond to the terrorist actions with love, and NOT by recycling vengeance. I have asked myself: What could trigger me to act how the terrorists acted?
    Your posting has helped me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *