November 22, 2015

This past week the Western world has been processing the Paris events of last Friday November 13.  While France went on the hunt to capture the fugitive terrorists and bomb their ISIS base in Syria, the press has been reflecting the sentiments and thoughts of people in the streets of Europe.

Many voiced an emotional reaction of rage, grief, and hurt: let’s eradicate these heinous extremists, let’s sweep these toxic neighborhoods of Europe where violent fanaticism is flourishing, let’s clean that war hungry region between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

Each extra day of the week brought more reason and clarity: that violence begets violence, that islamophobia is discriminating, that fear and distrust and hyper-security are ways in which ISIS wins even more ground. But, although religious leaders, military experts, or experienced diplomats brought interesting insights, I still missed in many of those reactions what addresses the question of responsibility. Certainly, these anarchist assassins who use religion as a pretext were responsible. But a good amount of conversation of responsibility and accountability was finger pointing to others. The French police pointed to the Belgians, the Turks blamed the French, and the usual sociologists blamed the banlieu social structures.

Those familiar with the neighborhoods of Brussels and Paris, however, know that Molenbeek and St. Denis have been breeding grounds of extremism for decades. (For many years police forces reported being reluctant to enter those city quarters.) Those acquainted with Islam have been warning about the growth of Salafism, the ultra-orthodox wing of Sunni-Islam supporting violent jihadism, that has deep roots in countries like Saudi-Arabia, Qatar, and Egypt. And those who are calling for stronger European leadership are finding maybe more of a vacuum than they had anticipated.

The sociopathic killing sprays of a group of so-called jihadist criminals came as a shock and caused thousands of parents and children, families and partners to be traumatized and wounded for life. Unfortunately such events barely ever occur as an accident of history. People in office, leaders of our communities, cities, and nations know these threats, see the data and watch toxic mindsets evolving.

In the mix of my rage and grief and hurt, I tried to connect with the data and reasons and causes of this tragedy. I find myself praying for leaders, both in office and in city neighborhoods, political and religious ones, who do not simply focus on the symptoms but have the courage to address the roots of these issues. Taking responsibility and holding others accountable when necessary may require an enormous amount of courage, but it is such leadership and service to society and civilization we need right now. May God bring us those servant leaders today!

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