Terrorism, Matthew 5 and Seeing the “Other.”
By Jeffrey Newcomer Miller, Dialogue Resource Team
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I recently listened to a favorite podcast of mine, Freakonomics Radio, in which the subject of terrorism was addressed. The title is “Is there a better way to fight terrorism.” A former military commander raised the question, in this podcast, about just exactly why people were choosing to be suicide bombers. His insight, after much serious study, was that religion had little or nothing to do with why people were choosing such an extreme form of violence, instead his conclusion was that folks like the Talmud Tigers (who are responsible for the largest number of suicide bombings) were choosing this method of warfare or terrorism because they were fighting occupation by a democratic authority. His question gave me that glimmer of hope that comes whenever I read Matthew 5. For the first time, as far as I knew, the conversation was shifting away from the role of religion in terrorism to the role of occupation and poor political decisions. This military commander even mentioned that Iraq had not witnessed a suicide bombing until the US decided to occupy and take control of the nation. Since our occupation the country of Iraq has seen a tremendous increase in suicide bombings.
So, what does Matthew 5 have to say to this situation? Blessed are the peacemakers? Do not resist an evildoer – But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other also?
I believe that Jesus’ words for us are about engaging our enemies and seeing them in a new light, and not attempting solutions that cut-off or even cause permanent harm.
As I understood it acts of terrorism have been committed in an effort to threaten, intimidate, and overrun an otherwise overwhelming enemy. They are extraordinarily effective to this end. Yet, this is not the final word, as I believe. The words of Matthew 5 deter me from making a quick judgment and rendering a punishment or even permitting my government from rendering that punishment, because as I understand it, there is more to the story than just random acts of hate and aggression. There are histories, peoples whose lives are uprooted, hope that has been destroyed, through the actions and decisions made at levels that don’t necessarily pay witness to their long term effects.