Yes, that’s yesterday’s score, and however indelicate it is to mention it, I want everyone who believes we are dealing with ISIL/DAESH the right way to take a good look at it. The early editions of British tabloids exulted over the assassination of Jihadi John only to find that if we compete in terrorism, civilised societies will always lose, because we are not prepared, publicly at least, to act with the same savagery as our enemies.
The example and teaching of Jesus is clear; believers are not to use violence, even to defend themselves. He was not giving advice to whole societies, and the issue of legitimate self-defence by nations has been discussed by the Christian Church over centuries, resulting in the just war theory which demands sufficient cause, use of violence only after all other means have been tried, formal declaration of war, the means of violence to be appropriate to the threat offered, the offer of truce and treaty to be constantly maintained.
Jesus’ way however not only forbids violence it also urges the use of powerful means of defence which are often neglected. We should love our enemies, that is, we should want what is good for them as well as for ourselves; and we should if possible act on that principle. Does that sound soft, unrealistic, pie-in-the-sky nonsense? Perhaps in view of yesterday’s disasters it might merit a second look as Jesus was not famous for his lack of realism. “Those who use violence will die by violence” he said, noting a sad and often-ignored fact.
Jesus tells us that we should try to persuade enemies that their violence is wrong, even for them; that we are not opposed to their good; and that peaceful ways can bring success for all. If that sounds unrealistic ask yourself where middle eastern and African refugees want to go. To Syria and Iraq? No, to Europe and especially to societies with a strong democratic traditions and the rule of law. To some extent, although we do not deserve it because of our lack of faith in refugees, we have already persuaded millions of people that a peaceful society is better than a violent one. We should of course see that our approach to refugees is one of our means of persuasion against violent killers. If we show ourselves to be confident and generous, as Germany has done, even sceptical Moslems take note.
But we must distinguish genuine persuasion from propaganda. No enemy will believe that we are thinking of their good if we are simultaneously stealing their natural resources for our use, or sucking up to their tyrannical rulers to get preferential business deals, as David Cameron has done with the Chinese and Indian tyrants in the last two weeks. Yes, we have to live in the real world, and sometimes we may have to surrender a principle in order to do any good at all. We should, nevertheless, hold fast to the conviction that a good, just and peaceful society is a greater threat to violent thugs than any amount of weaponry.
A good society needs a police force; a good world needs an international police force. We do not have that as yet, and should be working for it. Until we get it, we may still have to use national armed forces to protect the lives of citizens. But we should never see them as our only weapon against violence; the love that Jesus advocated is a surer defence. We should pray for the citizens of France in their grief and anger, while urging them to believe that their democratic traditions and their devotion to the arts of peaceful living are better retaliation than any number of bombing raids. To rely on peaceful means may seem to be a risk, but in view of yesterday’s slaughter, a risk worth taking.