Yesterday Fr.Jacques Hamel was murdered by two thugs who claimed to be affiliated to Daesh, and to be acting for Allah. He was brutally killed in front of his congregation while celebrating mass.
Daesh has ordered the killing of Christian people before but this may be the first murder of a Christian priest, simply because he was a priest, carrying out his ordinary duties. It is a very dangerous precedent as it opens the way to people who do not understand Christianity taking revenge on Imams and other official representatives of Islam. All Christian communities who are grieved by Fr. Hamel’s death, should immediately make it clear that there must never be an act of revenge in the name of Jesus. The story of the death of Jesus is there to remind people of the difference between Mohammed, peace upon him, who talked about peace, and Jesus who made peace even with his killers.
I say there should be no revenge, but I do not mean there should be no action. It is time for representatives of the Christian Church to call out Daesh. It is easy to cut people’s throats, even easier to order the cutting of throats, but harder to justify your actions to honest enquirers. Can Daesh explain its killings to Christian believers? Can it uphold its policies only with a weapon or can it uphold them in rational argument? Doubtless this forum would have to take place in territory where the safety of all involved could be guaranteed, but that ought to be possible. Perhaps a Sunni cleric might organise it. I am not being either ironical or naive. I think Christian people should be talking to Daesh, and inviting it as a Muslim organisation to show how its actions flow from Islam. If Daesh is unwilling to engage in open discussion, then it will be reasonable to accuse it of cowardice. If something done in the name of God cannot be justified, it suggests that the God in question is only a sectarian idol and not the God of all peoples. I say it again, I believe Christian people should initiate talks with Daesh. I would be happy to participate.
As a Christian minister this morning however, I also want to affirm my solidarity with my brother Jacques, whose life was snuffed out so painfully, in front of those to whom he ministered. I hope his dying moments were eased by the presence of people he knew, and that the symbols of the presence of Jesus were real to him in his agony. I believe he is with God who wipes away all tears. He is a true witness ( Greek, martur), because he was killed just doing his duty as a priest, without any expectation of violence. Christian people will honour him by refusing hatred and violence, by continuing to worship God and to love their neighbours. Had the representatives of Daesh come asking his help instead of looking to harm him, he would have received them with courtesy and understanding.
We should demonstrate these qualities especially towards the Muslim believers in our own nations, almost all of whom are appalled by the way their God’s holy name is being being dishonoured by violent words and actions, recognising that in the opinion of many Muslims the name of Christ has been dishonoured by our imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and. Libya. There is however a difference. Large numbers of Christian people, as well as official representatives of churches, actively opposed these wars, and have persistently criticised anti- Muslim individuals and organisations, whereas the hate crimes of Daesh are carried out by people who use the name Allah. Have I missed the fatwa which should long ago have been pronounced against them?
In the name of Jesus and in the name of Jacques Hamel, we must ask Daesh to talk with us. Doubtless it would better if this request came from the leaders of our churches, and if they show a desire to do so, I will happily stand back. But I am looking for Christian people who would like to do this in person; who hope that members of Daesh will give them the opportunity their brothers denied Fr Jacques, to talk about what divides us. I am hopeless at using social media, so if any readers agree with me, they might help to establish a campaign using the name talkwithdaesh. Jesus’ command to love our enemies does not mean giving up in the face of our enemy’s violence but rather recognising him as a fellow human being who is due the courtesy of our opposition.
Our political culture often encourages our passivity in the face of terror; we should leave it to those who know about such matters to act on our behalf. I very much doubt if the officers of our state have the slightest clue how to deal with Daesh, but I know some Christian people who’d be good at it. There’s a time for being bold; let’s talk with Daesh, soon!