One of the enduring lessons of human history seems to be that it is much easier to hate than to love. We human beings seem to have a hard time swinging to the rhythm of our better angels, finding it much easier to march to the martial beat of belligerent animal spirits.
It seems our world is presently dancing to the tune of these latter demons, and many societies worldwide are experiencing hateful movements which justify themselves both by a smug self-supremacy and by a demonization of the “enemy.” Last weekend in Charlottesville, VA, a group describing itself as white supremacists gathered for a “Unite the Right” rally to protest (as was their right, having legally secured a permit) the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee authorized by the city council. As the rally time approached, counterdemonstrators also began to amass, and in a hate-charged climate insults and slurs began to fly, followed soon by fists and improvised weapons. The boiling enmity of the white nationalists was met by an equally torrid antipathy of radical leftists, and in the end, driven by such hate, a young white supremacist rammed his speeding car intentionally into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32 year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
In the aftermath, many in the world of the political and social left have pronounced their unmitigated condemnation of everything the white nationalists, neo-Nazis and KKK adherents stand for, and have started a movement to tear down every statue and reminder of the Confederate South and the institution of slavery which it championed and fought our Civil War over.
Then, yesterday, in a seemingly unrelated incident in Barcelona, Spain, and its surroundings, a Muslim terrorist cell (claimed by ISIS) carried out two vehicular jihadi attacks, and was responsible the night before for the massive explosion of a house, caused apparently by the accidental ignition of 20 canisters of gas seemingly intended by the terror cell for an upcoming attack. So far, 14 innocents are confirmed dead with another 130 plus injured.
Now, today, reports are coming from Turku, Finland (until today relatively untouched by terrorism) that a man with a large knife ran through the city center stabbing people and, according to witnesses, shouting “Allahu akbar.” He was shot by police and detained, but not before killing two and injuring eight others. Police have not released any information about the perpetrator, and declare that his motive is unknown so it’s too early to call this a terrorist attack. [Update: The attacker has now been identified as an 18 year-old Muslim male asylum-seeker from Morocco, and authorities are now open to the possibility that this was terror-related.]
Do these attacks share anything in common? I believe so. The Charlottesville melee was kindled by the explosive friction of two supremacist groups seeing each other as the enemy. The white supremacists view themselves as part of the privileged master race, wanting to cleanse this country of all genetic inferiors and any white people who side with them. The hard left liberals, with smug certainty that their views are true on, well, everything, have demonstrated on college campuses, in public buildings, on Wall Street and elsewhere, that to get their way they are willing to shout others down, destroy property, threaten personal bodily harm against any who refuse to bow to their demands. What happens when two supremacist groups face off, convinced that those on the other side are not worthy to be treated with respect? Violence.
In Spain and apparently now in Finland, we again are dealing with a supremacist movement, this time the religion of Islam. While not all Muslims by any means march in lockstep with its supremacist teachings, those who do believe unreservedly that their infallible prophet relayed Allah’s words that the Muslim community was the best of all peoples to ever exist (Qur’an 3:110), and that those refusing Islam are the vilest of creatures in all the world (98:6). True believers have been drafted by Allah into his army to spread his rule to the ends of the earth, installing Shari’a as the divine law under which all humanity will bow in submission. Those who do so voluntarily (without becoming Muslims) will grudgingly be allowed to live under severe limitations. Those who refuse to submit will be put to the sword.
To accomplish this goal, particularly when the Muslim community is weaker than the surrounding nations, those compliant with core Islam employ terrorism in order to weaken their opponents psychologically if not physically. The Qur’an encourages this mentality by revealing Allah to be the primary terrorist of his enemies:
“[Remember] when your Lord inspired to the angels, I am with you, so strengthen those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip. That is because they opposed Allah and His Messenger. And whoever opposes Allah and His Messenger – indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.” (8:12-13)
“We will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve for what they have associated with Allah of which He had not sent down [any] authority. And their refuge will be the Fire, and wretched is the residence of the wrongdoers.” (3:151)
“And He [Allah] brought down those who supported them among the People of the Scripture [Jewish tribes in Medina] from their fortresses and cast terror into their hearts [so that] a party you [the Muslims in Medina] killed, and you took captive a party” (33:26; see also 59:2 for another reference to the same event).
The most authoritative traditions of Islam have no problem portraying Muhammad as embracing terrorism for the advancement of Islam:
“I have been sent with the shortest expressions bearing the widest meanings, and I have been made victorious with terror (cast in the hearts of the enemy)…” (Sahih Bukhari, 4.52.220).
While only Islam employs terrorism with divine warrant, all totalitarian movements are willing to use intimidation and violence to cow the masses into submission so as to advance their agenda of domination. So we see the extreme left and the extreme right in our country turning to such tactics as they vie to implement their visions upon our society.
There is one other way these movements reveal their commonality. Whatever stands against their cause must be removed not only from their presence but expunged from history, if possible. In Islam, Muhammad taught that the age before his revelation came was to be known as jahiliyya (ignorance). Now that Islam has come, all cultural practices and artifacts that smack of such ignorance (religious idols, strong pre-Islamic cultural memories and holidays, etc.) are to be eradicated from the people’s memory as Shari’a law is implemented and hegemonic Islamic government is implemented over conquered territory. [For a taste of what this might mean in an “Islamic State of America, see here.] As Islam spread across the world, it eradicated native cultures with varying degrees of success such that today in many parts of the Islamic world, societies do not remember any significant parts of their pre-Islamic heritage. The Taliban in Afghanistan are remembered for their religious fervor in destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas by using them for artillery target practice. ISIS in both Iraq and Syria have blown up ancient archaeological sites and decimated museums with ancient (pre-Islamic) relics precisely in order to wipe out any memory of the “age of ignorance” in their conquered territories.
Likewise, the extreme right white nationalists want to rid this country of any mixture of races by deporting, killing or forcing to flee all those whose racial “purity” doesn’t meet their standards. They would like to purge our Constitution of any extension of equal rights to minorities, and eliminate any celebrations of our civil rights advances or cultural heroes such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks or Thurgood Marshall.
The radical Left also have their campaign against ideological jahiliyya. For them, the ignorance is must of what the radical Right stands for. We see in the recent drive to remove all signs of the Confederacy from public view this same attempt to impose controls on what is acceptable thinking. From the banning of the Confederate flag wherever possible, the tearing down of statues erected in memory of Civil War heroes in the South, the hope of the Leftists is that any memories of slavery will be expunged from national consciousness – by force, if necessary.
In each of these cases (radical Right, radical Left, core Islam), these similar attitudes and behaviors are due in large measure to the fundamental error of trivializing human beings by seeing them only according to one all-important calculus. For white nationalists, it’s whether one has the right genetic make-up or not; for the Leftists, it’s whether one has the correct social activist credentials or not; for core Muslims, it’s whether one is willing to submit to orthodox Islam or not. Human beings in their totality are judged by which side they fall on the all-important line of demarcation.
So, statues and memorials of historically prominent individuals must be destroyed if it can be ascertained that they were slave-owners. It makes no difference if they had any redeeming qualities or accomplishments in other areas of their life. The matter of slavery is the only one that counts, and they stand on the wrong side of that line, so their memory must be erased from public consciousness. This is problematic, not just for our national memory – not only Robert E. Lee and Confederate heroes were slave-owners, but also founding fathers like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Andrew Jackson (on the face of our $20 bill), Benjamin Franklin (on the face of our $100 bill), John Jay (first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) and so on. The fact is, prior to the anti-slavery movement in the West in the 1700s, slavery was an accepted practice in almost every major society in history. If possession of slaves is the determining factor in whether we embrace or reject an historical figure, then today we must demonize people like the philosopher Plato, Demosthenes, Cicero, Ptolemy the Great and his successors, Julius Caesar, Montezuma, Christopher Columbus, Ulysses S. Grant, Simon Bolivar (the “Great Liberator” of Latin America), and even Muhammad, the founder of Islam, who not only bought, sold and possessed slaves, but made slavery an approved practice of Islam, which has enslaved more human beings than any movement in history.
When we trivialize people, reducing their lives to one issue, we can so easily dismiss anything positive about them. Already today there are increasing calls for demolishing the Jefferson Memorial, because Thomas Jefferson was an unrepentant slave-owner. But, if we retain the same trivializing tendency and change the issue, we might eradicate any and all statues and monuments related to flawed human beings. Indeed, I read this morning that women who have claimed sexual abuse by Bill Clinton are clamoring that a statue of him in Rapid City, SD, be destroyed so as not to honor an “abhorrent and morally deficient president.”
What is the antidote to this? We must see all human beings through more than a one-dimensional lens. For those who depend upon biblical wisdom, that means:
- viewing human beings as equally created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-28), thereby being equally worthy of dignity and honor.
- recognizing that all human beings are flawed, lost souls whom the Son of God came to find and redeem:
- “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10)
- “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)
- caring for the outsider: “And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deut. 10:19).
- the Church is meant to be a microcosm of God’s new humanity, reconciled to Him and to one another through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit now indwelling us:
- “For he himself [Jesus] is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Eph. 2:14).
- “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28)
- Heaven will feature the united family of God, with people of all ethnic backgrounds and socio-economic histories standing as one body around the throne of God, marked by the transforming power of God’s forgiving and redeeming grace.
Instead of trivializing, devaluing and even demonizing those who seem so different, even wrong, to us, we must recapture a deeper, more profound understand of the human nature which unites us, and retrain ourselves to grasp the conviction that what unites us in a common humanity is much greater than that which divides. This is one of the fundamental building blocks of a biblical worldview. Perhaps it is a great place to start.