We are at war with ISIS, says France’s prime minister, Francois Hollande. War is an interesting term. It means many things and is understood in different ways. We Americans we have participated in many wars that have taken place on foreign soil. Of course, I am not forgetting the Revolutionary War, our own Civil War, or Pearl Harbor, or even the attacks of 9/11 that provoked a war in both Iran and Afghanistan. Even today we are engaged in bombing raids in Syria with a small number of embedded troops. Right now the arguments continue about the effectiveness of our current strategy and about what our level of involvement in Syria should be. They are especially magnified during the current, lengthy political campaign season.
Of course, when we think of war, it is bombs and bullets, tanks and battles. If you think back, the Christian faith has used the word war to describe a spiritual battle that takes place in the hearts and minds of believers. St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (Eph. 6:12)
Actually, there is a war going on for the hearts and minds of people. It is a war from within. This war operates on many fronts, from atheistic secularism to pathological religious beliefs that push people to violence against others who don’t agree with them. As people of faith, we are used to push-back in the arena of ideas that would challenge what we believe. However, when you are in a cafe or a sports stadium and people murder other people, even blow themselves up, you have to wonder what are the beliefs and values that lie underneath these actions. In Paris we saw the rage, the anger, the misguided beliefs and values that manifest themselves in heinous crimes and deeds, that are not only self-destructive but take the lives of innocent people.
I watched people put flowers on makeshift memorial sites in front of the places where people were murdered. Of course, the loss and grief of even a single person has a ripple effect that touches so many. When you multiply that to over 300 people killed or harmed, it is enormous. On top of that, there is us, who identify in solidarity with their grief and also want to see justice served.
I don’t have the answer for how to defeat ISIS. I think part of the answer is based in the values that our faith guides us in how to live. We need to treat everyone as brothers and sisters, find ways to accept them, whether they are a neighbor or someone of a different faith that has come to find a new life in America. Disaffected young people, who have not had the opportunity to find meaning in their life, may reach out in the wrong direction. It is always amazing to see young people leaving the West to fight for ISIS in Syria. Perhaps it says more about the life they are leaving than the life they are going to.
All I know is that there is a church at Fenimore and Cortlandt that talks about values, acts of compassion, deeds of love motivated by faith. We must stand in solidarity with the people in Paris, Beirut, Syria, and not give in to the rulers of the darkness of this world.
Today we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Paris. May our prayers be with them and with all who suffer as victims of ISIS all over the world.