Yesterday at Camp Christian, at the advanced conference program for young adults, the key note speaker talked about passion and calling. While one can have a career that intersects with one’s passions and calling, for many one’s calling goes beyond a specific career. The key note speaker described passion and calling as something one does regardless of whether or not one is being paid to do it. While this summer didn’t show me what specific career I should be in, it did confirm my calling. I absolutely loved traveling around the country talking with campers about Islamophobia and terrorism. I enjoyed challenging campers and perhaps some staff members as well, to reconsider the stereotype that terrorism is simply a “Muslim” issue but to look deeply at the ways the Bible and Christianity have been used throughout history and continue to be used to justify violence. Many Christians will rightly point out that the violent verses in the Bible need to be understood in their proper context-in the text as well as historically. In the same way, the verses in the Quran used by extremist groups like ISIS to justify violence are being ripped out of their specific historical context. Moreover, just as Christians disagree over how to interpret certain Bible verses, Islam is filled with a variety of opinions on how to interpret certain passages.
Additionally, saying, ‘terrorists are bad” dismisses the complexity inherent in defining what does or does not constitute terrorism as well as the numerous reasons why individuals join (or are forced to join) terrorist groups. Nor does such a statement address the complexity behind the rise of terrorist groups to begin with. Understandably, if you lost a family member or a loved one in a terrorist attack you don’t necessarily want to or have the energy to think deeply beyond, “this action was horrible, these people are evil, and they killed a loved one.” But on a national and international level, if the US (and other governments) truly want to make headway in reducing terrorist actions, then it will require some deep soul-searching and critical examination regarding the ways in which our government has aided terrorist groups and activities. It may come as a shock, but for many people in other parts of the world, the largest and most dangerous terrorist group in the world is not ISIS (Islamic state, daesh) but the US military. One doesn’t need to agree with that assessment to understand that if we truly want peace (and not just say cliché phrases about world peace and getting everyone to get along) we are going to have to ask some tough questions on an individual and national basis.
This summer confirmed that I enjoy raising and asking these tough questions. And while adults may be hemming and haying at these questions or getting extremely defensive, middle schoolers and high schoolers are open to asking these questions. When at my last camp in Idaho, I talked about understanding and loving those who join terrorist organizations and commit horrific acts, the campers agreed. This isn’t to say that they found doing so easy or particularly enjoyable, but there was a recognition that the gospel-that Jesus asks us to do some difficult things. Jesus asks us to love the “terrorist,” to understand what drives some people to commit such horrific acts. Being a follower of Jesus often goes against what political leaders claim is in the best interests of national security, which often boils down to bombing the hell out of suspected terrorists even if it means killing scores of civilians. Following Jesus means examining our own actions and those of our government, and calling out injustice when we see it. Injustice doesn’t cease being injustice just because horrific actions are committed in the name of the US government.
These aren’t particularly popular or easy sentiments but they need to be expressed. And this summer confirmed that I thrive on having these difficult conversations. About two weeks after this program ends, I will be beginning my second masters, this one in Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies. I will go into the program knowing that the type of conversations I have had this summer-matter. I will go into the program hoping to have even more difficult and challenging conversations and to challenge and be challenged. While I still do not have a specific career goal in mind, I end this summer with an affirmation of my calling to initiate difficult discussions on violence and terrorism and to nuance the one sided conversation, often portrayed in the media that says, “Islam is inherently violent” or “terrorists are evil and need to be killed.”