Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

How to Overcome Evil

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

How to Overcome Evil

Article excerpt

LIKE MUCH OF the world, I've been thinking quite a bit about ISIS over the past few months. I've been horrified by the accounts of the so- called Islamic State's barbarism, and I lament their perversion of one of the world's great religions.

Most of all, I'm outraged at their disregard for human life-at their wanton killing of Shia Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and anyone else who doesn't share their radical vision. Pope Francis has said that it's legitimate to act to protect innocent lives in this case, and I don't disagree with him.

Yet I believe that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers, which requires us to think beyond short-term military solutions and address the systemic issues that breed crises like this one. And I strongly believe that to have any moral authority in the cur- rent crisis, we must first confess the Western policies and attitudes that have contributed to where we find ourselves today-and then repent of those policies and attitudes.

The first thing we need to confess is a shallow and, at best, incomplete understanding of ISIS. Alireza Doostdar of the University of Chicago Divinity School wrote, "[We] seem to assume that ISIS ... has suddenly materialized out of the thin ether of an evil doctrine. But ISIS emerged from the fires of war, occupation, killing, torture, and disenfranchisement. It did not need to sell its doctrine to win recruits. It needed above all to prove itself effec- tive against its foes."

That is not to say that ISIS' doc- trine and the actions of its fighters are not evil, because it is and they are. But we do need to acknowledge that the turmoil that has enveloped Iraq since the U.S. invasion in 2003 created a fertile environment for a group like ISIS to win supporters to its cause. Ultimately, we cannot undermine or defeat a group that we do not properly understand. Only when we change the under- lying conditions that allow ISIS to attract recruits will it be possible for us to defeat it in the long term.

To that end, we need to con- fess that our legacy of colonialism and dependence on fossil fuels has much to do with the current state of the Middle East. Western colonial powers drew national boundaries in the region based on their own interests, with little regard for regional history or cul- tural identities. At the same time, we have subverted people's rights to self-determination by support- ing corrupt and repressive regimes throughout the region and valued our access to oil above all other considerations. U.S. military bases in the Middle East make it diffi- cult for citizens of these countries not to see us as an imperial power much like the ancient Romans. …

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