The life of evangelical churches and their spiritual leaders has been portrayed in some recent films and series. Can they help us start conversations?
As Christians living in Europe, we have a unique opportunity to be salt and light in genuine, courageous and simple ways.
I begin by telling you about a somewhat strange event.
I remember sitting in History class on a cloudy day in Secondary School. I do not know if it the darkness inside the classroom helped me to keep that memory more intensely, but the fact is that the teacher (may God bless her wherever she is now) had just told us about the Cold War. And then she added:
The greatest threat the West will face in the future will be global terrorism with Islamic roots, a religious and cultural terrorism which is very difficult to identify and eradicate.
That was in the late 90’s, a few years before 9/11. In Spain, we had grown up under the shadow of ETA’s terrorism, which had nothing to do with that terrorism she was now talking about.
These words came back to mind again the day I got home from work and saw on television how the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York in the early hours of the 11th September. They still thought it was an accident.
I also remembered the words of my teacher when one of the bombs in Atocha (Madrid) on March 11, 2004, woke me up - at 7:39 a.m. My building trembled, although it was a few kilometres away from the centre of the city, where Al Qaeda attacked several trains and killed 191 people.
That Secondary School teacher was no more than a worker in a centre in the outskirts of Madrid. Sometimes I think, how was it possible for her to grasp this, and why did she tell this to us, teenagers, who did not know what to do with it. I often wonder why, if she knew it, if someone else had suspected it, nothing was ever done about it.
And here we are now, with a fulfilled prophecy. The most terrible thing about these kind of attacks that have been going on since the beginning of the century, is that in almost all cases, the terrorists were people born and raised in Western societies, educated in Western schools, who, when they reached adolescence, become the target of jihadist propaganda and were radicalised.
As Leila Nachawati - a professor at the Carlos III University in Madrid and an Arab world expert - says, the terrorism that has plagued Europe in recent decades is not a military problem and will not be solved militarily by acting on countries in the Middle East. It is a European, cultural problem of integration, for which it is necessary to propose solutions that go beyond the police or the military. It is one of the wisest things I have heard lately.
The Media, and even ourselves, insist on continuing to believe that this is something from outside that is falling on us and that it has nothing to do with us.
The relationship with Daesh is not a logistical issue, but one that is ideological. Any lone assassin, acting on his own with material and information obtained online, acting on behalf of Jihad, is absorbed by Daesh and his actions are used for the jihadist cause, even though they never worked together. This is the new terrorism.
The Media often try to know if these radicalised European Muslims have travelled to Arab countries, and if it was there where they were radicalised, or captured. But in many cases this is not verifiable, nor a real cause. They are Europeans and they have been radicalised here, in our streets, and in our neighbourhoods.
That is why the exaggerated far-right reactions in Europe, the proposals to close the borders, to cancel the treaties of free circulation and to make anti-immigration laws more stringent, are not a solution to the real problem; but only a populist encouragement for public agitation. Because:
a) European Muslims, although of Eastern descent, are now also European. The idea that Europe can only be “Christian” (meaning non-Muslim) is a fallacy that only enhances xenophobia and racism.
b) Although changing migration policies may improve certain current conflicts, it will not affect in any way the breeding ground from which terrorism is generated.
But there are also good news. I really like the perspectives proposed by two articles published in recent weeks. Bert de Ruiter, a Christian-Muslim relations consultant for OM Europe and the European Evangelical Alliance, says:
I notice that many Christians are infected by the widespread Islamophobia that is present in many European countries of today. Christian voters have participated in the growth of extreme right wing political parties that make Islam their number one issue. Instead of agents of change and transformation in a society estranged from God, we mimic its sentiments, such as xenophobia, islamophobia, alarmism, nationalism.
And the truth is that, as Western Christians, instead of falling into these shameful practices, we would have to recognise that we have not only the obligation, but also a unique opportunity to be light and salt in this society in a genuine, simple and courageous way.
In another article, Sarah Foster, researcher, teacher and speaker of the Pfander Centre for Apologetics, an organisation focused on bringing the gospel to the Muslim culture, says that atheism is incapable of offering any real solution to European jihadism:
For how can one who does not understand the hope of existence after death, comprehend an ideology that points towards it? But hope for a glorious afterlife is what IS promises, along with the notion that the physical fighting of unbelievers is Gods’ will.
We know that the deep longing to be right with God and to have assurance of life beyond the grave is wholly met in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is what we have to offer. It is the power of God for salvation, not only for the Jew, the Greek, but also for the jihadi.
As Christians we understand that behind the terrorist there is a strong sense of transcendence and spirituality. The the truth of the gospel can be a powerful weapon to transform this reality.
If the problem is that these Europeans of Muslim descent are radicalised because there is an important part of their identity that sees violence, prejudice and racism in their daily lives; then, we as Christians, need to transmit the love of Christ that brings cohesion and smooths things over in our closest environment.
I am not talking about great projects or international campaigns, but about our personal commitment with the Lord in our everyday life.
None of this will change the world, but it will help creating an environment of coexistence and integration where less teenagers and youth from a Muslim background will choose the path of radicalisation.
That is the beginning, and the love of Christ will also be the only way for them to know the real gospel.
I propose a list of small everyday actions. There are more actions we Christians can take, but here are some easy examples.
1. Love your fellow Muslim as yourself. Love his family and his children. Even if it takes much effort.
2. Recognise and identify racist or xenophobic attitudes, in your environment and in yourselve. Admit that this attitudes are a sin and act accordingly.
3. Change your daily speech and find a way of talking to others (neighbours, family, etc.) about Muslims that is neither derogatory nor prejudiced.
4. Buy in their stores and do not despise shops run by foreigners.
5. Participate in activities and integration projects in your city and neighbourhood.
6. Invite your acquaintances and Muslim friends to your home rather than to your church.
7. Reflect on how the “culture shock” affects you, and look for ways to soften it.
8. Pay special attention to the children of Muslim families, who are the most vulnerable. Do not warn your children against engaging with Muslims, or hampering their friendship with fellow Muslim classmates. Teach your children about the need to respect those with a different background.
9. Do not participate in political proposals which support segregation or some kind of racism.
10. If none of the above work, continue to love your Muslim neighbours.