Since the hideous Paris attacks last week, a point that has been made over and over again is that ISIS (or, Daesh if you want to annoy them) have a strategy of provocation. Their atrocities are designed to ‘sharpen the contradictions‘ by provoking people in Western countries into acts of racism, and provoking Western governments into acts of war. They hope that by sowing division and actually causing human rights abuses against minorities, more Muslims in these countries will become disaffected and radicalised. Journalist Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed has a good analysis of the strategy:
ISIS recognizes that it has only marginal support amongst Muslims around the world. The only way it can accelerate recruitment and strengthen its territorial ambitions is twofold: firstly, demonstrating to Islamist jihadist networks that there is now only one credible terror game in town capable of pulling off spectacular terrorist attacks in the heart of the west, and two, by deteriorating conditions of life for Muslims all over the world to draw them into joining or supporting ISIS.
When the President of France declares his country is at war with ISIS, the strategy succeeds.
When US Governors turn their backs on Syrian refugees, the strategy succeeds.
With British newspapers wilfully dehumanise the Muslim victims of the Syrian civil war, the strategy succeeds.
When the biggest tabloid in Britain demands a ground invasion, the strategy succeeds.
The strategy must not succeed.
I think of the words of the Palestinian social activist Yeshua, who tweeted:
But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.
This is not just some hippie peacenik talking. These are the words of a savvy operator who knows that the counter-intuitive move will confound the enemy. Regardless of whether it is an effective tactic against fending off immediate violence (probably not) it immediately sharpens a different kind of contradiction: between the negativity of the aggressor and the positivity of the one who is attacked.
We’ve tried overwhelming military power, and it doesn’t really work. So how about we try a political approach based on Matthew 5:39?
In practical terms, I accept this cannot mean dropping our defences and standing down the security services. But it could certainly mean a decision not to escalate the military conflict and it absolutely must mean diffusing social tensions.
Governments are prone to displays of strength, whether that is sabre-rattling or actual deployment. They fall into the ISIS trap with surprising ease. Thankfully, individual citizens are far more sophisticated. From cartoons that ridicule the gun-men, to overt gestures of goodwill towards Syrian refugees, civil society is stepping up to turn the other cheek, preserve the civil liberties upon which a strong democracy is based, and to trumpet ideas of goodwill and solidarity to our fellow human beings… be they French or Syrian.
My friend @Wkrs puts a different spin on the verse in question:
@robertsharp59 a theologian once told me that this is sometimes interpreted as a defiant "your blows can't hurt me, is that all you've got"?
— Ian Wickham (@Wkrs) November 17, 2015