With all the crises that have been playing out throughout the world, the beheading of a journalist, James Foley, by ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) in Syria has caught and kept my attention.
The United States Government decried “the brutal murder of an innocent American journalist.”
While this action certainly seems cruel and horrific, there are still some who may be tempted to better understand the “other’s” perspective, in the service of fairness and balance. Looking at both sides of an issue is usually prudent, and in this case it is reasonable and fair to say that those who committed this act are motivated by the highest ideals, as embodied by their religious beliefs.
James Foley was a reporter who sought out opportunities to present a balanced picture, telling the stories of people at risk at the hands of larger forces and giving voice to the dispossessed. But, even though James Foley meant well…according to ISIS he was not innocent.
And they passed judgment in a particularly gruesome manner, which they saw as their right and duty.
I understand the temptation on the part of many to say that if only we were not involved in these conflicts in the Middle East and around the world, then these tragedies would not be happening. If only we had not helped create this mess through our initial foray into Iraq; if only we left Al Qaeda or the Taliban alone and did not become entangled in Afghanistan…or Pakistan; if only we pressured Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians and punished them for their disproportionate response to rocket attacks from Hamas in Gaza. If only….
Yet here’s the problem: according to all of these movements, James Foley isn’t innocent and neither are we.
Even if we listen to those who counsel dialogue and caution about the United States’ role in perpetuating conflicts, that doesn’t change the fact that there would still be Islamic extremists around the world looking to assert their ideologies and to subjugate or kill those who disagree. It doesn’t matter whether we are in the Middle East or minding our own business sitting in our living rooms, it is the values and beliefs we stand for which they perceive as standing in their way, and which motivate them to attack us.
That’s the difficulty with extremists like ISIS…or Al Qaeda or the Taliban or Hamas – while we, infidels, are the focus of their attention, it is only their ideology and values that count. No matter how much we may want to project our Western values and liberal approach onto them – it won’t work. And to insist on doing so only hurts us and creates an environment that aids their cause.
In the words of Winston Churchill: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.”
We could have the best of intentions and believe in our own divinely-inspired values, but we need to recognize the reality of the situation as spelled out by Churchill. Their worldview is not ours, and as long as we try and project our values onto them, we will impede our ability to solve these problems…and potentially make matters worse. In their eyes, we are all guilty. In ours, we shouldn’t feel at all guilty about what we need to do.