Louise Thunin (rewritten from the French by the author)
Shortly after the terrorist attacks on Paris in November of 2015, the following message, with its surprising proposal, made its way to my e-mail inbox.
I’d like to invite you to undertake a form of action which is as profound as it is simple.
If the army of the Islamic State is fearful and powerful, what might be its potential if it was touched by the grace of God and struggled with equal determination for Love.
Today, I am recruiting a militia and launching a new crusade!
Its objective is to convert each jihadist fighter.
To do so, each of us can « adopt » a soldier (unknown to us but known to God). I propose that you « baptize » him, that is, give him a Christian name and adopt him in your heart as a true son (a rebellious one, clearly, but the object of your prayers).
You could give him life through your love and everything you wish for him (joy, tears, laughter, each breath you take…).
Rest assured that on Earth or in Heaven, one day’ll you come across a fellow who will say to you, « My name is…. (the name you’ll have chosen for your fighter), and I used to be in the army of Isis, but now I have given my life for Christ ! »
On reading this text, I had mixed feelings. I was floating somewhere between delight and disturbance.
I am convinced that the only effective medicine for fear and violence, the only real balm for the soul, after a tragedy, is love. The call to love in this message of good will was genuine, original and pragmatic.
We are healed of our anxiety and our anger by letting go of them and allowing the divine hand to transmute them. This transformation may occur in part through the recognition of our participation, most often unconscious, of course, in the miseries of this world. Thus, we rise from a state of victimhood to one of responsibility. And accepting responsiblity empowers us, makes us strong. This strength is built on asking forgiveness of our brothers and sisters and on the transmission of loving thoughts.
Indeed, I am also convinced that the strength of our thoughts, when they align with divine Will, with the true, the good, and the beautiful, imprint with the very power of the Holy Spirit and act in the world. Our thinking becomes logos, dynamic and creative.
I believe that the blessings I may transmit to a jihadist soldier reach him. It’s up to him to receive them or not. For a gift to be a gift, there has to be a recipient. But I believe that the part of him that remains in touch with the essence of his being is capable of receiving a spiritual gift, his « ego » notwithstanding (ego being that which appears to separate him from his divine sonship). This, on condition that I keep at it, that daily, over a certain period of time, I carry this package of lovingkindness and sharing to the Post Office of my consciousness and of our collective consciousness.
It would be wonderful (and more effective) if many of us, a great many, did the same.
However, what bothered me when I read this message was, first of all, the word « convert. » It isn’t up to me to convert anyone, I said to myself. That’s the Holy Spirit’s job. To want to convert someone is to judge this person. To want him other than he is would be to judge the work of the Creator, wouldn’t it ?
And moreover, to what would I convert him if not to his own humanity, his true inner being, to the divine spark which remains in the depths of each person, however thick the layers of ignorance and wickedness that hide it.
The genuine humanity of this jihadist, as for each of us, is inseparable from his divine potential, from that quiet center where man is destined to grow into Man. If I recognize that this potential exists in me, I recognize at the same that it exists within the most terrifying executioner of Isis. Realizing this leads me to see this soldier in a different light, to change my perception of him, to convert my own eyes. To that end, Help, if I request it, is offered. But the first convert has to be me.
Moreover, I was bothered by the idea of giving a Christian name to this rebellious adopted son. God calls us by our name, says the prophet Isaiah (45 : 4), and this name is known to him alone. But at our birth, our parents choose a name for us, and it must be respected. It partakes of our identity in the world. What should I do ? The more I read the message, the more I felt motivated to participate in this adoption, but in my own way.
First of all, I started to imagine « my » soldier in this way or that. There must be one or another, I told myself, who corresponds to this profile. But if he is a Muslim, shouldn’t I give him the name of Rûmî, my favorite Soufi poet ? I was thinking of doing that, when a name sneaked into my thoughts and wouldn’t leave.
So, it was decided. I would call him « Christopher, » he who carries the Christ. I do not mean that he carries Jesus of Nazareth (which is probably what the author of the message means, when she speaks of giving one’s life to Christ) but that which, inside him, as in Jesus of Nazareth, is Christ-mind, Spirit of the holy son, inner light, healing, goodness, and Life. That which, deep within him, is anointed.
Editorial response :
The editorial committee of Évangile et Liberté chose to publish this text, because it is provocative ; it focuses in an off-beat way on an essential and tragic subject. We all ask ourselves what we can do in the face of terrorism. In fact, our December 2015 issue presented three articles with different « accents ». (the editorial, an article by Rabbi David Meyer, and an article by Farid El Asri, a specialist on Islam). We all seek the best way to eradicate the planetary gangrene of terrorism. Between firmness, which may sometimes become blind, and a message of love, which may sometimes end in renunciation, we hesitate in our analyses and our choices. But this article by Louise Thunin asks another question, a surprising one : not « What should we do about terrorism ? » but « What should we do with terrorists ? » Not those who might become terrorists, who pose the very real problem of being scouted out and of prevention, or those who return and who pose the equally real problem of therapy and healing, but rather, what should we do with those who are soldiers of Isis today ?
The question is surprising, but at the same time, it isn’t so new : didn’t Jesus ask forgiveness for his executioners ? Others after him, as they climbed onto the stake of the Inquisition, did the same. Closer to our time, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote beauitiful pages in prison on the the love for each being, even those contiminated by the folly of Nazism. Today, still, ACAT (The Action of Christians for the Abolition of Torture) prays for victims, of course, but also for those who cause suffering. When the conversion invoked is a conversion to love, in the humanistic sense and without the monopoly of one particular religion, we can agree with it. And, at the same time, for we remain divided, let us give thanks to the men and women of yesterday and today who take up arms to oppose the barbarisms of history, Nazism and Islamic terrorism.
The author’s reply :
Of course you are « divided », who wouldn’t be ? For here we face two orders of reality : « this world » and « the Kingdom . » « Turn the other cheek » is not an invitation to accept just anything from a criminal brother. It would do him no service. It’s advice for our inner life. Can we combat AND forgive ? Can we combat AND love ? Frankly, it’s no piece of cake to be a human being ! I imagine you agree. And if it were, what challenges would we have ? How then could the alchemy of transformation that leads to our transmutation from man (woman) to Man work ? Ecce Homo – we aren’t there yet, we’re simply on our path…
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