Editor’s Note from Nathan Hollenbeck: This is a perspective from a guest blogger who is not affiliated with Coptic Orphans. The article’s view is that the primary response of Christians to the problem of jihadism should not be political, but rather inter-personal, through local, loving witness and the support of that witness in historic Christian communities such as the Copts of Egypt. All views here belong exclusively to the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Coptic Orphans.
As news of jihadist attacks and attempted attacks fill the airwaves, the question of what can be done to de-radicalize and moderate Islam gains new urgency. I recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Defense and Strategic Studies, and I can frankly state that national-security analysts from Washington to Delhi are worried. No one knows what to do.
Broadly speaking, the American approach since 9/11 has focused on political reform in Muslim-majority countries, on the premise that the democratic process would empower moderates and sideline extremists. The failure of the Iraq war—where the U.S. attempted to force representative government on a country—is well known, but even where force has not been used, the results have not been encouraging. Pakistan has had an elected government for the past few years, yet the population is becoming ever more extreme. Similarly, there are worrisome signs coming from Egypt.
The approach of West European governments has been to fund selected Islamic organizations, in the hope that state sponsorship of “moderate” Islam would serve to integrate Muslim citizens into the societal mainstream. This has not happened. In fact, many European Muslims take pride that the strictness of their piety separates them from others. Radical preachers, rather than being scorned, are finding receptive audiences.
China and Russia have been more willing to use coercion to suppress militant Islam. However, even authoritarian and semi-authoritarian governments know that force cannot be applied indefinitely. And what will happen after that?
India has relied on the appeal of its syncretistic culture, in which Muslims and Hindus sing and dance and live together as friends. This strategy has enjoyed a certain success. Nonetheless, not even the bonds of language, ethnicity, and culture have proven strong enough to immunize Indian Muslims from jihadism. Over the past several years, Indians have been shocked by the increasing number of home-grown terrorist cells.
What, then, is the answer? We must remember that jihadists are humans just as we are. They are made in the image of God and are called to become like God—Who “is love”—as much as anyone else (1 John 4:8). St. Augustine famously wrote that “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” But what does that mean in this context?
Jihadism, like any ideology based on hatred, does not satisfy the longings of the human soul. To live meaningful lives, people need to “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). However, how will they learn to worship truly unless, like the Ethiopian eunuch, they have “someone” to guide them (Acts 8:31)?
This is why I believe in the work of Coptic Orphans. Even in this age of satellite broadcasts and mobile apps, there can be no substitute for a local Christian community. Historically, Muslims have been at their most moderate when they’ve been impacted by their Christian neighbors. By maintaining ancient Christian shrines, inviting Muslim friends to their weddings, teaching Muslim students, and treating Muslim patients—by living out the love of Jesus–Christians in the Middle East have wielded an influence far beyond their numbers. Thus, the survival of the Coptic Christian community in Egypt should not only concern Egyptians on humanitarian grounds, or Orthodox Christians based on religious solidarity. It should concern all those wish to see something “new” in the midst of our troubled times (2 Corinthians 5:17).