A war for the minds! It takes ideas to win the peace
by Fr. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor, Pax Christi International
- To read the introduction to this article in Dutch, click here.
- To read this article in German, click here.
Several brutal and barbarous terrorist attacks have taken place in our society (recently in France, Belgium and Germany) and elsewhere in the world (Istanbul, Baghdad, Dhaka, Mogadishu, and so on). Hundreds of people have been killed or injured. Relatives live in deep discomfort and anger. These events affect us all—not just the victims—as people live increasingly in fear. We are just in the middle of the year, but it’s already clear that this year will be remembered for the scourge of near daily terror attacks all over the globe.
Some of these cruel acts in Europe have been done by asylum seekers, refugees or migrants. Nevertheless, some of the attacks have been done by persons with a different ethnic-cultural background who are living in our western societies as citizens of the second or third migratory generation. Also converted autochthone people who were radicalised into extreme violent thoughts have committed these cruel acts. Some of them act in the name of their God – often in their belief of “the signs of the End Times” which excludes all the others who do not share their thoughts and which justifies the use of extreme violence in killing the other. In such a deadly scenario, the “life of the other” has no meaning anymore.
Many are young people who choose the violent path for a variety of reasons. Although such attacks cannot be justified, Pope Francis has said that “Europe is pushing its young into the hand of extremists.”  In order to prevent radicalisation, societies must make sure that vulnerable young people can participate in society and feel included.
Growing Fear and Uncertainty
A major result of all this is the growing fear among people (which needs to be taken seriously) which, in many cases, ends up creating negative and unjust reactions against asylum seekers and refugees, especially when they are coming from different religious backgrounds or cultures. Fear can lead to seeing the other as a threat, as an enemy. It leads to closed-mindedness. It’s a development that we can also see reflected in politics as nationalistic and anti-immigration discourse has been on the rise in many of our societies.
It also creates insecurity, as well as uncertainty. Given that our societies and our world are changing faster than at any time in history, and since change creates disorientation, it leads to a sense of loss and fear that can turn rapidly into hate. Fear becomes hate and then murderous violence.
Stop Misuse of Religion
Our world today is again confronted with the misuse or misinterpretation of religion. Nowadays, we live in the midst of “a war for minds.” It takes ideas to win the peace. Violence has nothing to do with religion as such. Religion is about identity and life and a sense of belonging. Therefore, Pax Christi International works with other religious and faith communities to reveal that God’s name has been misused to perpetrate injustice.
Those who claim to believe in God must also be men and women of peace. One may never kill in the name of God. Only a distorted ideological form of religion can think that justice is done in the name of God by deliberately slaughtering defenceless persons, as in the brutal terrorist attacks which occurred in recent months in Europe, but are also intensely taking place in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and elsewhere.
The internet is the key instrument to radical political and extremist Islam. Religious radicals use the new electronic media with greater sophistication than their secular counterparts. The internet also globalises hate, although it also can be used to keep us informed about these terrible actions and enable us to respond against it.
Religion Can Offer Meaning
Murder is both a grave crime and a sin. The use of religion in justifying killings and inspired by political ends is not righteousness but idolatry. Killing the weak, the innocent, the very young and old is evil. Indiscriminate murder by terrorist attacks or suicide bombing is sinful. Murdering people because of their religion or race or nationality is evil.
The issue of “identity” is one of the most fundamental human needs, not in the least for young people. Pax Christi International, as a faith-based organisation and network, believes that religion can offer meaning, direction, belonging, a code of conduct based on shared values and a set of rules for the moral and spiritual life. An identity can be based on those principles.
I ask myself the following questions: how is it that people kill in the name of the God of life, wage war in the name of the God of peace, hate in the name of the God of love, and practice cruelty in the name of the God of compassion? How can we build up trust among people in which faith is experienced as a “religion of peace”? “Trust building” is part of the mission of Pax Christi International.
The consequences of the recent refugee crisis (since 2011) will take many more years to overcome. We all have moral and humanitarian obligations to offer our help. Refugees do not have to be treated as objects but rather as people who need their rights to be respected for their safety; and for them, if they cannot go back, to build up a new life. Sharing the burden between governments and society as a whole and offering ongoing humanitarian assistance for those in need are key values in all of this.
We have to show humanity! Our traditional sense of hospitality and solidarity will not be weakened by the inevitable difficulties of the moment. Our societies may prove capable of accepting and integrating the social, economic and cultural contributions which migrants can offer. Indeed, refugees and migrants, more than ever before, can play a pivotal role in the future of our world, and our response must be the fruit of a common effort respectful of human dignity and the rights of persons.
Brussels, 1 August 2016