by Pastor George Van Alstine
In the aftermath of the arrests in England of twenty or more people who were plotting to blow up airplanes in flight, there have been renewed conversations on the prevention of terrorist attacks.
Western nations have tried the get-tough, force-meets-force approach by military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, together with very aggressive interrogation of prisoners and suspects. The idea is to eradicate terrorism. This does not appear to have made us much safer.
The second strategy weâve used is to head off possible attacks by a whole array of intelligence and security techniques. The most publicized of these have to do with passengers boarding airplanes. Air travelers have had to submit to a variety of search techniques and have had to accept more and more restrictions on what they can take on board. Now we have to add bottled water and toothpaste to the list.
According to a news report I heard this morning, security experts believe there is no way we can completely secure commercial air flights against sabotage. There will always be loopholes would-be terrorists can find.
So since all the military and security pros have tried their hand at stopping terrorism, I thought I have a right (and responsibility) to add my two-cents as a spiritual leader. My answer is simpleâyet, very, very difficult. We shouldnât focus on the phenomenon of terrorism, which is just a âthing,â? a concept. Instead, letâs turn our attention to the people involved.
There are two kinds of people who make terrorism possible: the terrorist and the terrorized. There are spiritual issues on both sides that need to be addressed.
Terrorists are people who have nothing to lose. Their view of the world, their life and their prospects, is so bleak that the thought of a violent death becomes acceptable. Where are most suicide bombers recruited? From among a poverty class of young people who see no educational, social, or political escape from the cultural prison they were born into.
The only antidote that works in this breeding ground for terrorists is hope. As Christians, we know that their ultimate hope is in the salvation Jesus offers, and this means there should be a great opportunity for evangelism and missions. But often the people we are trying to reach are blinded and deafened by the real injustices they have experienced. Itâs clear to them that the worldâs wealth, resources, power and opportunity are not evenly distributed. This is because of historical factors that go back hundreds of years. If we Christians are to help bring hope to would-be terrorists, we must also address these injustices and work for change in national and international policies. This will take courage and long-term commitment, and, so far, not many Christians have shown leadership in trying to change the hope-equation. However, until we do, the pool of young suicide-bomber recruits is not likely to dry up.
Terrorized people arenât able to live a comfortable and fruitful life, because the shadow of terrorism can interrupt their sunshine at any time.
The source of their terror is not just that their life may end in a bomb blast. It is also that their way of life may be taken away from them. The average Americanâs first thought after 9/11 was, âCan I be sure of my safety and the safety of my loved ones?â? The second thought for many was, âWill the stock market collapse or rebound?â?
The terrorized understand that they are privileged, and they fear their privileges will be snatched by others. If the terrorists are people who have nothing to lose, the terrorized are people who have everything to lose. If the antidote for the terrorists is hope, the antidote for the terrorized is humilityâacceptance that they are entitled to nothing more than others, that they have not earned the advantages they enjoy, and that they are no better than anyone else.
Christians can feel terror just like anyone else. Yet, they ought to be different in three ways. First, they have been released by Christ from the ultimate terror, Godâs judgment against their sin. This should make them less afraid in the face of physical danger, including death. Second, they have had to learn humility in order to receive Christâs forgiveness:
âNothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling.â?
Third, theoretically at least, they have turned away from material possessions and the need to protect the accidental advantages they may enjoy from those trying to grasp them.
So, my solution is simpleâhelp the terrorists to have something to hope for and help the terrorized to learn humility. There, thatâs settled. FAX this to the United Nations.
Iâm sure my spiritual solution for âHow to Stop Terrorismâ? will not become any nationâs official policy in the near future. But Iâm just as sure itâs the only strategy that will work.