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10 February 2015

Cathy D, January 2015

We don’t own a TV, and very rarely watch one at all, so it was a strange coincidence a couple of months ago that we happened upon TV news analysis about Islamic State terror threats issued to Australians and citizens of other Western countries. Somehow it seemed similar to and also different from 9-11. 

Similar in that I had the eerie feeling that the world is teetering on the edge of a turning point, and what happens next might significantly shape the world we live in for the coming years.  It’s very different in that the events of 9-11 took the world by surprise, and then USA and others responded to events that had already happened.  We have seen that  retaliation against actions already taken, can be brutal and way out of proportion, and create long-term complications and conflict.

By contrast, not much has actually happened yet to Westerners as a result of the Islamic State agitations, but very provocative threats have been made, with serious evidence of the ability to carry them out.  I feel there is great danger in this atmosphere of threat and uncertainty – the potential for people or nations to do ruthless and regrettable things out of fear and hate, and escalate the situation out of control.

What can we, the little people without political clout or wide social influence, do?  I think the base-line is to keep building relationships of trust, based on mutual respect and understanding.  We need these relationships at every level, from friends and family up to international diplomacy.  For me that means ...

·         live towards the future we hope for – we won’t ever arrive at the Kingdom of God, by means that aren’t consistent with it. We can’t impose peace through violence.  Hate creates enemies, it doesn’t eradicate them.  If we want an outcome that is “good” in any way, our strategy must somehow embody Paul’s instruction to “overcome evil with good”.

·         keep it in perspective – this heightened threat of terrorism is to be taken seriously, but let us not forget that each day far more people are dying of poverty-related causes, or surviving in sex-slavery or forced-labour, than have been affected by Islamic State violence thus far.

·         listen and learn – uncertainty and threats make people afraid, and prone to self-protection, hate and retaliation. That includes you and me.  Let’s acknowledge fear rather than ignoring it – listen to each others’ thoughts and feelings, learning more about the issues from both sides.  Engage empathetically with self and others, and engage rational understanding and thinking about the issues.  Take James’ advice to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”.

·         participate in public processes – join in peaceful rallies, write letters to the editor, put something on your blog, visit your political representatives.  Use the avenues available to you to speak up for peace and tolerance, and creative long-term solutions to injustice and violence.

·         protect the vulnerable – is there someone in your neighbourhood who is marginalised or part of a threatened minority?  The guy who runs the local kebab shop? The woman wearing hijab, at the park with her kids?  Ask if they are feeling safe, invite them for a meal, give them your mobile number, help them feel connected and accepted.

Good relationships, like good bridges, take time and skill to build and maintain, but offer us opportunities to cross the walls and chasms that separate us.  A long term strategy to a better world of sustainability, peace and justice boils down to this.  Rather than polarisation and fragmentation, we need mutuality and connectedness.  Take opportunities to build relationships with people who are not like yourself, across the divides of economic class, religious affiliation, national and ethnic identity.  Build those bridges and walk across them – don’t drive across them in armoured cars (impregnable self-defence) or armed tanks (ready to attack).  When every Christian has a close friend who is Muslim, and every illiterate unemployed person has a close friend who is a wealthy professional, a lot of the world’s problems will seem more solvable.

BIO:  CMD and family have lived in slums in India for a long time, and hope to return there soon after a break at “home” in Australia.

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This article was originally published in Servants Quarters, a quarterly publication of Servants  - a member of Micah.