Yet another massacre at the hands of an Islamic group has been reported, this time in the country of Kenya. According to news reports, Al-Shabab militants wearing masks stormed into the dormitories of Garissa University College in Kenya early in the morning, shooting people at random and taking hostages. When the carnage was finally over fifteen hours later, all four gunmen lay dead, and at least 147 others were slain. One newswoman reported, “Students say the attackers were going from dorm to dorm, targeting Christians.” If the student was a Muslim, that student was released. If the student were a Christian, that student was killed.
It is, of course, impossible to get into the minds of such men and to understand their motivation. One thinks of the Lord’s words about the persecution of His apostles: “the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). It seems that similarly these men thought that they were doing the will of Allah and furthering Allah’s cause. Were they thinking that this massacre was some kind of pay-back for American foreign policy? Or pay-back for western support of Israel? Or pay-back for the Crusades? It is difficult enough to sort out tangled and multi-faceted motivations, even when the person is alive and willing to share. Sorting out the motivation of the dead gunmen along with all the complications of American foreign policy and African politics is well beyond our ability to understand—or anyway, beyond mine. I therefore have no advice whatsoever to offer regarding what our political response should be. But of the spiritual dynamics involved, things are rather more clear.
It seems that for the gunmen, the students did not exist as persons—that is, as individuals with names and stories and families and sins and joys and sorrows. In their world, everything was one-dimensional: one was either Muslim or kafir, an unbeliever. The victims scarcely existed for the gunmen at all beyond being simply the bearers of such labels. Their training taught them to regard everyone simply as members of one tribe or another, either as believers or infidels. In this worldview, gradations of faith, shades of gray, or any other nuance or distinction simply didn’t exist. It didn’t matter that the Christians in the dorms might not have approved of American foreign policy or of the State of Israel or even of the west’s “war on terror”. Their actual views and opinions on these topics and a host of others didn’t matter. All that mattered was their label—they were Christians, kafir, the Other, the Enemy, members of the wrong tribe. And all the hatred that their religious training taught them was due to (for example) American foreign policy could be justly aimed at them.
What is the lesson for us here at home? In a word, not to be like them. It is a valid question what part Islam played in the gunmen’s worldview and whether or not the violence found in the Qur’an and the in the life of Muhammad are contributing factors in the rise of Jihadism worldwide. But this is a separate question, and whatever answer we ultimately give to it does not change the fact that many Muslims are good and peace-loving people. It could be that such people are peace-loving not because of Islam, but in spite of it. The question, involving the human heart, is a difficult one, and defies easy analysis. But we must not include all Muslims under one label and treat them all the same as the gunmen included all Christians under one label. Not all Muslims are the same. The first and fundamental fact about anyone is not their religion or their label, but that he or she is our neighbour, and that we are commanded by Christ to love that person. Jesus loves everyone, and shed His Blood on the Cross for everyone—for Christians, Jews, Muslims, even violent mask-wearing, murdering Jihadists. Each person has a name and a history and struggles and fears and hopes, and we must relate to each person separately and by name. Labels, though easy to use and comforting, do not really help us make sense of the world. The world is a scary, complicated place, full of nuance, mystery, shades of gray, and even contradictory motivations, and it resists easy labelling. These deluded men did not see the world as it really was. That was how they could go from room to room, targeting Christians. We must not live like them, and go from year to year, targeting Muslims. We must see each person before us as they really are.