A friend of the family linked on Facebook to an article cautioning against crusader language – and frankly intent – in regards to ISIS.

The article has some good points.  When we dehumanize others, we are capable of inflicting great damage on them without a qualm, without a moral questioning.  The damage might be slavery or it might be military efforts.  When we no longer are willing or able to see our opponent as our brother or sister as well, we are in very, very dangerous territory.

On the other hand, this happens all the time.  This is part of the core of sin, that brokenness inside of us that constantly marginalizes and dehumanizes others for our own benefit.  Whether it’s raging against the slow driver or the inability of people to use turn signals, or whether it’s demonizing people we’ve never met on the other side of the globe, it’s all the same thing.  It sounds nice and morally superior to encourage people not to do this – as though we ourselves are somehow free of this great flaw.  Nobody is free of it.  The way I dehumanize other people may not be harmful to anyone, I might justify, but that’s a lie as well.

We all at one level or another consider ourselves part of the side that is right, that has the moral high ground and moral obligation to act or resist or whatever the course of action is.  We would probably label someone as psychologically unbalanced if they knowingly committed themselves to a cause that they knew was patently false, wrong, and inappropriate.  Nobody is immune to this.

I disagree with some of the implied premises of this article – that Western intervention in Iraq inevitably led to ISIS, that if we had just minded our own business, we wouldn’t be confronted with the specters of horror that flit across our consciousness – our TVs and newspapers and Internet feeds.  I believe this is gross oversimplification.  We created a power vacuum, but any number of other events could have led to the same sort of vacuum, and the same sort of outcome.  If our governments suspected that action was necessary, then I pray they had good reason for it.  If their information was erroneous somehow, I wish that there would be explanation about what evidence they thought they had and why it wasn’t accurate – something that hasn’t been done and needs to if credibility is to be at least partially restored.

The author asserts that it is foolish to think that ISIS can be stopped only or primarily through military intervention, and I agree.  You don’t kill ideology (or philosophy, or religion) with bullets.  You can slow or temporarily halt the ramifications of a given belief militarily, but it is at best a short term victory.  But it is equally foolish to assume that military intervention is not a valid option.  If, as the author (and I) believe, ISIS is deliberately trying to outrage and goad the world into action – military and otherwise – then it will succeed.  If we are not adequately outraged at beheadings it will move to another tactic.  If displacement of thousands of people causes us to yawn, ISIS will find another tack.  At some point, it’s a guarantee that they will stumble across something so outrageous or threatening that it cannot be ignored.

Arguing idly about the evils of military intervention is a luxury often indulged in by those far removed from the actual events.  If ISIS was closing in on the city where the author of this article lived, I have little doubt that he would be screaming loudly for air strikes and boots on the ground to defend himself and the innocent people around him from the certain blood bath that would ensue if his city were to fall into ISIS hands.  When one is directly threatened, the attractiveness of brute force as a means of stopping the threat – even if only for a short time – becomes overwhelming.  It becomes necessary.

The problem this author paints is that if we are truly to empathize with those people caught up in the drama of ISIS, we must empathize with all of them.  We can and should acknowledge the danger of demonizing the enemy while taking all practical and expedient steps to stop them from murdering more people.  The author admits that while economic and military sanctions are preferred methods, they are also ineffective, and they ultimately penalize the wrong people – hence the 500,000 Iraqi child deaths the author casually lays at the feet of the UN.  If you are going to blame the sanctions for killing these children, and at the same time excusing the ruler of the country in which those children lived, you’ve just eliminated all of your options for trying to achieve change in a group behaving in a way that seems universally abhorrent.  If sanctions kill the wrong people, and military engagement is bad, what’s left?  How do you stop abhorrent behavior?  How many people have to die while you talk nicely to the perpetrators?  Truly – pick your number.  Because at some point, everyone has a number.  Everyone has a point at which they say the line has been crossed and we have no choice.  It’s easy to argue for a high number, or to keep bumping the number higher, when you aren’t in any immediate danger of becoming a contributing statistic.

I believe that evil exists.  I believe it is a dangerous and difficult task to keep evil separate from the people who perpetrate.  But I believe that it is necessary sometimes to step in and stop evil actions while making every effort not to justify the wanton destruction of the perpetrators.  Crusades do have a purpose and a necessity, even if crusades are dangerous things.  Sometimes, they are no less dangerous and potentially much better than leaving evil unchecked.  Those who are intent on causing conflict will eventually succeed.  Whether you personally happen to be alive to witness or participate in that conflict, or whether you will be a statistic at the hands of that determined group is a matter of how high you set the cutoff for action.  As long as your enemy thinks you’ll keep bumping up the number, your enemy will keep inflicting casualties.

At some point, you have to quit demonizing the people trying to keep other folks alive.  You might need that sort of defense yourself someday, and I suspect you (as I!) would be very grateful for it, and bitterly disappointed if it didn’t come.


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