The Murder of James Foley

The barbaric murder of James Foley is being picked over by the media, as is only to be expected. The fact that the IS spokesman who did the foul deed is apparently British will have set alarm bells ringing in Britain, where there is already considerable concern about the role of British jihadists and the radicalisation of young Muslims by extremist clerics. Even here, in my monastic fastness, I feel uncomfortable. I have Muslim friends — kindly, civilized people, predominantly second or third generation British and middle class — who are as appalled by this kind of violence as anyone else. But, perhaps because I am a woman and a religious, I have also encountered another face of Islam, one that is much more hostile, much less ready to accommodate itself to British notions of law and justice or socially acceptable behaviour. It is this other face of Islam I find increasingly troubling.

One cannot argue with a gun or a knife, any more than one can ‘dialogue’ with someone who thinks one has no rights or value as a human being. The murder of James Foley, like the murder of Lee Rigby, confronts us with a form of Islamist violence that we do not know how to deal with. It is beyond our experience, outside our conceptual world. We can only ask, rather pathetically, ‘How can people do such things?’

In the past Britain has been, nominally at least, a Christian country. We haven’t always lived up to Christian ideals, but there has been general agreement on the Judaeo-Christian basis of much of our law, morality and social behaviour. That sort of cohesion is now breaking down. We have both an increasingly secular and an increasingly religious divide — but the religious divide is not Christian. A few days ago, newspapers were reporting that the most common newborn boy’s name in Britain is now Mohammed and it is the stated wish of some groups to establish areas where Sharia is applied to everyone living there. That presents a peculiar difficulty to our liberal Western minds. Are there limits to what is acceptable? How do we reconcile the demands of some Islamist groups with our societal norms?

It is a question that affects Christians no less than our secular-minded countrymen. To be expected to be complaisant in the face of Islamist outrages because Christians are, by definition, loving and forgiving is to forget that Christian tolerance is really only a pale form of Christian patience; and Christian patience means more than just putting up with things. We are children of Light, dedicated to the service of Truth. A readiness to forgive injuries does not mean that we condone them. A willingness to accept others’ differences and to defend their right to freedom of religious belief and practice does not necessarily mean we regard them as equal to our own. We walk a difficult path, seeking to be true to what we believe while allowing others to be true to what they believe. But still we must ask the question: do we have a common basis for deciding moral questions any more? Do we have a genuinely common response to the kind of militant Islam fostered by IS?

Inevitably, there will be calls for revenge, for more violence to try to end the violence we have seen in Syria and Iraq and, indeed, on the streets of Woolwich. No doubt Western governments are already planning ‘appropriate responses’ to try and guarantee the safety of their citizens. We know that our safety cannot be guaranteed unless there is a change in attitudes, and no one knows how to do that. It has been said that to adopt an ‘eye for an eye’ approach, tit-for-tat violence, leads ultimately to a world full of blind people. Can we be any more blind than we already are? IS fighters are determined to exterminate all who think or believe differently from themselves. Will there come a point when their brutality proves too much and destroys themselves as well as others? Is it possible for so much cruelty not to have a backlash? I do not know, but for all our sakes, Christian and Muslim alike, for the sake of everyone now living and for the sake of the children yet to be born, I hope and pray it may do, and soon.

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7 thoughts on “The Murder of James Foley”

  1. Thank you Sr, so beautifully written as we have come to expect from you.

    I’m pleased you also remembered Lee Rigby, whose cruel death had a profound effect on me, as it did many others.

    I feel I no longer want to be in this sad world. I just want to be with my Lord.

  2. Off course the actions of IS in the Foley case are being picked over from a a sense of disbelief that anyone could consider such actions to be normal? But this ignores the evidence of the treatment of Shia Muslims by IS who are from the Sunni faction (as I understand it). They have been treated as brutally as Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria by IS and their allies.

    This is inter-faith as well as inter-denominational. And the great states of the middle east, particularly Saudi Arabia (a Sunni state) are remarkably quiet about what it happening to the Shia population as well as Christian and other minorities in Iraq and Syria. For all we know, they might well be supporting IS themselves.

    Iran (Shia led) has protested about IS, but so far has done little to support the Iraq government in their fight against IS.

    Turkey, has an interest, but is more worried about Kurdistan and their national ambitions than what happens to the rest of Iraq. So they provide support for refugees, but stand by guarding their borders against the IS threat.

    Your thoughts on whether IS will eventually self-destruct are valid, but not before much more suffering, death and destruction.

    What is needed in my view, is a United Nations led intervention, both military and political, bringing together a coalition of nations to resolve the situation in Iraq and Syria (you can’t have one without the other). This will mean war no doubt, but ultimately the lesser evil than the option of leaving the people of the region to sort it out themselves. UN intervention might bring those nations around Iraq and Syria into a coalition that with support from rest of the world could solve the issue once and for all.

    I pray that this happens and soon.

  3. I am sorry that these comments are tear stained but I am at a loss for words. To say that Christian love will overcome appears to be a wild dream. Missionaries if they went into that area would have no effect other to secure personal martyrdom, but then that is what Islam appears content to see its own followers achieve as it seeks to secure the disposal of infidels trying to live in peace. History makes a strong point of the direction necessary to overcome such evil.

  4. I wonder if we will start to see any IS fighters come to realise the horror of what they have done and been subjected to, and seek to leave and find redemption. Will they be able to? IS is far more vicious to outsiders than even the most odious and controlling western cult. But such repentance would require IS members to have a different basis for morality than the one they currently espouse which they find so attractive. If showing kindness to outsiders has become evil in their sight, and hating your enemies has become good, how can anything in Christianity ever be anything but an affront to them?

    But then, there was once a time when God chastised the leaders of Israel for not committing genocide as comprehensively as they had been commanded. It shows just how radically Jesus transformed our understanding of God; and we are being visibly reminded of how far we’ve come, and just how wonderful a gift we were given.

  5. A womderful and brilliantly written blog Sr. And I agree with every expressed word. I see that you like me ,are opposed to that dreadful word “tolerate”,which for me always means putting up with something I do not like.I am prepared to accept and live with views opposite to my own,but that does not include fundermentalist Islam,although like you I have had ,and continue to have, many Muslim friends.When I was in my 20’s they all looked and lived like me,but now we have the divide and religious statement of the hijab and niqab.When I was working in a chemistry dept. in a large school,such Islamic dress was deemed acceptable for students doing practical work that involved such things as Bunsen burners,concentrated acids,and highly volatile chemicals.Such dress would not have been tolerated for anything other than religion; mercifully there were no accidents.
    I think that I am right in saying that Muslims do not accept the 10 commandments,and of course they have been the stabilising influence in our society since basic laws were laid down centuries ago.The New Testament standards of foregiveness and love are regarded as a sign of weakness,and Allah is remote and in no way resembles my loving Heavenly Father.
    Islam for me means”I sincerely love all Muslims”;it is the system that I cannot abide,and it must not be allowed to dominate over our well worn and loved Christian attitudes and standards.

    • Thank you, but I must correct a few misapprehensions, Elizabeth. I am NOT opposed to toleration per se, nor do I find it in me to condemn every variety of fundmentalist Islam out of hand, although I am quite clear that IS is a murderous organization and I do not, personally, sympathize with fundamentalist aspirations. The problem for em comes with the refusal to accept the validity of Western views about democracy, the rights of women, freedom of religious expression, etc and the adoption of violence as a means to gaining an end.

  6. When I was a child, I thought as a child…and so Paul goes.
    But when I was a child I prayed for the conversion of Russia. It seemed a foolish thing to do but the good Priests of the Holy Cross (CSC) led us in that prayer every morning. They must, I thought in my childish way, be dreaming or wishing upon some star to think that I and my fellow tads’ prayers could affect the tanks and gulags and millions dead and dying. In the Fifties, they were Sparta and we were Athens and we were seeking peaceful co-existence. No adult, other than the good priests believed that anything short of nuclear war would change the Soviet Union.
    How fortunate I am to have lived long enough to see the power of prayer, to see the doors of the Eastern Orthodox churches swing open and to see that the faith of the average Russian has never left but lived under ground.
    There must be tens of millions of Muslims that are in the same position today. We must pray with and for them that the religion that touched not a Christian hair when they took Jerusalem after we in the West had slaughtered the infidels when we had the upper hand is restored.
    Tonight I will pray for the reconversion of Islam, that it return to its founding principles. Amen

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