The Rev Dr Timothy Bradshaw, of Oxford University’s theology department How are we to respond to the ghastly events in the deserts of northern Iraq, as we see the horror of the beheading of the US journalist by a British Islamic fighter, well educated and wanting for nothing, born and raised in London? Perhaps the clue could lie in that phrase, ‘wanting for nothing’, since ‘John’, the cruel killer of the helpless journalist, clearly is lacking a great deal in terms of his moral compass and common humanity. But how does a Londoner, schooled, housed and raised in the UK, come to have such a barbaric attitude towards his fellow human beings?
We know from the experience of the 20th Century history that people can be conditioned in all sorts of ways. Who would have thought that normal German people in the 1930s could adopt and embrace Nazi ideology and give power to Hitler, who then used it to cause unbelievable death and suffering for millions of people? The Waffen SS Nazi militia, for example, moved through Poland wiping out villages, and slaughter in death camps of millions of Jews and others considered enemies.
It did happen, and after the war a ‘de-nazification’ programme was used to reorientate Germans from hatred and violent ideology.
Something very similar seems to happen to these young men who embrace the cause of Jihad, quit Western society and its values, and set out charged with a violent attitude of loathing to any who stand in their way of creating a new Islamic state, harking back to the earliest days of Jihad. This religious ideology justifies these bloodthirsty murders, forced conversions and enslavement in the minds of fighters for ‘Islamic State’.
They produce texts from the Quran to justify murder of opponents, while moderate Muslims produce other texts encouraging peace. We can suggest therefore that the message these Jihadi fighters need is a theological one, that the Quran must now be interpreted only towards peaceful co-existence and not towards war. Christians have the Old Testament, with many stories of war, but this is completed and interpreted by the New Testament, by the person of Jesus. He went to Calvary to absorb sin and hate, not to dish it out.
Jihadist fighters should hear that God or Allah condemns all cruel murder and terror, that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy and peace. That is the only struggle acceptable to God.