Where does it begin – the hatred that wants to hear women and children scream in terror?
What kind of narrative makes one willing to cause their suffering?
If America is “ever going to get turned around, it will be a bloodbath,” Patrick Eugene Stein is quoted as saying.
He is one of three conspirators arrested last week for plans to attack a Somali Muslim community in Kansas, according to the Department of Justice. They called themselves the “Crusaders.”
Beyond killing this particular group of Muslims, their hope was to ignite a “religious war.”
The assumption was that other groups with mindsets like theirs, scattered around the country, would engage in similar atrocities. And “atrocity” is the only word for it.
Even the “babies” of this community were not to be spared, according to a Washington Post article on the incident. Their motivation was allegedly that “these (Muslim) groups represent a threat to American society.”
They were caught – and stopped – before blood was spilled. Praise God. But we must ask again: Where does such murderous hatred begin?
These men, determined to destroy a small community they are convinced doesn’t belong in the U.S., called themselves Crusaders.
The original Crusades, which took place over the course of several centuries in the Middle Ages, often involved masses of European Christians manipulated by religious leaders to march to the Middle East and free Jerusalem or other cities from Muslim control.
Muslims, and sometimes Jews, were often slaughtered. Many, many Europeans died in – they thought – the service of the cross.
Yet most Christians of other eras would look back on this time with deep grief, acknowledging that these were no heroes, and that they certainly weren’t furthering the Kingdom of God or following the teachings of Christ (which they likely didn’t have the access or ability to read for themselves).
It’s sadly appropriate that a group seeking to kill Muslims in America would claim the “crusader” title for themselves.
But we don’t have to go back that far in history to see a reality similar to the one that almost played out in Kansas, one we should want desperately to avoid.
During my few years living in Lebanon, I’ve gradually learned and understood more about the still-too-recent 15-year civil war that pitted the citizens of religiously diverse Lebanon against each other, based often (although this is much too simplistic a summary) on religious divisions.
One horrific incident stands out in my mind, as I consider the haunting remarks of these three men from Kansas.
I see a connection because of the nature of the violence they were motivated to carry out, and because of the way I hear them justifying it.
Mentioning the words “Sabra and Shatila” will make many who know what they mean wince at the dark memory.
In 1982, a Christian militia in Lebanon inflicted a truly horrific massacre on Lebanese Shi’ite Muslims and Palestinian refugees.
The ways they brutalized children and women that night are unimaginable. The bodies of mutilated civilians were piled in the streets. The cruelty was limitless.
Where do atrocities like the Sabra and Shatila massacre begin?
I have met one man in Lebanon who lives with regret about his participation in and leadership of a Christian militia of that era, and who can explain exactly where it began in his own life, years before the horrors actually unfolded.
Assad Chaftari notes that the root of the violence could be traced back to his childhood, to attitudes about Muslims within his own family. His repentance has involved a changed attitude toward the Muslim population.
“I started off disliking the Muslims and Palestinians, then I hated them, and eventually I was afraid of them and wanted only to destroy them,” Chaftari explained.
“Everyone around me would describe Muslims as ‘dirty,’ ‘poor,’ ‘lazy,'” he said. “They would say, ‘Look at the ridiculous way they pray … look at all the children they have. … We believed Lebanon had been given by the French to the Christians and that we were the rightful inhabitants while the Muslims were invaders and traitors.'”
Chaftari and others now lead out in a movement of humility, repentance, reconciliation and peacemaking in Lebanon.
This video highlights the testimonies of those, both Christian and Muslim, whose mindsets had allowed them to justify horrific actions during the war, who look back on them with deep grief, and who are attempting to steer this generation away from the perspectives that could lead there again.
Ashley al-Saliby is a Texan transplant to Lebanon, currently pursuing the master of religion degree in Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary. She is married to Wissam al-Saliby, ABTS partnerships manager. A version of this article first appeared on her blog, When I Bow Down, and is used with permission. You can follow her on Twitter @ashley_wollam.
Editor’s note: This is the first article in a two-part series. Part two is available here.