A group of anti-Muslim “crusaders” were stopped last week from carrying out their planned violence against a Somali Muslim community in Kansas.
News of this plot in the U.S., where I’m from originally, seemed to me horrifically similar to the 1982 “Sabra and Shatila” massacres that took place in Lebanon where I now live, in which Christian militia killed Lebanese Shi’ite Muslims and Palestinian refugees – many of them women and children.
How can we work to prevent an American version of Sabra and Shatila?
First, perhaps you, like many Americans, are sick of politically correct speech, of feeling like you have to walk on eggshells to avoid offending others, and of words like “Islamaphobia.”
Resistance to all things “PC” is a rising sentiment. But hear this: I’m not suggesting that anyone mimic a vocabulary that carefully submits to new societal norms imposed on you by an elite you don’t identify with, or that you or others censor and filter yourself so that your opinion is contained or hidden below the surface.
I’m praying and begging for disdain, superiority and hatred to be rooted out of hearts – all of our hearts – because it leads to horrors that we wouldn’t have imagined our friends and neighbors and communities are capable of carrying out.
The blinders grow thick over our eyes unless we help each other be aware of and remove them (see Hebrews 3:13).
The self-deception and group-think becomes so unquestioned and convincing and self-affirming that we can’t see which way is up anymore.
We must – we must – look at the bloody, mutilated horror of Sabra and Shatila and know that when any group of human beings, in the mountains of Lebanon or the suburbs of America, allows this kind of hatred to quietly grow without confrontation, we are capable of creating this same nightmare.
No matter who you might consider to be your enemy, as Christ-followers we are commanded to love anyone in that category (see Matthew 5:43-45). And love will stand up for our Muslim neighbors’ good and safety.
Love will advocate for and defend them. Love will not be silent when they are threatened.
Love will give the benefit of the doubt and realize that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists although we’ve grown to assume so over the last 15 years.
Love will create an outcry when men like these modern “crusaders,” with their plots and murderous words and hatred, make the news.
Do the hard work of choosing words and actions that make for peace (see James 3:17-18). Refuse silence, but also choose to converse respectfully and winsomely.
Combative and polarizing language will not change hearts or positively influence these delicate dynamics. Stand boldly in advocacy for our Muslim neighbors.
Champion the only legitimate religious liberty, which is for all. Realize that there is no previous version of America worth stooping to hatred and violence to retrieve.
Root out any rhetoric (question one-sided, inflammatory websites, demonizing Facebook memes, and polarizing talk radio hosts) that causes you to perceive Muslims as monsters instead of human beings, or make you think you understand a whole group when you don’t know even one Muslim personally.
Horrible, cruel, devastating events begin in individual and collective attitudes and in human hearts.
Will the conversations you’ve participated in, or ignored, contribute to a tumbling, seemingly inevitable outcome that the world will grimace and grieve over?
Let’s learn from Sabra and Shatila, and from men like Assad Chaftari, before it’s too late.
Let’s follow his lead in humility and repentance for attitudes and assumptions now, urgently, and not face the need to collectively repent of some horrors we could have worked together to avoid.
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 second article in a two-part series. Part one is available here.