The current developments in our world are quite alarming. We find ourselves in the middle of a serious global tension, fed by terror and distrust among different groups of people. Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and right & left extremism are only some examples of what I call societal paranoia. Such paranoia is being fed by the daily news we hear, such as bombings and massacres in the Middle East or terrorist attacks next door. For those of us who live in the West, the attacks in Paris, Madrid, or New York make the horrors of terrorism feel very close. As we panic, we start blaming others—in this case Muslims or refugees—for the miseries we experience today. Suddenly, our Muslim neighbors become a potential threat to us, and we start associating every man with a beard and every woman with a head covering as our enemies. In our imaginations, we see them as the incarnation of terrorism and the potential implementers of threat. On the other hand, there are those who see the West as the threat. In the Middle East for instance, Christians are falsely accused of being collaborators and spies for the Western powers. Christians are being executed publicly or imprisoned and tortured.
In short, we are living in an increasingly polarizing world: “them” against “us.” The “us” depends on where one stands and from which point of view he/she looks at reality. However, this polarization and the cruel violence we experience today didn’t come out of the blue; they are rather the result of years, decades, and even centuries of political, social, religious, and economic tension between the Western and the Non-Western worlds. History is, for a great deal, dictated by the wealthy and the strong. The weak and the poor cannot dominate written history; their voices and their stories are deliberately ignored, and those who attempt to make them known face harsh opposition from those in power. It is important to emphasize that the current mistrust and paranoia expressed in terrorist violence were founded in the way the Western political powers have related to the South and the East in the past. There is an unchangeable formula in history: “What one sows today, the generations to come will reap.” We cannot isolate our current global crisis from history itself. The Western colonization of other nations, enslavement and eradication of the natives, and annexation of other people’s lands and territories on basically every non-Western continent still have serious impacts on our world today. Colonization boosted the economy of these Western nations and placed them in economically privileged positions compared to the rest of the world—but at the cost of many non-Western nations and peoples. Using the natural resources of these colonized regions and destabilizing their economies was only one aspect of the miserable misconduct of the Western powers. At the same time, people’s religions and traditions were taken away from them, and Christianity was imposed on them. Christianity was used as a political tool to subdue the people in the name of God and to pursue colonization and strengthen Western world dominance. Cruel things happened then; in Africa, people were killed, beheaded, burned alive, or hanged. For instance, during his 23 years of rule from 1885 to 1908, King Leopold II of Belgium—the “Butcher of Congo”—was responsible for the deaths and mutilation of 10 million Congolese Africans (1).
Cutting a hand off was a way to spread fear among the African natives by the Belgian and other European colonizers. Even today, hand-shaped Belgian chocolates remind Africans of their bitter history. King Leopold II used his so-called evangelization of Congo as a political tool to subdue the Africans under his own tyranny.
Africa was not the only continent the Western colonizers infiltrated and practiced their evil acts upon. For instance, the indigenous peoples of North and South Americas, Asia, and Australia have to be mentioned here. In the fifties and early sixties (1954–62), the French army used cruel ways of torture against those Algerians fighting for independence. Cutting off the sexual organs of men and electrocuting the sexual organs and breasts of women are only two of the things I can mention here. Pierre Vidal-Naquet estimated that there were “possibly hundreds of thousands of instances of torture” by the French military in Algeria. It is quite disturbing for me to show some of the pictures of these cruelties done by the French army in Algeria (2). A simple online search will reveal images of cutoff heads in the hands of the proud French soldiers smiling at the camera. Such images remind me of what we hear happening in the Middle East today. Sadly enough, many don’t want to know these facts or read about them.
In the United States, acts of hatred against black people, such as lynching or burning them alive, were a matter of only a hundred years ago, and a black man still has to persuade the world that his life matters. How sad this continues to be! I can go on and remind us of the cruelties committed against natives, or the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, etc. In his book One Church, Many Tribes, the late Native American Reverend Richard Twiss shares the story of Linda. Only 6 years old, Linda was kidnapped by a man pretending to take several children for a ride, not knowing that they were being separated from their parents in their Tache village and taken to a residential school in British Columbia. Upon arrival at the residential school, Linda and her brothers were separated. They had to remove their clothes and were then washed and shaved completely. They were given uniforms and their native names were changed into numbers; Linda was called No. 63. Linda remembers one morning while in the shower, one of the kids was singing a hymn in her own native language. Linda remembers how this little kid was whipped by a nun for speaking her native language and how other kids who did so were also harshly punished; their mouths were washed with soap (3). The saddest aspect of such stories is that religion, often in these cases, Christianity, were used to implement such terrible acts. When supposedly motherly nuns and fatherly priests severely punish or sexually abuse innocent children and when so-called civilized politicians continue to enforce the most uncivilized acts in humanity, what should we expect from our world today?
Allow me to point out our current Western societies, where democracy is fully intact and political correctness is very well practiced! For instance, racism is banned and discrimination is forbidden legally, yet according to recent polls by the Social Cultural Planning (SCP) Office in the Netherlands, young people of Turkish and Moroccan origins live with a strong and widely shared sense of exclusion. They feel that they are not seen as individuals, but only as members of an immigrant group and as Muslims. Among these young people there is a distrust of the Dutch media, national politics, and the police. This adds to the feeling of not being a part of Dutch society. The reason for the SCP study commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment was a poll claiming that there was much support amongst young people of Turkish or Moroccan descents for religiously motivated violence (4). Even third generation migrants who are born and grown up in the country do not feel fully accepted and welcomed. Despite being born in the Netherlands and having studied in school with good results, those with foreign names are still being profiled and have lesser chances to be accepted for a job. Hidden rejections, tricky profiling of third, and even fourth, generation migrants, black profiling and generalizations of people are all the feeding grounds for radicalization of youth among the migrants.
Why am I writing about these things? My intention is not to accuse anyone or make anybody feel guilty. My only intention is to make us more conscious and to help us look at the current situation in a wider historical perspective. In particular, I want to reach out to my fellow Christian brothers and sisters and urge them not to be carried away by political populist ideas. Let us not follow what the popular left or right tries to impose on us; instead, let us look at the teachings of Jesus Christ. What does it mean when the Bible indicates in Exodus 20:5 that “the iniquity of the fathers may pass to four generations to come”? This is quite a sociological issue because those have been oppressed learn from their former oppressors to oppress, to kill, and to destroy. It is not God who punishes the generations to come, but the consequences of actions committed in the past that punish. In the past, we of the Western nations colonized other nations and regions and imposed our languages and religions upon them, and now we are being threatened by others who want to impose their religions on the West. The Bible teaches us that: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 77:14). The cycle of hate will only break if we follow the commandments of Jesus and not what the mainstream politics of both the left and right extremes teach. Let us pray and repent for our own arrogance and ignorance. Let us pray to Jesus and be reminded that in chapters of Western history, there are thousands of dark pages that were directed by greed and the wrong implementation of Christianity. The cruelties that are happening today are beyond comprehension and are certainly crimes against humanity, but let us be humble and learn from the past. Let us learn that what we do to others may one day be done to us and that sometimes this can have fatal consequences, such as the one we are experiencing today.
Rev. Samuel Lee, Ph.D.
(2) A Savage War of Peace - Algeria 1954-62, Alistair Horne ISBN 0-670-61964-7
Twiss, Richard. One Church, Many Tribes. Bloomington: Chosen Books, 2000.