Solving The Middle East Crisis

My friend Neil Remington Abramson and I frequently engage in discussion and debate, usually on blog written by a mutual friend, Bruce La Rochelle. Neil and I are generally in agreement on most things, and we have a great respect for each others’ point of view. Some of my recent posts on my summer vacation that included visiting battle sites from both World Wars may have given the impression that I am someone who is all in favour of military action if the cause is just.

I must admit I have never really tried to work out exactly where I stand when it comes to issues such as war and non-violence. I think I probably have a conflict between my ideals, which would be pacifist, and the practicality of living in a fallen world.

I know I am not in favour of military action except as a last resort. In conversation with friends before the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq I suggested the West was going to lose its opportunity to show that it is different. Respond to the attacks of 9/11 with an outpouring of love. Increase aid for those in need in the Middle East. Would Arabs and Muslims have understood a literal turning of the other cheek? I doubt it – but we will never know because the natural human impulse is to strike back.

With the current situation in the Middle East there is I think a definite understanding that by standing by and doing nothing, more people will die at the hands of the so-called Islamic State. Does that justify intervention? Do we have a responsibility to protect? Here is what Neil sent me:

Please pardon me for being a skeptical contrarian. The enemy-de-jour is almost always worse than Hitler. At least this is so until we win and rebuild his capacity to take us on again.

Usually he/she is a “known known” and that’s where air power can be effective. Sometimes he/she is a known unknown, like the weapons of mass destruction they never found (yet) in Iraq, thereby being unable to prove they didn’t exist.

ISIS is an “unknown unknown” able to siphon off boys from Calgary to become Syrian martyrs, and Australians willing to behead fellow citizens. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men” (and women & children suicide bombers). ISIS seems to have the power to unexpectedly convert anyone – even Westerners. That’s shocking – the guy standing on the bus next to you may not be as harmless as you assume.

As I recall the Bush administration also brought us the principle that fear is a very good means of controlling democracies. The only people ISIS has beheaded are Westerners who traveled to Iraq or Syria – and they claim they are doing it because our side was doing it (killing them) first. So it seems like a vendetta. And the more of them we blow up, the more of them there are. Maybe we should try Jesus instead of Petraeus.

More contrarian blasphemy (forgive me): those who declare these wars send others to kill, and die, for them. And those who don’t go often do rather well on the home front; selling weapons, offering security to the fearful; winning elections; becoming more powerful.

I’d accuse Neil of cynicism, but his thoughts on politicians are probably closer to realism.

So what do we do when we are confronted with evil? Christians have been taught that they are supposed to turn the other cheek, but a study of history suggests that doctrine has usually been more espoused in theory than in practice. Certainly the mullahs of the Islamic State have rejected Christian doctrine, literally with the sword.

I like the points Neil raises. Does anyone have any answers?


  1. What is the question here: Is it what should good Christians do everywhere? Good Christians in Canada? Good Christians In Iraq? If one is a Christian and says ‘turn the other cheek’ well there is a huge difference saying that here in Canada vs. saying that in Iraq. If one doesn’t want Canadians to get involved, fine, but to say that from a Christian perspective one must be consistent and criticize any Iraqi Christian who defends himself.

    I’ll bet some Christians have fallen to ISIS without resistance. They showed peace. That is more significant than anything any Canadian has done. I’ll bet some Christians have fought ISIS. That also is more significant than anything any Canadian has done. The point is: a Christian in Canada has a whole different experience than elsewhere.

    Turn the other cheek is a great idea. Let it slide. Let it roll. Arguably Western society is built on the suppression of the individual and the lack of ‘pushing back’ reaction to each…trespass. There’s another Christian idea (forgiving trespasses) that pushes us to become better. It allows one to take a bodycheck, shake it off, move on, and focus on putting the puck in the net. The ability to ignore insults and minor trespasses arguably frees up our resources to build the society we have now.

    That being said, to build a society one has to be alive. When one’s livelihood is at stake, one has to protect the family. When one’s life is at stake, well, I don’t think turn the other cheek is appropriate (unless one seeks Christian martyrdom). Dante had a few words about suicide being a waste. ‘Turn the other cheek’ is not exactly ‘here is my jugular’.

    The question I think is: if a Christian is under threat, and asks for protection requiring force or deterrent, would one think that person is non-Christian for not going to his death?

    @Jerry the leaders of the world had a chance to act but probably didn’t want to get involved in the Syrian conflict.

    1. When people in positions of power who have a chance to stop the killing of hundreds and thousands, or stop millions of people becoming refugees, but do nothing – or worse, their actions caused the killings and refugee suffering – they lose any right to claim the title of “leader”. Right now, the Turkish army is sitting on a hillside watching Kurdish people in Kobani, Syria become slaughtered. What is happening in the Middle East can only be described as evil.

  2. Leaders (Prime Ministers, Presidents, etc.) from every nation on Earth agree to send 1,000 police/soldiers to Iraq and Syria, ISIS is given the ultimatum to surrender in 24 hours – or face the consequences. ISIS would be over and done in a very short period of time.

  3. J. Laurie McLean · · Reply

    This is a good blog and raises many questions that makes one think deeply about the current situation regarding the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Generally speaking I think I fall under the category of a pacifist. I do not like war or fighting or even arguing for that matter. But there are situations where conflict is inevitable and even absolutely necessary. And even God approves. Our Bible has many examples of God’s intervention when “the hearts and thinking of mankind is only evil continuously” So God sends a flood, or God sends His chosen to displace and annihilate whole people groups or God sends a plague to destroy those who are idolaters and wicked evil doers. And the New Testament portion of our Bible declares that “in the last days” evil will only become worse than ever before. ISIS militants are “fighting a fight of their “faith”. We as believers in the one true God are also to “fight the fight of faith” with the major difference being that we are not told to take up military arms to do so. So how do we “fight”? By turning the other cheek? Yes, but also I believe there are times when we do have to take up arms to put down those who would destroy others for what in our minds is an unjust war. My opinion.

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