Under the Radar: Redefining the norm

Under the Radar: Redefining the Norm

The U.S. should adopt biblically-centered approach to counter Islamic State group’s recruitment tactics

By Joe Friedrichsen | Echo

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Countries are adopting softer approaches to fighting religious extremism. (Photograph provided by Flickr user Jezza)

We’ve no doubt heard the biblical command to love the enemies who persecute us. But, in the context of the heinous violence being wrought by the Islamic State group, how are Christians to respond in a loving manner? Also, what role should the U.S. government play in countering the Islamic outlaw group’s recruitment schemes within the country?

In Matthew 5:43–48, Jesus corrects his disciples about the corrupted teaching that loving thy neighbor meant only loving those from one’s own country, nation and/or religion. Instead, Jesus instructs them to love everyone—enemies or friends—regardless of where they’re from.

Going even further, Jesus tells his disciples to pray for those who wish to hurt them. According to 1 Peter 1:15–16, loving our enemies is necessary because we’re called to strive toward perfection in grace and holiness and conform ourselves to the example of our heavenly Father.

In practical terms though, how can Christians put these words and beliefs into action—especially in terms of fighting the Islamic State group at home? For one, an effective biblically-centered counterterrorism strategy must transition away from the current emphasis placed on the military. Instead, it ought to focus resources on at-risk communities around the world that the Islamic State group’s radical ideology has pervaded.

Fortunately, the U.S. federal government is already recognizing the need to work with local partners. For example, the White House hosted a summit in February on countering violent extremism. That summit acted as an extension of Washington’s larger ongoing 2011 strategy, “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States.”

As the title implies, the 2011 strategy outlines how the federal government will help empower American communities and local partners in thwarting violent extremism in the U.S.

The February summit brought leaders together from the federal program’s three pilot cities—Boston, Los Angeles and the Twin Cities (St. Paul and Minneapolis)—for the purpose of developing community-oriented approaches to countering ideologies that are used to radicalize, recruit and/or incite violence, according to whitehouse.gov.

Of the plans presented, Minnesota’s two-part program is of particular interest. The first part of the plan employs “community intervention teams,” which are largely run by the community itself, Yahoo News reported.

Such teams will be primarily used for Minnesota’s Somali community (the largest in the U.S.) so Somalis have somewhere to turn when members of the community spot warning signs of radicalization, reported CBS Local Minnesota. To further address the root cause of radicalization, the second part of the program brings job opportunities, mentors and youth programs to young Somalis.

At the crux of Minnesota’s plan is the idea that parents or friends can take their suspicions to the community without immediately involving law enforcement.

Community-oriented programs like these are important to countering the Islamic State group’s recruitment efforts because they allocate necessary resources to communities in need. They also help build trust between those communities and law enforcement.

European countries are also experimenting with softer approaches to fighting religious extremism. In Denmark, for example, Danes who left to fight for the Islamic State group are not being locked up upon their return, the Washington Post reported. This policy is driven by the Danish government’s belief that discrimination against Muslims at home is just as effective as recruitment efforts by the Islamic State group.

For returning Danish foreign fighters, free psychological counseling is being provided. In addition, Danish officials are trying to find returnees jobs and positions in schools and universities to help them to reintegrate into society.

Though advocates see this approach as a potential model for other communities in Europe and the U.S., opponents of the strategy argue that it’s dangerous and a threat to Denmark’s security.

The U.S. ought to encourage further development of softer strategies like Denmark and Minnesota’s to address the root cause of religious extremism and the main source of the Islamic State group’s recruitment—the lack of love and trust within communities.

Policies that endorse the discrimination of broad religious and people groups will likely antagonize and further radicalize the youth in those communities. Further, such policies blatantly disregard Jesus’ command in Matthew 7:12 to do unto others as one would want done to oneself.

The recent swell in community-oriented approaches are showing considerable promise in Europe and the U.S. Although Denmark and Minnesota’s novel strategies require greater experimentation, they recognize and address the love deficit in their respective communities.

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