She was stay-at-home mom and a college graduate. She was devout in her religion, and is described in the newspaper as being very “religious” and “conservative.”
Words that could also describe me.
In many ways Tashfeen Malik and I had much in common.
One of the most, if not the most, disturbing things for me about Sept 11 attacks was that these were done by people who believed devoutly in God. So devoutly that they would do anything for Him, even the unspeakable.
The husband and wife who attacked a holiday party last week were similar. They embraced a radicalized faith that completely warped their sense of civility and humanity and drove them to do something undeniably evil.
And worse, they did it in the name of God.
As President Obama said on Sunday, terrorism “has evolved into a new phase” but that “we will overcome it.”
He listed off methods he planned on using to overcome it: Intelligence, airstrikes, gun control . . . and when I hear this I think about all the money it will cost, and I think of how pointless it will be.
Because you can’t fight this “new phase” of terrorism from the outside in. I know, because, as a devoutly religious person myself, I know how powerful faith can be.
You can make it harder for suspicious people to enter the country. You can drop bombs on their bunkers and cut off their sources of finance, you can send out your drones and your sophisticated weaponry, but you can’t fight ideas.
This is not a war of intelligence, it is a war of hearts.
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article by Johnathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth entitled “Turning Swords into Plowshares: How to Defeat Religious Violence.” I recommend it to all. In the article Sacks explains that the only way to defeat religious violence is with religious devotion.
He says, “We must raise a generation of young Jews, Christians, Muslims and others to know that it is not piety but sacrilege to kill in the name of the God of life, hate in the name of the God of love, wage war in the name of the God of peace, and practice cruelty in the name of the God of compassion.”
Religion is powerful. Like government, it creates a social structure, laws and communities, but unlike government, it provides a spiritual identity, a purpose and a mission. Government may feed us, organize us, help us live our lives, but religion gives us the reason to live. The words of a prophet will always have more power to create action among the masses than a president because a prophet’s message–even if it has been misinterpreted or twisted–transcends borders, oceans, walls and barriers.
Never underestimate the power to belong, the desire to make a difference or the need for purpose in a young person’s life. The government cannot grant this the way religion can.
Eboo Patel, a Muslim, said in his book Acts of Faith: “Many mainstream religious institutions ignore young people or, worse, think their role should be limited to designing the annual T-shirt. By contrast, religious extremists build their institutions around the desire of young people to have a clear identity and make a powerful impact.”
I find it mind-blowing how young these extremists recruit their henchmen . . . sometimes at eight years old. Are we doing the same on our side? Are we as thorough when it comes to giving children a religious belief that is cemented in love, compassion and respect for God and others?
One way we can do this is by teaching our children that first amendment rights are there to protect all religions and not just our own.
Sacks says, “We must put the same long-term planning into strengthening religious freedom as was put into the spread of religious extremism.”
I like what the president said in his call to Muslim leaders in his Sunday address. He said that Muslim leaders must “speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.”
This could be said to every religion. No matter how “true” you think your religion is, you are not better than anyone else. No matter how “righteous” you think you are, that does not give you a right to inflict violence on innocent people. And before we are Muslims, Jews, Christians or Mormons we are children of God. Children. Children who unfortunately fight and argue and act like we are better than each other.
A few years ago I sat next to a Muslim woman on a 2 1/2 hour flight. We talked the entire time. We talked about her home country, Iran. We talked about her husband, her kids, her education. I told to her about my kids and the book I was writing. We even talked about the conversation no-nos: politics, religion and sex. I found I had more in common with her than with my Baptist neighbor. I marveled out loud at her dedication to modesty (I had considered myself pretty modest in my cap sleeves and knee-length skirt), and she in turn was impressed that I refused to drink coffee. I could not help admiring her for her faith, and I felt that she shared the same admiration for me.
Right now it is Christmas, and we are celebrating the birth of Christ. It is a time when we all should reflect inward on what we believe and why. What are our religious motives? Do we feel that we are better than others? Do we feel like, since we have found our true religion, that God does not speak and inspire others to do good or that they are somehow unworthy to be treated with respect and protection?
“The Saints can testify whether I am willing to lay down my life for my brethren. If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a ‘Mormon,’ I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist, or a good man of any other denomination; for the same principle which would trample upon the rights of the Latter-day Saints would trample upon the rights of the Roman Catholics, or of any other denomination who may be unpopular and too weak to defend themselves.
“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.
“We ought always to be aware of those prejudices which sometimes so strangely present themselves, and are so congenial to human nature, against our friends, neighbors, and brethren of the world, who choose to differ from us in opinion and in matters of faith. Our religion is between us and our God. Their religion is between them and their God.”