Once again, we have seen the work of evil on a grand scale.
Our Orlando community was struck a harsh blow at the Pulse nightclub on Sunday morning (June 12, 2016). For my family, regrettably, this is our third time seeing the work of the Muslim terrorists up close and personal.
At the time American Airlines flight 77 hit the Pentagon on September 11, 2011, I was scheduled to be just a few feet away from the point of impact, but was spared by a strange set of events. We frequented many of the places struck by the DC sniper during his reign of terror, and lived through that fear and confusion.
I have researched both of those histories and understand what occurred in both—perhaps to a greater extent than I wish I did. I do not claim to be an expert on this topic by any means; however, I bear the unfortunate ability to say that I have lived through similar situations twice before, and have unique experience and knowledge in this area that will, sadly, continue to grow.
Orlando has been added to the list of cities that have been attacked. Once again, the same pattern of events and the same historical behavior emerges: Good triumphs yet again.
There is an outpouring of support, a sense of unity, pledges of love. A city, state, nation and globe stand united against the tragedy and lock their arms. Good wins.
In our case, there will still be more stabs at our hearts. Critically injured patients will be departing treatment—hopefully on their feet, but the potential always remains for some to depart in hearses.
We have yet to see the flood of funeral services and parades. As those begin, the tragedy will be renewed for us again and again. The evil will be re-summarized by our media again and again.
The oddest thing of all, however, is that those of us who may think at first, “I am blessed that this did not affect me,” will rapidly find out how small their world is.
The Scope of the Tragedy
The 102 victims (dead and wounded) were the first order impacted. The second order impacted are the families, workers, neighbors, first responders, investigators and health professionals whose lives, psyche, and memories have been forever changed. After that come all the friends, companies, co-workers, associates, neighbors and all the other connections to the first two orders.
For about 90-120 days, you will learn how much this evil act touches your lives—the PTA that just lost its treasurer, the veterinarian who lost his technician, the store that lost its manager, the church that lost its deacon. All of those affected have lived lives larger than themselves and touched our community. We will all be discovering those losses for about three months beyond the final death or hospital release.
What Now—and What Later?
Great evil is always followed immediately by greater good. We are there now—angry, frightened, determined, confused but also united, loving and hopeful.
My experience has been that after each tragedy, good and love win, but then things revert back. We have a history of living as a culture afraid to praise each other, afraid to openly love each other and afraid to offend each other. Being inoffensive is vastly more important than being honest, friendly, kind, courteous or loving.
We revert back to the social norms that have, in many ways, allowed this evil to flourish. Soon after each tragedy, agendas begin to be advanced by using the tragedy as a way to prove some point or another. The agendas rapidly lead to division, anger and separation, and even demonstrations and unruly behaviors.
The unity breaks. The good reduces. The love diminishes.
I pray Orlando does not see this trend, but do see the agendas beginning. I can already count eight agendas that have been advanced by various groups less than one week after the tragedy.
We also will begin to seek the causes. Once again, anger will cloud the mind. We will listen to anyone with something to say, and if it gives us a piece of our personal puzzle, then we will accept it.
Dr. Mary Habeck of Yale University has conducted extensive research on the way Islamic extremism has grown. Her books include “Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror,” “A Global Strategy for Combating Al Qaeda and the Islamic State,” “The Great War and the Twentieth Century,” and many others. I will never do justice to her research, but allow me to share some of the key points she shared when we sat together at dinner one evening during a professional organization conference:
1. Before September 11, 2001, we did not link all the terror groups under the label “Al Qaeda.” Instead, each terror group had its own name, focus, agenda, and geography in which they operated. Al Qaeda, headed by Osama bin Laden, was the banker and served as the funding source for their terrorist acts.
After September 11, 2001, the term Al Qaeda was used to denote all terror groups in aggregate. The U.S. decided to work to cut off funding, and the funding was predominantly from that one source, along with instructions, agendas and multiple broader scale attack plans. We had a singular adversary but forgot all the individual agendas at the same time.
We must recognize both situations.
2. There are many differences between the radicalized Muslim and the conventional Muslim. The simplest difference to understand is that the Koran teaches the history of a series of years in the life of Mohammed. To the conventional Muslim, the book teaches of Mohammed’s life in peace and then a far shorter time in war.
The lessons are clear that peace is preferable. However, the radical Muslim interprets the same text differently. Since Mohammed’s life began at peace and then evolved to war, the Koran is a call to continue the path of Mohammed and to go to war in the name of Islam.
The Koran itself teaches to focus on nearby enemies first during war, but the radicals have found elements of old teachings to justify doing the reverse. To be radicalized as a Muslim means to convert your interpretation of the Koran from one of co-existence to one of domination; from one of peace to one of bloodshed.
Islam and Christianity
I have also learned personally that the Islamic teachings are quite different from Christian teachings. Our values across the two faiths are vastly different.
Within Christianity, we generally (but not always) find the ability to accept Christians of other denominations as our brothers and sisters in faith. In some parts of the world, however, even Catholics and Protestants will kill over these divisions.
Islam, however, has a great set of extremes. Islam teaches a belief that there is a singular God, right and law. However, extremists in Islam pervert these texts through reinterpretation. The Hadith teaches the value in fighting, and is accepted by Islamic extremists, but not by all Muslims.
The notion of Jihad introduced in the extremist philosophy includes a belief that the United States was founded to destroy Islam. While we may know otherwise, those who oppose us do not know us, and see us only through the eyes of the people we fight and oppose. There is no understanding of America, nor Americans—only hatred bred by stories told far away.
Muslim conduct is also strictly documented in another text, telling every detail of life and how it should be carried out. Extremists will rewrite and/or reinterpret this text to change the daily guidance.
Abrogation is another unique term to the radicalized Muslim sect. When the Koran is not clear on a topic, abrogation teaches that the later text should be followed. While this would seem to a Westerner as consistent with the New Testament overwriting the Old Testament, in Islam the effect is different—the wartime passages thus become preferable to the peacetime passages.
We then judge and act based on our own misunderstandings. In the U.S., we resolve our disputes between ourselves or with the intervention of our government. In Middle Eastern nations, there is a tribal structure.
A story I heard from the Iraq War was that the military police had to respond every day to the same spot where there were two families shooting at each other. As soon as the MPs arrived, shooting stopped, both families welcomed them and then went home. The next day, the situation occurred again. As the MPs investigated, they learned that there had been a car accident and each family held the other to blame. Since the tribal leaders had not resolved the conflict, the conflict was remained unresolved. The families would continue to battle until it was settled.
There is no parallel to this behavior in America, nor a common understanding of such a situation. Now imagine these same values when adding false teachings of hatred and violence.
We also misperceive their lifestyles. When the U.S. entered Iraq, the average annual income of an Iraqi was $35. Literacy in Afghanistan is below 10 percent. The stories told and values taught are their reality. Stories of the Crusades (the battle of Islam and Christianity in the Holy Lands that played out over centuries) are still told.
In Iraq, Al Qaeda paid $300 to anyone who would secretly place three IEDs to attack Americans. Think of the bargain price for our enemy—$100 per attack. However, most Iraqis did so, collected their nearly ten years of pay, and then tried to report to the U.S. where they had planted the IEDs. What would you do for ten years’ pay?
Our own language even works against us. Today we speak of ISIS or ISIL. Ever think about what we are saying?
Our labels have been cited as offensive to those who oppose ISIS and ISIL. They prefer to call them Da’esh, based on the name of their point of origin—it’s an acronym that does not translate to English easily.
The goal of Da’esh is to establish an Islamic State, or a Caliphate as it is also called. Once successful, there will be a formal Islamic State. At present, Islam is a religion. Once an Islamic State is created, there will be a headquarters and center from which to expand the war for their one set of values and teachings to dominate the world.
In the U.S., we initially called them ISIS: Islamic State in Iran and Syria. We validated the existence of the Islamic State when we did so—we openly stated that their opposition had succeeded in their goal, even as we opposed them from achieving that goal.
We then changed the language again to ISIL: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. ISIL again confirms their success—but now expands their national boundary from Iran and Syria to include Iran, Syria, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine.
ISIS and ISIL are the words of those who support Da’esh, not the words of those who oppose them. Yet our language has been crafted for us to do both—support and oppose—simultaneously
Bringing it Home
So now let’s come back to our Orlando event. Based on current media reports (which are rarely accurate), the shooter, who was very conflicted, became radicalized. A man twice married with anger issues and homosexual activities and tendencies now adopted the values of radical Islam. His anger rose. He was a walking conflict—he could not be Muslim, radicalized, homosexual, divorced and American all at the same time.
Parts of his life insisted now that he destroy other parts of his life. This he did with devastating consequences.
Like the radicals who attacked us in the World Trade Center bombing; on 9/11 in Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York City; in Brussels; in Paris; in Spain; in Washington DC, his values said to continue the war, and kill those who were wrong.
From the illogic of his strategy, I strongly suspect that he was never trained by Al Qaeda or Da’esh; however, he adopted their principles and resolved to kill. He also found his only path to salvation in doing so, if he accepts the values of radical Islam.
Our job as Christians and as residents of Orlando is to recognize that this evil must be overwhelmed with good. Unity must thrive. Love must thrive and grow.
We must remember to not just stay strong today, when we mourn 102 members of our community for being sacrificed so wrongly, but to continue to exude that goodness, that love and that strength as our society presses to push agendas, ideologies and demands for specific conduct upon us.
We now see good thriving. Let’s do our best to hold onto it and not forget it as we watch others turn it from a cause for unity to a cause for division.
This is our city. These were and are our brothers and sisters. Love has triumphed. Let it not perish.
Where we question, let us search for the deeper truth and not accept the simplistic sound bite of the day.
Where we love, let us continue to love and stand united for years rather than months.
Where we care, let that grow and not fall apart to separate agendas and biased dialogues.
Let us remake Orlando not into a city remembered for how it once handled this tragedy, but into a city that rebuilt itself in the memory of that fateful event.
While I regret seeing a third variety of these events, I am heartened to see the amazing goodness of this community and its capabilities. God has truly blessed us all.
“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” – 2 Peter: 8-9