Who Is My Enemy?
For those of us accustomed to thinking of World War Two as our Good War, the one in which we most certainly were in the right, Camp's reminders that we were responsible for massive bombings of innocents under the guise of Total War will be painful. His description of the destruction of lives and property in the firebombing of Hamburg (the so-called "Operation Gomorrah"), for example, is horrifying—and is meant to be. Flaming corpses, bodies lying in pools of their own congealed fat, flies and maggots and rats everywhere. It was "Like a horror story, and yet purposefully planned and executed by the Allies" (p. 93).
His point: in our own sense of the rightness of our cause, we have carried out our share of violence, our own atrocities. To take all of Islam to task when we are guilty of our own use of force for what we perceive as righteousness is hypocrisy; and what makes it worse is that ultimately we are not even killing in the name of our religion, but of our civic religion. American Exceptionalism can make us as sure of our own righteousness as any Muslim extremist; and since our tendency is not to describe our acts of terror as terror, we can safely set them aside, never to be thought over again.
That is why, in referencing Andrew Bacevich's The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, Camp notes that we are right to mistrust American exceptionalist beliefs, "that America has a special mandate by God to make things turn out right and is thus granted an exception to do the things others are not" (p. 124). We are right to be incensed at terrorist acts, but wrong to ignore our own violation of Just War mandates even in the preservation of our nation.
But Who Is My Enemy? does more than simply compare the two systems (Christianity and Islam) and ask us to employ empathy and honesty in that comparison. Camp also gives us hope that we can learn from each other and take on common challenges. As I've suggested in this column recently, despite the very real differences in our faith, Muslims and Christians have many things in common. We all want our children to grow up safely, to live meaningful lives. We face common enemies, what Camp describes as "threats to family life, to sober life, to quiet and sensible work" (p. 135).
The common trait of hospitality, and the practice of courage suggest we may still find peace at the far end of the Clash of Civilizations that some of us fear (and others of us seem to desire). Camp's positive stories of conversation and table fellowship with Muslims echo my own experience; we make enemies of people we fear, we fear them because we do not know them, and we do not know them because they live differently than we do. But when we reach out to each other, we can break down those barriers and discover our common humanity. And when we do so, the question Who is my enemy? can be answered in a much more limited way.
This is, finally, the great contribution of Camp's book: by encouraging us to see through the eyes of the Other, by noting the commonalities of Christians and Muslims, and by requiring us to be honest about the violent failures of our own sacred traditions, he allows us to narrow our circle of enemies.
And that might even make it a little easier to love the ones who remain.
For more conversation and resources on Who is My Enemy? including an interview with the author, visit the Patheos Book Club here.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.