#WeAreN, But Are We Really? On Hashtags and the Harvests of War in Iraq

Creative Commons Copyright U.S. Army

Creative Commons Copyright U.S. Army

Over the past month, there has been a crescendo of outrage over the horrific acts of ISIS in Iraq and Syria in many American Christian circles.

And it’s justifiable. In fact, it’s hard not to be angry and appalled.

Reportedly, ISIS has been systematically exterminating religious minorities, a campaign of slaughter that left some 5,500 dead in the past six months — some 2,000 in the past month alone — and scores more displaced from their homes.

While the hashtag #WeAreN reminds us that Christians have been singled out for execution, it’s not just our brothers and sisters in Christ facing the violence. It’s also Shiite Muslims and Yazidis who have been targeted for slaughter. Media outlets have reported stories so gruesome they are almost beyond comprehension. Some of them are true, and some of them perhaps are not. And while it’s hard to tell at times which is which, no one is disputing that something truly awful, horrible, and evil is happening at the hands of ISIS.

So, there are calls for prayer. There are calls for solidarity. There are calls for intervention.

But there is also a whiff — and often more — of anti-Islamic sentiment, particularly in some of the social media comments I’ve read. That’s why it’s so important to remember, especially as these reports unfold, that ISIS has been roundly condemned by scores of influential and important Muslim organizations. In fact, ISIS has been so brutal and violent even al-Qaeda broke ties with them. Now, that’s saying something when the world’s most well-known terrorist organization says you’ve gone too far.

So, yes, let’s be outraged. But let’s not be anti-Islamic. Rather, this is the time to join hands with our Muslim brothers and sisters. It is a time to build bridges not burn them with misplaced anger.

But I’m not sure American Christians can do so without first asking ourselves a troubling question.

And I’m not sure we can really say #WeAreN without first looking at the blood on our own hands.

While it is certainly right to be outraged at the systematic slaughter of some 2,000 people in the past month, where was our collective outrage, O American Christians, when our own war there was responsible for the slaughter at least a half-million Iraqis?

Where was our outrage when we unleashed hell in the cradle of civilization, through shock and awe, torture, and extraordinary rendition?

Where was our outrage then?

Because this is what birthed ISIS — our own immoral war there.

Where is our ability now to see that this is a harvest of our own violence, immoral war, and gruesome torture?

For almost a decade, we plowed the ground with bombs. For almost a decade, we sowed the seeds of unspeakable violence. For almost a decade, we poured death into the earth.

And now we are outraged at what has taken root in the soil we polluted with the blood of Iraqis.

ISIS is not innocent, but neither are we. This kind of evil doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  It doesn’t spring up from the bowels of hell by the devil incarnate. Our own military-industrial complex played an important part in the manufacture of this current evil.

No, we aren’t the ones exterminating civilians — Christians, Shiite Muslims, and Yazidis. But to me, it’s hard to ignore that the blame for some, if not much of what is happening in Iraq, lies at our own feet, with the failed U.S. invasion and its half-hearted occupation of the country.

Outrage?

Yes, be outraged at the violence of ISIS, but do not oversimplify it as a bunch of bad guys doing evil.

Yes, pray for the victims, the refugees, the survivors, and the relief workers, but do not believe that we are heroic saviors.

Yes, send aid and money, if you can, to the organizations already on the ground doing work, but do not believe that it will rebuild what our tax dollars destroyed for so many years.

But do not forget, among all the outrage, and all the prayers, and all the giving, to also repent. Before we point the finger at the evil of ISIS and say we stand in solidarity with the persecuted of Iraq, let’s take a look at the plank bomb in our own eyes.

Maybe the next time we tweet #WeAreN, we should also remember that, for as much blood as ISIS has spilled in Iraq, and as awful as it is, #WeThePeople have spilled more.

 

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.


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