Sunday, July 10, 2005

"The Mission" as Metaphor: A Christian's response to the War on Terror

I loved The Mission. It's one of Robert De Niro's finest performances. Jeremy Irons provides the perfect foil for him. The story offers a compelling insight into the conflict between agents of Evil and committed Christians. It asks a haunting question: how do disciples of Christ respond to the genocidal impulses of those in thrall to Evil?

If you haven't seen it, see it. SPOILER ALERT: should you wish to see it, stop reading now.

If you're still here, you've either seen it, don't intend to or don't care. Good. The film's climax occurs when the Spanish and Portuguese overlords of the colony in which Fr. Gabriel (Irons) and Fr. Mendoza (De Niro)'s converted tribe lives decide it's time to seize their land. They have already coerced the Frs. Jesuit superior to support their use of military force should the tribes refuse to leave. Of course, the tribe refuses to relocate. Therefore, they face certain death at the hands of the Spanish and Portuguese.

Fr. Gabriel and Fr. Mendoza disagree on how to respond to the threat. Mendoza, a former mercenary before his conversion, believes the tribe's only option for survival is to fight. Fr. Gabriel passionately disagrees. He believes a witness of love is the only Christian response, for "God is Love." They separate and pursue their own ends to save their new converts. Mendoza leads a hopeless struggle against the well-armed and organized Iberian troops. He's eventually shot. As he lay dying, he sees Fr. Gabriel lead a collection of survivors right into the troops' line of fire. He holds before him the monstrance, filled with the Blessed Sacrament. The soldiers open fire. The survivors perish. Fr. Gabriel falls with them. The disciples' tragic end tears at the heart of any Fool. Evil has won a great victory. The only glimmer of hope is that several of the children escape down river. Otherwise, the agents of Darkness have ruled the day.

I reflect on this film now because I see it as a metaphor for the dilemma Christians face today when we confront the War on Terror. I've seen two blog posts from two Catholic bloggers. Both advocate two different courses of action in response to the threat posed by islamofascist terrorists. Both believe that their calls to act would be consistent with Christ's call to all of us. They represent the divergent paths chosen by Fr Gabriel and Fr. Mendoza.

Joe Cecil III of In Today's News makes this confession. Now, I find his tone disheartening. To even consider any kind of political gloating when the victims of 7/7 haven't even been buried defies prudence and may offend Charity. I have trouble squaring it with a disciple of the Lord. Then again, many have trouble squaring Peter's denials of Christ with the Rock upon whom Christ built the Church. What do I know? Whatever his tone, his message is clear:
If you want to be safer today than you were 1395 days ago (9/11) or safer than you were this morning, the way to be safer is to follow the Master's lead:

Be humble,...,pray,...,turn the other cheek,...,give generously,...,forgive those who persecute you,...,bless your enemies,...,be contrite and seek reconciliation,...,love your enemy!

This is not just pious platitude. It is the only true way to lasting peace, and I get this information from no other person than God in the flesh!
In other words, We must renew our discipleship, both personally and interpersonally. This requires much:
To fix this mess, every single individual in the West and in the Middle East must undergo a conversion.

This conversion starts with me and you - the reader. We cannot wait for others to convert first. Peace and security will not be achieved by waiting for someone else to take the first step.

If the human ingenuity that went into the creation of bunker busting nuclear smart bomb or devising a plan to fly commercial planes into a skyscraper were channeled to creating ways of relating peacefully, we could win the war on terror.

Until we do, none of us are safe from each other, and neither Al Qaida nor the English speaking world will win.

The so-called war on terror is a lose-lose proposition. Bush's strategy against terrorism is nothing but mutual assured destruction. There can be no good outcome to it.
Mr. Cecil will not place his trust in Pharaoh’s chariots or Caesar's legions but only in the crucified Son of God. His call to Love our enemies, always scandalous in the best of times, must appear insane to those that experienced the bombings. Whether as victim, friend or family to them or spectators around the world. Indeed, to encourage us to love AlQaidaa appears quite Foolish. However, consider that love means to will the good of another. It's ultimate expression is Christ's redemption of us through his blood. We were his AlQaidaa. He responded to us by dying to restore us to his Father as his brother! One could write off Mr. Cecil as a Fool and be done with it. If they did, they might have to write off someone even more Foolish.

My reflection of Joe Cecil III's point is not an endorsement of his politics or theology. I find both of them wanting in many respects. In fact, I find his analysis of the terrorist threat woefully unmoored from reality. However, such critiques are a post for another day. My point in referencing his confession is that his response represents the witness to God as Love that Fr. Gabriel embodied. This is one response Christians can make to the Terrorist threat.

B. Austin Higgins of A Certain Slant of Light approaches this threat differently. His passion may color his rhetoric. However, his message is clear. He stands for the defense of the innocent. In short, Mr. Higgins wants to see that terrorists never have the opportunity to take innocent life again:
If the free world had it together, pre-planned military strikes (in the event of a terrorist attack on the soil of an ally) would already be underway on the heels of the terrorist attack on London, England. I'm not interested in statements from political leaders, heightened terror warnings, or commitments to a continuation of the G-8 summit. There's already been too much of this: talk; talk; talk.

I'm interested in action and an overwhelming response to the horrors ravaged upon Londoners. Some multiple of what the Israelis would already have done had it been a strike on Tel Aviv.
One could see the desire for revenge reflected in his words. I don't. Instead I believe he calls out for justice against those that have shed innocent blood. I believe he wants to see that no further innocents are murdered by Jihadists. His call to attack countries that have been known to harbor terrorists rests in the conviction that such action may save lives.

I don't endorse his approach, any more than I celebrate Mr. Cecil's views on the subject. In fact, Mr. Higgin's approach may fail to incarnate the best of what Christ calls us to do, insofar as Just War Teaching does not permit pre-emptive war. However, his point remains that the defense of the innocent and the pursuit of justice against the guilty are appropriate Christian responses. Thus, his view represents the aggressive defense of the innocent that Fr. Mendoza pursues.

It's clear that Mr. Cecil and Mr. Higgin's responses oppose each other as Fr. Gabriel an Fr. Menodoza's positions did. Will bothMessrss. Cecil and Higgins' choice end in the same consequence? Could both paths fail to halt the evil that is islamofascist terrorism?

I don't know. That's what haunts me about The Mission. Surely there must be a way out!

Another Catholic blogger, Dan Darling of Winds of Change, may offer an answer. At least, he offers another expert's answers:
I tend to prefer those offered by Gunaratna at the conclusion of his book, which are as follows:

"* Military and non-military responses to alQaidaa on a region and issue-specific basis, with military responses providing the necessary security and political conditions to facilitate far reaching socio-economic, welfare, and political programs that will have a lasting impact.

* The destruction of alQaidaa and allied infrastructure, denying them rear bases, killing their leaders, exhausting their supplies, and disrupting their recruitment.

* Ending Pakistani covert and overt military, political, and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri jihadis while mediating to provide diplomatic solution to the Kashmir issue.

* Strangling terrorist financing, tightening control over the manufacturing and supply of weapons, exchanging personnel and expertise with allies, and building common terrorist databases in the Third World.

* Developing new vaccines, medicines, and diagnostic tests, enhancing medical communication and disease surveillance capabilities, and improving controls on the storage and transfer of pathogens and their equipment so as to address the threat of a catastrophic terrorist attack.

* Enhancing the protection of nuclear facilities while monitoring rogue suspected scientists and technicians.

* Killing Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mullah Mohammed Omar in order to diffuse the momentum of the terrorist campaign [to which we can probably add Zarqawi].

* Relying on black ops operations to assassinate terrorist leaders and ideologues.

* Recruiting intelligence agents and agent-handlers within Muslim immigrant communities and sharing existing intelligence with the wider decision and policy-making community.

* Engaging alQaidaa as an organization militarily while working non-militarily to erode its active and potential supporters by discrediting its ideology through broader action in areas where international neglect has legitimized the use of violence among many Muslims.

* Replacing unilateralism with multilateralism wherever possible and developing far-reaching policies designed to grapple with protracted conflicts and contentious issues currently fueling anti-Western sentiments by answering the real and perceived grievances of many Muslims and frustrating the current wave of open and clandestine support for alQaidaa.

* The Islamic world as a whole must answer whether alQaidaa and its actions are Koranic or heretical and credible Muslim communities and religious leaders must stand up and denounce bin Laden and his acolytes as power-hungry murderers rather than men of God.

* Muslim rulers and regimes must compete with Islamism and Wahhabi NGOs, building schools and community centers that both impart a modern education and instill humane, non-sectarian values.

* The international community should prioritize reform Islamic education, fostering an independent media, and establishing criminal justice and prison systems that truly reflect the rule of law rather than the whims of the current ruler.

* Terrorism as a tactic must be rejected and a societal norm built against its deployment similar to that which now exist to varying degrees against slavery, colonialism, fascism, Nazism, sexism, and racism irrespective of the legitimacy of the struggle."

Now that's a pretty tall order and certainly a lot more difficult to implement than Scheuer's "Surrender Now!" approach, but it is about the only way that I see us as being able to get through this in one piece.
Again, I can't wax enthusiastic about all of this. In fact, some clearly fail to pass the intrinsic evil criteria. For instance, "Relying on black ops operations to assassinate terrorist leaders and ideologues"; assassination is murder even if Osama Bin Laden is the mark. We can't commit evil that good may come of it. Not if we value our friendship with the Lord. Unfortunately, the temptation to consider evil means in the pursuit of noble ends will consume many of us, particularly policy-makers. I tremble for us all, for God remains just. Should we fail to be, we will pay a price down the road. One way or another.

However, from a practical standpoint, many of the ideas make sense. Military, diplomatic, intelligence-sharing and cultural mutuality may drive the islamofascists into oblivion. In fact, the pursuit of these means may witness to both Fr. Gabriel and Fr. Mendoza's approaches to discipleship! Diplomacy and cultural mutuality that develops the love of neighbor--and enemy--that Christ calls us to fulfills Fr. Gabriel's ambition. Military and intelligence engagement defeats the enemies that threaten the innocent, which satisfies Fr. Mendoza's hunger. Together, their approach reveals Christ that is the Prince of Peace who wields a sword of division. He brings the peace the world can't give. He divides those that have faith in him from those that do not. Thus, he separates Christians from islamofascist terrorists.

Dan Darling's expert may propose some concrete applications of this complementary Christian response to these agents of Evil. We must ensure that our leaders make just use of the most just of these applications, so that our victory over these murderers of hope will be assured. All the while we must continue that conversion to Christ that began with our baptism. Christ is the ultimate solution to the problem of evil. Let us be his hands and mind in the world, so that he overcomes the world yet again!