Storm clouds gather even as more than two billion Christians worldwide prepare to celebrate their joyous holiday season. Christmas, like Ramadan to Muslims and Chanukah to Jews, is a holiday that unites families, neighbours, communities and vast swaths of the world in a spirit of peace and love that is simply unmatched by any man-made force on earth.
This is a remarkable testament to our humanity and the transcendent power of faith. However at this time of celebration, fanatics who fear and abhor those who do not submit to their distortions of religion seek to strike terror into the heart of the Judeo-Christian and Muslim worlds.
So how did it come about that faith – this great unifier of peoples – should be hijacked as a tool of division? To people of goodwill, our common religious ancestry – the three great monotheistic faiths all descend from the Prophet Abraham – is a source of strength, interfaith dialogue, and understanding.
But to others, the diversity within and between faiths inspires moral weakness and hatred. It is this tiny minority that roils the world with shocking acts of violence and depravity. That these acts are committed in the name of Islam, one of the world’s great faiths, is an affront to civilization and all “people of the book”.
Just as there is no military, legal, cultural, or political act that has the power to unite and transcend differences the way faith can, only faith has the power to challenge and defeat the fanatics.
Indeed, endless wars and restrictions on freedoms have not stopped the deluge of recruits to the banner of death and division. These measures may actually exacerbate the problem by creating new grievances upon which extremists feed, not to mention propaganda victories.
After the Paris attacks, Pope Francis called the onslaught of extremists a “world war”. He’s absolutely right, but make no mistake: he was not calling for militarism. He knows instead that the battle lines are drawn between right and wrong, and this pits the vast majority of the world against the few.
There are billions of believers and people of goodwill, and we will never submit or surrender to a group of godless killers. In many ways, this is a war that is already won.
But we would be wrong to underestimate the challenge ahead. Some erroneously characterize extremism as a nihilistic death cult.; an epidemic of violence that can be snuffed out over time. No, what makes extremism so dangerous and attractive to disaffected young people is that it provides them a sense of moral purpose and a path to glory.
Therein lies the counteroffensive. People of faith must rise to provide that moral purpose to our young people. We must be as relentless as the extremists in marketing reality against their fictions.
We must show that a path to glory comes from within the true tenets of all Abrahamic faiths: charity, tolerance, justice, and love for humankind. We must renew and share the sense of family that emerges from this common ancestry.
Christmas, Ramadan, and Chanukah can deliver these messages to billions of people. As the extremists shout, we sing. As they kill, we heal. As they show us the darkest depths of the human soul, we show them the highest plains of humanity. Let this be our wish for this holiday season. And let us make it so.
This article was written by Dr. Jamal Sanad al-Suwaidi, Director General of the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) based in Abu Dhabi. He is the author of numerous publications and books including “The Mirage” which discusses the challenges of religious extremism and seeks to offer a way forward for communities worldwide. Click here to learn more about the book and purchase a copy. The book is also available on Amazon.
This article was sponsored by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR).