Defending against Muslim aggression in Africa

Posted: Jul 22, 2004 12:00 AM

 Will Sudan finally have peace? Years of pressure by American Christians and Jews led to Secretary of State Colin Powell's peacemaking visit to the ravaged country early this month -- but any truce is likely to be short-lived as long as radical Muslims continue their attempt to force non-Muslims into submission.

 That means the eagle in the Great Seal of the United States needs to continue to hold in its right talon an olive branch but in its left a bundle of arrows. We need to push for peaceful relations whenever they can be maintained in a way that promotes freedom. We need to help those who face aggression to defend themselves.

 Ideally, a training program for villagers in Sudan and elsewhere would include the basics of survival: the right way to dig a trench to dispose of human waste, how to dig a well, how to provide emergency medical help and so on. But it should also teach them how to hunt and shoot, including how to shoot at a marauder who is attacking them. All of that is part of helping people to survive in the face of a hostile environment or hostile human forces.

 Many Christians tend to shy away from such practical realities, in part because some turn Christ's admonition to turn the other cheek when facing personal offenses into a pacifist edict. Although we don't do nearly enough, some American Christians are generous in providing funds for international relief that provide food to help people stay alive, but react with horror at the idea of contributing to a fund that could help them to fight back against oppressors.

 The Bible, though, certainly honors self-defense and going to the military aid of those who are being mistreated. Abraham and his small army rescued captives, including Abraham's nephew Lot. Moses fought the Amalekites, and David the Philistines. The tide turned in the book of Esther when Mordecai won for the Jews of Persia the right to defend themselves against attacks by the followers of Haman, a descendant of Amalek.

 I spent some time recently with Jack Buckner, who was head of U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan before he retired last year after three decades of service, and wants to apply that biblical principle of the present. Lt. Col. Buckner notes about the situation in Sudan and elsewhere, "Somebody has to come in and provide those Christian villagers with the knowledge and equipment they need to protect themselves."

 Emeke Izeze, a Christian journalist who writes for The Guardian, one of Nigeria's leading newspapers, is also thinking long-term. He notes that "Muslims in the north (of Nigeria) are ready to kill for their religion," and that they are receiving aid from aggressive Islamists abroad: "Christians in Nigeria need assistance as well. They need to know that people in the United States care."

 Care, of course, can come in a variety of ways. The U.S. State Department has finally responded to pressure to act on Sudan, and we similarly need to wake up our Foggy Bottom diplomats to the facts of life and death in northern Nigeria. In Izeze's words, "Any bit of pressure put on the U.S. government will help it understand that every step must be taken to preserve the religious balance in Nigeria."

 Every step? Teaching and helping Nigerian Christians to fight if Muslim aggression continues? This is hard, but we have to realize that turning the other cheek to individual, personal offenses is not the same as accepting genocide or religious tyranny. If we say fighting back is never warranted, then we are likely to see Middle Eastern history multiplied, with churches turned into mosques and evangelism prohibited.

 Peaceful paths may still be possible, but Buckner's conclusion is right: "If we care about the survival of Christians in areas where they are most under attack, more of us will have to step out of that nice comfortable house with a swimming pool and air conditioning, and get involved in something thousands of miles away."