Once again we find ourselves in the wake of senseless violence groping for words and a way to understand what just happened. We think if we use the correct words to articulate a correct formulation of the problem perhaps we can find a solution. We can put the correct laws and procedures in place that will keep us safe. Because Tamerlan Tsarnaev—the suspected Boston Marathon bomber killed by police—and his brother Dzhokhar Tsarnaev—also suspected of the crime but survives—are Muslims, we are once again talking about radical Islam and the process of radicalization.
Let us be clear. Radical and violent are not the same thing. “Radical” means at the root, foundational, extreme. “Violent” means extreme physical force to injure. When we conflate the two, especially as it relates to Islam, we build into the concept of radical Islam the notion that the faith is at its root violent. It is not.
Allow me to quote myself. I say in the introduction to my book, “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation”:
If Islam means submission to a compassionate, gracious, and merciful God, then “radical Islam: is radical submission to compassion, grace and mercy. It is extreme submission to an all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful God who does not need human beings to kill each other, especially people who are noncombatants.
It is also important to remember that Islam reveres Jesus as a prophet and Muslims submit to the teachings of Jesus as a prophet. So, radical Islam would include a radical submission to the teachings of Jesus, including the command to love one’s enemies.
Within the context of extreme submission to compassion, grace, mercy and love, it is more accurate to talk about the indoctrination of these young men. They were indoctrinated into the deception that violence is necessary or effective in bringing about a better world. We ought to think about what made them susceptible to a lie.
Radical Christianity is radical love. Radical Islam is radical submission. In Islam, the greater jihad is our personal struggle to submit to a gracious and merciful God. The lesser jihad is the struggle for social justice. These struggles have nothing to do with violence against innocents. The questions for those of us who are believers are: Can we love with a radical love? Can we love Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Can we pray blessings upon the soul of Tamarlan Tsarnaev? Can we insist that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev receive all of the protections that the U.S. Constitution guarantees to citizens? Can we forgive the unforgivable? Can we pray clarity of thought for all the sad, disaffected young men in the world?
Radical love and radical submission do not mean that we overlook the crime. Forgiveness does not mean that we forget or that the surviving brother will or ought to escape justice. He ought to have his day in court, and, if he is convicted, face very serious consequences for his acts.
In the interfaith memorial service in honor of the victims of the bombing, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts spoke of the scriptural imperative to give thanks in all things. He admitted that he was obedient even though he was not feeling especially thankful–until he started to give thanks. President Obama spoke of the scriptural wisdom that reminds us that “God has not given us the spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
Biblical wisdom also teaches us: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (I John 4:18) Our willingness to love with a radical love and our struggle to submit with a radical submission to the difficult teachings are our shields against fear that leads to hatred that leads to violence.
When we think of a radical, we ought to think of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the bombing. His radical statement was: “No more hurting people. Peace.”
Dixon is founder of JustPeaceTheory.com; former teacher of Christian Ethics at Andover Newton (Mass.) Theological School and United Theological Seminary in Ohio.