What ISIS wants from me
Our hearts ache for Paris. For the families of the victims. We think of our daughters, our brothers, our parents, our friends; and we mourn the loss of souls like these. We are shocked. We are weeping. We are raising our fists. We are looking for answers. Late last night I was lying awake in Japan, my mind still reeling from these atrocities. I looked up at the ceiling and asked the darkness, "What does ISIS want?"
On the surface, ISIS sends a very clear message. Our enemy wants to kill "the infidels." They want to reach their horrific vision of heaven achieved by their dark "martyrdom" of suicide bombing. They want to create a world where everyone believes what ISIS believes. These are horrible, destructive, even irrational intentions. There are so many emotional responses welling up within me. I want to respond with violence. I want to run away. But pause with me for a moment -- before we do anything, let's consider: what response are our enemies hoping for?
They want us to respond with fear and hatred.
Fear is natural in the wake of these atrocities. With each new act of terror, they want us to be more afraid. Antoine Leiris who lost his wife in the Paris attacks wrote this: "You want me to be afraid. To cast a mistrustful eye on my fellow citizens."
With these cowardly acts of terrorism, anger comes next. And this anger is justified. This anger is a noble, righteous fire. After all, these were innocent, unarmed, unsuspecting victims. And this anger wants action. But what does action look like? The temptation is to respond to the Islamic community at large with hatred and commit our own atrocities. This retaliation towards Muslims around the world is an obvious response. It's almost too obvious. It's as if this is what our enemies want -- for us to respond with prejudice, mistaking the Muslim community at large with the specific madmen of ISIS. But why would ISIS want to endanger Muslim communities around the world? What would our response of hatred accomplish for them?
ISIS wants to destroy the "grey-zone"
They want to polarize the west into two separate camps of "we" and "they" where each side hates the other with deep-seated venom and rage. This elimination of the middle ground only furthers their cause. The Islamic State explained this strategy after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo. The Islamic State desires to: "Compel the Crusaders to actively destroy the grey-zone themselves... Muslims in the West will quickly find themselves between one of two choices, they either apostatize... or they [immigrate] to the Islamic State and thereby escape persecution from the Crusader governments and citizens."
ISIS wants to turn us to their game. They want our actions to resemble their actions of cowardice and rage. They want us to change -- that we would no longer be a nation that we are proud of, that we would resort to the same hatred and violence that they use. ISIS wants to turn you and I into people that we would not be proud of. People that hate. People that re-pay violence for violence. People that look like them.
ISIS wants us to willingly surrender our freedom
Our enemy knows that they can't destroy our freedom with firepower. They're not strong enough. No, their goal is for us to give up our freedom of our own volition, "to sacrifice my freedom for security," as Antoine Leiris says, "Lost. Same player, same game." Ironically, they want to destroy the very freedom of religion that has allowed Muslim communities to coexist in non-Muslim nations. They want us to respond with fear and put our own self-imposed limits on our own freedoms.
ISIS wants to fundamentally change me
ISIS wants to fundamentally change the very nature of who I am personally and who we are as a nation. Of course they can't reach all of us. They're not that strong. So how will this happen? ISIS believes that The West will fall into their trap, and tie our own noose. Our enemy hopes that these well broadcast acts of terrorism will incite us to retaliatory acts of hatred that resemble their initial actions. ISIS wants us to act exactly like them -- hateful and fearful. Vengeful and terrible. Violent and mistrustful.
ISIS wants to destroy the land of the free and the home of the brave, and replace it with the land of the hateful, the home of the afraid. Our enemy wants the loving, caring, version of myself and my nation to die -- succumbing to fear and hatred. Our adversary wants to make us look more like them, destroying the virtues that we value from the inside out. In an attempt to defend our nation we would lose the very virtues that make America worth defending. It's an insidious plan with only one requirement: well broadcast acts of terrorism.
How do I fight back?
Our adversary is defined by destruction -- uninspiring acts of cowardice and death. Every act of terrorism is a declaration of war on the freedom and kindness of the west. In light of these atrocities, what's the brave thing to do? How do we fight back against ISIS?
I believe we fight back by refusing to surrender to their dark cloud of fear. We fight back by refusing to let their acts of cowardice change the way we treat our Muslim friends and neighbors. We fight back by refusing to be held captive by their unimaginative acts of intimidation. We fight back by fighting for freedom: Freedom of a fair trial, freedom of religion, freedom of speech -- even when we disagree with what's being said.
We fight back by living the lives that they have attempted to destroy. With renewed fervor, let us attempt to give ourselves to those around us. Let their cowardice inspire me to be brave. Let their senseless murders arouse in me a deep compassion for my fellow man. Let their artless destruction inspire canvasses and songs filled with meaning and truth. Let their meaningless hatred remind me of what matters most in this life: I want to breathe deeply as I watch the sun go down -- thankful for my wife and daughter; thankful for my friends; thankful for my family, my country, counting every day as a gift.
Yes, these events have changed us -- each new attack sends shockwaves of seismic activity around the globe. And yes, ISIS wants to fundamentally change us from the inside out. But I believe that these attacks could make us stronger rather than weaker. The burden of fear and hatred is too much to bear, I will not carry it. No, this is the wretched weight of my adversary. Let the blood of these innocent victims not have been shed in vain. Let us live stronger than our enemies. Let us live braver than our adversary.
The world of the dead
There's nothing remarkable about death or hatred. In the same way, ISIS's actions are immature and obvious. Like a kindergarten bully on the playground, or rodent waiting in the shadows, ISIS wants to denigrate our humanity down to the lowest common denominator. Yes, death is an eventuality, hatred is an obvious response. But life and love are different -- these are remarkable! These are incredible gifts, worth fighting for, worth celebrating!
Hatred gives birth to hatred -- war gives birth to more of the same. What could defeat this hatred? What could possibly combat this senseless rage? I believe that love alone can conquer these atrocities. Just as the darkness flees from the light.
Yes, one day all of us will die. But this is not the death that I fear. The death I fear is the slow, daily death of living a life of fear and hatred. What a dark tragedy: to be dead even while your alive!? ISIS wants to turn us into the living dead -- imprisoned by fear and hatred our, dying with every breathe. Even worse, they want us to be infecting others with the same fear and hatred. This is the Dead America that ISIS wants. This is the Dead World that ISIS wants.
But that's not the world that I believe in. And that's not the America that I call home. You can take many things from me, ISIS, but you cannot take my heart. I refuse to join you in your Dead World of hatred and fear. Even if you take my life, I refuse to believe in your God of hatred. I refuse to believe in your God of murder. No. I believe in a God of love, life, creativity, and joy. I believe in a God who made all humans equally valuable. I stand with Antoine Leiris in his defiance of the terrorists. Inspired by his strength I say, "ISIS, you lose. Love is stronger than hatred. Beauty is stronger than fear." May we rise up and live out the beautiful lives that ISIS wants to destroy. May our actions speak even louder than words, telling them plainly, "You have underestimated us. Our life of love and self-sacrifice is a better story than your dead world of fear and hatred. We do not resemble your hatred or your cowardice and we never will. "