Posted by: rogermitchell | September 28, 2014

What’s the alternative to meeting ISIS violence with violence?

All three mainstream political parties have agreed to a 3rd Iraq war.
Once again the assumption that the greater the violence and brutality of the enemy, the greater the justification for a violent response, rules the day. But if violence breeds violence, then this response will only breed a greater violence. Nevertheless, the “peace through sovereign power” model that has ruled the day throughout Western history and beyond has no other answer to give.

So what is the alternative?
If kenotic, life-laying-down, enemy love is a genuine source of political power, then it does apply in situations of extreme violence and brutality such as those inflicted by IS.
There are seven strategic components:
1) the infinite demand of love
Simon Critchley presents this inescapable motivation to love that extends beyond confessional limits in his book The Faith of the Faithless Disciples of Jesus get this, or frankly they are really not disciples yet. Others get it too, thank God. That love not hate wins. That restorative justice not retribution works. That we have to stick with nonviolent methods whatever the cost. That there’s an infinite demand.
2) deep structural subversion of the Western way
Serious examination of the genealogy of the West suggests ongoing deep structural links between the violence of militant Islam and the violence of the West. See my The Fall of the Church Unless we undo the underlying violent structures of the West there is very little hope for a parallel end to extreme brutality against it.
3) the fruit of lives laid down
The good news of the incarnation, that is to say the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is that loving one’s enemies to the death actually does consume evil and triumph over it. In which case the extraordinary bravery and determination of some to remain on the ground in situations of extreme danger to maintain a strategy of love is crucial.
4) dangerous opportunities for dialogue
There need to be alliances between Muslims, Christians and other peoples of faith, who have some empathy or at least understanding of where IS is at and why. Peaceful people of faith who are ready to take the immense risk of meeting extreme self-designated islamists for dialogue even if it leads to beheading and death. How much worse is that than incarnation and crucifixion?
5) leadership example
Recent episodes of 24 had Jack Bauer rescuing the fictional US president from a situation where he was ready to give his life to terrorists in exchange for peace. A similar proposal by George Bush Junior on the eve of the War on Terror might have saved a lot of lives and prevented the current bloodbath. The jingoistic refusal of such political action in 24 highlights the deep structural mindsets of the West that honour yet reject such a path.
6) prayer
Those of us committed to prayer such as need to be praying for a change of heart among IS funders, commanders and troops; for strategy and courage to engage them non-violently on the ground; and new ways of introducing creative, love-based, initiatives for peace to be discovered.
7) giving
I added this last, because sending money somewhere can either be to assuage guilt at inactivity or making the false Western assumption that money is the ultimate answer. What I mean here is giving our technical, creative, rational, financial and above all our emotional and relational giftings to the cause of peace through love.



  1. As always, relevant, very thought provoking and challenging the conventional ‘wisdom’ of our age!

  2. Glad you found it helpful. We need to keep communicating the real alternative to the violence inherent in the Western political system.

  3. A brilliant ‘situation room’ strategy that all of us can participate in at some level.

  4. Thank you. Hopefully, yes. Without participative strategy, simply opposing violence, or living in denial, makes us hypocrites I think.

  5. Totally brilliant Roger. This is the good news, that we can rediscover our humanity and reimagine our future together. This strikes every cord – really well written – thanks!

  6. Loving our enemies is not easy, but the only way in the end!

  7. IS is such a terrible and interesting mirror of the west. What the US and other powers did in Iraq for so many years is terrible – displacement, terror, torture, death to hundreds of thousands of people. And it hasn’t ended for the people there no matter where in Iraq they live. What a challenge to the west. Having unleashed this power of death they now are challenged to react in a way nullifies it. To choose life and love would go a long way toward dealing not only with IS but also with the need for repentance and redemption in the whole region.However empires, even declining ones, tend to have a hard time learning such lessons. Empires are built on the power of death (slavery, genocide, war) and to choose otherwise means repenting of empire and all the power it entails. I don’t see much appetite for that in the US or the UK at the moment.

    • Hi there! Your initial statement is very important and insightful. We need to help people see the reflection of the West in the IS mirror and come in the opposite spirit. While I recognize the pathos of your last statement, nevertheless you exist, those commenting positively to this post exist, and between us we are from US and the UK. Let’s keep at it…

  8. hi roger, greetings from bournemouth-youre by far from forgotten down here by the way!!! love love love this post. there has been precious little writing on the current alternatives to military intervention; you underline the philosophy of ‘enemy love’ (interesting it was st francis day on saturday-have been reading on the different interpretations of his visit with the sultan). the twin activities of proposing an alternative political response, alongside unpicking, as you say, and repenting for the historic violence of the west are difficult to envisage; without people of this persuasion in highly influential positions of power. i don’t downplay prayer at all, this is only one dimension though isn’t it? we simply don’t have the leaders who think beyond retribution and revenge.
    do you see this ‘way’ ever being more than a voice from the margins, a prophetic call that there is another way to live? will the empire ever sit up and take notice? if so what will it take?
    love to you both from us lot down here x

    • Thanks for this, James.
      In terms of what it will take to change the mindset of an era, I reckon we simply get on with the small steps & inclusive links across the marginal voices!
      Brad Jersak, in his endorsement to our new book “Discovering Kenarchy” (Eight contributors, edited by Julie Tomlin Arram and me, published by Wipf & Stock; available shortly from at £10; in 4 weeks or so via Amazon etc) says “the patristic conviction that kenosis is a revelation of God’s eternal, self-giving love, rather than a temporary relinquishment of ‘sovereign power’ is regaining traction … I’m praying it triggers a landslide.”
      One such point of traction is the Lancaster University/ Richardson Institute distance learning postgraduate certificate of accreditation in Political Theology for Peace, running in the lent Term (Jan – March 2015) costing £660 and now open for registration–pgcert-of-achievement/. Some exciting people registering, still room for more…

  9. Hi Rog
    Its been a while since I engaged here. Part of the reason for that is that your posts are very challenging no more so than this one. I have to admit I find myself torn between the two mindsets you lay out. I find myself yearning for peace but wondering if I could be the one to lay my life down and if in the end it would really change anything. The call for shalom is a strong one and right now but I can only just about manage to answer it in my own circle of influence. The call to arms and violence is deeply rooted in our history and culture and in some parts if our culture it is the only voice being heard. Of course our political class will almost always resort to this as this is how they defend the status quo. This status quo is enforced all across our nation at every level. Our recent referendum here in Scotland is a case in point . Where people were urged by fear and retribution to protect the staus quo. . So please keep posting and I will along with many others keep reaching.

    • Great to hear from you Billy. Your phrase “torn between the two mindsets” expresses exactly what many people experience on a daily basis and as you clearly put it, the call to arms and violence is often the only voice being heard. As you recognise, this post is part of the attempt to provide another voice and so to extent the reach of life-laying-down enemy love. As I see it, the resurrection of Jesus is the first fruits of this kind of loving in hope of the spread of a substantial politics of peace and not simply a religious belief.

  10. Hi Roger, thanks for this post. As I read it I was reminded of John Howard Yoder’s statement that non-violence is not about means and ends but about cross and resurrection, that is simply about doing the right thing and not looking to bring about the right outcomes. I was wondering what you think about this and how eschatology (resurrection) might play into situations like this?

    • Hi Pete, I think I’ve partly answered this in my reply to Billy, above. I’m familiar with Yoder on this, but I find a certain disconnection from substance and reality whenever anyone makes a distinction between actions and outcomes, means and ends. I think there is a tendency for Anabaptists to make this kind of distinction because of their view of the church as an alternative society, something I touch on in the brief ecclesia video on this blog. I want to de-religify the incarnation and with it the cross and resurrection in order to re-assert their political, eschatological power.

      I understand eschatology as beliefs about the future with political impact on the present. This is particularly important in the context of IS, whose violent strategy is, in part at least, justified and motivated by their own brand of prophetic eschatology. This is a further way in which they hold a mirror to the West, which as George Bush junior and some neo-conservative elements of the American Pentecostal and Charismatic prophetic movement demonstrated was motivated in the so-called war on terror by a not dissimilar ugly eschatology.

  11. Thanks Roger……………………Happy New Year…………………

  12. While I have a lot of sympathy with your general approach because I believe that safe havens is the best approach protecting innocent civilians. However when you say, point 4 “alliances between Muslims, Christians and other peoples of faith,” you show complete naivety of what Islam is.
    When the Qur’an says, “Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not consider unlawful what Allah and His Messenger have made unlawful and who do not adopt the religion of truth from those who were given the Scripture – until they give the jizyah willingly while they are humbled.” That’s exaclty what IS have done in Mosul.
    When the Qur’an says, “So when you meet those who disbelieve strike necks until, when you have inflicted slaughter upon them,” That’s exactly what IS have done believing “strike necks” means cut off their heads.
    Ibn Ishaq p.464 says, “Then they surrendered and the apostle confined them in Medina…Then the apostle went out to the market of Medina and dug trenches in it…Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches…There were 600 or 700 in all though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900.” IS have followed this example precisely digging trenches and cutting off people’s heads and throwing them in mass graves.
    Perhaps most serious of all is S4:157, “And their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain. Rather, Allah raised him to Himself. And ever is Allah Exalted in Might and Wise.”
    Jesus said this idea is from Satan, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (Just as the Qur’an says. It never happened) Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” This idea that Jesus doesn’t die is from Satan.
    So with this background we sit down and start talking to Muslims. You cannot be a Muslim and say you disagree with the Qur’an. I’ll tell you what you’ll get Taqiyya. (Lying to unbelievers). “We’re peaceful. Those verses are taken out of context. Most Muslims are peaceful.” Oh yes, until they are given a gun and behind your back they laugh.
    Its about time Christians woke up to reality and were as Jesus said, “as wise as serpents” as well as “as harmless as doves.”

    • Hi Sidney,
      I am shocked by the naivety of your approach. You seem to lump all Muslims together with ISIS. If this is the official CPA line, then I think it is highly irresponsible and bodes ill for the progress of the kingdom of God in the UK. You are surely aware that the Christian scriptures applied without a contemporary hermeneutic can be used to justify ghastly acts of violence and frequently have been. The parts of the Qu’ran you cite are of course used to justify the behaviour of ISIS, but this does not mean that all our Muslim neighbours have the same approach, far from it.

      • I lump all Muslims together with the Qur’an because you will never find a Muslim who disagrees with the Qur’an. You say not all Muslims agree with the verses I have quoted but you cannot quote any in response. By the way the one Muslims will give you S2:256 “There is no compulsion in religion” was first put on the Mosque in Damascus built on the site of the church of John the Baptist which was demolished to build it. ie. It is highy ironic.
        As for the Bible:-
        1. 2 wrongs don’t make a right. Even if the Bible does encourage violence it does not thereby make Muslim violence acceptable.
        2. I am a Christian, a follower of the Christ who is Jesus. Jesus absolutely forbade violence in Mt 26 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” He told his followers to love their enemies. You cannot be a follower of Jesus and support violence.
        3. By saying that Christian scriptures, ie the New Testament, can be used to justify violence you are wrong and deceiving people. No Christian thinks the violence in the Old Testament is an example they can follow. Muslims constantly refer to the crusades ordered around 1,000 years ago by Popes in response to Muslim occupation of Jerusalem. We do not support the crusades and these are not an excuse for Muslim atrocities all over the world now.
        4. I pointed out that the Qur’an in S4:157 says Jesus did not die on the cross. This has nothing to do with violence which is the only point you have responded on but is a major denial of the truth and denial of the means of salvation. This alone prevents an “alliance” with Muslims which you call for.

        I didn’t write this blog as leader of the Christian Peoples Alliance but since you mention it CPA policy is to remove charitable status from all false religions. WE believe in freedom of speech and freedom of worship but do not believe false religions should get Government support. If you think this “bodes ill for the progress of the kingdom of God in the UK.” I believe you are wrong. It was only in 1871 that the first Mosque was given permission in Woking and 1924 that the first Mosque was given permission in London. The CPA has successfully stood against the largest Mosque in Europe being built behind West Ham station. Where do you stand?

        For anyone who reads this who wants to support CPA go to or e mail

  13. There are many different interpretations of Islam. ISIS and its criminal activities are not accepted by any of them.

    As for the Crusades, most Christians were never involved in such monstrous behaviour, but to be honest they never stopped.

    As well as the seven major and several minor Crusades, the Crusader antics of Maritime Spain and Portugal which followed the ethnic cleansing of the Muslims of Spain and a constant stream of very real blood and guts Crusades right up to the genocide inflicted upon the Bosnian Muslims by the self styled Serbian Crusaders (who acted with the blessing of the majority local Orthodox priesthood)

    – as well as these things we have seen George Bush declare that God told him to launch his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (indeed the invasion of Iraq which has unleashed forces that have practically destroyed the country’s ancient Christian community)

    – and we have seen the mercenaries of Blackwater were encouraged to believe that they were in a Crusade against the Muslims of Iraq. Indeed even back when Britain invaded Ottoman Jerusalem General Allenby declared “Today, the Crusades have ended.”

    – So lets not pretend that the Crusaders were a single isolated incident long ago. It is just as silly as Muslims trying to pretend that every single one of the Muslim terrorists is a Mossad patsy.

    As for alternatives to meeting ISIS violence with violence? Realistically there aren’t any. However it will be more productive for the West to support the local (anti-Iranian) enemies of ISIS such as the Jordan and the Free Syrian Army than to send in Western troops.

    • Give me one thing that IS have done that cannot be sourced either in the Qur’an or in the Sunna of the prophet Muhammad and i will give you a stream of verses and quotations all of which support what they are doing some of which I’ve already given you. The idea that IS is not supported by any school of Islam is plain wrong. Come on the challenge is there. Meet it. SO FAR YOU HAVE FAILED MISERABLY TO QUOTE A SINGLE VERSE OR REFERENCE. Patrick Sookhdeo has just written a book called DAWA. It was reviewed for us Sunday and the key thing that came out is “Deception.” Muslims deliberately try and deceive Christians that Islam means peace when they know it doesn’t. It mans submission and submission to Allah means inevitably engaging in violence.

      The Crusades were not Christian and they did stop. It is Muslims that don’t want us ever to forget them but neither do they want to talk about the reason for them nor Muhammad’s genocide. George Bush was not elected as a Christian ruler. Many people have done evil things in the name of God. That doesn’t undermine our faith. You cannot quote any verses from the Bible that justify these actions. I have quoted verses that condemn them. YOU HAVE CLEARLY THEREFORE LOST THE ARGUMENT

      The greatest evil we face today is Inter Faith. The idea that all faiths are the same and that we can somehow all unite together. Jesus said, “He who is not for me is against me.” “No-one can come to the father except through me.”

      On Friday a Muslim man gave his life to Jesus because he hated the rules based approach of Islam and recognized the simple the truth which the Qur’an denies that Jesus died on the cross. When he realized that his death was to bring forgiveness and that he rose again and is alive today what more can anyone want. Immediately after giving his life he asked to change his name which he did. He walked in called Hassan and he walked out and told everyone “My name’s Joshua”. He was saved and is going to heaven. This is Christianity. Be friends with Muslims but don’t be friends with Islam, that is evil, bring them to repentance and faith in Jesus.

  14. Hi Sidney,

    I’m not sure whether you have seen my recent blog post: More on Isis and loving one’s enemies. I say a bit more about your comments and my response there, so I’ll let things rest with just a couple of points here. Firstly, as I understand the gospel it’s about laying our lives down in love, not about fighting for truth or territory. The latter is what ISIS are about, and I want to come in the opposite spirit, like Jesus did. So what I find disturbing about your approach is that it does seem to be about contending for truth and territory. Secondly, I have no interest in having or winning an argument, but rather to be a catalyst for those wanting to configure and develop the politics of Jesus in the contemporary world. Perhaps a good way forward would be to read, or at least read in, my book The Fall of the Church and the edited volume Discovering Kenarchy, both available from Amazon or via the page at the head of this blog.

    Big thanks for engaging with this post.
    With love

    • Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2 “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3 So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

      5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6 they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7 they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.

      8 “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

      13 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. [14] [b]

      15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.

      16 “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ 17 You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? 18 You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ 19 You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. 21 And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. 22 And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.

      23 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

      25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

      27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

      29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

      33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34 Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35 And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.

      37 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’[c]”

      Yes. Jesus contended for the truth and it is not unloving to contend for the truth. You can attack me and insult me but you cannot justify your statement “There need to be alliances between Muslims, Christians and other peoples of faith”.

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