I don’t claim to know an extensive amount about what has been happening in the Central Africa Republic (CAR), but it seems to me that Dean Obeidallah’s use of the conflict to try and lend support to Obama’s musings last week is inapposite. Obama, sought to downplay the religious motivation behind ISIS and other Islamic extremists through equivocation, arguing that since terrible deeds have been done by people of all faiths in the name of their religion, the current Islamic extremism is not, in fact, Islamic in nature.
Obama’s argument, of course, has many flaws, starting with the hubristic appeal to his own authority in decreeing who and who is not a Muslim, and taking it upon himself to tell the rest of the world what a true Muslim must believe in order to be deemed a Muslim. Then there is the problem that his argument rested on attacking Christianity from eight hundred years ago which, of course, is precisely the point that many critics of Islamic extremism make – Christianity evolved and completely changed in the last eight hundred years to become something gentler and more true to the “turn the other cheek” philosophy, whereas elements of Islamic teachings remain mired in a medieval world, contributing to Islamic extremism.
So, here comes Obeidallah, citing the CAR conflict, to argue that Christian terrorists are alive and well today. It is a fair point, insofar as it goes. There are Christians committing atrocious, terrorists acts in the CAR. That is indisputable, but it is not checkmate. What is happening in the CAR, however horrific, is different in kind, not just degree, from what has been happening across the globe with respect to Islamic fundamentalism and terror.
The conflict in the CAR is pitting Christians against Muslims in a tribal conflict, with both sides attacking, slaughtering and committing heinous acts against the other. The methods used by both sides are, in some cases, fully deserving of the title “terroristic”. However, what is happening in the CAR is not terrorism in the same way that Islamic terrorism is terrorism. The fighting in the CAR is not about a worldwide Jihadic struggle for dominance over the globe and a new world order. It is not a fight between the forces of a medieval mindset and modernity. It is a fight over land, resources and tribal issues.
Unlike the Jihadist, there are no Christian fighters in the CAR looking to extend a holy war across the world and bring the conflict to other countries. They are not setting off bombs in civilian areas abroad, shooting up Mosques in the Middle East or encouraging suicide attacks on believers in Mecca. Unlike the Jidhadist, the Christian (and, for that matter, the Muslims in the CAR) are not fighting about a world ideology and – this is very important – they are not an existential threat to the safety and security of the rest of the world.
Finally, something that really sets this apart from what we see with radical Islamism, is that I don’t believe there is any widespread support amongst the Christian community outside of the CAR for the actions of the Christian population there. The Catholic church, from the Pope on down is against what is happening. So too, I would imagine, would be virtually every priest, pastor, deacon and lay churchman in the world outside of the CAR. There is also no tacit support for what is going on, and certainly no active support in the form of funds raised and charities organized to aid the militants. There are no words of encouragement from church leaders. There is no media support. The most visible Christian figure in the region, Father Bernard Kinvi, has done his best to shield and protect both Christians and Muslims from reprisals.
The Christians in the CAR may, as Obeidallah suggests, be terrorists, but their terrorism is local and the world beyond the CAR faces no threat from them. The terrorists that are a threat to modernity are fundamentally different – they claim a global battlefield with every man, woman and child as a legitimate target. And, despite the fact that it is inconvenient for Obama and Obeidallah, today’s global terrorist is overwhelmingly rooted in the ideology of one religion, and it is not Christianity.