Nouakchott, 10 December 2014—Listening these two days to leaders from The Sahel and Northern Africa/Middle East—Salafi or otherwise—it occurred to me that “terrorism” is like slavery. Fear is the master, actively driving a certain cycle of enslavement: individuals commit violence against innocent people, while governments (worldwide) react with the nuance of a hammer, usually killing innocent people along the way…which only creates more terrorists…

In such a cycle, generally speaking, governments, victims, the public, and the terrorists are enslaved by fear. All are consciously or sub-consciously defined by what they are against, driven by fear. Gates, guns and guard protect the “good guys,” with the “bad guys” being everyone outside the walls.

We/they are confident that we/they are “right” if only because we/they have no one but ourselves/themselves to talk to behind the barrier.

In my closing remarks this evening, I joked that I could never be elected in my country if pictures “came out” of me with them.

The response was immediate: neither could we!

The question then becomes who or what breaks down the barriers such that “good” and “bad’ guys recognize the good and bad in each other (without sacrificing accountability for the sins of each), such that a different cycle takes effect?

I think the answer is simple: behavior that “speaks” beliefs, breaks down barriers, and creates the opportunity for a cycle of fellowship: people speak candidly but courteously across deep, even irreconcilable, differences; stereotypes are reduced; relationships reveal strategy; consensus emerges…a cycle not unlike what I’ve experienced the last two days (you can see the 8 December blog here, and yesterday’s blog here).

We can choose the possibility of fellowship over the certainty of fear.

In other words, if I know who I am, and I act accordingly—so confident in my beliefs that I actions and words respect different beliefs/behavior without affront (to them, or me)—then I am defined by what I am for.

I seek fellowship instead of submitting to fear.

Of course, the “other” might not be ready, and/or reciprocate; but that is not my affair. Only I can be accountable for my behavior…per my beliefs.

Easier said than done, one of the sheikhs here offered a key insight this morning about how to break the cycle of the fear-based slavery that is terrorism. Paraphrased through translation, he noted that the tendency of governments is to seek to destroy terrorists. Communities, however, seek to re-integrated “terrorists” as citizens because they want their astray children to come back home.

Well, I thought, the intentional inclusion and elicitation of the community—who have been in relationship with the “terrorists” long before they broke fellowship—is where sustainable solutions begin. And who is the cornerstone of any community?

The mother.

Could there be a role for women of faith in choosing fellowship over fear? Could they bring their beliefs to the public policy table about how to “fight” the “terrorists”?

Could the mothers of a community, like the wise woman in 2nd Samuel 20, find an alternative that prevented their sons and daughters from joining a terrorist group, and/or helped re-integrate them afterwards?

I don’t know the answer, but I also think it’s a question that needs to be asked…by governments and grassroots organizations alike. Answering such a question, practically, would require a new mindset, as well as a methodology…inspired by and perhaps even integrated with faith.

Something to noodle, this question remains an illustration of the larger choice: do we choose fear, or fellowship?

Do we choose an enslaving ideology or an empowering identity?

Will we be defined by what we are against, or by what we are for?

Will we stay behind our barriers, fearfully confident that we are right…or will we reach out to a neighbor that doesn’t pray like we do, seeking to understand and respect him/her across differences?

Will we engage the world not to change it, but because we are changed?

Choose fellowship.