Wheaton professors on Copenhagen, extremist terrorism
Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein opened fire in Denmark at a freedom of expression talk and at a bat mitzvah, killing two, a little more than five weeks after the Islamist terrorists stormed Charlie Hebdo headquarters in Paris.
In response, artists and thinkers around the globe have renewed the discussion of the freedom of speech in the face of the threat of death.
Like the “Je suis Charlie” movement in Paris, Muslims and Danish citizens alike have found outlets to express their sympathy and solidarity with the slain, including the formation of a human shield around a synagogue in Norway. Those involved in the movement were reportedly Muslims who claimed, “Islam is about protecting our brothers and sisters, regardless of which religion they belong to. Muslims want to show that we deeply deplore all types of hatred of Jews and that we are there to support them.”
Some find it hard to distinguish who to blame and how to act due to a lack of uniformity among ideological groups, including the liberal adherents of Europe.
Assistant professor of politics and international relations Michael McKoy said, “There are two trends of liberal thought: There is one trend that thinks you should be sensitive to the different beliefs, particularly of minority communities. But there is also a liberal desire for the freedom of expression. There is a conflict within liberal thinking about which is more important — tolerance and sensitivity or the freedom of expression. I think the debate is still ongoing.”
It became public knowledge that El-Hussein was a radicalized Muslim with a gang history and that he was most likely targeting the freedom of expression talk because of a speaker, Lars Vilks, who was known for his blasphemous depictions of the prophet Muhammad. The likely association that El-Hussein had with an Islamic terrorist cell led to yet another investigation into the involvement of Al-Qaeda or ISIS.
As students and staff at Wheaton engage the topic of extremist Islamic terrorism, the motivations of the terrorists may seem senseless and hard to grasp. McKoy explained that Islamic terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are driven by their own understanding of Islamic apocalyptic theology.
Like Christians, the Islamic State have a distinct set of beliefs about the end of days, which include the return of Jesus and bloody battles, but also the establishment of a Islamic caliphate led by a descendant of the tribe of the prophet Muhammad. The Islamic State in particular seeks to establish a new caliphate under Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in order to bring about the end of days as foretold in Islamic prophecy.
Assistant professor of philosophy Adam Wood said, “Within Christian theology, there have often been and still are strains of eschatology that think it’s our job, in some sense, to usher in the end times — that we’ve got a role to play.”
Wood cited several medieval Christians like Joachim of Fiore and Savonarola of Florence, both of whom started extreme movements of their own to prepare for the judgment day, comparing them to the extreme methods that Islamic terrorist organizations take.
Wood said, “As I’ve studied Islam, I’ve been struck by the similarities between how they do things theologically and the way we do things. And I really do think there’s a lot of overlap that can give us a conceptual purchase of what seem like these really irrational bizzare acts.”
Murderers like El-Hussein continue to attempt to bring down champions of the freedom of expression to bring about a new world order, and while complete reconciliation seems to be off the table, it is apparent that as evangelical Christians, Wheaton students and staff can empathize with a faith that finds value in preparing for the judgment day.
“It probably is the case,” Wood said, “That a lot of these children that are leaving Europe and running off to join ISIS are acting in good faith and genuinely have been hoodwinked … and in that case, I do not think that they are any more to blame than folks who have been thoroughly convinced by youth pastors that they need to go out and do this, that or the other thing. But some of the things that ISIS has been up to seem psychopathic to me and it seems to me that some of the people running out to join them may just be psychopathic thrill-seekers.”
Hundreds gathered to pay respects for El-Hussein’s victims on Feb. 18, commemorating the loss of life in the protection of the freedom of expression against a force seeking to bring about a bloody eschatological goal.