I was relieved when the London Bridge attacker was shot. How does that square with my Christian faith?
PUBLISHED: 11:18 03 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:58 03 December 2019
James Marston says incidents like the one on London Bridge on Friday are a moment to reflect on forgiveness
I was in London last Friday.
As I prepared to return to Suffolk in the early afternoon, my usual route home was cordoned off. As the afternoon progressed and I weaved my way through west London, it became apparent that something awful had happened on London Bridge.
We now know that two young people died as an armed attacker Usman Khan unleashed horrific violence at conference on rehabilitation of prisoners. Khan, we later discovered, had been sentenced to indeterminate detention for "public protection". The evidence that has emerged suggests Khan was a radicalised Muslim who had been released from prison after completing the counter terrorist 'Desistance and Disengagement Programme'.
This means he was an extremist, by which I mean a man who held views that advocated illegal activity and violence. He believed, it seems, he was fighting as a result of and for his Islamic faith. His extreme views, as far as I understand them, are far removed from more mainstream Islam, his views were extreme and not contiguous with the vast majority of his fellow Muslims.
As we react to the horrors of Friday, and whatever the causes of radicalisation - and there are many possible reasons for it - I agree with the view that knee jerk reactions are often unhelpful and inappropriate. Indeed, it is clear from the reaction of the victim's loved ones that neither of those who died would have countenanced retaliation, retribution and revenge.
As many of you know, I am also a Christian, a minister of religion, and I can't help but wonder if my own belief in a man called Jesus from first century Palestine who lived, died and rose again, isn't somewhat radical itself. That I believe in God at all is perhaps, these days, not maybe radical but certainly sometimes seems counter-cultural. The Christian faith, like the Muslim faith, teaches of one God, a timeless eternal, omniscient, omnipresent, merciful God, as well as a belief in Holy Scripture, prophets, and a final day of judgement for us all. There are similarities between both faiths, and both faiths have their extremists, I'm afraid to say.
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The essence of Jesus's teaching, that I try to live by, is to love our neighbour as ourselves. And this isn't always easy. How do we turn the other cheek? How do we forgive those who trespass against us? How do we stop ourselves from wanting revenge or meeting violence with other forms of violence? They are questions I wrestle with as a Christian, and the attack on London Bridge was one of those times I failed to respond in the way I perhaps, ought to have done. I couldn't help feeling relieved, even glad, and justified when I heard the attacker had been shot dead - no less than he deserved I thought, and part of me still thinks so.
I couldn't help thinking why should we live with these extremists? Why don't we lock them up and throw away the key? Why should we show them mercy? Why don't we round up suspected terrorists and intern them - isn't that the safest option?
Much has been spoken of our 'British way of life' and 'keeping us safe' and the politicians have been accused of making capital, and the media, of which I am part, I admit, have been accused of whipping up feelings.
I don't have the answer to reducing extremism, I suspect it's something to do with building relationships, and removing the reasons that make these extreme views so attractive to these, and it always seems to be the case, young men.
Yet I also don't believe that our society has any place for violent extremism. I don't believe that imprisoning terrorists on the judgement of our security services and judiciary isn't a sensible thing to do.
But nor do I believe that attempts at de-radicalisation aren't worth the effort or that rehabilitation isn't worth the attempt - as there is nothing more powerful than a story of transformation and redemption. It is just perhaps that we hear less of those stories when they do happen.