I love you, terrorist.
You have a name, like I do.
You were once a child. We both were, once.
Perhaps we’ve shared the same joy that comes from riding a bicycle. We’ve shared the same flavors of favorite foods, the beauty of sunsets, the feeling of joy while playing a fun game.
We’re both human. We share the same stars, moon, sun, and earth. Our bodies work in much the same way. Food and water nourishes us and sleep invigorates us.
We both have parents and families that taught us how to discern right from wrong until we grew old enough to explore different sets of ideas and ways of thinking.
There are people in our lives we love so deeply whose losses we would grieve terribly should anything happen to them. Perhaps you’ve known grief at a young age, like me.
We are more alike than we are different.
I’ve been, and continue to be, exposed to violent radical Christian extremism like you probably have. I’ve also been, and continue to be, exposed to violent radical Islamist extremism. People in both groups have historically done and continue to do cruel and inhumane things in the name of religion.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what people, who say they are our sisters and brothers in Christ, have done and continue to do to diminish our diverse world. I’m sorry for what people, who say they are our Muslim sisters and brothers, have done and continue to do to diminish our diverse world.
I’m sorry we have both experienced violence at the hands of those who have been taught that killing people is what God intends us to do to each other as a human family.
I can’t change you, but I can love you. I have control over that.
I love you. Terrorist.
I want to thank you for many things.
First, let me point out that your tactic to terrify me has backfired. Your efforts to drive fear and division into our hearts and lives has not worked on me, and there are many others like me.
I want to thank you for reminding me of what is truly important. While I wish I could independently appreciate the people in my life as fully as I should every day, you help me remember that the most important thing in life is the relationships I have: with myself, my family, my friends. Thank you for opening my heart to loving and acknowledging these relationships more deeply, for it is too easy to take them for granted. Your acts of terror have caused me to hold close those nearest to me; I’ve made a bigger effort to show people I love them more often.
Thank you for helping me think about who my neighbors are and for causing me to think about what kind of neighbor I am. In this time of fear and turbulence I have grown closer to the whole world due in large part to your acts of terror. The unspeakable damage you have caused has driven love into my heart and into my life more than it ever was before. A kind of love that is unquenchable. I find myself reaching out to people in ways I never imagined, blessing them with food, a kind word, a hug, a conversation – blessing them with love. Love thy neighbor is not a multiple choice circumstance.
Thank you for allowing me the space to sit and think about what it means to love you as my neighbor. As expected, this is a difficult challenge. I do not know who you are, which is precisely what makes it the easiest to see you as my neighbor. You could be anybody. I have realized the best way to express my love for you is by reaching out with open arms to my Muslim sisters and brothers whose lives are being negatively affected by your radical extremism, by helping Syrian refugees whose lives have been torn apart, by loving those around me whose lives are at a crossroads between despair and a new life, by welcoming the stranger into my midst and into my life more than I’ve ever done before. Loving you as a neighbor means I do all I can to live a life of unity, not division.
Thank you for giving me a reason to expand my knowledge and respect of the peaceful religion of Islam so I can know my Muslim friends on a deeper and more caring level.
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to deepen my own faith while I stand in solidarity and joy with my sisters and brothers of all faiths without judging, questioning, or fearing them. I am a Christian, but my understanding is that the basis for all religions is love. I am opening my arms wider to the world in warm welcome because of you.
It is not easy to explain how or why, but I love you, terrorist.
Many will not understand these words I write. You may not understand why or how I can say these words to you. I understand.
I understand that your actions are caused by fear. I understand that fear is a powerful virus that spreads like cancer. But I cannot allow myself to fear fear. I cannot fear you. I can only love you because it is one of the two things I understand how to do really well. I know how to hurt deeply and I know how to love deeply.
I do not condone your actions; what you do hurts a lot of people. You have hurt me too. My greatest prayer is that you stop causing pain. My second greatest prayer is that the pain that causes you to act out of fear goes away. Your goals may be to cause fear and hatred, but you cannot make me hate you. If I hate you that means you have won, but hatred will not win. Love wins. Love always wins.
I, like many around me, cannot believe this is the reality we inhabit. Our senses are on high alert, we wait for the next attack. There will be many other attacks, but I will not allow myself to become desensitized to this violence. I will continue to allow myself, as overwhelming as it is, to feel deeply for every life lost and to mourn with those around me whose lives are immediately affected by the loss of a friend or loved one. I will not turn a blind eye to the reality that is around me.
My grief – for the lives lost and for those who must find a way to continue living without their partner, brother, uncle, friend, child, granddaughter, niece, employee, cousin – haunts me and fills my sleep with nightmares. I’m not immune to wondering if the next event I go to, the next building I enter, the next church service I attend, will be attacked. But I will not stop going. I will not isolate myself from the world that needs me in it, caring for the sick, the friendless, the needy. I will not, cannot let the thought of terrorist attacks stop me from living in the world with joy and hope. I will not, cannot react in fear, because that would breed more terror.
What you do causes me outstanding grief that I cannot ignore, but I am not the only one hurting. If I am to continue my Christian journey to love the world into wholeness as God intends, I must love both the terrorist and the terrorized, however I am able. So I will continue to love you in the only way I know how: fully, deeply, without reservation, by welcoming and trusting the stranger. I can’t change you, but I can love you. I have control over that.
I love you, terrorist.