In the light of the deadly terrorist attacks on Paris a few days ago, social media has been abuzz with various commentary on what has happened and why. To my surprise someone left a comment on my Facebook page that said, “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslim.” I was stunned by the ignorance of the statement.

You see, I spent my early years in the UK and so I vividly remember the outbreak of terrorism in Northern Ireland in 1968. “The Troubles” lasted 30 years and, even when we moved to Australia in 1971, we frequently heard of atrocities caused by both sides – Catholic and Protestant Christians. As an atheist in my teenage years I would role my eyes at the fact that Christians were blowing each other up in Northern Ireland. It did nothing to endear me to the Gospel of Jesus. It wasn’t until I was converted to Christianity in the late 70s that I began to realise that just because someone called himself or herself a Christian, a Catholic or a Protestant, it didn’t mean they really were. The Irish terrorists may have aligned themselves with the Christian faith but they weren’t Christian.

Imagine how genuine Muslims feel right now that people bearing the name of their faith are blowing people up, beheading them and shooting them all in the name of Allah. Shouting Allahu Akbar (“God is greatest”) before blowing people up is no more Muslim than a Protestant or Catholic terrorist in Northern Ireland is Christian.

Since the attack by Islamic extremists on the World Trade Centre in 2001 there has been an increase of terrorism in the name of the Islamic faith, and this has been the focus of the media that I imagine led to the comment on Facebook about all terrorists being Muslim. But consider this:

“Christian” terrorism is still alive and well. The Army of God is a network of violent Christianists that has been active since the early 1980s and openly promotes killing abortion providers. The army of God also has a history of promoting violence against gays. Then there’s Eastern Lightning (the Church of the Almighty God or the Church of the Gospel’s Kingdom). They believe that the world is coming to an end, and in the meantime, its duty is to slay as many demons as possible. They have been responsible for a number of killings and kidnappings in China.

The mainstream media has had much to say about the Islamist brutality of Boko Haram (and rightly so), but one terrorist group they haven’t paid nearly as much attention to is the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)—which was founded by Joseph Kony (a radical Christianist) in Uganda in 1987 and has called for the establishment of a severe Christian fundamentalist government in that country. The LRA, according to Human Rights Watch, has committed thousands of killings and kidnappings spreading its terrorism from Uganda to parts of the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. The LRA’s tactics are not unlike those of ISIS or Boko Haram. And the governments Kony hopes to establish in Sub-Saharan Africa would implement a Christianist equivalent of Islamic Sharia law.

There’s the National Liberation Front of Tripura – a paramilitary Christianist movement that hopes to secede from India and establish a Christian fundamentalist government. It has zero tolerance for any religion other than Christianity, and the group has repeatedly shown a willingness to kill, kidnap or torture Hindus who refuse to be converted to its extreme brand of Protestant fundamentalism. There are other groups like The Phineas Priesthood and The Concerned Christians that true Christians should be concerned about.

Hindu nationalist groups in India far outweigh the damage caused by Islamist terrorists. In 2014 there were 976 deaths from terrorism in India. Islamist extremism claimed four lives. In the past decade, extremist Hindus have increased their attacks on Christians, until there are now several hundred per year.

Buddhist terrorist groups are playing a leading role in the rising tide of religious extremism in their respective countries and have been active in promoting the violent ideology that has led to hundreds of deaths in Sri Lanka and genocide in the western Rakhine state of Myanmar. In Australia some of our “boat people” have been a Muslim minority from Myanmar, the Rohingya people. None of Myanmar’s ethnic minorities have escaped persecution from the country’s Burman majority government over the years – be they Christian, Animist, Muslim or Buddhist.

Right now seven of the top ten terrorist groups are Islamic extremists. We have a problem that doesn’t seem like it will go away for years if not decades. Islam has a problem too and it’s my opinion that Muslim leaders – and Muslim people in general – need to be much more vocal in decrying acts of terrorism. But while I hear a lot of Christians condemning Islamic extremism I haven’t heard anything from the church denouncing Christian terrorism when it raises its ugly head. The silence is deafening!

What we need is for all good people – regardless of their faith or absence of a faith – speaking out against injustice wherever it is and whoever perpetrates it. Let us pray for Paris, but let’s not forget the people of other cities and nations that are affected by terrorism every single day. Consider this, over 200,000 people have died in Syria in the past 4.5 years. That’s equivalent to a Paris attack EVERY DAY! Why don’t we see Facebook profile pictures depicting the Syrian flag? Are we praying for them too or are we sitting back making ignorant judgments like, “all terrorists are Muslim.”

The shootings at Charlie Hebdo are inexcusable.  Resolving a disagreement or offence by ending the life of another is never right.  The outpouring of grief and demonstration of solidarity with the French at this time is inspiring and brings out the best in humanity – although we obviously don’t feel the same level of grief over the hundreds of people killed by Boko Haram in Nigeria this week or the 37 killed by al-Qaeda in Yemen.  But I’ll save my thoughts on that for another blog.

Not only were the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo vicious, but they were also stupid.  Muslim extremists killing people over insults to their Prophet and what were they trying to achieve?  Justice for Islam?  Honour for Muhammed?  The end of Charlie Hebdo?  None of these things was achieved.  You see Charlie Hebdo was already in serious difficulty.  In fact last week they were in danger of folding.  But not now!  Before the attacks, they printed 60,000 copies of each edition.  This week they’re printing over 3 million copies in 16 different languages.  Charlie Hebdo is now a household name around the world.

In addition to that The Press and Pluralism Association donated $360,0000, ordinary citizens through crowd fundraising gave $150,000, while French Culture and Communications Minister Fleur Pel­lerin pledged $1.45 million to the magazine.  Charlie Hebdo now has more power, reach and influence than ever before and they will continue to do the same work of satirizing religions, cultures and politics.  Nothing will be out of bounds.  So, stupid terrorists, you would have been better off ignoring Charlie – just like those of other faiths did.  Sure, there may have been blogs and media articles expressing concern at the distasteful cartoons in the magazine.  Even Barrack Obama condemned them in 2012 and the French Government itself asked them to be more restrained.  But it took two Islamist extremists to make sure Charlie Hebdo now has a bright future.

In 1988 there was a Canadian-American film released called The Last Temptation of Christ.  I never saw it but I know people who did.  It was an average movie that would have been a Box Office flop except for the free publicity given it by “Concerned Christians” who protested about the perceived blasphemous themes in the film.  The movie should have been ignored.  Hollywood must have sat back and rubbed its hands together in glee as the money rolled in.  Incidents like this have occurred far too many times.

It reminds me of a quote by Elbert Hubbard: “Never explain – your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.”  In other words, there are times when ignoring something or someone is the best course of action.  Jesus did it.  Sometimes he just remained silent.  Other times he answered a question with another question.  He was never defensive, he never tried to justify himself and he certainly never resorted to violence to prove a point.  He overcame evil with good because good is more powerful than evil and he encourages us to do the same.

This morning we awake to the news of yet another terrorist attack – once again inflicted by Islamist extremists. In Paris, twelve people are dead and eight are injured (four critically) by the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo; a weekly French satirical newspaper. The newspaper has become well known throughout the world over the years for featuring cartoons, reports, jokes and aggressive attacks on religions, politics and culture.  It seems nothing was held sacred or out of bounds.

For some English translations of their more provocative material click on this link:

Two thoughts immediately spring to mind when I consider the horrendous events that took place in Paris yesterday.

Firstly, how far should free speech go?  Now I’m not suggesting the extremist anti free speech of some Communist and Muslim countries. What I am asking is where does self control, respect and decency limit what we say, write and publish? If I know that saying something is going to offend or hurt someone else I practice self control out of respect for that person.  Jesus encapsulated this when He taught people to “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  The French government had requested restraint of Charlie Hebdo several years ago when it published drawings, some of which depicted Mohammad naked and in demeaning or pornographic poses.  These were met with a swift rebuke by the French government, which warned the magazine could be inflaming tensions, even as it reiterated France’s free speech protections.  Charlie Hebdo went ahead and as a result France had to increase security at its embassies across the Muslim world.  Protests occurred across the Muslim world like the violent protests that targeted the United States over an amateur video produced in California that left at least 30 people dead.  In 2005, Danish cartoons of the Prophet sparked a wave of violent protests across the Muslim world that killed at least 50 people. Many innocent people have died because of the sacred cow of freedom of speech.

This leads me to my second thought. As I’ve watched reports on various news networks it is almost laughable to watch reporters side-step the “M” word.  One reporter said it was too early to attribute this attack to any particular ideology. Really?  The assault was carried out by two masked men brandishing AK-47 Kalashnikov rifles, with at least one shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great” in Arabic.  When are the media going to rise above some distorted sense of political correctness and state the obvious? Several reporters also went to extremes to explain that Charlie Hebdo also mocked Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and various political persuasions.  And that is true.  But other religions don’t riot and shoot people.  We don’t hear about Buddhist suicide bombers.  Jews don’t put car bombs outside hotels.  Christians turn the other cheek although we are just as offended by the constant mockery and insults to our faith by the media and Hollywood.

It is true that the vast majority of Muslims are moderate, pious people who suffer more from terrorism and violence than non-Muslims. Ninety-three percent of Muslims do not support extremist views of terrorism according to a conservative Gallup poll.  But that means that 7% do.  Current estimates suggest there are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world.  That means there are about 112 million Muslims who hold extremist views – and they are obviously living among us, as has been made painfully clear by the recent events in France, Australia, Canada, America and many other nations.

So, out of love and respect for others let us limit our freedom of speech but, at the same time, let us call Islamic extremism what it is and work in unity with all peaceful people to see an end to it.

Terrorism is nothing new to Australia.  The first such attack took place in 1915 at Broken Hill when two men identified as being Muslims from the British Colony of India (modern day Pakistan) shot dead four people and wounded seven more, before being killed by police.  Next came the 1972 bombing of the Yugoslav General Trade Agency; the 1978 bombing of the Sydney Hilton hotel; the 1980 assassination of the Turkish Consul-General and the 1982 bombing of the Israeli Consulate and the Hakoah Club – all of these took place in Sydney.  In 1986 Melbourne became the focus of terrorism with the bombing of the Russell Street Police Station and the Turkish Consulate.  Since the 1980s we’ve largely seen terrorism as something that happens “over there”.  The Australian Federal Police (AFP) (and other security agencies) has worked tirelessly in the past decades to uncover terrorist plots against Australia.  This year, due to the rise of Islamic State, the AFP has conducted a number of raids in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane because of suspected plots for acts of terrorism.  On 23 September this year an 18-year-old man, Numan Haider, was shot and killed by police after stabbing two police officers.

This week dramatic events unfolded at the Lindt Café in Sydney, as 50-year-old self-styled sheik Man Haron Monis held 15 people hostage.  The siege ended in the early hours on Tuesday morning and resulted in the deaths of two hostages and the terrorist.  It’s unlikely that this will be the last terrorist attack on Australian soil.  So what can we learn from situations such as this?  Let me suggest a few lessons.

Lesson #1 – Tragedies bring out the best and worst of humanity

In the midst of the siege people were taking selfies and posting them on social media. Others put Sydney siege jokes on Twitter.  There were even a few people around the siege site who were voicing protest against Muslims.  This sort of behaviour shows a lack of restraint and just plain bad taste.  But there have been amazing displays of love and grace that restore one’s faith in the human race.  Concerned about reprisals against Muslims “Sir Tessa” put this on Twitter, “If you reg take the #373 bus b/w Coogee/MartinPl, wear religious attire, & don’t feel safe alone: I’ll ride with you. @ me for schedule.”  The hash tag “illridewithyou” went viral trending globally on Twitter rapidly and in response Australia’s race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said he was heartened by the campaign adding, “let’s not allow fear, hatred and division to triumph”.  More than 40 Muslim groups condemned the siege, saying in a statement that they rejected “any attempt to take the innocent life of any human being or to instill fear and terror into their hearts.”

Lesson #2 – We need to be tougher on crime.

The “Fake Sheik” Man Haron Monis first came to attention of police when he penned poisonous letters to the family of dead Australian soldiers seven years ago for which he was sentenced to 300 hours of community service and placed on a two-year good behaviour bond.  He was charged in November 2013 with being an accessory before and after the fact to the murder of his ex-wife Noleen Hayson Pal.  Ms. Pal was stabbed and set alight in a Werrington apartment block.  Most recently, he was charged with more than 50 allegations of indecent and sexual assault relating to time allegedly spent as a self-proclaimed “spiritual healer” who dealt with black magic at premises in western Sydney more than a decade ago.  Why was a man with so many convictions against him out on bail?  If our justice system were tougher the Sydney Siege never would have happened.

Lesson #3 – We must be more careful who we allow to be Australian citizens.

Monis was originally from Iran and came to Australia in the late 1990s.  He obtained political asylum in 2001.  He fled Iran because he was in fear of his life from the regime at that time.  Phillip Ruddock was immigration minister across the period in which Monis’ refugee status was being considered.  I believe strongly that we should be compassionate and welcoming to genuine asylum seekers, but we must also remain strong and vigilant with those who could be a threat to our safety and values.  Australia’s asylum-seeker system has let us down in the case on Man Haron Monis.

Lesson #4 – When trouble strikes most people become believers.

Of all the hash tags that were used during this crisis the one that resonated most with people was #prayforsydney.  I find it fascinating that in times of danger and threat to life many people become believers.  We have an instinct for something – or someone – greater than ourselves who we perceive as able to help when things appear helpless.  I believe it’s a God-given understanding that He is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble” (Psalm 46:1).  People like Shane Warne, Jessica Mauboy and Cody Simpson were praying for Sydney this week.

Lesson #5 – We don’t know what’s going to happen in the next minute.

The people who went to work at the Lindt Café this week – or just went in for their morning coffee – had no idea that their life was going to change – or end. While I’m not suggesting for one minute that we live in fear, I am encouraging a life lived with our mortality in mind.  The Bible reminds us: you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

It would do us well to learn these lessons!