Perhaps the president should listen to the Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew White, who for many years was the Anglican Chaplain in Iraq and Vicar of St. George’s Church. The “Vicar of Baghdad,” as he is called, is a remarkable pastor who built up his church to a congregation of more than 6,000 with an outreach that included a school, a clinic, and a food bank. But in recent years he has seen his church decimated by violence and mayhem. Some 1,200 men, women, and children who once worshipped in his church have been killed as the Christian population in Iraq has declined in recent years from 1.5 million to only 260,000. Among those who have been killed were four boys White knew. They were decapitated by ISIS for refusing to embrace the faith of Islam.Two generations ago many pacifists, including Albert Einstein, laid aside their principled non-violence and urged the world to unite in resisting the demonic evil of Nazism. In the present day it is the demonic evil of ISIS which, though it may seem impossible, is at least an order of magnitude worse than that of the Nazis.
Andrew White is no stranger to terrorists. For more than two decades he has served as a hostage negotiator and an apostle of reconciliation in one of the most volatile regions in the world. He has been kidnapped, shot at, and held captive. He was once the director of the Center for Peace and Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral and still wears around his neck a cross made out of nails taken from the cathedral after it was bombed by the Germans during World War II.
So, when his friends and parishioners were being killed or fleeing for their lives, Canon White did what he had often done before when confronting an enemy. “I invited the leaders of ISIS for dinner. I am a great believer in that. I have asked some of the worst people ever to eat with me.” He did receive a reply to this surprising initiative. The ISIS leader said, “You can invite us to dinner, but we’ll chop your head off.” Something like that happened to John the Baptist when he dared to speak truth to power in the time of Christ. The head of Canon White is worth a lot to ISIS, which have placed on it a bounty of 157 million dollars.
Archbishop Justin Welby, whose friendship with Andrew White goes back to their days together in Coventry, ordered his friend to leave Baghdad last Christmas. “Andrew, look,” Welby said, “what you are doing is so important and the reality is you are more use alive than dead. Come out of there. Don’t die.” Thanks to the Archbishop’s intervention, Canon White still has an unsevered head.
These experiences have led Canon White, like Pope Francis, to admit that military force may be necessary to stop the kind of terror and atrocities perpetrated by ISIS. Canon White does not regret seeking dialogue with the Islamic State. Time and again he has risked his own life in order to serve and help others. But as painful as it is for him to admit, he acknowledges that there is an evil so palpable, so demonic in theological terms, that it can only be dealt with through the use of force. “Can I be honest?” White asked. “You can’t negotiate with them [ISIS]. I’ve never said that about another group of people. These are really so different, so extreme, so radical, so evil.” White made clear that he was not talking about all Muslims. There are “many good Sunni leaders,” he said. But the ISIS radicals who perpetrate terror in the name of God need to be dealt with “radically.”
If these people get nuclear weapons, a prospect made frighteningly more likely by President Obama's Iran deal, then the horrors of 9/11 and San Bernardino will seem mild by comparison to the prospect we'll be facing. Fighting this evil may not by itself be sufficient to stop them, but surely it's necessary. One hopes that Mr. Obama will soon get serious about it.