The Coach = An Easy Scapegoat

Ruben Van GuchtRuben Van Gucht, a Belgian sports journalist, did a little research on the question whether soccer teams really benefit from firing a coach and attracting a new one when a team is not delivering expected results. He presented his results on De Afspraak (December 8, 2015), a Belgian TV-show.

The short answer to Van Gucht’s research question is NO.

Similar research done in other countries already suggested this outcome.

Often there is a short-term effect, but this has more to do with statistical regularity, especially when considered from the perspective of long-term effects. Indeed, in the long run there seem to be no significant differences between the results under the guidance of the former coach and those of the new one.

Victories as well as defeats of soccer teams are just that: TEAM EFFORTS & EXPERIENCES. Of course it is tempting to look for a scapegoat in times of crisis. And coaches are easy targets. But as Van Gucht’s research reveals: a coach is not a decisive factor; he’s just one of many.

Coincidentally, I wrote about the tendency to use coaches as scapegoats in an introduction to my course on René Girard’s mimetic theory in high school. Here’s an excerpt:

Scapegoat Team BuildingThe mimetic building blocks of our psycho-social fabric are at once responsible for the preservation and disintegration of that very same fabric. One of the well-tried means to restore a social order that is in crisis because of escalating mimetic rivalry, is the so-called scapegoat mechanism. This restoration again rests on mimetic processes. Let’s turn to the example of the soccer team once more. When a team loses time and again, that’s normally no favorable factor for the group atmosphere. Teammates start blaming each other for bad results, maybe even sabotaging each other. There also might be ill-will towards the coach by players who feel they’re not given enough opportunities to play matches. And when the coach becomes part of the rivalry and frustrations within the team, that’s usually the end of his career there. As more players imitate the ill-will of some teammates towards their coach, the latter becomes the one held responsible for all the major problems within the team, and he’ll be fired by the board in the end. Instead of recognizing the mimetic origins of social disorder, people tend to blame one outsider or a group of outsiders. This scenario is well-known. Coaches indeed often function as convenient scapegoats, as they are outsiders because of their position of leadership, and they are easily blamed unjustly for a crisis they’re not or only partly responsible for. Like other scapegoats they’re interpreted in a twofold manner by the group they’re expelled from: perceived as the main cause for the tensions, divisions and disorder within the group, and experienced as the main cure while being sacrificed (expelled, or worse) to restore unity and order within that same group. Scapegoats are at once villain and hero, monster and savior, hated and loved, unwanted and wanted, scorned yet needed. Think, for example, of dictatorial regimes who blame all their domestic problems on foreign enemies. As long as a dictator can unite his citizens against some outside enemy, he can at least prevent them from uniting against himself and remain in the saddle. This means that he cannot completely destroy the enemy he publicly loathes. Dictators need the periodic sacrifice of their scapegoat in order to preserve the social fabric on a very large scale, but human beings in general tend to use the scapegoat mechanism on a day-to-day basis, albeit often in smaller ways.

READ ABOUT an example in the world of baseball:

Mike Redmond and the easy Marlins scapegoat

READ ABOUT an example in the world of soccer:Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez is an easy scapegoat for problems at Real Madrid

Women & the Spiritual Clash with Terror

[READ A PDF-VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE HERE]

Even before the terrorist shootings at Charlie Hebdo and later this year at other sites in Paris quality labeled Belgian magazines and newspapers reported on the socially precarious situation in certain areas of Brussels, especially in Molenbeek. I’ve translated parts of an article that appeared in Knack magazine concerning the issue. Next to this article I’ve translated parts of other articles as well (from Knack magazine and De Standaard newspaper). These appeared in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. I will use some findings of these articles to answer a few questions on the nature of the conflict we’re dealing with when we’re talking about “homegrown terrorism”.

  • FIRST QUESTION: IS IT A “CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS”?

FROM AN ARTICLE BY HAN RENARD:

Rachid Zegzaoui is a blogger of Moroccan descent living in Sint-Joost-ten-Node [another municipality of Brussels]. Rachid notices how many youngsters turn their back on the society they grew up in. “Second and third generation migrants no longer believe that a life of study, career and retirement is fit for them and consider their parents losers. They accuse their parents of being slaves to the West and the infidels. So it is a generational conflict as well, a revolt against their family. Parents are dead worried but no longer understand their offspring. They don’t know what their children are doing on the internet. In many Muslim families there is a complete sense of disunity. Young people reject the society in which they grew up. Religion guides their life, it is the meaning of their existence. But Islam as they understand it is not practiced here in Belgium.” […]

Call of Duty ISISZeguendi Khalil, editor in chief of Le Maroxellois, a magazine aimed at the Moroccan community, joins in. During one month and a half, Khalil listened to sermons with regard to the war in Syria in about twenty Mosques in Brussels. He concludes that imams warn their young audience against Jihad ideology and that imams sharply condemn ISIS terrorism. “However”, he says, “from our inquiry we know that members for Jihad are recruited through the internet nowadays, while this used to happen on the streets or in the near of Mosques.” Imported imams from Morocco or Turkey in Brussels don’t understand the young, Khalil explains. They don’t speak their language, nor know their culture and don’t have any clue whatsoever about Facebook or WhatsApp. “Imams fail. And so young Muslims, looking for meaning, construct their own version of Islam aided by Jihadist websites.”

We need positive role models, according to Khalil. Young Muslims who made it one way or the other should be put forward.

Young Islamologist Jessika Soors works as an official against radicalization in Vilvoorde. […] Although Jihadists justify their departure with the ideal of a holy war, many of them hardly knew anything about Islam and the Quran just before their sudden radicalization. “They’re religiously illiterate in many cases”, Soors says. […] ISIS appeals to vulnerable young people who are looking for a sense of self-worth and an all-encompassing identity.” […]

Young people who are bored here or who feel rejected, become members of ISIS in a quest for adventure. […] ISIS propaganda promises superstardom to those who feel lost in the West – all in the name of Allah.

MORE IN Knack, September 24, 2015, Voor Allah én het avontuur (p. 28-32), by Han Renard.

ISIS Hipster BeardPERSONAL COMMENTS

ANSWER TO THE FIRST QUESTION: NO. It is a clash within civilizations and cultures, not between them. Radicalized young Muslims seem to reject western society (although things like ISIS propaganda films borrow their look from western action movies and video games), but they also turn their back on the culture of their family and the imported imams from Morocco and Turkey. They create a new counter-culture which thrives on the internet. Their religion is mainly a consequence, not a cause of their violent tendencies. And the terror boys grow beards like hipsters (or was it the other way around?).

  • SECOND QUESTION: IS IT A “CLASH BETWEEN THE SEXES”?

FROM AN ARTICLE BY HAN RENARD:

Ahmed El Khanouss (CDH) is a jurat in Molenbeek, an impoverished municipality of Brussels and home to many migrants. Most of them are of Moroccan descent. […]

Khanouss notices how radicalization of youngsters expresses itself in two ways. “Some of them totally change their attitude. All of a sudden they become very demanding towards the women in their family, particularly with regard to their clothing, and they rebel against their parents. Others show no sign of radicalization until the day they leave. They wear brands and behave themselves like any western kid.” […]

MORE IN Knack, September 24, 2015, Voor Allah én het avontuur (p. 28-32), by Han Renard.

FROM AN ARTICLE BY TINNEKE BEECKMAN:

“Porn-watching losers”. That’s how London mayor Boris Johnson described the Jihadists psychological profile. He claims paraphrasing a confidential report from intelligence service MI5. Jihadists don’t know how to approach women and feel rejected. To compensate for their lack of self-esteem they go to war. They could have equally become members of a youth gang. Johnson’s subtle analysis doesn’t get you very far in understanding a phenomenon like extremism, but he does point to another current topic: the fact that a sense of identity goes hand in hand with sexuality. And also the fact that many people feel lost when temptations and romantic feelings are the ultimate measure.

Radicalized young people are not capable of dealing with that kind of freedom. They look for a social framework with clearly established roles for men and women. They long for stable patterns. They loathe LGBT’s and women’s rights because they consider these to be disrupting. They want to go back to a clear definition of the masculine and the feminine. But the West has dismantled such definitions. It’s because of this context that any kind of extremism becomes attractive: it offers a simple solution, a clarity which leaves no room for doubt.

Loneliness and sexuality are also major themes in Michel Houellebecq’s “Soumission” (Submission), a novel displaying the advantages of a patriarchal society. The author considers the hypothesis that leftist parties in France form a coalition with an Islamic party led by Mohammed Ben Abbes. Ben Abbes thus becomes president of France in 2022. The paradox is that in the final round only rightwing conservative parties remain: Marine Le Pen (FN) is the opponent of Ben Abbes.Soumission Michel Houellebecq

Houellebecq’s talent consists in capturing the spirit of the age like some contemporary Balzac or de Maupassant. His novel is about the difficult heritage of a free, libertarian consumerist society brought by May 1968. Islam plays an important part in resisting this new society. It fills an ideological void. France so eagerly destroyed part of its own tradition that neither Catholicism nor the proud Republican morality offer an alternative. Ben Abbes and his moderate Islam thus embody the possibility of a political conservatism, with more stable family relationships, law and order in the outskirts of the city and less unemployment: women stay at home. No more disruptions, no more failing romantic love affairs. Religion even answers the riddles of the universe.

Houellebecq suggests that many men would be prepared to get rid of feminism. Many of them don’t care about a postmodernist ideology that leaves every individual the possibility to define its own (sexual) identity. […]

MORE IN De Standaard, February 2, 2015, Over radicale jongeren en seks (Column Tinneke Beeckman).

male dominated cultures cartoon

PERSONAL COMMENTS

ANSWER TO THE SECOND QUESTION: MAYBE. At least it seems part of it. Western society seems liberating for women but it has its own forms of sexism. The question whether or not a certain image of women is oppressive depends on the motivations that guide women to uphold that image. If women conduct themselves in a certain way to gain social recognition or because of a fear of social rejection, they actually don’t accept themselves and they will tend to look down on women who make other choices (forms of auto-aggression lead to forms of hetero-aggression).

More generally, from a patriarchal viewpoint, socially and sexually emancipated women (who make their own choices, in whatever direction – “chaste” or “not so chaste”) are often experienced as a threat. René Girard helps us understand why women are depicted as troublemakers and how they, more specifically (sexually) emancipated women, become scapegoats, unjustly held responsible for all kinds of evil in the world. The sexist reasoning often goes something like this. Emancipated women are no longer dependent on their husbands. This means that they can more easily divorce them. Divorces potentially trouble the mind of children and youngsters, who might lose the security of a “home”. Hence juvenile delinquency could increase as young people get together in gangs to create a sense of self-worth and identity. Thus the stability of society as a whole is threatened by women who refuse to remain faithful to the man they’re married off to. Moreover, sexually independent women can stir rivalry and violence between men, which once again destabilizes the internal cohesion of a community. Indeed, sex (eros) might lead to death (thanatos).

Stoning a Woman for Adultery (Qajar Era)To avoid these potential troubles patriarchal societies have the tendency to suppress the freedom of women. This means women have to pay for the potential rivalry between men and the potential lack of responsibility of other members of the society. Instead of taking responsibility for their rivalrous and even violent desires and instead of taking control of them, patriarchal men blame women for their own behavior. And instead of taking more responsibility as a parent, patriarchal men also blame women if their offspring ends up on the wrong track… Peace and order in society, according to the patriarchal system, can only be obtained by keeping women in check. In other words, women and their freedom are violently sacrificed in order to establish “peace and quiet”.

It is no surprise that emancipated women are targeted as “symbols” of a “decadent western society”. Radicalized young Muslims who grew up with the “great expectations” sold by the West’s consumerist society but who started resenting that very same society once they felt rejected, come to the same conclusions as some old white conservative fundamentalist Christians. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed “the gays and the lesbians and the feminists” for 9/11 (click here for more on this).

Apart from pointing to the West’s hypocritical stance towards the suffering of Muslims in the world, young radicalized Muslims justify their terrorist actions by pointing to the so-called decadence of western society’s tolerance for “the gays and the lesbians and the feminists”. Some fundamentalist Christians claim the West has to blame itself for the terrorist attacks it experiences, as some radicalized Muslims claim the West has to blame itself for the terrorist attacks it experiences. Once again, it is not “the Christian West” against “the Islamic East”, it is NOT A CLASH BETWEEN CIVILIZATIONS, but a clash within a globalizing consumerist world. Indeed, economic interests are often the key factors in international policymaking decisions, more than a concern for human rights – although the West always claims it defends “modern democracy”. This doesn’t mean that terrorists are justified in using this hypocrisy to violate human rights themselves, but the fact remains they do justify their actions in this way. Terrorists often don’t belong to “the poorest of the poor”, but also to relatively “wealthy” people who feel western society creates “injustices”. Of course a so-called “individualist” society is good for the economy (instead of selling one car to a family you sell three as a car dealer since Mum, Dad and Son or Daughter are all busy developing their very own “project” in life), but it also destabilizes “traditional” family relationships (Mum, Dad and Son or Daughter are doing “their own thing”). And more consumption might lead to more environmental issues. Hell, from the viewpoint of some twisted patriarchal minds, the emancipation of women and other individuals might even cause a catastrophic apocalyptic climate change!

A Depiction of Jesus and the Woman taken in Adultery (Vasily Polenov)As for the Jesus Christ of the Gospels: he is a “destabilizer”. How about that, Pat Robertson? Throughout the Gospels it becomes clear that Jesus criticizes the universal tendency of human communities to structure themselves according to the identification of a common enemy or a common victim (be it an individual or a group). So on the one hand, concerning the group people are part of and that often manifests itself at the expense of a common enemy (for instance an adulteress who is about to be stoned – see John 8:1-11), it is no surprise that Jesus sows discord. It is no coincidence that he claims (Matthew 10:34-36): “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” This intention of Jesus, to create conflict where there is a certain order, is actually and paradoxically a plea against violence. Family members who slavishly obey a pater familias, tribe members who harmoniously feel superior to other groups, criminal gangs who blindly pledge allegiance to the mob boss, cult members and fundamentalist believers who are prepared to fight for their leader and their God till death, anxious employees who sell their soul to keep their job in a sick working environment, (youthful) cliques who strengthen their internal cohesion by bullying someone, whole nations who bow to the demands of a populist dictator and execute so-called “traitors” – Jesus doesn’t like it one bit.

Peace I leave with youOpposed to the small and big forms of “peace” based on oppression and violence, of which the Pax Romana in the time of Jesus is an obvious case of course, Jesus challenges people to build peace differently. Family members who belong to a “home” where they can have debates with each other, members of enemy tribes who end age old feuds by questioning their own perception of “the other tribe”, former criminals who start to behave like “moles” to clear their violent Mafia gang, fundamentalists who – realizing what they do to those who supposedly don’t belong to “the chosen ones” – liberate themselves from religious indoctrination, employees who address a reign of terror at their workplace, individuals who criticize the bullying of their own clique, pacifists who dare to dissent with the violent rule of a dictatorship and unveil its enemy images as grotesque caricatures – Jesus likes it. “Love your enemies”, Jesus says. Everyone who no longer condemns the external enemy of his own particular group because of a stirred up feeling of superiority, generates internal discord: “A person’s enemies will be those of his own household.” It’s only logical.

In short, Jesus argues in favor of non-violent conflict in order to end violent peace. That’s why he can say on the other hand, eventually (John 14:27): “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.”

  • THIRD QUESTION: IS IT A “SPIRITUAL CLASH” WITHIN HUMAN NATURE?

FROM AN ARTICLE BY CHRIS DESTOOP:

Ernst Kat, a convert, is active as an “Islamic psychologist” who treats lots of radicalized youngsters. […] “Part of the Jihadists have serious mental issues”, he says. “Many of them suffer from paranoia. They distrust others and they heavily engage in conspiracy theories. They feel rejected by society and have developed hypersensitivity. […] Their problems can also cause an enormous depression. They remain motionless, feel banned and are at a dead end. When recruiters approach these psychologically vulnerable young people and offer them an orderly model like Jihad this can be very attractive. It can cause a rapid radicalization. But most of them are not violent towards others. They become auto-aggressive.”

MORE IN Knack, January 14, 2015, Het monster zit vanbinnen (p. 36-37), by Chris Destoop.

FROM AN ARTICLE IN DE STANDAARD:

Since a couple of years Marion Van San has been conducting a research into families of young people who went to war in Syria, implying that she is closely connected to about ninety such families. […]

Van San defends the idea that “the more young people are integrated, the more they are susceptible to radicalization”. Children and grandchildren of immigrants are born and raised here, and they want to be accepted. “The consequence is that their social expectations are higher than those of others and that they are often more sensitive about (supposed and real) discrimination”, Van San writes.

MORE IN De Standaard, February 2, 2015, Radicalisering dreigt vooral bij geïntegreerde jongeren (Politiek, p. 5).

PERSONAL COMMENTS

ANSWER TO THE THIRD QUESTION: YES. It is a clash within and between human beings who feel rejected by and reject each other. Instead of discovering a Love that allows them to accept themselves even if they are rejected (or feel rejected) by their social environment, they develop forms of auto- and hetero-aggression to create a sense of “pride” and “social status”. To put things Biblically (and in the words of Bruce Springsteen), “Adam raised a Cain” (click to watch). John Steinbeck magnificently summarizes the universal meaning of the Cain and Abel story in his novel East of Eden.

Adam raised a Cain (Bruce Springsteen)

All of us are like Cain, one way or the other, but young radicalized ISIS terrorists commit the sin of murder and show the lack of neighborly love in the most gruesome way. As the Chinese butler Lee explains in Steinbeck’s novel in his comments on the meaning of the Cain and Abel story, the individual biography of many a young ISIS terrorist and the history of the world would have looked quite different without the feeling of rejection and with the acceptance of Love:

East of Eden John Steinbeck Cover“I think this is the best-known story in the world because it is everybody’s story. I think it is the symbol story of the human soul. I’m feeling my way now – don’t jump on me if I’m not clear. The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt – and there is the story of mankind. I think that if rejection could be amputated, the human would not be what he is. Maybe there would be fewer crazy people. I am sure in myself there would not be many jails. It is all there – the start, the beginning. One child, refused the love he craves, kicks the cat and hides the secret guilt; and another steals so that money will make him loved; and a third conquers the world – and always the guilt and revenge and more guilt. The human is the only guilty animal. Now wait! Therefore I think this old and terrible story is important because it is a chart of the soul – the secret, rejected, guilty soul.”

Fight over “True Islam”

Well, here’s my attempt at creating a “Girardian” image. René Girard constantly demonstrates how enemies have the tendency to imitate each other, although rather unwittingly. The more they resemble each other, the more they strive to differentiate themselves from each other, which tragically ends up in an even more undifferentiated monstrous cycle of mutual aversion and violence – a cycle of revenge…

CLICK THE IMAGE TO ENLARGE:

True Islam is Violent Mimetic Defenders and Enemies

Enemies become “mimetic doubles”. Today’s fight over so-called “True Islam” as a religion that supposedly justifies violence is but one example of a mimetic (i.e. imitative) interdependence between “defenders” and “attackers”. I highly recommend René Girard’s Battling to the End in this regard (find an extensive review by clicking here).

A slightly different version of the same image:

True Islam is Violent (by Mimetic Doubles)

One more:

True Islam is Violent Mimetic Fight

The Jihadist Miracle

“It’s because of his ADHD. It’s because of her ADD. It’s because of a difficult situation at home. It’s because he is highly intelligent: he is not challenged enough to study more thoroughly. It’s the teachers: they don’t explain things well enough, they’re boring. It’s because of the educators: they take aim at him and don’t give him any chances. It’s because of the break-up with her boyfriend. It’s because she hit puberty and goes through a difficult time. It’s because he is young and wants to experiment: that’s why he is not motivated to do school and that’s why he colors outside the lines sometimes. You have to understand. After all, it’s good that he’s somewhat a ‘rebel’ at school, isn’t it? It shows character and personality…”

culture of victimhood calvinWe’re all victims, right? If not of our hormones, then of a certain affection, or of ‘circumstances’ and other people. Well, first of all, it’s a good thing that people are acknowledged as victims of whatever it is that makes their life difficult or hurtful. If you’re lucky, then mommy and daddy will find their way to the right institutions to help you. If you’re lucky, your parents can pay for psychologists, psychiatrists, tutors, medicines, and leave you in the hands of professional educators (perhaps at a boarding school) or provide you with a secure and satisfying future at the family firm. In short, if you’re lucky you’ll find your way to people who will help you to overcome an all too comfortable self-definition by what haunts or victimizes you.

If you’re not that lucky, you might fall into the hands of people who confirm and magnify your victimhood, allowing you to accuse whatever ‘scapegoat’ (see René Girard) you can find to deny personal freedom and responsibility. And let’s face it: today’s culture often is a victimhood culture, where everybody plays the ‘blame game’ in order to protect a narcissistic self-image. Indeed, a reasoning like the following is quite common: “If I’d work harder, I’d be able to graduate as a doctor – I do possess the intrinsic qualities -, but my ADD and the fact that teachers don’t pay attention to my particular problem, destroy my motivation and cause me to fail.” This kind of narcissism is supported sometimes by parents as well, for they often do not like to acknowledge that, maybe, their kid has other talents.

Calvin and Hobbes

Every teacher or educator knows how difficult it can be to motivate certain students to work for school. Even in the best of circumstances, with every help possible, some students simply justify their negative attitude with every possible excuse. Rather than fully admit that their child acts as a ‘loon’ or a ‘brat’ in some cases, some parents even plead for a very soft treatment of their child’s misbehavior by pointing out that he or she is just ‘being young’ and ‘showing personality’. As if their child really is some kind of rebel hero. That’s why, in some classrooms, the brat can become a model that deserves imitation. Indeed, in some classrooms students feel ashamed, even guilty, of being a hardworking student. They would prefer making a laughing stock out of other hardworking students than admit being hardworking themselves. Self-denial and betraying (the relationship and affiliation with) others: the two sides of the coin that is the love for one’s self-image – a man-made, social ‘idol’, becoming the goal of one’s life.

Add to this cocktail of excuses the conviction that ‘society as a whole’ is ‘against you’, and you get the sort of victimhood mentality in places like Molenbeek, a district of Brussels known as a breeding ground for radical, young Muslims. Would you still study, as an adolescent in today’s distracting society, if you can convince yourself that ‘it doesn’t make any difference’, that you’re discriminated anyway (even if this isn’t true!)?

I often wonder about some of the students I teach: what would happen to those who are allowed to cultivate an attitude of victimhood, or worse, of heroism in not working for school if this was not happening in the best possible circumstances? What if they wouldn’t be ‘corrected’ by psychologists, tutors or educators (paid by the very parents who plead to go easy on their child’s misbehavior)? What if they would end up in unemployment without a graduation certificate, as a young Muslim? I’m sure they would continue the all too human narcissistic inclination to blame ‘others’ for their detrimental situation. And I’m also pretty sure that they could find comfort in the stories and propaganda of ISIS recruiters. After all, this propaganda confirms their idea of being victims, while it also provides them with a counter-culture that makes them heroic martyrs for God. This counter-culture is appealing to non-Muslims as well and attracts converts, as there are many people who no longer feel ‘at ease’ in today’s consumer and performance based society. All in all, considering the circumstances some young people grow up in, it may be a miracle that not more of them become Jihadists. There’s hope.

Young Muslim women stand hand-in-hand in front of the Oslo Synagogue during the "Ring of Peace" vigil, February 21, 2015. The vigil was organized by Muslim youth in solidarity with Norway's Jewish community following anti-Jewish attacks in Denmark and other parts of Europe.

In any case, there is no real difference between one loon and the next. It just so happens that one is characterized as an ‘adventurous youth’, making ‘youthful mistakes’ that are eventually rectified, while the other is perceived as someone who should blame himself for blowing his chances on a good education and social future. Only narcissist hypocrites will maintain that there is a difference between ‘my kid’ and ‘that kid’. The dress may be different (secular or religious), but we’re all human after all, experiencing similar challenges and temptations.

As hinted at earlier, the victimhood mentality often not only affects those young Muslims or ‘converts’ who are unemployed and indeed find it difficult to assert themselves in society, but it can also poison the minds of young Muslims or ‘converts’ with a rather prosperous life. Like the hardworking student who starts feeling ashamed of being a hardworking student in front of a ‘brat mentality’, the prosperous young Muslim might start feeling guilty or responsible for his supposedly discriminated friends or ‘Muslim brothers and sisters’. Sometimes this discrimination will be real, but in other cases it will be imagined.

ISIS propaganda will try to magnify the story of ‘oppressed Muslims’ and ‘the oppression of Islam’ in order to justify further terrorist acts and atrocities. So the worst we can do, here in the West, is to start discriminating Muslims in general and limit their freedom to practice their religion as fellow citizens (bound by the same laws and rights in a democratic nation, based on the separation between “church/religion/culture” and “state”). Discriminating Muslims would only add to the propaganda of ISIS and confirm its story that ‘Muslims are generally oppressed victims’. ISIS has already poisoned enough vulnerable minds with their propaganda. Why should we too believe that they are the only ‘true representatives of Islam’? Moreover, if we would make it difficult for Muslims to practice their religion publicly, and make it even harder for Muslims to enter into a social and political dialogue where Islam can be a point of debate as well as inspiration, violent versions of it will continue to flourish on the internet. You don’t take porn away nor perverted forms of sexuality on the internet if you make sex taboo. Also, you don’t create a breeding ground for rape and perverted forms of sexuality/(religion) when you enjoy and even “promote” healthy forms of cultivated sexuality/(religion). On the contrary.

Of course Islam lends itself to an interpretation that confirms people in their ideas of victimhood and heroism. Of course Islam lends itself to an interpretation that allows people to ‘heroically purify’ the world through mass killings. But it’s only one of the many possible ideologies to justify a contagious narcissism and self-denial on the one hand, and the sacrifice of others on the other. As history shows, people who feel victimized or threatened, or who long for a ‘heroic’ life, will always find a utopian, romantic story to justify their actions, whether that story be a secular political totalitarianism, a religious totalitarianism, or an individual totalitarianism like “I’m the rebel hero who challenges the educational system that oppresses me and my fellow students.”

Islam can equally be a source of true spirituality, i.e. a spirituality that is not ‘easily comforting’ and confirming a story of narcissistic victimhood and heroism, but a spirituality that allows people to look at themselves more honestly and truthfully. Ideologies, like friends, become dangerous and bad when they only confirm your self-image. Good friends are the ones who confront you with your drug addiction if you have one, with your anorexia if you’re developing this eating disorder, or with the cheap excuses you use to protect untruthful ideas about yourself. This might hurt at first, but eventually the truth can set you free. It might free you from all sorts of addictions, whether it be material goods, habits or illusions. And this is the condition to lovingly – which is not the same as ‘gently’ or ‘comfortingly’ – approach others as well.

The Greater Jihad - Do it Right

Instead of feeling ashamed of not participating in a so-called ‘heroic’ struggle against the so-called external ‘enemies of Islam’, the inner spiritual struggle – ‘the greater Jihad’ – allows Muslims to debunk romantic ideas of victimhood and to destroy the man-made idols of ‘violent, heroic martyrdom’. And when there is no such God, no such man-made idol or ideology, left to blame (as a justification), violent suicides and murders can be seen for what they are: as purely human actions for which humans carry responsibility. Only then can there be truly liberating tears of a different kind of shame and remorse: the regret one experiences for having sinned against the Love that connects people to themselves as well as others, contrary to the love for one’s socially constructed self-image which alienates people from themselves and others.

The transformation of the human heart… That would be the true miracle…

The Truth about Refugees

In the Gospel of John, the devil is a personification of the scapegoat mechanism (which means that an innocent individual or group is wrongfully accused). Jesus knows that the leaders of the Jewish people, the Pharisees and the chief priests, want him dead and that they try to justify his death with certain lies. They obey “the devil” – indeed the mechanism that justifies the elimination of people based on lies. [Note that Jesus does not believe that God wants him dead. If Jesus paradoxically sacrifices himself eventually, it is a consequence of his obedience to a Love that “desires mercy, not sacrifice”. He does not want to live at the expense of others, not even his “enemies”…]

John 8: 39-44

“If you, Pharisees, were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the works of your own father.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

The Pharisees and chief priests are afraid that the growing popularity of Jesus might become a threat to their power. That’s why they try to present him as a rebel leader who could lead an uprising against the Roman occupier of Judea. A war with the Romans would mean the end of the Jewish nation and culture. Therefore the Jewish leaders see no other solution than to get rid of Jesus. It’s their way of justifying his elimination.

John 11: 45-50

Many of the Jews who had seen what Jesus did, believed in him. But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.
“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

Some voices in Europe and the USA try to present the current Muslim refugees, coming from war zones like Syria and Iraq, as a cover-up, a “Trojan Horse” for Islamist terrorists who aim for world domination. The refugees are seen as a threat to the survival of “western nations” and “western culture”. In other words, they experience similar allegations as Jesus.

Syrian Refugees Trojan Horse for ISIS

In the case of Jesus, the Gospel of John leaves no doubt that these allegations are false. The Evangelist lets Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect, unwittingly declare “the truth” about the arrested Jesus, namely that Jesus is innocent. Jesus does not wish to establish a “kingdom” or “peace” in competition with “the kings of this world” (whose kingdoms are based on sacrifices and the expulsion of certain people – like the “Pax Romana”). In other words, the Gospel of John reveals the plot against Jesus by the Pharisees and the chief priests as a scapegoat mechanism: Jesus is wrongfully accused. He refuses to start a civil war that would mean the end of the Jewish nation and culture.

John 18: 33-38

Pilate summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
“Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The equivalent question, from this perspective, is whether we have “a basis for a charge” against the Muslim refugees coming from war zones. Are they really part of a plot for Muslim world domination? Are they really a threat to the survival of western culture? Well, this is the truth, and this sacrifice (this Sacrifice) is unjustifiable:

Aylan amidst United Nations