US Homeland Security Secretary says we need to monitor churches and mosques to spot extremists before they cross the line into violence

United States

One of the disturbing trends in governments’ attempts to respond to jihadi violence has been “blame spreading”. This involves both a refusal to identify jihadi ideology as being a long-standing strand of Islamic interpretation and also a related, deeply misleading attempt to claim that other religions, including Christianity, are as likely to encourage similar violence.

The latest example of this comes from the USA’s new Homeland Security Secretary, John Kelly. On 22 June, he told the US Homeland Security Committee, Whether they are church, synagogues or mosques [we need] an open line of communication so they know if they see this [belligerence] happening in the home or they see it happening — that is to say, the move towards radicalism — or they see it happening in the churches or mosques, they know to call someone before that person typically crosses the line”.

The largest mosque in the United States in Dearborn, Michigan
The largest mosque in the United States in Dearborn, Michigan
CC BY 2.0 by Dane Hillard

Those who read the news may struggle to recall many examples of jihadists, or indeed any other type of terrorist, who moved on to radicalism and violence as a result of what they were taught in Sunday school.

The problem with this type of thinking is not merely that it fails to identify the problem but that, in an effort to avoid the risk of stigmatising one religion, it tars all faiths with the one brush. This can have devastating consequences for Christians who are victims of jihadi violence and persecution overseas. For example, up until November 2013, the US State department refused to accept that Boko Haram was specifically targeting Christians in northern Nigeria. It claimed that the previous ten years of violence there was due simply to “socio-economic” tensions between Christians and Muslims: that is to say, the impoverished Muslims could not be blamed for the violence, even though Boko Haram was a jihadi organisation which was targeting Christians and churches. In fact, according to the Global Terrorism Index, by 2015 it was claiming more lives than any other terrorist organisation in the world, including Islamic State.