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Former ISIS Captive: ‘They Fear Our Unity’

Nicolas Hénin is a Frenchman who was held in captivity in Syria for 10 months by ISIS.

He was tormented, among others, by “Jihadi John,” who was killed last week in an airstrike.

I read a piece in The Guardian about his captivity. He is distressed, of course, by the events in Paris over the weekend, but his observations are thoughtful because they come from one who has been “inside” the fanatics’ group.

Their world, he said, is totally closed to any rational thought or other perspective. They scour the news daily for evidence that the world is quaking in fear of them, for confirmation that their bizarre theology is correct and that they are the tripwire to cause the end of the world.

Their apocalyptic theology, as much as their criminal activity, draws many of the young men to the cause.

Disaffected, angry, impotent in the world of the West, they now possess arms to visit their rage upon us all.

They believe they will cause the “Last Big Battle” to end the world. They are to Islam what David Koresh was to Christianity – a bizarre, messed-up bunch of crazies without anything real at their core.

“They are totally indoctrinated, clinging to all manner of conspiracy theories, never acknowledging the contradictions,” Hénin wrote. Unfortunately, they have weapons, money and manipulative leaders. They are, he said, “stupid and evil,” which often go together.

“Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence,” Hénin explained. “The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance – it is not what they want to see. In other words, as we all resist panic, fear and acting like a herd, the more we prove them wrong.”

Finally, he concludes, they cannot believe that the world, all of us, can act together, coexist, live side by side.

Their medieval and tribal mind, intoxicated with nonsense, says, “People can’t be neighbors unless they agree.” They fear our unity more than anything, he wrote. This will be the great test of this moment for the world.

This is no “war of civilizations,” for ISIS is not a civilization. It’s a large, well-armed band of criminals who are very good at social media and cruelty but nothing else.

What weapons best defeat extremism? Determination. Courage. Perseverance. Strength invested in doing what is right. Unflinching defense of liberty and principles we believe in without becoming like those we oppose. They fear this the most.

Christians, continue being Christian. God did not resign over the weekend. This, it seems to me, is our calling. As the world tries to figure out how to say to these hollow souls, “Stop it,” let us not be stampeding children in the process.

It is a time for prayers, for those in security work, for leaders, for our military and elected leaders, for victims of this insanity everywhere, but above all, to dispel the notion that “civilization” itself will not work. Of course it will. It is what those who would destroy it fear most.

As Thanksgiving approaches, would being thankful ever matter more than now? To celebrate kindness, love, civility, neighbor love and the hope of mutual prosperity?

Gary Furr is pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. A version of this article first appeared on the church’s “Pastor’s Page” and is used with permission.