Russia and France have intensified their bombing of Raqqa. ISIL are rejoicing. This is the war they want, the violence they have provoked, whether or not they are the masterminds behind the bombings over Sinai, in Beirut and most recently in Paris.
They want violence to bring in their caliphate. When the West obliges by responding with violence to its violence, the West is playing into its hands. Fighting fire with fire means that everyone gets burnt.
I’ve been encouraged in the last few days reading A Good Place to Hide, where Peter Grose tells the story of ‘How one French community saved thousands of lives in World War II’. The village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and its neighbours in the surrounding mountainous area hid Jews and others on the run. A small regional railway was the main access to the village which boasted a number of modest boarding houses that had been built for ‘healthy Protestant family holidays’. The village was surrounded by remote farmhouses, many of whom were willing to secrete Jews in their attics or cellars or barns, sometimes for weeks, sometimes for the duration of the war.
Le Chambon is near the Swiss border, and the people of the village opened up a ‘pipeline’ smuggling Jews into neutral Switzerland. Teenagers became expert ‘passeurs’, people-smugglers, risking their lives for others.
This whole operation which saved probably 3,000 Jews, more than Schindler’s List, had its heart in the network of Protestant pastors in the Plateau area. The Huguenot people had a history of sheltering dissidents, whether they were Protestant, Catholics or Jews, and those displaced by World War II were equally welcomed and hid or smuggled out.
The pastor at Le Chambon, André Trocmé, made known his views on non-violence from the beginning of the war. Pastor Trocmé believed that even against the evils of the Nazi regime the only weapons allowed to Christians are the ‘weapons of the Spirit’. Even when the Resistance began to form around him, Trocmé continued to speak out for non-violent methods, including openly protecting foreign Jews and others wanted by the Gestapo. He agreed to go into hiding only when he was persuaded that staying would likely result in a violent Gestapo attack on his family.
The story of Trocmé, his colleagues and parishioners, is inspiring for our time.
We are daily being tempted to back the rush to more and more violence. Pastor Trocmé provides an example of someone who consistently refused to go along with violence as a solution to violent provocation.
We are daily being encouraged to pull the welcome mat away from vulnerable asylum seekers. ‘Maybe they are more a security risk than we first thought.’ The people of Le Chambon reminds us that there are only people – not Muslims or Jews or Christians – to be welcomed to our place.
When the Gestapo came to arrest Trocmé, he wasn’t home. His wife offered them a meal while they waited. They looked for opportunities to see the occupiers as human beings too, even when it made them unpopular with other French people. We cannot excuse or overlook the wanton violence of ISIL, but maybe we can see that those being radicalised are gawky young men looking for a place to belong – not monsters.
It suits the politicians to ramp up the fear following Beirut and Paris. But it suits ISIL more. We Christians need cool heads to not be caught up in the fear and so fuel the violence: remember André Trocmé and the villagers of Le Chambon.