“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you …”
— Matthew 5:43, 44
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There are lots of reasons for loving enemies. Among other things, enemies have a great deal to teach us. Most of all about ourselves.
“Why do they hate us so much?” This question seemed to be on everybody’s lips in the days immediately following 9/11. The query itself was something of a phenomenon. After all, how often are we treated to the spectacle of a newscaster or commentator without a ready-made analysis or explanation? On this occasion none of them seemed capable of comprehending the horrors they had witnessed. How much less their clueless viewers and readers!
The conundrum hasn’t gone away. It comes back to haunt us regularly. “Americans are wonderful folks,” we stammer incredulously. “The greatest nation on earth! Americans would never think of doing something so horrendous to other people [except, perhaps, for Americans like William Tecumseh Sherman, George Custer, John Chivington, Lee Harvey Oswald, George Wallace, Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, Ted Kaczynski, David Koresh – and the list goes on]. Why do they want to kill us?”
“They,” of course, have their reasons. And if we could begin to wrap our brains around those reasons – if we could do the hard work required to crack the question “Why do they hate us so much?” – our eyes might be opened to see ourselves as we have never done before. In which case we’d be forced to concede how much we owe these deadly and implacable foes who seem so determined to encompass our destruction and damnation.
As it happens, “they” are a people fiercely committed to an uncompromising standard of righteousness, morality, holiness, piety, and rigorous self-discipline. Five times a day they prostrate themselves toward the east and pray. They fast regularly, give alms, make long, hard pilgrimages, and punish what they regard as sin with intense severity. To Allah they say, “You alone we worship; You alone we ask for help. Guide us in the right path; the path of those whom You blessed; not of those who have deserved wrath, nor of the strayers” (Holy Qur’an, Surah 1:5-7). There is nothing ambiguous about their attitude toward those who reject their worldview: “O you Disbelievers! I do not worship what you worship. Nor do you worship what I worship. Nor will I ever worship what you worship. Nor will you ever worship what I worship. To you is your religion and to me is my religion!” (Surah 109:1-6)
In short, theirs is a faith borne out of and adapted to the unrelenting harshness of the Arabian desert: a religion of sun and wind and searing heat and burning rock and miles and miles of waterless waste. In its quest to survive, thrive, and dominate, it does not – it cannot – allow for weakness, voluptuousness, waywardness, or double-mindedness of any kind. It seeks an inward purity as clear and stainless as the sirocco-swept sands and the star-studded sky.
Is it any wonder, then, that “they” regard our way of life as an object of revulsion and disgust? Our self-indulgent luxuries are a stench in their nostrils. The license and licentiousness we call “freedom” are an offense to them on every level. Our scoffing disregard for virtue and uprightness is a thing they cannot comprehend. It is impossible for them to understand, much less tolerate, a civilization that winks at adultery, celebrates sensuality, applauds debauchery, feeds on trivialities, and worships the likes of Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus.
This, then, is a least part of the reason why “they hate us so much.” And, as is often the case with enemies – even on the personal, individual level – we owe them a great deal for their unbiased and instructive observations concerning our character flaws as a people. There is no telling how we might benefit were we to take some of these lessons to heart.
For this we can love them, not only as enemies, but also as wise teachers and friends.