Religious Radicalization

By Kristen Johnson

Whenever  I hear about mass killings and terrorist attacks on the news, I wonder about the families of the killers. Are they normal people with children who have gone astray? Are they also terrorists and proud of their children?

My Son the Jihadi is a short but very compelling documentary about the mother and brother of one such terrorist. It focuses on the British mother of a Al Shabaab terrorist who was killed in Kenya while in the process of committing an act of terror with the group. He had lived in Somalia for just over 4 years at the time, after becoming radicalized while still living in the UK.

It’s baffling to learn that this young man, Thomas Evans, was raised in a non-religious home with loving parents. The only connection his family could make to his wishing to belong to such a group was the tragedy of divorce (his father left them for another family he started overseas when he was a teenager) and a bad breakup shortly thereafter. Apparently, he was ripe for radicalization and these kinds of groups prey on people who are hurting and looking for something in their lives (perhaps a pseudo-family). It reminded me of how people get into drug abuse and alcohol abuse. I think that people look for things they shouldn’t look for when they are hurt or abused.

Watching this poor woman and her surviving son cope with knowing that Thomas is engaging in terrorist acts in the name of religion is both terrifying and heartbreaking. Worse yet, Thomas took on a teenage wife who is actually happy when he dies. During a phone call, she reported that she was happy for him because now he was in Paradise and she was completely confused as to why his mother would be upset. (The brainwashing of these poor people is disgusting.) Worse yet, his mother told the teenage wife in no uncertain terms that she was wrong – Thomas was burning in hell for what he’d done. I can’t imagine first losing a son to radicalism, then to death, and then to the knowledge that he most certainly would be paying for his sins committed while here on earth. What a tragic situation.

The only “good” to come out of the situation is that the mother (and son) now work with organizations that are fighting against radicalization of young people. They are trying to find a silver lining and potentially help another family cope with this kind of heartbreak, or better yet, avoid it in the the first place.

Obviously, there are countless many people out there who are hurting and need unconditional love. Instead of ignoring these lost souls, or insiting that we “hate the sin not the sinner” or other such judgmental sancimonious actions, we need to very simply love people. That’s it. Just love. It’s the only course of action I can see to avoid people needing to look for something else in the first place. If we want people to experience God, we need them to first experience unconditional love.

1 John 4:16 (NRSV): So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

Serve all with love.

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