Last week, Islamist extremists killed 129 people and wounded more than 350 others. How should a Christian respond?
First, Christians will respond with compassion and care toward all the attacks have harmed. Those harmed include not only individuals numbered among the casualties, but also their grief stricken families, family members of the attackers left grieving and bewildered by the seemingly incomprehensible actions of their loved ones, and all of the thousands whose quality of life the attack left diminished because of heightened fears and security measures. At a minimum, these people all deserve our prayers. Persons in a place to offer assistance that is more direct should accept that responsibility.
Second, Christians will attempt to model, and encourage others to emulate, a response shaped by the cardinal virtues of courage, justice, prudence, and temperance. Courage is important because the terrorists win only through instilling fear in others. A courageous community attacked by terrorists can defeat terrorism by prudentially taking proven, cost-effective defensive measures, insisting on justice for both the attacked and terrorists, and temperately refusing to overreact through either costly, ineffectual security measures or excessively violent attacks on alleged terrorists. I develop this analysis more fully in my book, Just Counterterrorism.
Third, Christians will seek to live hoping for the best while preparing for the worst. Peace is our dream. However, as with most births, the process by which peace becomes reality is fraught with dangers and generally entails considerable pain. The vast majority of terrorists are sane individuals who see so little hope for ending injustice that they adopt terror tactics or strategies out of desperation. The weak, never the strong, adopt terrorism. No movement has ever succeeded in achieving its goals through a terror campaign waged against a democratic government. In fact, once a terror group gains sufficient strength to adopt guerilla or conventional warfighting tactics and strategy, the group invariably ends its reliance upon terrorism. Terror groups gain strength through building public support for the group's goals. No group can successfully cultivate that support unless at least some of the group's goals involve ending egregious and widespread injustice. Military and law enforcement efforts to end a terror group rarely succeed without concurrent governmental reforms to end the legitimate injustice(s) that enable a terror group to gain traction with its potential supporters. (Just Counterterrorism presents extensive evidence in support of these conclusions.)
In particular, extirpating or severely degrading one Middle Eastern Islamist terror group (e.g., al Qaeda) will only lead to the emergence of a successor group(s) (e.g., ISIS) until significant progress is achieved toward improving justice for all in the Middle East. This improvement must include establishing a viable Palestinian state, promoting genuine self-determination for the peoples of the Middle East that allows them to draw new borders, and ending support for economically beneficial despotic regimes such as Saudi Arabia.