Over 2,000 volunteers went from the UK to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Over 500 died in the conflict, 65 of whom came from own home town of Glasgow. We even have a statue, La Passionara, commemorating them. It has the inscription "Better to die on your feet that live for ever on your knees" At its rededication a few years ago the leader to Glasgow City Council said "With this memorial, we pay homage to a group of extraordinary men and women who, more than 70 years ago, gave up the certainties of their everyday lives to travel to a country in the grip of violent turmoil. We remember sons and daughters of Glasgow who stood in defiance of fascism and in defence of democracy and freedom."
Because we believe their cause was a just one we proclaim rather than condemn them. But it does put into perspective the small number of British young people who have joined the Islamic State. Perhaps they think that Islam has been brought to its knees through the superiority of the West and to fight the West is the only way to regain dignity and respect. To die for a cause is a good thing and all religions revere their martyrs but it is easy to let an ideology lead us to hate the other. One Glasgow volunteer wrote “I am writing this on the eve of going into action against fascism ....... whenever I see thousands of Spanish children streaming along the road away from the fascists, my thoughts revert back home, and I can see you and your brothers in the same circumstances if we don’t smash the fascist monsters here.” So easy to turn others into monsters.
And yet we are told in Christianity to forgive, to remember that we are all brothers and sisters made in the image of God, that we will be forgiven only in respect of our ability to forgive others. Buddhism and Judaism teach that anger and revenge hurts the perpetrator. As the Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else but you are the one who gets burned” and the Jerusalem Talmud, "Who takes vengeance or bears a grudge acts like one who, having cut one hand while handling a knife, avenges himself by stabbing the other hand.” (Nedarim 9.4). This does not mean that we do not stand up for justice. We must be honest in condemning injustice and be vigilant in working for peace and justice but it does mean doing so in a spirit of love and compassion. The Qur'an tells us “Although the just penalty for an injustice is an equivalent retribution, those who pardon and maintain righteousness are rewarded by God. He does not love the unjust” (42:40). And the Bhagavad Gita tells how we must engage in spiritual battles but in a spirit of detachment. How difficult that is.
This year is the 70th anniversary of the founding of Pax Christi, a peace organisation begun by a French priest and a laywoman. Reading of its origins I was struck that both of them realised the need for peace in the midst of war but also the need to pray for 'the enemy'. It struck me that I had not prayed for IS or the young people who have gone to join them. I don't expect many of us have. Would it make a difference to us and to our approach to what is happening in our mad world if we did?