“Reflecting on Christian Faithfulness
in a Post-9/11 World”
A review of
Who Is My Enemy?:
Questions American Christians Must Face
about Islam — and Themselves.
by Lee Camp.
Review by Chris Smith.
Who Is My Enemy?:
Questions American Christians Must Face
about Islam — and Themselves.
Paperback: Brazos Press, 2011.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of the tragedies of 9/11. In the days that followed, as we learned more about the men who coordinated the hijackings of planes and who crashed – or intended to crash – these planes into strategic landmarks including the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, there was a huge public outcry, not only against al-Qaeda, the terrorist group who claimed responsibility for the events of the day, but also against the Muslim faith at large. Public opinion of the Muslim community ranged from suspicion to vilification in those days and months following 9/11, which fueled rhetoric that can generally be characterized as depicting a grand conflict between Islam and the West.
As we remember, however, the events of a decade ago, it would serve us well to reflect on the emotions and rhetoric that prevailed in the American public in the months after 9/11. For those of us in the Church, one very helpful tool for such reflection is Lee Camp’s new book, the title of which asks the pointed question Who is My Enemy? Camp is professor of theology and ethics and Lipscomb University in Nashville who earned his PhD as a student of John Howard Yoder at Notre Dame, but is perhaps best known these days as the creator and organizer of the Tokens “Old Time Radio” stage show (Click here for our review of an earlier Tokens show). Camp is also the author of Mere Discipleship, which offers a poignant and compelling call to radically Christ-centered life in the contemporary world.
In Who is My Enemy?, Camp seeks to explode popular conceptions of both Christianity and Islam, contrasting public perceptions with the teachings and traditions of these faiths. He focuses particularly on the political dimensions of each faith, especially their beliefs about war, peace and the use of violence. Camp works here both to nurture deeper understandings of both faith traditions and to call Christ’s followers to a radical discipleship that rejects the use of violence – or, following in the theological footsteps of his adviser John Howard Yoder, at least to take the church’s Just War Tradition seriously. In this regard, Who is My Enemy? superbly continues the project that Camp began in Mere Discipleship, focusing more specifically than the first book on a relevant social issue, the interfaith relationships between Christianity and Islam. In his typical style that is exhibited prominently in both the Tokens shows and in Mere Discipleship, Camp challenges his readers to critical engagement by seasoning this new work with more than a little provocation. As he concludes the book, for instance, he summarizes what he has endeavored to do here by saying: “[The] mainstream of Christianity, when it comes to war-making and peacemaking, has been playing a tune that is more akin to Muhammad’s tune than to that of Jesus, even while claiming Jesus’s melody is superior. Or, more perversely, that too often the Christian performance as failed to get the nobility of the Muhammad story, lacking its elegance and justice and equity” (151).
Camp covers a lot of territory in this book, beginning with sacred texts of each faith tradition – a chapter each on the Old and New Testaments and one on the Qur’an. He then also looks at the historical development of both faiths, with an eye toward their interpretations of issues related to war, peace and violence. One of the book’s most powerful chapters addresses the medieval Crusades in which many Europeans under the sanction of the Church sought to kill Muslims in the Middle East and conquer their lands. Camp reminds us in this chapter that tensions between Christianity and Islam are nothing new and go back almost a full millennium; he also importantly emphasizes that although this history is often told in both the Western and Islamic worlds as a clash of religious cultures, the historical reality is that the bloodshed of the Crusades was not necessarily a faithful representation of either Islamic or Christian tradition. The Christians on Crusade were not acting faithfully to the enemy-loving way of Jesus, and there were many Muslims of that era who were led by their faith to pursue peaceful arrangements with Christian pilgrims. Furthermore, Camp points to the Western concept of religion as a privatized faith apart from politics and economics, and keenly observes that Islam makes no such distinction, seeing their faith as public one embodied in the community of their believers. This observation cuts both ways: on one hand, Christianity should be a faith embodied in the community of Christ’s followers – but embodied in a non-Constantinian way that is not driven by power or violence – and on the other hand, when Osama bin Laden and other Muslim extremists refer to the United States as crusaders, they may be juxtaposing their own way of understanding the faith/culture relationship onto the West, neglecting to take into consideration the West’s typical divide between sacred and secular. Another highlight of the book was the later chapter on “Muslim Hospitality” which, of course, also cuts against the grain of popular conceptions of the Islamic faith, and challenges Christ’s followers to learn humbly from these hospitable examples of the Muslim faith. As I was reading this chapter I was reminded of another similar story, the story of the hospitality shown by Iraqis of the town of Rutba to Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and others after their car had crashed outside the town (this story will soon be portrayed in a documentary film by Jamie Moffett, The Gospel of Rutba).
My only minor gripe about Who is My Enemy? is that it covers so much territory, and does so with such rapidity. Reading it, I felt at times like I was taking in one of the Tokens stage shows: a conversation with a Muslim scholar here, a little theological song and dance (and I’m speaking figuratively here, not pejoratively!), a bit of historical narrative; these elements are mixed up throughout the text and seasoned with some personal anecdotes and commentary from Camp (e.g., his fears at letting an Arab barber trim his beard with a straight razor), and the result is captivating and thought-provoking, just like a Tokens show. I hope and pray that its somewhat quirky form will grab the attention of Christians in the U.S. and draw churches into conversations about how our faith should be embodied in a post-9/11 world, and how we should relate to those of the Muslim faith who have also been created by God and in the image of God, just as we are.
Who is My Enemy? is an extraordinarily useful book, the insights of which would be helpful for churches to use in reflecting on the past decade and what it means to live faithfully to the Gospel of Jesus in a post-9/11 world. In the months after 9/11, as waves of nationalism washed over many churches in the United States, I helped spearheaded a movement called Kingdom Now that sought to resist a spirit of nationalism in our churches – which undoubtedly had its roots long before 2001, but emerged more prominently in reaction to 9/11. Kingdom Now sought to confront this nationalism, arguing from a number of different angles that it was wrongheaded and not faithful to the way of Jesus. The ten year anniversary of 9/11 offers us a prime opportunity to repent of our misguided allegiances, and Who is My Enemy? would serve as a patient guide into reflection on our response to the 9/11 tragedies as well as to our posture toward Islam over the intervening decade.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
I’m a Muslim and I enjoyed reading your post. I just want tou00a0make one point very clear as a Muslim that there are many brainwashedu00a0extremists ‘unfortunately many’ who do these tragedies under the name of Islam. But it is ABSOLUTELY what Islam condemns very strongly…I believe those who do these stuff are not only far from the way of knowing God, but I doubt they aren’t even in the same path the rest of human beings. u00a0’Love people, even your enemies” is what both Quran and the Bible say. I study in a Christian school and I consider them as my faithful-to-God brothers and sisters!