So one day you find yourself running around a school while carrying a gun, frantically killing as many children as you can before some soldiers arrive and shoot you down in turn. And somehow, somehow… you think you’re the good guy.
There are plenty of things that humans do that I fail to understand, but I cannot for the life of me think of a single one that comes close to this. Okay, so people who take their religion seriously can do some very strange things. And warfare has never been and will never be neat and tidy – the wrong people will sometimes die, and tragically that will inevitably include some children. But to Western sensibilities the deliberate targeting and massacre of children is not only repulsive but bewildering.
We call the perpetrators ‘animals’ or ‘evil’, and as far as such labels go they are apt. But it is both obvious and yet still disturbing that these people see themselves as the complete opposite. In order to be willing to walk into a school, armed to the teeth, and start killing: what on earth is going wrong in their lives that this can ever seem to be the solution?
We must always remember that we in the West live extremely sheltered lives remote from wars, epidemics and starvation. It is easy to forget how petty are the major issues that consume our attention. Rivalries with domestic political opponents, constitutional wrangling, arguments over how much to spend (or not) on this or that arm of government – these are not only the concerns of those who know where their next meal is coming from, but also who know that their families sleep safe in their beds at night.
For millions, it is different. They live in a world where the forces of evil and darkness are fighting against the very creator of the universe. Not only their own souls, but the souls of every human on Earth hang in the balance. They read the literal words of God, and these words tell them to wage war against the darkness, unceasingly and without pity.
And so they do.
But what is our reaction in the West? We participate in half-arsed arms-length bombing campaigns that provide no military solution, but are certain to kill enough innocents to help keep the hatred bubbling over. We wring our hands and blame ourselves and our predecessors, while denying that religion has played any part at all in the killing. And, more than anything, we turn our heads back to our comfortable little problems, and spit and snarl at each other as before. In the face of an evil that seems so terrible as to belong only in fiction, we do nothing. We are the Noldor.
In The Lord of the Rings, the Noldor are the Deep Elves, who came to Middle-earth from Valinor, the land of the gods, thousands of years before. Down the ages they have fought many wars against evil, and their numbers have dwindled steadily until perhaps only a few hundred remain. Forever young, untouched by sickness, they are physically and mentally gifted beyond mere humans. And, while humans and hobbits and dwarves must somehow face the threat of death or slavery from the Dark Lord, the Noldor have another choice: to leave Middle-earth and sail away to a life of peace in Valinor, never to return. And many do.
I well remember my frustration the first time I read The Lord of the Rings. The Noldor are wise and powerful even if they are few. After fighting evil so many times, why turn away now? Perhaps they could turn the tide, or at least save many innocent lives that would otherwise be lost. But for the most part the Noldor abandon Middle-earth to its fate.
And we, faced with the madness of Islamofascism, also turn away. The sectarian divisions are too deep, the blood feuds too entrenched, the religion as yet unreformed. Kosovo proved that air strikes alone do not stop massacres. The debacle in Iraq has proved that nation building cannot work. The continuous outpouring of anti-Semitic bile from across the Arab world shows that there is no moderate Islamic majority with which to work. It is purely an Islamic problem and can only have an Islamic solution.
I doubt that anyone alive today will live to see a resolution. We should guard our borders and protect ourselves, offer shelter to those in most desperate need, but otherwise avoid entanglement in the lands of war. In the face of this truly intractable problem, I for one wish to take ship to Valinor.