The terror unleashed in the streets of Paris on Friday 13 November 2015 press upon us again the vexed question of how we respond to extremist actions and attitudes in whatever form they may arise.

In 1993, when he foresaw the possibility of his death at the hands of religious extremists, Brother Christian de Cherge wrote in his “Testament”,

I know too the caricatures of Islam, encouraged by a certain Islamism. It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.

For me, Algeria and Islam are something different; they are a body and a soul. I have proclaimed this often enough, I think. I believe, in the sure knowledge of what I have received from it, finding there so often that true strand of the Gospel learnt at my mother’s knee, my very first Church, precisely in Algeria and already in the reverence of Muslim believers.

The well-being of the world community is not advanced when we rush to place people in one broad category. Muslims, like Christians, Jew, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists and agnostics exist in a wide range of belief, conviction, and behaviour. We are not all the same simply because we may carry the same label.

Those who brought death to Paris are equally likely to kill Muslims who do not share their radicalized Jihadist ideology. It is wrong, simplistic and damaging to the human community to allow Islam to be defined by ISIS/ISIL/IS.

There are at least 2 million people living in France who practice the faith of Islam ( The vast majority of these people are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who must not be defined by the actions of a few individuals who call themselves Muslims and choose to perpetrate acts of horrendous violence.

Brother de Cherge knew that not all Muslims were terrorists. In 1959, while on national service in Algeria, his life had been saved by Mohammed, a devout Muslim Algerian policeman and father of ten. The next day Mohammed was assassinated in reprisal for his heroic act.

Brother Christian lived among the Algerians of Tibhirine for twenty-five years. He had experienced their gentleness, kindness, and wisdom. He knew of their deep devotion to God and their profound respect for the faith of the Christian monks of Notre-Dame de l’Atlas.

What happened in Paris on Friday is not about Islam. It is about poverty, injustice, oppression, pain, frustration, hopelessness, and religious extremism (see note below).  Nothing is solved by singling out one element of this potent brew and making it alone the guilty party.

In his “Testament”, written in anticipation of his possible violent death, Dom Christian refers to the one he imagines as his executioner as “my last-minute friend”. Brother Christians words demonstrate a level of compassion and respect that is the only place to start if we ever hope to move beyond the horror of violence that continues to afflict so much of the world.

And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not be aware of what you are doing: Yes, I want to THANK YOU and this A-DIEU to be for you too, in whom I see the face of God.

May we be allowed to meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. AMEN! In H’Allah!

Christian-Marie de Cherge, OCSO

Can we join Brother Christian-Marie de Cherge and “see the face of God” even in the person who seeks to harm us and those we love? This is the challenge of the Gospel. This is the way of Christ who refused retaliation and in the face of grievous harm to himself, is reported to have prayed:

Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.

(Luke 23:34)


nb: when thinking about causes behind terror attacks –

Lydia Wilson is a research fellow at the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflict, University of Oxford; a visiting fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center, City University New York; and a senior research fellow and field director at Artis International. She edits the Cambridge Literary Review. She has interviewed IS prisoners and written of her findings in “The Nation” explaining, “ What I Discovered From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters”

These boys came of age under the disastrous American occupation after 2003, in the chaotic and violent Arab part of Iraq, ruled by the viciously sectarian Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki….. An Islamic State fighter’s biggest resentment was the lack of an adolescence…. hey are children of the occupation, many with missing fathers at crucial periods (through jail, death from execution, or fighting in the insurgency), filled with rage against America and their own government. They are not fueled by the idea of an Islamic caliphate without borders; rather, ISIS is the first group since the crushed Al Qaeda to offer these humiliated and enraged young men a way to defend their dignity, family, and tribe. This is not radicalization to the ISIS way of life, but the promise of a way out of their insecure and undignified lives; the promise of living in pride as Iraqi Sunni Arabs, which is not just a religious identity but cultural, tribal, and land-based, too.