It is necessary and right to call out radical Islamic terror for what it is. After all, we cannot overcome what we cannot even name.
But it is just as necessary and right to call out radically heroic acts of Islamic bravery and compassion such as those practiced Tuesday on a bus traveling from Nairobi to Madera, Kenya.
In fact, what these people did was breathtaking, and certainly beyond anything I am certain I would be able to do were I in the same position.
In a by now familiar tactic, terrorists stopped the bus and began separating the Christians from the Muslims, preparing to murder the former and spare the latter. That’s when things took a turn for the heroic.
Not only did some Muslim passengers draw a number of Christians into their group, and help Christian women to pass as Muslims by covering their hair as demanded by Islamic law, some of the Muslim passengers refused to be separated, declaring that the terrorists would have to shoot them all together, declaring “If you want to kill us, kill us. There are no Christians here.”
While they did murder one Christian who tried to escape, the terrorists actually backed down when confronted by those brave people whose definition of martyrdom was shaped by their willingness to die in order to prevent the loss of innocent Christians, not their excitement about murdering those who offended their Muslim sensibilities.
I actually don’t have the words to fully express my admiration for these people. I simply know that they are now among those I will think of when I say, “That’s who I want to be like when I grow up.”
It’s easy to imagine that we would all do the right thing -- that any of us would be able to step up as these Muslim heroes did, whatever faith we follow. But, of course, that’s easier said than done.
If we are honest, we must admit how extraordinary their actions were. We need to tell these stories, and celebrate the faith that animates these heroes, for the same reason we need to fight those who practice according to the teachings of Al-Shabaab, ISIS, Hamas, etc.
We need to be clear that there are many ways to live a pious life in any tradition, and that the choice should never be between being fiercely faithful and murderous on the one hand, or weakly faithful and humane on the other.
The Islamic heroism practiced on that bus in Kenya reminds us all of how best to embrace and use the faiths and traditions we love most, whatever they may be.
Without having been there, I can’t say for sure, but it looks like that is exactly what happened that bus. And, if it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.