Mark Siljander, President – Bridges to Common Ground
At an interfaith conference in Geneva, the Saudi head of the Muslim World League privately acknowledged that he perceived Christians as “infidels”, because they believe that Jesus is the son of God, and believe in the Trinity and in the divinity of Jesus. After a 15-minute presentation summarizing groundbreaking new research demonstrating that we are actually not so far apart on these historically inflammatory issues – he leapt to his feet and stated, “If what you say is true, it would change the world!”
In response to this same approach, the president of Sudan reversed his position and deployed UN peacekeepers in war-ravaged Darfur. These are but two of many examples of the impact of powerful new paradigms – rooted in extensive linguistic research – on real-world peacemaking and crisis management.
More than 20 years ago, founders of Bridges to Common Ground (“Bridges”) discovered scholarly evidence embedded within the Semitic texts of the three Abrahamic holy books that render impotent the primary religious dogmas used to target the “other” as “infidel” and hence, “worthy of death.” Once seeing the true meaning of key words in the holy books, many adherents begin immediately to experience a rewiring of their thinking.
How many Christians for example – or even Muslims – know that Jesus is mentioned in the Qur’an as Messiah, Word of God, Spirit of God, supernaturally conceived, able to heal the sick and raise the dead, and taken up to heaven to be near to God and presiding on Judgment Day? These references do not occur occasionally, but 100 times. This new realm of understanding helps to establish substantial common ground on spiritual issues heretofore considered forbidden, heretical and impossible to bridge. It supplements traditional diplomatic, political, economic and military tracks of conflict resolution with one using spiritual principles that remodel the radical mindset.
Western governments are desperate to find a solution to ISIS. However, governments around the world have failed to develop or employ an effective, comprehensive strategy against radicalized and militant Islam. A fatal flaw in current strategy is that policy makers have no idea how to deal with the spiritual/religious dimension of these conflicts, and thus tend to leave it unaddressed.
There may be some small measure of recent progress pushing back ISIS, but as CIA Director John Brennan affirmed, “we cannot kill our way out” and must, “address underlying factors and conditions [causing radicalism].” ISIS is currently filling the perceived needs of its recruits: a desire for revenge and significance – using ‘religion’ – by distorting it to a violent and merciless end. These atrocities, along with a basic misunderstanding of the nature of Islam, have sparked fear and antipathy in the West.
No matter how well-trained our armies, how advanced our technology or how massive our budget, no amount of violence alone can bring resolution. Violence on our part – however, we justify it – serves to intensify the long-term crisis, creating yet another generation of willing martyrs avenging the deaths of family, friends, and loved ones.
What option is left but to declare a new kind of war, a war on radicalism itself? The kind of war we outline here offers an alternative path. It too uses ‘religion’, but does so redemptively and restoratively. For many years, Bridges has witnessed the effectiveness this approach around the world, undermining the driving pseudo-Islamic ideology that underpins the radical movement. Truly defeating ISIS and radicalism will require a multifaceted, holistic and long-term approach.
Radicalism, Neuroscience, Linguistics and Prophetic Hope
Defeating ISIS, and radicalism itself, will require a creative blend of science and spirituality. Both yield insights into psycho-social factors often ignored when dealing with these kinds of conflicts. This is especially critical among the youth that constitute over half the Arab population.
A growing body of data provides the profile of a typical radical. Recruits are not especially poor, uneducated or mentally unstable. However, many young Muslims are disillusioned that democratization will deliver them from ruthless regimes. They are frustrated with the failure and corruption of institutions. In desperation, they turn to groups like ISIS who hijack Islam, offering candidates the illusion of fighting Satan near the “end of days”, and martyrdom as the assurance of eternal life.
Believers know the power of the Holy Spirit can rewire the human brain – from hate to mercy and compassion. The science of neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to rewire neuropathways. Parts of the brain responsible for radicalism are not set in stone; these impulses can be weakened.
Christians authentically exemplifying the Greatest Commandment can play a key role in this. By exchanging animosity toward Muslims for Spirit-inspired love, Christians actually become more effective participants in the real battle, which is spiritual.
Prophesy is a driving factor in shaping the worldview of many Western Christians, who view the establishment of the state of Israel as miraculous history unfolding. Less-understood prophecies such as Isaiah 19:20-25 speak of a spiritual awakening sweeping the Arab world, ushering in a time of renewal for the Abrahamic faiths. Careful analysis of key Hebrew words indicates all three will worship, call on and be a blessing to the same God! 
How could this happen? Isaiah 59:19 describes a move of the “Spirit” that will “put to flight” the evil flood – an apt description of the rising tide of radicalism exemplified by ISIS and Boko Haram. This verse includes reference to a “God-revering and awe-inspired West” that should stir hope and prompt courageous action on the part of Christians, rather than one-dimensional calls for expanded military solutions. Muslims also resonate with the prophetic “end of days” scenario while radicals distort it to attract recruits. Indeed, God has awakened His spiritual “force.”
Of the awakenings currently sweeping the globe, three in particular are impacting Islam…
Is ISIS more powerful than the 4th century Roman Empire? Is it so unthinkable that it could happen again?
Mark Siljander is a former U.S. congressman and deputy U.S./U.N. ambassador and author of the best-selling and award-winning book, A Deadly Misunderstanding; A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide (Harper One). He is President of Bridges to Common Ground, an NGO dedicated to peacemaking, crisis management and discovering common ground among the Abrahamic faiths.
 List of situations impacted: https://bridgestocommonground.org/our-projects/trac5-a-bold-path-to-peace/
 Drawn from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) Report, and University of Michigan Professors Mark Tessler and Michael D.H. Robbins.
 See Isaiah 19:20-25 on p. 5 and Joel 2:28: Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.
 See BCG blog “Discovering True Peace”: https://bridgestocommonground.org/2015/05/discovering-true-peace/