Today, please welcome author Jim Baton to Interviews & Reviews. Jim Baton (his pen name) has spent the last 20 years living in the Muslim world, where he’s been involved in a variety of peace and reconciliation activities including interfaith dialogue, training elementary through university students in peace principles, and bringing Christians and Muslims together to pray. His real name and photo can’t be displayed to protect his identity from the extremist groups where he lives out his faith.
Jim, though your books are fiction, I understand they’re based on actual terrorists, their organizations and their plans. Do you believe that Islamic terrorism is a topic Americans need to learn more about?
Yes! According to data from both the FBI and International Security, not only have the number of Home-Grown Extremists (HGEs) shot up since 9/11, but nearly 70% of jihadist attacks in America were perpetrated by US citizens--not refugees or illegals as we’ve been told to think. There is a tremendous amount of fear being propagated by certain politicians and the media about the need to close our borders to terrorists. The fact is, they’re already here. The better approach is for us to engage with our immigrant populations, pay attention to the needs of our minorities, make sure that every American feels they’re valued and belong in their communities.
Backup and give us some background on how you got interested in this topic.
I’ve spent the last 20 years living in the world’s largest Muslim nation, working with both Christians and Muslims who desire peace. I’ve been involved in a variety of peace and reconciliation activities including interfaith dialogue, training elementary through university students in peace principles, and bringing Christians and Muslims together to pray. The tremendous success we’ve seen sparked me to consider how I might inspire my American countrymen to do the same.
What kind of hope do you offer readers?
My first novel, SOMEONE HAS TO DIE, explores the roots of the Muslim-Christian divide going back to Abraham’s broken family. In the Biblical account, Abraham’s firstborn son was banished, while his second-born received the inheritance. I began to imagine, what if I were called in to counsel Abraham’s family back then—how could I lead them to healing and family restoration? And if it were possible at the nuclear family level, what would that look like on today’s macro-level?
Can you explain more what healing Abraham’s broken family might look like today?
As I was writing this book, God challenged me to live what I was writing. He led us to a young Muslim man sleeping on the street but with a dream to be the first in his family to finish high school. He had been raised in an extremist boarding school, taught to hate Christians, that it was acceptable in God’s eyes to steal from or rape a Christian because they were infidels. We invited him to live with us, and watched God transform his life. He’s now a college graduate and active in our work. Opening the doors of our homes, our businesses, and our hearts to Muslims is the best way to reunite our broken family.
You’re second novel, A WAY OUT OF HELL, is about “when ISIS comes to your city”—is this something Americans should be concerned about?
ISIS is no longer confined to the Middle East. The front page of our local newspaper in Indonesia announced last year that ISIS had entered our city. Their sympathizers have taken action in Paris, Brussels, even San Bernadino. That’s why it’s essential that Americans no longer ignore the Muslim populations around them, or choose to only visit a mosque to join a protest. We need to move towards the Muslims in our communities and build authentic friendships, help them with learning English and finding jobs, get their kids playing on our kids’ sports teams, so that when the extremist recruiters come looking for suicide bomber volunteers, our Muslim friends will close their doors and call the police.
In A WAY OUT OF HELL, the main character is an ex-terrorist who tries to bring down an ISIS cell non-violently—how can this possibly work?
We know for a fact that responding to violence with violence hasn’t worked. For every jihadist killed, ten rise up to take the martyr’s place. For every jihadist imprisoned, ten new ones are recruited from within the prison system. Recently I was travelling through a city in Indonesia where the day before they’d caught three terrorists ready to unleash twenty-three bombs on the city! All three had been jailed for crimes like drug abuse or domestic violence, then recruited by jihadists in prison. There has to be a better way. And that better, non-violent way is explained beautifully in the book.
So buy the book if you want the answer to that question! LOL! We hear in the media some experts proclaiming that true Islam is a peaceful religion, while other experts claim that the deeper Muslims go in their faith, the more likely they are to become violent extremists. Which of these reports is true?
With 1 billion followers, each person will interpret “what Islam is” based on their own teachers and contexts. And like most Holy Books in most religions, people will read into it what they want to believe. Those who have a desire for violence and hatred will find Quranic verses to support it, and those who desire peace will find equally valid support in the Qur’an. Some of the best peacemakers alive today are true Muslim scholars who explain the jihad verses as being confined to specific contexts, much as Christians would confine the Old Testament genocide of the Canaanites at the hands of the Jews as a judgment of God in that context, which we shouldn’t apply to ethnic tensions between peoples today. When we meet a Muslim, we should never assume we know what he believes, but ask him. We might be surprised at what he believes about jihad, prayer, heaven, women’s rights or Jesus.
Let’s remember the wide variety of those claiming to be “Christians” too, including some who have used the Bible to support the Crusades, slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and a host of other evil beliefs. That’s why it is essential for Christians to look at Jesus as our most perfect theology, and look to the Holy Spirit to be our teacher of the written Word. Then instead of using the Bible to justify our opinions, we’ll be able to read it and find the heart of God.
What’s been the response to your books so far?
Probably the most common comment I’ve received is, “Your book totally changed how I see Muslims.” Much of our news and entertainment has sadly led to the dehumanization of people who are wonderful human beings and terrific friends when we take the time to get to know them. I hope my readers will respond by taking a risk to make a new friend.
What other authors are you reading on this subject?
There are some excellent books out there written by both Christians and Muslims who are building bridges and pursuing peace. Carl Medearis and Ted Dekker’s book Tea with Hezbollah comes to mind, as does Mark Siljander’s A Deadly Misunderstanding, Brother Andrew’s Secret Believers, Christine Mallouhi’s Waging Peace on Islam, Dave Andrew’s The Jihad of Jesus, and Ed Husain’s The Islamist.
Do you currently have a new novel you’re working on?
My newest book, A VIOLENT LIGHT, just came out before Christmas. It's about prejudice and terrorism in America. It's easy for Americans to point the finger at those nations on the other side of the world and not take an honest look in the mirror at our own dark side. But in the acknowledging of our darkness, we set the stage for the brightest light to shine. This book is much heavier than the previous two, but I think that especially in the fear-crazy environment of our nation in the aftermath of the recent presidential election, it will hit home for Americans deeply and profoundly.
Thank you Jim for stopping by enlightening us on such a hot topic. I pray God will continue to use you and keep you safe.
For more Q&A with Jim, check out his blog: www.jimbaton.com
Jim’s books are available on Amazon, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, etc.