November 18, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, November 18, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
In aftermath of Paris, Western nations confronted with inability to predict evil
The world is still reeling from the scenes in Paris last Friday night and the political world is roiling with new questions and enduring controversies. One of the most interesting things to watch from a worldview perspective is the inability of much of the world actually to come to grips with this reality, and to name it for what it is. But the other thing we need to note is that even the most seriously minded people are not of one mind when it comes to how to respond to the challenge of Islamic fundamentalism, the challenge of this massive refugee crisis and the challenge of having homegrown terrorism now appearing in much of the world, particularly now in Europe.
One of the issues of greatest alarm when it comes to the Friday night attacks in Paris is that Western intelligence agencies did not have any ample warning, they didn’t pick up on chatter, they didn’t detect certain algorithms that would’ve indicated activity that would point to a major terrorist attack that night in Paris. It is now known that American intelligence agencies had communicated to the French more general terms about the warnings of this kind of attack that was in the formation, but American intelligence officials joined the French in being unaware in the hours leading up to the attack of where and when and how it would come about. The French authorities are facing an even greater issue and that is the fact that much of Europe doesn’t communicate with other parts of Europe concerning very basic intelligence information. And when it comes to police authorities they are broken down into so many different jurisdictions that in many cases what might have been detected as a pattern was lost. So it’s easy for us to understand the inability to predict this kind of attack. But do we think we might be able to predict who might be the attacker? This is where the intelligence coming in after the attack on Friday night is even more humbling, because we now know, for example, the identity of at least some of the assailants, some of those terrorists who undertook the massacre. One of them was a man identified as Omar smaël Mostefaï and he was identified because of a finger remnant that was blown off when he became a suicide bomber in the Friday night attacks.Show Full Transcript
Adam Thomson and Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Paris-based reporters for the London Financial Times take us to Chartres, one of the most famous small towns near Paris, famed for having one of the most beautiful medieval cathedrals in all of Western history. They take us to that particular little village where this man Omar smaël Mostefaï was living and according to his neighbors,
“Omar was a really great guy, friendly, open.”
So said a neighbor who has known him from 2005 to 2012 when they moved out. The neighbor went on to say,
“He talked to the kids, played football with the neighbors.”
Another neighbor, a 21-year-old young man who had known Mostefaï when both of them were young, said,
“He was normal, really nothing special.”
This is one of the greatest challenges we face, morally speaking. We would like to think that we could predict when evil take place, where evil will take place and the shape that it will take. We would also like to think that we would be able to identify a terrorist by some sort of behavior prior to an act of terrorism. On the one hand, there might be some indicators such as a new participation in an Islamist mosque, travel to Syria, the use of jihadist language and jihadist arguments, those might be indicators, but the saddest and most chilling thing is that many of those indicators might be absent. In fact, none of those indicators might be present when you’re living right next door to someone and watching them, when you’re playing soccer with them or they’re playing soccer with your kids, and when they appear, as these neighbors had said, to be absolutely normal. This points to yet another dimension of the challenge now faced by France and several other European countries. They now face an enemy, not only from without the names itself, the Islamic state, but also from within in terms of some of their own citizens. Writing in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, Sylvie Kauffmann writes about France’s war within. She asked the question,
“So is this war? In a way, yes.”
She answers. But then she says,
“But fighting a “terrorist army” at home is a different kind of war.”
That’s something of an understatement. She then cites Bernard Cazeneuve, the French interior minister who said,
“This is a new operational mode.”
That’s a more bureaucratic way of saying the same thing. Explaining the homegrown situation, the Financial Times writes,
“The threat is particularly acute for France with about 571 French nationals fighting for ISIS or other terrorist organizations. The country has the largest contingent of foreign Jihadi’s in Syria, up to 141 have died there and about 246 have returned to France, according to French authorities.”
But then they warn,
“This may be just the tip of the iceberg. About 2000 French citizens are thought to be involved in Jihadi cells in France and a further 3800 have been noted showing signs of radicalization.”
Now to state the matter bluntly, you’re now talking about upwards of 7000 people identified already by French intelligence as being involved in Jihadi movements or formalized Jihadi cells. It is notable, however, that the French government seems to be taking the challenge very, very seriously. Yesterday’s New York Times reported that French President François Hollande has not only called Parliament to extend the state of emergency, but he has actually called for changing the French Constitution to deal with the challenge of terrorism. Almost immediately, the New York Times front-page story yesterday gets to one of the issues we’ve discussed recurrently on The Briefing and that is the inability of the secular worldview of Europe to deal with the strong theological argument now coming in the force of Islamist theology and that’s a very strong theological argument, indeed, a theological argument for which people are not only willing to die, but as the massacres in Paris made clear, willing to kill.
In light of attacks, refugee crisis causes conflicted conscience in Western nations
Meanwhile, on both sides of the Atlantic, the refugee crisis took on an entirely new set of challenges in light of the attacks in Paris and in light of the fact that two other developments came at the very same time. On the first hand, you had many European countries who had been very welcoming to the refugees and migrants who had been coming, who found themselves in the position of being overrun and beginning to shut down their borders. Then you also have the realization that behind even the initial tens of thousands, now numbering well over 300,000 original migrants and refugees, there is a wall of humanity coming unnumbered that could eventually reach totals in the millions. And that has raised an entirely new set of challenges.
But before even looking at those challenges, I want to point to something that many have failed to note or have refused to note. It’s very interesting to find the nations that seem to feel a moral obligation to receive these migrants and immigrants, almost all of them are found on both sides of the Atlantic in what had been characterized as Western civilization. You’ll note that other nations, particularly in other parts of the world shaped by other worldviews have seemed to be neither places where the refugees are trying to flee nor have they been the kind of countries that have considered it a moral obligation to any extent to receive them, and yet what we’re noticing in Europe is now a very conflicted conscience. A conscience that wants to receive refugees and migrants believing that to be a basic humanitarian duty, but also a concern that their own countries, their own communities will soon be overrun beyond the extent of the humanitarian aid they are able to extend and the fact that embedded amongst the refugees and the migrants are some who are jihadis, who are not only potential candidates for the Islamic Revolution but who are already very determined to join jihadi cells.
At least one of the terrorists involved in the Friday night attacks in Paris was traveling on a Syrian passport and had entered into Europe by means of this refugee flood. Now we need to note, almost immediately something that simply has to be stated, even though it is certainly true that most Muslims are not at war with the West and that most Muslims are not involved in any terrorist organization, nor do they have any ambition to be so, it’s also true that in this vast flood of humanity now represented by these refugees and migrants, the reality is that very few of them will actually be terrorists. It will be a very small percentage. But that still is a percentage and it still is a very real and present danger, as the fact that one traveling on a Syrian passport was involved in the terrorist attacks last Friday night. The flood of anguished humanity heading towards Europe and potentially to the United States is made up primarily of Muslim refugees from the dislocation and disaster in Syria, although it’s been true that from North Africa and other areas there have also been very large migrations as well. And they’re not all Muslims, though overwhelmingly that is their religious identity and what we’re looking at here is a huge crisis of the conscience for Europe and potentially, almost assuredly, eventually for the United States.
The United Nations refugee agency has asked the United States to take approximately 65,000 of these refugees. President Obama has proposed to take at the first stage about 10,000. He is now facing opposition not only for members of the opposing party but now from within his own party as well and that is precisely in the aftermath of the Paris attacks on Friday night. Even if the number of jihadis amongst these refugees is extremely small, talking about 10,000 still means that some are likely candidates for terrorism, a fact that has been acknowledged by intelligence experts within the Obama administration. But if the refugee crisis represents a crisis of the European conscience, it also represents a crisis of the Christian conscience. There is a basic Christian understanding of the necessity of taking care of our neighbor, that is indeed the Lord’s command and furthermore, we are told that everyone on the planet, every single human being made in God’s image is in some sense our neighbor, and we’re also looking at the fact that there is a basic Christian inclination to help those who are weak and defenseless and in trouble, and that is absolutely right, and it’s not only a moral inclination, it’s a moral mandate. To put the matter succinctly, if someone hungry were sitting next to us, it is our moral responsibility to feed them. If someone needy is sitting next to us, it is our responsibility to help them to be fed and sheltered and protected. If a needy or vulnerable child was within our vision or proximity, we would know that the right thing to do is to help them and ask questions later. But when we’re looking at a refugee crisis on this scale and when we’re looking at something taking place more than halfway around the world, one of the realities we face is that some humanitarian instincts can actually make the humanitarian problem worse. Incentivizing more people to leave Syria under these conditions can lead to refugee camps exploding with conditions even worse than were left behind in Syria. This is one of those situations in which there is no formula that simply gives us the right answer for the Christian responsibility, or the American responsibility, or the European responsibility in light of this kind of a crisis and the crisis is spreading.
Yesterday, German authorities canceled a major soccer match because of the threat of a terrorist attack, that’s just one indication of what’s coming. In a very important article that we should note was written and published just before the attacks in Paris, historian Paul Johnson, rightly one of the most influential historians writing today, points out that the problem is the breakdown of basic social order in much of the world, in particular in this focal sense in the Middle East and in the nation of Syria. And the argument he makes is that Western nations, by ignoring the breakdown of order and sometimes contributing to it have actually helped to fuel and precipitate the very crisis they now face. Writing in the November 2 edition of Forbes magazine Johnson argues, and again, the important thing is that this appeared before the attacks in Paris, that the disorder that has now left many people, hopeless and leaving Syria and other parts of the world, that disorder can actually spread to Europe itself and Europe, even in trying to help can find itself also on the brink of the breakdown of social order. He writes a column entitled,
“More Horrors To Come.”
Chillingly, it appeared just days before the massacres in Paris.
China persists in using organs from executed prisoners, undermining human dignity
Next, also on a related issue of human rights and human dignity, Didi Kirsten Tatlow writing for yesterday’s edition of the New York Times gives us an article with the headline,
“China Bends Vow, Using Prisoners’ Organs for Transplants.”
We discussed some months ago that the announcement had come from the Communist Party in China that they would end the practice of using donor organs for transplant from executed prisoners. The horrible reality in China is that most of the organs available for surgical transplantation are actually taken involuntarily from the many, many Chinese prisoners who are executed. Upon execution, their organs are not only harvested but sold at the prophet of the Chinese government. Facing an international outcry the communist party announced that they would end the practice. But now as Tatlow reports, what is really happening is just a reclassification of the prisoners to mere citizens. As she writes,
“When a senior Chinese health official said last year that China would stop using prisoners’ organs for transplants as of Jan. 1, 2015, human rights advocates and medical professionals around the world greeted the announcement with relief.”
“It seemed to end a decades-long form of human exploitation in which hundreds, perhaps thousands, of organs of executed prisoners were harvested each year.”
But she says,
“Organs from prisoners, including those on death row, can still be used for transplants in China, with the full backing of policy makers, according to Chinese news reports, as well as doctors and medical researchers in China and abroad.”
She cites a Chinese-born doctor at the University of Mainz in Germany who said,
“They just reclassified prisoners as citizens.”
Now from a Christian worldview perspective, this is a really, really illustrative issue. It is incredibly revealing. Because let’s ask the fundamental question, why wouldn’t we involuntarily take organs harvested from executed prisoners? Why wouldn’t that be an ethical and moral thing to do? Well, it would be because of the simple reality that those prisoners as much as the lives they might save by transplanted organs are also made in God’s image and we have no right to take their organs, much less to do so in a way that would incentivize the regime to execute them as prisoners. Let’s face the moral reality here. The Chinese government, already very prone to execute prisoners, has given itself a financial incentive and a medical incentive to sentence people to death, and then to carry out those death sentences and then to harvest the organs from those prisoners. As a matter of fact, this article makes clear that the vast majority of organs available for transplantation are indeed still coming from executed prisoners. Chinese communist authorities have countered with the argument that Chinese prisoners awaiting execution should have as much right as any other Chinese citizen to voluntarily donate their organs. But the issue voluntary there is an absolute moral charade. The People’s Daily, that’s a newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, cited a premier official, who said,
“Death row prisoners are also citizens and the law does not deprive them of their right to donate their organs.”
“If death row prisoners are willing to donate their organs to atone for their crimes, then they should be encouraged.”
Well, there is very, very revealing language, that language about doing so voluntarily to atone for their crimes. That raises the question not only as to how any prisoner facing execution can actually be considered to have voluntarily donated organs, but it also raises the question of what other kind of leverage might be being used in this kind of situation? Leverage such as potential action against the survivors and family of those being executed. But this raises an issue that should unsettle the Western moral conscience. If indeed every single human being is made in God’s image, and if indeed human respect and human dignity indicates why it would be wrong to take these organs from executed prisoners, how in the Western world is it all the sudden right to kill unborn babies in the womb? This is one of those situations that points out the selectivity of the Western secular moral conscience. It is a selectivity that says, it’s absolutely wrong to take organs from executed prisoners in China, and that judgment is absolutely right, but then that secular judgment turns back to an overwhelming support for abortion and that is horrifyingly inconsistent with a claim at the very same time to stand for human dignity and human rights.
Challenge Boy Scouts face after concessions to moral revolution exposes loss of 'boyhood' from public consciousness
Finally, yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal included an op-ed piece by Michael S. Malone entitled,
“Boy Scouts Search for a New Path.”
A very interesting article, Malone writes,
“Having passed through the controversy over its acceptance of gay members in 2013 and gay leaders this year, the Boy Scouts of America now finds itself at a crossroads. The path it chooses may have a profound and enduring impact on American culture.”
Now the one thing I should note before proceeding with this article is that it isn’t at all clear that the Boy Scouts of America have in any sense survived those changes made in 2013 and this year, first having to do with the inclusion of openly gay members and then this year, the inclusion of openly gay adult leaders. But Malone is certainly right that the direction taken by the Boy Scouts is going to have effects far beyond the scouting organization. But the reason I draw attention to this article is because of the language that Michael Malone uses throughout. He says,
“For a century now, the BSA has been, and remains, the largest youth organization in the United States.”
But he goes on from talking about youth to talking explicitly about boys, about boyhood and about young men. He writes about the scope of the Boy Scouts covering,
“All of boyhood from age 6 to 21.”
And then he talks about the kinds of activities that have been very much a part of the Boy Scouts from the inception of the organization. He then talks about the path to the Eagle Scout, long a hallmark, he identifies it as.
“The Ph.D. of boyhood.”
Later in the article, he laments,
“For thousands of boys and young men, many of them without fathers, scouting fills an aching void.”
As a former Boy Scout and one who greatly laments the direction taken by the Boy Scouts of America in the last several years, I feel the same kind of lament, but what I want to note is the kind of language that Michael S. Malone has used in this article. He comes again and again to talking about boys and even talking about a word that has almost been banished from modern secular America, and that is the word boyhood. He talks about boys and boyhood and young men and then he regrets the fact as he says that the Boy Scouts of America is receding from its national role. I would simply interject here that the biggest problem faced by the Boy Scouts of America is the very fact that parents have lost confidence in an organization that no longer has confidence in its founding principles. But what struck me more than anything else in this article is the ease and the naturalness with which Michael Malone writes about the Boy Scouts of America as filling a gap historically in the needs of boys and young men, and writing particularly about the Boy Scouts of America and American boyhood.
What I want to note is this, the moral direction now undertaken by the Boy Scouts of America makes it virtually impossible to use those words without some kind of compromise, hesitation, quotation marks or moral nuance. It is politically incorrect these days to talk about boys and boyhood whatsoever. That’s one of things that struck me, you hardly ever see that word ‘boyhood’ actually used in the secular press anymore and there’s a good reason for that. Our society has imbibed such a transformation as vision of sexuality and gender, it has bought into such a comprehensive sexual revolution now reaching the very issue, not only of sexual identity, but gender identity that these words are increasingly distant not only from newsprint, but from the moral imagination of so many Americans. Saddest of all, Malone ends his article by saying,
“To quote the Scout Oath, we need youth who are “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”
“Let’s hope the BSA has the courage to reassert its traditional role in American life.”
To Mr. Malone I would simply have to say, the Boy Scouts of America forfeited that traditional role in American life the very moment they joined the moral revolution. One final note, there are those who are pressing back against this moral revolution. This past weekend I saw an honor guard of boys from Trail Life USA, an organization that came to life, largely in response to what had happened with the Boy Scouts and as a way of perpetuating the kind of programming that most parents and most boys would want from such an organization. It was encouraging to see and important to note.