November 23, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, November 23, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Mali and Paris attacks show developing rivalry between ISIS and al Qaeda, exposing same deadly worldview
Islamic terrorism struck in the headlines in two places on Friday with great violence in the west African nation of Mali and with a threat in the nation of Belgium, right in the heart of Europe. First of all, on Friday morning shots ring out in Bamako, the capital the West African nation of Mali, where Islamic terrorists shouting Allahu akbar seized dozens of hostages and left bodies strewn across a building, the building was the Radisson Hotel there in that nation’s capital. As Dionne Searcey and Adam Nossiter of the New York Times reported,
“Heavily armed gunmen shouting “Allahu akbar” stormed a Radisson Blu Hotel early Friday in Bamako,”Show Full Transcript
And they went on to say,
“The gunmen barreled past the hotel’s light security, using fake diplomatic license plates to confuse guards, and then burst into the lobby with their guns blazing.”
By the time the attack had ended and authorities had attempted to rescue hostages, at least 27 were dead including several of the attackers. What took place in Mali could be seen at one level as just another very horrifying incident of terrorism undertaken by an Islamic cell. But as we will see, there is actually far more here than meets the eye and that is a tremendous concern. But before looking deeper at that issue we turn to Belgium, where as Andrew Higgins and Kimiko De Freytas-Tamura of the Times report,
“Belgian authorities halted public transit canceled soccer games and warned citizens to avoid shopping centers, airports, train stations and concerts in the Brussels region early on Saturday. Warning that the capital was vulnerable in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.”
We should note the Belgian authorities have extended and continued that threat level into this week. It is now known that at least four of the attackers in Paris had lived in one single neighborhood in the region of Brussels in Belgium and even as one brother amongst the pair of attackers have been killed, authorities in Belgium are seeking the other brother, believing that he may be inclined towards a similar suicide attack. One of the things we must note very straightforwardly in the situation in Belgium is that the very things the government has said must not happen in terms of this threat analysis are the very things that are the evidence of civilization. Examples include the very things from the lead in the New York Times story, where Belgian authorities,
“Halted public transit, canceled soccer games, warned citizens to avoid shopping centers, airports, train stations and concerts.”
Well, you look at that list and you recognize that basically they are saying that Belgian citizens should stay-at-home. No modern society, no modern economy can be sustained under those circumstances, telling people to avoid the very things that are the evidence of civilization, especially in terms of commercial activity and the movement of people in a society, that’s evidence of the fact that this is a direct attack upon civilization itself. It’s very evident that if you can’t do the things that Belgian authorities warned citizens that they must not do, then you are actually shutting down the civilization, at least in terms of a temporary halt. The question will be, for how long? But going back to the headline from Mali, we need to recognize that what we are witnessing is a story far bigger than the headlines might suggest, because what we’re looking at is a basic shift in the dynamic even within terrorist organizations allied with Islam. We are now looking at a direct competition breaking out now into public between the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. It’s one of the most dangerous and concerning things we have witnessed in a very long time.
As Anne Barnard and Neil MacFarquhar have written, the hostage crisis in a Mali in hotel has indicated that admirers of Al Qaeda and the rival Islamic state, have begun jostling on social media over which of the jihadist organizations was more righteous and more prominent and they are now suggesting that this represents a significant turn, a very ominous turn, in terms of Islamic terrorism. They write about a competition between Al Qaeda and the Islamic State for attention and for a reputation of being bloodthirsty on the part of Islamic terrorists and they write,
“That competition has led to lethal one-upmanship that will be difficult to stamp out, given innumerable soft targets, even if armies can weaken the groups in their bases in the Middle East and Africa.”
There are significant differences between the two groups, Al Qaeda, at least until recently has not attempted to hold territory. Rather, it has seen itself as an Islamic terrorist organization extended into not only the Islamic world where they’ve undertaken any number of bloody attacks, but also into the Western world, most famously on September 11, 2001 in New York City and in Washington D.C. But the Islamic State on the other hand, has intended from the very beginning to be a state and to reestablish an Islamic caliphate. And as virtually every observer of the Islamic State now must recognize it is functioning as a State. But we also need to note that recent developments indicate that the Islamic State is borrowing from Al Qaeda’s playbook and the same thing is happening as Al Qaeda is beginning to borrow the logic of the Islamic State and they are now competing with one another for recruits for attention for propaganda and potentially even one day for territory. We can add this to the long list of unforeseen developments in terms of Islamic terrorism we did not see the Islamic State coming nor did we see the threat from Al Qaeda as being as deadly as it turned out to be. No one foresaw the fact that Al Qaeda would one day, even in the present be localized mostly in northern and in western Africa. Meanwhile, no one seemed to see the rise of the Islamic State and the concomitant breakup of Syria, in terms of the opportunity that has now presented to the Islamic State to gather vast territory and to use that territory and the oil, and other business centers located within that territory to add to its coffers. We’re looking at a combination of oil and power and territory and military and the intention to use radical violence. The New York Times makes that clear by discussing the fact that what unifies both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State is a commitment to the use of violence. They write,
“While many perceive them as mindlessly violent and nihilistic, members of both groups have, in their minds, a set of rationales for high-profile violence against civilians that they think will help them achieve their goals.”
Just think about those words. The use of terms like soft targets and then suggesting that the use of violence on the part of these two organizations isn’t as mindless and as nihilistic as many might assume, but rather both groups operate out of a set of rationales, which we would also explain means out of a worldview, that actually believes that the use of this kind of violence against civilians will, in the words of this article,
“Help them achieve their goals.”
This really is a huge story. It’s actually a combination or an intersection of stories. It’s the story of Al Qaeda, which has not been stamped out and is actually now perhaps becoming even more dangerous as it is learning from and borrowing from the Islamic State. But it’s also about the Islamic State using the kind of mass terror that we saw in Paris in recent days and as many military analysts now understand, beginning to act like Al Qaeda by sending out lieutenants who are then going to be entrusted with major military terrorist organizations and operations such as that undertaken in Paris. Military analysts and others involved in international security and strategy are looking at these two groups and comparing their tactics, their strategies and their ambitions. It would be very valuable, indeed it is necessary, that the same analysts would come to terms with the basic worldview that unites Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, because as Christians understand it is at that basic level of worldview that the real battle is to be fought. The reason that the Islamic State and Al Qaeda can now both compete with one another and borrow from one another is because foundationally, even though they may differ in some strategy and tactics, they are united in their basic worldview and that’s what is truly and genuinely frightening. And then consider the analysis of that worldview that was evident in that New York Times article. The article in which it was explained that both Al Qaeda and the Islamic State believe in their own way that the use of this kind of mass violence against soft targets, otherwise known as civilians is actually not mindless nor nihilistic, but something that plays out in terms of their strategy and their worldview. That’s what’s doubly frightening here, because we are looking at the most basic level at a deadly worldview that sees violence as a means to an end. But we’re also looking at the political economic and military opportunity seized by these groups and thus we have worldview and opportunity at an intersection for horrifying evil.
Favored candidate loses Louisiana governorship overwhelmingly, exposing importance of character
Meanwhile, back in United States, a headline of a very different sort, Douglas McCollam, reporting for the Washington Post on Sunday tells us that the Democratic candidate won the race for governor in the state of Louisiana and a runoff held this past Saturday. As Douglas McCollam writes,
“Completing a long-shot bid that ran counter to the conservative tide sweeping the Southern states, Democratic state Rep. John Bel Edwards was elected governor of Louisiana on Saturday, defeating his Republican rival, U.S. Senator David Vitter.”
There’s a much bigger story here than that lead paragraph would indicate. On the one hand, there’s something basically wrong about the way the Washington Post reported the story, because they have said that John Bel Edwards winning the race was something that ran counter to what they describe as,
“The conservative tide sweeping the Southern states.”
But we need to note right away the John Bel Edwards was not running as a liberal candidate, not at all, he was running as a Democrat, but as a pro-life and pro-gun rights Democrat, that’s not something that fits the liberal mold. But there is something very important going on here and that’s bigger than the story lead would indicate as well. Because the defeat of David Vitter, a very popular politician in Louisiana for decades is a very significant sign of something that Christians perhaps more than anyone else should well understand. David Vitter has served in the United States Senate for years, and yet, just a matter of a few years ago, he was exposed in a prostitution scandal, something he appeared to survive politically, largely through the assistance of his wife who stood with him and stayed with him. But what we’re looking at is the fact that John Bel Edwards was able to use that prostitution scandal against David Vitter and to attack David Vitter where Vitter had previously had political strength that is as a defender not only of conservative principles, but of family values. The race was not close, Edwards appears to have won by about a 55 to 45 percent margin. David Vitter in conceding the race also indicated that he will not run for his Senate seat in the year 2016.
The Washington Post described the race in these terms saying,
“The race had narrowed substantially in recent days, with Vitter using concerns over plans to settle Syrian refugees in the state to hammer his opponent. Edwards struck back in ads saying that Vitter had missed several key hearings on the Syrian crisis while serving in the Senate.”
That’s the political level of the contest. But then, according to the Post, for Vitter the dust-up was a welcome chance to refocus a race that had largely dealt with this character and biography rather than his political positions. The Post then reported that for Vitter the dust-up was,
“A welcome chance to refocus a race that had largely dealt with his character and biography rather than his political positions.”
The Post tells us that,
“Edwards repeatedly contrasted his record as a West Point graduate and former officer with the 82nd Airborne Division to Vitter’s involvement in a 2007 Washington prostitution scandal.”
Later, the Post said that,
“Vitter, who had largely avoided talking about the prostitution scandal in his successful 2010 Senate reelection bid, was forced to address the issue directly in ads featuring his wife and his teenage son attesting to his fitness as a husband and father.”
The big political surprise here is that a year ago, even six months ago, David Vitter had been considered to have a virtually invincible lead in terms of the election for Louisiana Governor, but it wasn’t to be, not only did he lose, he lost by an overwhelming margin. From the Christian worldview, there are a couple of very urgent insights here. In the first place, if your name is attached to anything that sounds like prostitution scandal it is a major problem. It had better be, it is deservedly a particular problem for a candidate who had run on family values in support of marriage and the integrity of marriage and other moral principles that are associated with conservatism. But what we’re looking at here is another big lesson and that is this, you can think a scandal is over when it’s not. David Vitter, according to these press reports, really didn’t have to deal with a prostitution scandal when he ran for reelection to the United States Senate in 2010, even as the scandal had broken and he had to admit involvement in the prostitution ring back in 2007. But it did come back in 2014 and it came back in a way that not only ended David Vitter’s attempt to gain the Governor’s office in Louisiana, but it effectively has ended his political career with the concession on Saturday night, including the news that he would not be running for reelection to his Senate seat.
One of the things that Christians must see in this is that character matters. We understand how it matters in a way that many others may not. In other words, we have less excuse for ever believing that character doesn’t matter. Character must matter, it matters when we’re hiring a babysitter, it matters when we’re considering where to borrow money from a bank or to whom we might lend money. Character matters in terms of our choice of a physician, or an attorney, our choice of a pastor or virtually anyone else, it should have a great deal to do with our selection of political leaders as well. There is no perfect political candidate, of either gender, of either party running at any level of government. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and we do understand that, but we still understand that character matters, character matters, to state the matter very bluntly when it comes to seeking a husband or a wife. It matters greatly in terms of how we might choose, if we have an opportunity to choose, who might be our neighbors. And when it comes to elections and political office, we understand that with ascending responsibility comes also an ascending expectation in terms of character. In political terms, there was more to this race than the character issue. But what we need to note very carefully and very meaningfully is that there was never less to this race than the character issue.
Finally on this issue, we need to note that by all accounts in the media David Vitter has in recent years, lived an exemplary life as a husband and father, and that’s something we should appreciate. But we also need to note that even if you’re going back to the year 2007 or for that matter even further back in one’s biography, if one is credibly linked to words like prostitution scandal, this is not a story that is going to end well. It’s not so much a question of if; it’s just a question of when. For David Vitter it ended on Saturday.
Vocabulary debate over bathrooms and bathroom access adds to moral confusion of society
Next, big moral lessons can come in some unexpected places. Sunday’s edition of the New York Times magazine included an article on vocabulary that was offered by columnist Emily Bazelon, the title of the article,
“Room for all.”
The subtitle was this,
“When we talk about making accommodations for transgender students in school bathrooms, it implies that a sacrifice is being made.”
But then she asked,
“What exactly is being given up?”
Now this is one of those articles that as I said is much larger in importance than may first appear. This is a regular column in the New York Times magazine on vocabulary and actually fairly recurringly, it’s a matter of great interest. Christians also upon reflection will understand why our vocabulary really matters and inevitably our vocabulary eventually points to an underlying worldview, including the moral worldview. Bazelon writes,
“The clearest visual markers of sex difference many of us see in the course of the day are the signs on public bathroom entrances: MEN on one door, WOMEN on the other. Restrooms are public conveniences; freely available in most places and in principle open to all, but the terms for entering them have been fixed. They’re fundamentally fraught spaces, where we undress and obey the dictates of our bodies and therefore feel vulnerable. If people think you’ve confused male and female and walked through the wrong door, you risk discomfort, or even real trouble.”
Now this leads to a significant turn in her article in which she says that the very idea of having separate men’s and women’s room is a fairly recent invention, something tied to modernity. That’s a significantly dangerous half-truth, while it is true that only in the modern age do you have the rise of the kind of institutional hygiene, as reflected in modern bathrooms, something for which we should be very thankful, there never was a time when we’re supposed to believe that men and women mixed freely in public restrooms without any kind of accommodation to privacy. That’s absolute nonsense. When it comes to the status quo, however, Bazelon writes,
“Now transgender people, most prominently, are asking society to rethink all of this, from signs to design to who gets to enter where.”
She then says,
“Many people viscerally resist the idea of mixing male and female anatomy in multistall bathrooms and locker rooms.”
Now the first thing we have to note is that the controversy isn’t limited to talking about multi-stall facilities. That’s something she explicitly claims, it’s just not true. For instance, in the school district in suburban Chicago, this now being directly addressed by the Obama administration’s Department of Education, the order is to allow the student to have unrestricted access to biologically male student to the girls locker room and the shower area. That’s not a multi-stall facility as the evidence in that school district makes very clear. Bazelon points to the recent vote undertaken in Houston, where Houston voters overwhelmingly turned back an ordinance that would have allowed the kind of mixing in bathrooms that Bazelon is here talking about, the mixing of biological sex is in a single facility. But that’s exactly what is being demanded by the LGBT revolution. Over and over again in the midst of this great moral revolution we point to the fact that the very basic issue of worldview at the most basic and fundamental level explains why some people can look at the bathroom division between male and female, men and women, boys and girls and see a problem, whereas others see a moral necessity and that is reflected in this article. For instance, she says,
“For a lot of people, the transgender bid to reconsider norms — the vocabulary, a girl who has a [biologically male body] — has burst into the public consciousness quickly, and seems bewildering.”
Well in response to that we should say with great clarity, the voters in Houston were not at all bewildered, they saw the issue clearly at least they saw the issue in terms of human beings as being made male and female and as biological sex being very important, anatomy actually mattering. In actuality, its many in the cultural elites, particularly in the political and media elites who are themselves bewildered by people such as the voters in Houston who voted as they did. In one of the saddest sections of Bazelon’s article she writes,
“For transgender girls, the locker room and the bathroom are about joining the all-female enclave, about fitting in.”
She then cites a young person identified as a 12-year-old transgender girl, that means, let’s be clear, a biological male presenting now as a girl. This 12-year-old is quoted as saying,
“I just want to be with the girls at all times.”
What’s really sad and from the Christian worldview really injurious to that child is adding to the child’s confusion, which is exactly what we are now facing as a demand. But let’s look at that word bewildering and let’s understand that when we genuinely operate from two fundamentally different and indeed conflicted worldviews, we will each on opposite sides of that worldview divide continually bewilder the other. On the one side are those who believe that a biological male should have every right to be in a girl’s locker room, if that biological male claims to be a transgender female. On the other hand are those I believe, quite rightly, who see such a proposal as not only impossible, but morally wrong. This worldview divide is so deep and so wide that on both sides, you can be sure of this, we will bewilder the other.