The Briefing 06-14-16

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Questions surrounding FBI probes and Islamic jihad surface in Orlando massacre aftermath

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Assisted suicide bills attempt to normalize the illusion of human autonomy over death

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Transcript

The Briefing

June 14, 2016

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Tuesday, June 14, 2016, I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Questions surrounding FBI probes and Islamic jihad surface in Orlando massacre aftermath

 

As the world continues to recoil and try to reflect upon the massacre that took place early Sunday morning in Orlando, Florida, certain moral issues come to the fore, certain political and law enforcement issues as well. And of course this is placed in the larger context of the war on terror and the reality of terrorism that the Western world has faced for a matter of the last generation and more. But now as we look to this specific case, there are some very pressing questions that will demand a great deal of attention. These are questions that will certainly be the focus of much ongoing national conversation and especially when it comes to asking the question of how such a massacre could’ve taken place.

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The background complexity to that question has to do with the fact that the FBI in the matter of just hours after the attack acknowledged that at least at three points in the last three years, the FBI had direct contact with the shooter in this case, Omar Mateen, who was suspected even then of ties and links to terrorist organizations.

As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday,

“Federal agents are now trying to piece together how the 29-year-old Mr. Mateen became the gunman police say is responsible for the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.”

As The Journal went on to report,

“What triggered the 2013 investigation, said officials briefed on it, were “wild” claims he made to co-workers about having family and friends in al Qaeda and Hezbollah.”

He also claimed then, according to this report, to have ties to the Boston Marathon bombers. The Journal then tells us that the man told the FBI agents that he didn’t make the claims and didn’t have what’s described here as a full understanding of terrorist groups. The FBI apparently bought the argument that he was making up his claims. Then The Journal says when the FBI questioned him again, he admitted to making the statements, saying it was simply bluster and he hadn’t known what he was talking about. The very next year in 2014, he came under scrutiny again by the FBI, this time said The Journal, over possible contacts with a Florida man who traveled to Syria and carried out a suicide truck bombing attack. The FBI conducted an investigation, interviewed Omar Mateen again, but agents,

“,,,determined that contact was minimal and did not constitute a substantive relationship or a threat at that time.”

 

According to The Journal, the investigators became convinced that while the two men probably knew one another, at least in terms of names and faces, they weren’t close or “connected in a meaningful way.”

In the aftermath of the Orlando shootings, the Democratic front runner for the presidential nomination, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, made the statement that we have the resources in order to fight this kind of foe. The relationship between that statement and the front page story in the Wall Street Journal becomes abundantly clear. We have to ask the question, do we really have what are described here as the resources to identify this kind of foe? Here you have one of the most highly respected law enforcement and intelligence agencies in the world, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, here you have the Bureau having a man’s name, having at least three different investigations and interrogations of the man, and coming to the conclusion that he was not dangerous. We now know of course that, horrifyingly enough, he was. He is now guilty of the largest and most deadly mass killing in American history.

How did the FBI miss what now appears to be the obvious? The answer is, according to the FBI it wasn’t so obvious at the time. There’s another background fact here that also has to be brought to our attention. Evidently, the FBI is faced with an incredible number of those who are identified as possible terrorism suspects. The reality is the FBI cannot watch all of them all the time. As a matter of fact, you could add together all of the intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the United States, or for that matter in the Western world, and they are together incompetent and incapable of following every conceivable suspect all the time. The FBI is having to make a judgment as to whom it considers to be the most legitimate and threatening suspects.

Of course, now we know that the situation is even worse than that headline story might imply, because as it turns out, Omar Mateen was not only able to escape any kind of surveillance or identification as a likely terror suspect, he was also able in the days leading up to the attack to actually buy the weapons, and to do so legally. There wasn’t even a screen in terms of buying these kinds of weapons that had prevented Omar Mateen from being able to buy the weapons with which he carried out what we have to say to ourselves over and over again is the worst mass shooting and mass killing by gunfire in American history. So the question comes to the forefront once again, how is it that we cannot identify those human beings who are evidently planning and plotting to conduct this kind of murderous attack? The reality is that we cannot see inside the human heart.

One of the odd and ironic conceits of the modern age, indeed of the secular age around us, is that somehow we will be able to decipher the human psyche and get into the human heart by one means or another—perhaps the illusion once was that it would be by psychological or psychiatric testing. Going back to the midpoint of the 20th century, and for that matter, years later, it was clear that many criminologists, sociologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists thought that eventually they would be able to identify a kind of criminal or sociopathic personality that would be revealed by means of psychiatric or psychological tests. Now that’s not to say that there have been no insights gained by those kinds of tests and that kind of research, but the fundamental reality is there has been no adequate psychiatric or psychological screen put in place whereby people could simply on a mass scale be given a test and then it would be determined whether or not that might pose a danger to the larger society.

If you go back even further into the 19th century, you encounter the myth of phrenology—perhaps you have seen the model of the human skull mapped out with different regions, and it was based upon the understanding that the shape of the skull would indicate the eventual trajectory of the character—indeed, not only matters of intelligence and cultural awareness, but even matters of emotional and intuitional personality profile. Phrenology, of course, was a quack science, and yet many of the people of the most literate elites in the United States fell victim to the understanding that somehow the shape of the skull would be enough to identify who might be an antisocial personality. The Nazi scientists, building upon the medical expertise as it was then vaunted of the Weimar regime in Germany, held to the understanding that certain racial or genetic characteristics would be a predisposing factor to antisocial behavior.

All of these theories, of course, crashed in terms of the reality of human experience. None of the supposedly scientific or pseudoscientific theories have come close to being able to predict with any accuracy who was about to commit a crime. You also have the reality that you have incredible resources that are now devoted to intelligence and surveillance, and there have been gains made by these kinds of intelligence and surveillance activities. There are huge databases now being conducted and gathered by Western intelligence and military authorities in order to fight terrorist attacks, and yet there has been a limited ability to prevent them.

And that, once again, gets to a basic issue of the Christian worldview. Try as we will, we have no means to reach into the human heart in order to read it. One of the most puzzling things, of course, to every single human being, at least to honest human beings, is our inability at times to understand our own hearts. That becomes infinitely more complex when we try to read the hearts of others. We simply cannot look into another’s eyes and judge with as much accuracy as we might like to think what they are plotting and planning, or even just imagining.

But next, we note that the Wall Street Journal and many other major media around the West finally used the word jihad, or its equivalent, in speaking of what took place in Orlando.

“Jihad in Orlando” was precisely the headline of the lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. The editors wrote,

“A young American Muslim pledging allegiance to Islamic State is now responsible for the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. Can we finally drop the illusion that the jihadist fires that burn in the Middle East don’t pose an urgent and deadly threat to the American homeland?”

Later the editors wrote,

“Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, and it rarely does so unless it played some role. CNN and others reported that a U.S. official said Mateen made a 911 call during the attack in which he pledged allegiance to Islamic State.

“We’ll learn more,” said the editors, “about Mateen’s ISIS ties in the days ahead.”

But then the editors wrote these very important words,

“But it hardly matters to the victims whether the would-be caliphate planned the attack or merely inspired it.”

The editor said,

“As we learned again after December’s murders in San Bernardino, ISIS propaganda over the internet can all too easily reach Muslims alienated from American society. Young men who are second generation immigrants seem to be especially vulnerable to calls for jihad.”

Later the editors wrote this,

“The FBI has been focusing more resources on these homegrown threats, and an FBI special agent acknowledged Sunday that Mateen had come to the agency’s attention as a potential risk in 2013 and again in 2014.

 

“This is reminiscent,” said the Journal, “of the way the FBI misjudged Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who came to its attention after a trip abroad and later with his brother blew up the Boston marathon. The oversight,”

 

Here’s the really crucial sentence,

 

“The oversight points to how difficult it is in a free society to pinpoint when someone is becoming radicalized enough to kill.

 

“Second-guessing is easy,” said the Journal.
Now then, again, the most important sentence is where the editors of the Journal say that it’s difficult in a free society to pinpoint when someone is becoming radicalized enough to kill. Think of the interesting way the editors of the Journal had to make that argument. They use the word “pinpoint,” as in pinpoint when someone is becoming radicalized enough; and then the word “enough.” What does “radicalized” mean when you have to add to it “radicalized enough?” That points to the complexity of the challenge we face in a free society. It points to the challenge Western civilization faces in terms of a jihad that has been declared by Islamic terrorists, and it also points to the difficulty of identifying who just might be ready to carry out such a deadly attack.

Assisted suicide bills attempt to normalize the illusion of human autonomy over death

Next, in both the United States and Canada the issue of assisted suicide is back on the front pages and back in the headlines. In Canada, the situation is made complicated by the fact that the Canadian government has been unable to adopt legislation in order to meet a deadline set by that country’s Supreme Court for the legalization of physician assisted suicide. The story is quite complex, and it’s also incredibly revealing. What we see in Canada is the fact that over a year ago, that nation’s Supreme Court struck down laws in that country that criminalized physician-assisted suicide. It was a massive moral revolution that took place, as so often is the case, with a sweeping, unilateral court judgment. The court then gave a deadline of last week for the Canadian Parliament to adopt enabling legislation. But the parliament hasn’t been able to do so. The reason for that is deeply alarming.

It’s not that the Canadian Parliament has been somehow trying to find a way to reverse the court’s decision and uphold the dignity and sanctity of human life. No, to the contrary, the liberal government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has been unable to decide between a really dangerous law and an even more dangerous law. As it stood last week, Canada’s lower house had adopted legislation that would open the availability of physician-assisted suicide far beyond those who are diagnosed with any kind of terminal condition. Canada’s Senate, the upper house, appeared to be more reluctant to adopt such a sweeping form of the legislation. But in a situation that was not foreseen even just a matter of months ago, on Tuesday of last week physician-assisted suicide became legal in Canada, at this point because the parliament has failed to act without any legislative stipulations whatsoever.

Dr. Harvey Chochinov, who is a palliative care expert at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg spoke last week saying,

“Canada will become the most liberal country in the world with respect to death hastening policies.”

Dr. Chochinov was a critic of having no law in place to govern doctor assisted death. He led last year a government panel on addressing Right-to-Die policy, as it was styled. So as of last Tuesday, Canada has no law regarding assisted suicide whatsoever. What was struck down as of last Tuesday was a law that would make it illegal, but there is no authorizing legislation, leaving physicians in Canada in something of a legal limbo. It will not stay that way.

Ian Austen, reporting for the New York Times, tells us that some of the issues of controversy in terms of the debate within the Canadian Parliament has to do with whether or not assisted suicide should be made available “to anyone with an illness or handicap that causes intolerable suffering, even if it is not likely to kill the person in the near future.”

Of course, that leaves the diagnosis or definition of “intolerable suffering” open to any number of wide interpretations. We have seen, especially in Europe, how the slide towards assisted suicide began, first of all in countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium, also to a lesser degree Switzerland, with the promise that it would be limited to physician assisted suicide for those who were clearly diagnosed and in the end stages of unquestionably terminal diseases. But now, as we have seen, assisted suicide has actually become the process of euthanasia in some of these countries, and euthanasia, which isn’t merely physician-assisted suicide but physician administered death, has been expanded not only to those who had diagnosed terminal conditions, but also to those who are suffering from emotional or psychological distress, and not only for adults but also for adolescents and even children.

When we’re talking about the slippery slope in the case of assisted suicide and euthanasia, the slope, as it turns out, is slippery indeed. One of the huge questions now facing our northern neighbor is whether Canada will go from the top of that slide to the bottom in record time. Canada’s Supreme Court, by the way, when it made its ruling over a year ago, said that Canadians should have access to physician-assisted suicide when they are suffering from “grievous and irremediable conditions.”

Just consider those two words, “grievous” and “irremediable.” Consider the fact that those are not actually medical terms at all. Notice also the inherent subjectivity in terms of the application and definition of those two words as conditions. Some in the Canadian Parliament want to restrict physician-assisted suicide to those who genuinely are believed to have a terminal disease and death is then described as “reasonably foreseeable.”

But we should note, at this point, there is no consensus in Canada that physician-assisted suicide should be limited to those who have such a diagnosis. At this point, in terms of the debate and the practice of assisted suicide around the world, we really shouldn’t be surprised.

There’s no excuse for being shocked at what we’re seeing now in Canada. Canada’s just doing in a far shorter amount of time what other Western nations have done over a longer period. But it’s not just Canada that’s debating the issue of assisted suicide, and it’s not just Canada that last week made history. As Jennifer Medina reports for the New York Times,

“On Thursday, California became the fourth state in the country to put in effect a law allowing assisted suicide for the terminally ill, what has come to be known as aid in dying.”

The Times goes on to tell us that,

“Oregon was the first state to pass an assisted suicide law, and was followed by Washington and Vermont. Under a Montana court ruling, doctors cannot be prosecuted for helping terminally ill patients die, as long as the patient makes a written request.”

The Times then notes,

“With the California law, 16 percent of the country’s population has a legal option for terminally ill patients to determine the moment of their death, up from 4 percent.”

Now notice, that means with this single addition of the state of California, the percentage of Americans who are now covered by assisted suicide laws has jumped from 4% to 16%, with just one state. That’s a huge moral step for the United States of America, not just for the state of California. The worldview behind this movement was made abundantly clear in one of the most important articles to appear on this issue, and that’s by Cathy Lynn Grossman, published at Religion News Service. She writes about the argument that death with dignity comes with the idea that human beings should have options.

“It’s normal for people to have options, right?”

Well, that’s a huge question. An option? We would, as human beings, like to think that we always have options. But one of the realities we have to face and the Christian worldview also makes clear is that we actually often face very limited options. We would like to have options available to us in a society that says at this point we can choose virtually anything for ourselves, including our sexual orientation or our gender identity. But we need to note that the claim that we as human beings have the right to an option to assisted suicide is based upon an understanding of human autonomy that goes beyond virtually anything that human beings would’ve understood in generations past. But Grossman is also onto something when she writes about the fact that the advocates of euthanasia and assisted suicide use the term “normalizing.” She writes,

“‘Normalizing.’ This process is the term big with supporters. It conjures a sense that this is the last autonomous act of a person who, two doctors must certify, is six months from death’s door. Although the option is a multistep process that can take a few weeks, it can short-circuit months of intractable pain and suffering.”

Now going back to this, we understand that the word “normalizing” here really is important. As a matter of fact, it’s a word that many of us use in different contexts. But normalizing means this: it is the establishment of a new norm. I’ve used the word in my book We Cannot Be Silent to point out that the goal of the LGBT movement is to absolutely normalize LGBT relationships and behaviors. What does normalize mean? It means to establish a new moral norm. Every society operates on the basis of moral norms. The question is, what will those norms be and from what will they be derived? The Christian worldview has informed the norms of Western civilization, morally speaking, for a very long time. But now we’re living in a new secular age, and it is human autonomy that is at the very top of the norming influences in our society. It’s actually a vision of human autonomy, of human freedom and human choice that is unrealistic—indeed it is unreal—yet, it is exactly what so many modern people now claim as the greatest moral imperative of all.

But what’s really important here is that Cathy Lynn Grossman is pointing to the fact that the advocates of assisted suicide want to normalize, that is they want to establish a new norm that human beings should have the unquestioned right to establish when and under what circumstances we will choose to die. Of course, when it comes to options, the most limiting factor of all, the Christian worldview would remind us, is that no single one of us decided as a matter of options that we should be born, that we should come to life, that we should be born to a certain family or a certain couple at a certain time. Instead, we have to understand that the biblical worldview understands that our most basic definition is a matter of givens—it is the given-ness of life as God’s gift to every single one of us on his terms, according to his timing. There is no question that we are often faced with genuine moral choices for which we are responsible. But in terms of our human limitations and finitude, we need to recognize the plight of those actual options is often far less than modern secular Americans would like to think.

But with those two crucial words in terms of worldview used in this one article, Cathy Lynn Grossman points to several of the most important fault lines in our contemporary cultural landscape. These include the fact that human beings now expect, and perhaps even demand, options considering every aspect of life, now including our death and the fact that normalizing this idea of human autonomy is one of the main goals of those who are pressing for this particular moral revolution, a moral revolution that claims the triumph of choosing death.

 

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing