The Briefing 08-22-16

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Turkish wedding suicide bomber who killed 50 was just a child, between 12 and 14 yrs old

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The good, the bad, and the weird: What can we learn about humanity from the 2016 Olympics?

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The "queerest" Olympics ever? The unsettled conscience and uncertain future of LGBT sport

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The gender revolution arrives at the clothing store—but it's still organized male-female

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Transcript

The Briefing

August 22, 2016

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

Turkish wedding suicide bomber who killed 50 was just a child, between 12 and 14 yrs old

It’s Monday, August 22, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

The headline came yesterday morning from Turkey; the headline in the Washington Post was this:

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“Bomb at wedding party in Turkey kills at least 50.”

The reporter was Aaron Cunningham, and the headline was all too familiar. This is the kind of headline we are growing horrifyingly accustomed to seeing in terms of the kind of terrorist attacks that have been happening, especially in the last three to four years, especially in this part of the world, and especially as responsibility has been taken by Daesh, the Islamic State or ISIS. But as the story continued yesterday even early in the morning, the President of Turkey, President Erdogan, announced another angle to the story, and this is what has made this headline different. It turns out that the suicide bomber in this case is believed to be a boy between the ages of 12 and 14.

Sometimes in terms of worldview analysis, it’s like peeling an onion. There are inner issues and outer issues. You start on the outside and then urgency intensifies as you move inward to ever more fundamental and basic issues and questions. This is what happened yesterday. At the outer level you have the ongoing questions, massive questions about terrorism, questions about the use of violence, about the targeting of specific kinds of events—in this case a wedding—about the specific targeting of civilians with an intentionality to bring maximum terror to a population, the exacerbation of the kinds of conflicts that have already existed inside Turkey. This wedding, by the way, was associated with a Kurdish family. That adds a certain intensity because of the long-standing conflict between the Kurds and the Turks. But then you go inward and you come to understand that even as we have become accustom to this kind of headline and this kind of news from the Islamic State, the use of a 12- to 14-year-old boy as a suicide bomber raises a whole new set of questions, especially in terms of worldview. What kind of worldview could possibly justify, much less motivate, the use of a 12- to 14-year-old child as a suicide bomber?

On the one hand, this shows the deviousness of a group in terms of evil intention. They very clearly understood that it would be easier to get a middle school-aged child inside this crowd without raising suspicions rather than an adult. And the photographs and details coming from this particular suicide bombing in Turkey were heartbreaking because of the pictures, pictures for example of the shoes of very small children blown off by the blast. There is also the news that at least some children were likely killed in the press of people in the panic after the suicide bombing.

But at the center of everything is a 12- to 14-year-old child who was intentionally deployed as a suicide bomber by the Islamic State. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister said,

“This is a massacre of unprecedented cruelty and barbarism.”

But as is so often the case, words simply failed to convey the real urgency and the depth, the moral death, of what we’re facing in this kind of news coming out of Turkey. And it raises other questions. If a worldview can lead to this, to what else might it lead?

During the 18th and 19th centuries, European nations tried to arrange what were understood to be basic rules of war. Even in the 20th century, these have been codified in what are known as the Geneva Conventions. Most of this is explicitly based upon the Christian moral tradition known as the Just War Theory. That is, the theory whereby wars are understood to be more and less moral. The rules of Just War have to do with what could prompt the use of violence in terms of warfare and how warfare must be conducted. There are basic rules and principles such as the fact that any military action must be defensive rather than offensive; that civilians are not to be targeted, but specifically are to be protected. There are other rules as well, but the point is this: those particular rules and the honoring of those rules require a shared worldview and a commitment to a certain set of moral principles and deep moral truths. Where that agreement is absent, then all rules are off.

We also need to note that the West has been imperfect in holding itself to those moral standards. By the time you get to the early 20th century, Germany first but then also the allied nations began to violate those very rules in the killing fields of the First World War. But throughout all of this, there was, at least in the West, an open debate about how war should be conducted. And there was a great deal, and is even continuing, of moral scrutiny applied to the military actions or intentions or even speculations of the West. But when we address what we see now in terms of these headlines, we’re looking at the fact that there are groups—and at the head of that list must be the Islamic State, but there are others as well, including the entire nation of North Korea—who openly defy the very idea of that very set of rules concerning how warfare could be justified and then to be justifiably undertaken. These nations and groups are often referred to as outlaws on the world stage, but the really frightening and humbling reality is that the outlaws appear to be gaining the upper hand. And the most frightening aspect about the use of a 12- to 14-year-old boy as a suicide bomber in Turkey is that that’s not likely to be where the story ends. We are likely to see even worse.

The good, the bad, and the weird: What can we learn about humanity from the 2016 Olympics?

Next, a great sigh of relief was almost audible coming from Brazil as the 31st Olympiad came to a close: Seventeen days of intensive international activity centered in sport and, as every Olympiad in the modern age, the Olympics brought out the good, the bad, and the weird in terms of human behavior.

In terms of the good, there were undeniable heights of athletic achievement that were demonstrated; there were moments of chivalry and moments of cultural awareness that simply justify why the Olympics are held in the first place, even though many of the claims of the Olympics are overblown. And even the modern Olympiad as a project undertaken in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was based upon what we now know to be an outmoded optimism about human nature. There is still something magnificent about seeing the display of human ability, human endurance, human commitment in athletic competitions in the Olympics seen as nowhere else. There is also the spectacle of all of these nations gathered together for the cause of this athletic competition. And as we saw, the 31st Olympiad will be remembered for many of those great moments.

There is also a disparity that became increasingly clear. Americans are celebrating the fact that team USA experienced—the new wording here is 121 “podium placements”—121 stands upon the podium by team USA members. The medal count came down to 46 gold metals, 37 silver medals, and 38 bronze medals for the United States—again, that totals 121. That was vastly greater than any other nation, and it was the largest single nation ratio going back at least to the Olympiad that took place under the supervision of Adolf Hitler in Berlin. Coming in second in terms of the total medal count was China at 70, then came Great Britain at 67 and Russia at 56.

But the big news there is not just how many medals team USA won, but how few were won by China. That’s a particular issue, since China puts such a state emphasis, that is a government emphasis, upon athletic competition, and especially at the Olympics. Many observers have begun to comment, however, that the very ruthlessness of the Olympic machine in China is a disincentive for many athletes to compete, because at least in the Chinese system if one does not reach the very height of athletic achievement in the Olympics, all is for naught. Russia’s fourth-place showing with 56 total medals is something that is also an anomaly, but that was due at least in part to a doping scandal that invalidated the entire track and field team from Russia and also led to the elimination of many other Russian athletes. In terms of Olympic superpowers, both China and Russia are going to have to change the way they understand this task if they’re going to make any major impact four years from now in the 32nd summer games in Tokyo.

As we have said, the host city of the 31st Olympiad, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, did breathe a sigh of relief because there was no disaster. And furthermore, in historic perspective, the games are going to be considered a great success by Olympic standards. That isn’t to say they’re going to be an economic success, and it’s not to say there were not significant complications and hiccups along the way. But in terms of anything this complicated under such intense media scrutiny with the world watching, Rio has every reason to be relieved and proud of the fact that it was the host of the 31st Olympiad.

As I said the Olympic Games bring out the best and the worst and some of the weirdest in terms of humanity. In terms of the bad in the United States, most of that focus went to Ryan Lochte, a member of the Olympic swim team who, along with two others, became involved in a very controversial series of events that were first presented as being an armed robbery, the robbery of the three swimmers in Rio after they had spent a night out on the town in nightclubs. But a story that began to unravel leading this week to a very celebrity-focused kind of apology coming from Ryan Lochte and news at the end of the week that Olympic swim officials and others in the US Swimming Federation were promising that disciplinary action would be taken against the three swimmers and, in particular, Lochte.

This is one of those stories that sounds like it came out of some kind of ancient Greek fable. Here you have a young man who told his mother a story, he invented a story, to cover bad behavior as he now admits, and his mother went to the media with the news that Ryan Lochte had been the victim of a hold up in Rio. He stood by the story after it broke in the media, but the story almost immediately began to unravel.

From a Christian worldview perspective, here’s something we need to watch. We’re looking at the fact that people really do care what happened, even in an event like this. It isn’t a world shaking event, but in the middle of the Olympics, especially with Brazil’s national prestige on the line and with United States’ honor on the line, the question clearly became, what actually happened at that gas station in Rio? Why is that important? Well, it flies in the face of the kind of relativism that increasingly marks the kind of academic discourse that you hear of on American college campuses, and much of our political conversation as well.

We have people who claim I have my truth, he has his truth, she has her truth, everybody has everybody’s own truth. But the reality is, people really did care what happened. They weren’t going to be satisfied with Ryan Lochte’s truth and the Brazilian gas station attendants’ truth, and they weren’t going to be satisfied with the Brazilian government’s truth and American Olympic officials’ truth. People wanted to know what actually happened.

Another issue from the Christian worldview is that in our modern technocratic age, if you’re going to tell a story like this, you better be careful to make certain that the events were not videotaped. Because increasingly, not only it turns out in major cities such as New York and Washington and London, but even in Rio in a gas station, there’s a video camera that is making a recording. There are contested questions about the video itself, but here’s the point: the existence of the video required a change in the storyline.

The story continues to develop for those who are really interested in it, but my interest comes down to this: the truth still matters and it comes out in terms of even the controversy in conversation about this particular event. What actually happened? People want to know because there is in us an instinct to know the truth. That’s very essential to our criminal justice system; it’s what drives so many of the programs on television about police and investigations and the court system; it’s what drives so much of our human imagination because God made us in his image and we want to know what is just and what is right and what is true. Evidence of that even in one of the lower moments from the 31st Olympiad.

In terms of the weird, it just comes down to this: human beings are the most interesting species on the planet—always have been, always will be. And human behavior demonstrates a couple of things that ought to have our attention. One of them is the fact that we are all deeply embedded in culture, and that means that there are certain cultural expressions that make sense to us. But the second truth is just as important. Some of those cultural expressions don’t quite communicate the way we might intend.

Adam Kilgore, reporting once again for the Washington Post, tells us that yesterday afternoon,

“One of the most bizarre and controversial episodes in amateur wrestling memory unfolded at the end of a 65-kilogram bronze medal match. It began with a shady call that further raised questions about fairness in Olympic wrestling officiating. It ended with Forca Nacional officials escorting two shirtless Mongolian coaches from the mat following a spontaneous strip show.”

According to the story,

“At the end of that bronze medal match between Mongolian Mandakhnaran Ganzorig and Uzbekistan’s Ikhtiyor Navruzov, Ganzorig appeared to have won, 7-6. He hugged his coaches and celebrated for about 10 seconds. Suddenly, apparently because Ganzorig had been docked a point for fleeing in the waning seconds, another point appeared on the board for Navruzov. In wrestling, the competitor who scores the final point of a tie match is the winner, so in a flash,”

The Mongolian wrestler who thought he won actually lost, and the Uzbekistan wrestler who was thought to have lost turned out to have won.

This is where the story gets really interesting. In response, the Mongolian wrestling coaches to show their protest began to disrobe before an international television audience live. In Mongolia, evidently that particular act is a form of well-recognized public protest. But in Brazil, at least in terms of the Olympic venues, it’s a way to get yourself escorted out by the police. Again, the Washington Post described this as one of the most bizarre and controversial episodes in amateur wrestling memory, and it’s likely to continue for some time in that memory.

The "queerest" Olympics ever? The unsettled conscience and uncertain future of LGBT sport

Next, in terms of worldview analysis and moral considerations, we need to go to a headline in a story that ran at the Huffington Post but originated at Outsports. The headline is this:

“Rio Summer Games Go Down As The Queerest Olympics Ever.”

Jim Buzinski writes,

“As the Games wind down this weekend, the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics will go down as the queerest in history, though there is still a lot of work to be done.

“There are a record 53 publicly out gay, lesbian and bisexual Olympians in Rio (there are no openly transgender athletes), which is more than double the number in London in 2012. There are 42 openly lesbian or bi female Olympians and 11 men, both records.”

A couple of interesting things to see here: As we have been looking at the gender issues of the Olympics and the fact that many gender realities shine through and are absolutely undeniable and incontestable, even in an age that says that gender can be separated from biological sex, there is a huge imbalance here which caught the attention of many. Again, just looking at this Outsports report,

“There were 42 openly lesbian or bisexual female Olympians, but only 11 men.”

Even if both are records, you’re looking at the fact that there were almost four times as many women identified as being ‘out’ at the games than men. Another footnote that was very clear in the lede here is that which is included in parentheses. There are no openly transgender athletes at the 31st Olympiad. The key word there is “openly,” because it isn’t at all certain whether there were or were not any transgender athletes. But there were none who were publicly identified, and at least two of those originally included in the larger number asked to be removed because they were not declaring themselves to be out.

Inevitably, when you have an event of this size and this attention, of this magnitude, you’re going to have these issues, the issues of the moral revolution and in particular of the sexual revolution, driven as a central part of the storyline. That’s what we’re seeing writ large across the culture every time there is any kind of major event. In this case it’s a sporting event, but it could be in any other human arena. This storyline, the storyline that fits and drives the sexual revolution, is driven to front-and-center, and that’s exactly what we should expect.

We also should expect the fact that in the coverage of the Rio games and in the public conversation, there was still a very unsettled conscience about many, many issues, and especially when it comes to the distinction between men and women, male and female, in terms of athletic competition. As much as the theorists want to argue and even political leaders now especially in the West and specifically the United States that gender is merely a social construct, it turns out that men and women born as male and female are still quite different.

In terms of the summer Olympiad, the one four years from now in Tokyo is likely to see this issue even more front-and-center. Insiders in terms of Olympic competition expect that there will have to be some very serious deliberations, because there is no way it is expected that when that 32nd Olympiad opens in Tokyo that there will not be at least some publicly declared transgender athletes. How exactly to make that fit, even in terms of the gendered reality of the Olympics, is not at all clear. And so we see once again that even the sexual revolutionaries themselves are not exactly sure how to carry out their revolution.

The gender revolution arrives at the clothing store—but it's still organized male-female

Finally, an article that appeared over the weekend in the Financial Times. As we say often, the Financial Times cares about the money and the markets and the direction of the economy. There are moral issues behind this to be sure and there are huge issues related to the sexual revolution and the continuing relevance of gender. One article that caught my eye over the weekend was by Horatia Harrod. She reports that the issue of boy meets girl and the rise of ungendered clothing is meeting a rather mixed reception. Consider that term, “ungendered clothing.” She writes,

“Fashion has never been a particular respecter of traditional gender categories. For much of the past century girls have happily dressed like boys while boys have experimented — more gingerly — with the cuts and flourishes of womenswear. But when you walk into a clothes shop, the first choice that you make is a simple and binary one: men’s or women’s.”

Now what I want us to see in terms of worldview analysis in that leading paragraph in this news article is that it begins by trying to convince us that gender really doesn’t matter and that over the past century have been all kinds of experiments in non-gendered clothing. But then the lede ends on a thud. It turns out, as she says, that when you actually go into a clothing store, it’s pretty much still divided, very conventionally, between men and women. Once again you see an imbalance.

By the way, the article makes clear even in the lede that it hasn’t been all that controversial for women and girls to borrow from male clothing. But, she says, males have been much more ginger in terms of their experimentation with female clothing, and of course that’s very clear. It’s even clear in this article. It turns out that boys and young men, at least in the main, have very little interest at all in borrowing anything from the world of women’s fashion.

It turns out that a denim clothing manufacturer in Los Angeles named Mother is experimenting with a new collection known as ‘Love Your Other’,

“It is intended to be gender-neutral, with unisex pieces sized to fit men, women, and everyone in between.”

Well, it turns out there’s a biological reality here. If you are claiming that you’re going to be creating a denim line of non-gendered clothing, you’re still going to have to design those denim artifacts to be worn by men or women. It’s really just a labeling change. Embedded in this article is another indication that this revolution isn’t going quite so smoothly as those who are driving it might have intended. There is also a candid admission in this article that the sexual revolutionaries, the gender revolutionaries, are not exactly getting an eager reception on one side of the gender aisle. The article tells us that when one major fashion firm, Zara, brought out what was identified as an un-gendered line earlier this year,

It “ran up against some of the same problems: its hoodies, T-shirts and jeans, in plain cuts and colors, could have been scooped up from the wardrobe of a teenage boy — and a dull one at that.”

What this is telling us is that the ungendered clothing isn’t really ungendered at all. Another admission is an authority in the fashion field quoted in the article who said this:

“Women are generally more adventurous in crossing gender lines.”

The reason behind that is also apparent. When a woman or a girl borrows male clothing, it isn’t necessarily making a statement. But when a boy or a man borrows women’s clothing, it turns out that’s making a statement most men and boys simply aren’t even going to experiment in making.

From a worldview perspective, what’s really interesting is that there are firms that are trying their very best to serve the sexual and gender revolution. It’s just not working, and that’s the admission that gets right to the bottom line. And for Financial newspaper, the bottom line, after all, is what matters most.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing