June 6, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, June 6, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Coming to grips with "Islamist" threat to Western liberalism in aftermath of London terror attacks
What we have known thus far about the pattern of terror attacks in the modern age is troubling enough. But what we learned in the last 24 hours is a good deal more troubling. Going back to what took place in the terror attacks in London over the weekend, media reports there in Great Britain are indicating now not only the scale of the problem is far larger than had been admitted before—you’ll recall that yesterday we discussed the fact that British authorities are now indicating that there may be more than 23,000 individuals that are linked to jihadists groups within the country—but we also now know that at least one of the men involved in the terror attack over the weekend was not only known to police and military intelligence, he had actually in 2016 appeared in a documentary on British television’s channel 4 in which he indicated by his presence and by the word spoken on the documentary that he was indeed intending to be a part of jihad against Britain and the West.
The Financial Times, one most respected newspapers in the world, reported the story yesterday this way,Show Full Transcript
“Khuram Butt, one of the three men who attacked London Bridge on Saturday, was a known member of a British extremist Islamist group, a revelation that raises questions about how the security services monitor potential threats. Six of his neighbours in Barking, east London, identified the 27-year-old Pakistan-born British citizen as an extremist who was filmed praying in front of a black Islamist flag in Regent’s Park in 2015.”
So the filming took place in 2015, the documentary was aired in 2016, and the terror attacks as we now tragically know took place in June 2017. Just connect the dots. Now of course it’s infinitely easier to connect the dots in retrospect than it is looking forward, but nonetheless that is the purpose for which you have military intelligence and other services that are supposed to be tracking those who are at least known to authorities as potential threats. But of course we’re not now talking about a potential threat. We’re talking about an all too actual threat, an actual attack that took several lives in Great Britain and has left many others in critical condition and injured and has left a nation in trauma. What’s going on here? Well this is where the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board got it exactly right yesterday when they said this presents free Western nations with an enormous challenge, a challenge that gets right to the identity of what it means to be free, and what it means to be democratic, and what it means to be Western.
As the editors of the Journal wrote yesterday,
“Saturday’s terror attack in the heart of London, Britain’s third murderous assault in 72 days, poses a difficult choice for free societies: Do more to contain this internal Islamist insurgency now, or risk a political backlash that will result in even more draconian limits on civil liberties.”
That is exactly the issue. That is the very brutal choice that is faced by Western democracies. There is something at least very clarifying and for that matter true that is taking place in a change in the conversation on both sides of the Atlantic in the English-speaking world. We have noticed this both in the United States and in Great Britain. To what do I refer? I refer to the fact that the word Islamist is now becoming rather routine and necessary in terms of these reports. Here are some significant examples: most importantly in the last 72 hours, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has begun referring to Islamists, terrorist organizations, networks, and cells. She had previously even as the nation’s home secretary before becoming prime minister rather studiously avoided tying the word Islam in any way to the terror threat.
Next, I want to go back to that article I cited from yesterday’s edition of the Financial Times, and I want to notice just how complex was the vocabulary used to identify this network in the first sentence. We are told that Khuram Butt was “a known member of a British extremist Islamist group.”
Now notice all the words they chose to use there: “British extremist Islamist group.”
There had been the effort to try to say extremist or terrorist without using any kind of official linkage to Islam in any way. You’ll also note that the word being used here is not Islamic, but rather Islamist. That’s a distinction that is basically very important now to many in the Western media between Islam the religion and Islamic ideology, which is Islamist. So the distinction between Islamic and Islamist is a very important distinction in terms of many in the media. But still what’s most important is that it is becoming virtually impossible not at least to use a word like Islamist in terms of the terror attacks that have taken place in Great Britain. Because not only is it evident that that is the ideology behind the attack and the attackers, it’s also clear that that’s the message that the attackers are themselves trying to send.
Speaking yesterday, the British Prime Minister said that there was clearly too much tolerance for extremism in terms of British society. But that gets to the big question: just what is Britain willing to change in order to address this? This gets back to that fundamentally difficult choice that was addressed honestly by the editors of the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Western societies are going to have to make a choice as to whether or not they are going to address this threat directly and do so now by changing laws in order to make it possible, or they are going to face a population that will demand even more, to use the phrase in the Wall Street Journal, “draconian” measures in the future.
Western societies privileging and respecting freedom, freedoms including the freedom of speech and the freedom of assembly and the freedom of religion, all of these freedoms take place within a context that makes it far more difficult for police and intelligence services to maintain any kind of knowledge or for that matter observation or control. It makes it all the more difficult for government and police and military intelligence to prevent the kind of attacks that so sadly took place repeatedly now just in the last several weeks in the United Kingdom. But that also reminds us that just as the editors of the Wall Street Journal pointed out that this is a choice. It’s a brutal, fundamental choice. It’s not a choice we’ve chosen. It’s a choice that has been chosen for us by others.
What we have to recognize is that one way or another, there will be an answering in terms of this balance, and there’s going to be some kind of rebalancing. This also helps us from a Christian worldview to remember the fact that there is a necessary precursor, a necessary prerequisite to the kind of liberties that we enjoy, and that is a basic level of security and stability. That’s not just true of Western democracies. It’s true throughout human history. There can be no ongoing respect for liberties if there is not an adequate level of security and safety within a society.
So just to sum up what we’ve learned in the last 24 hours, we’ve learned that at least one of the main individuals believed to have been involved in the terror attacks in London was not only known to police and intelligence authorities there, but had made his ambitions known by appearing in a documentary there just last year. We also know that there has been a change in the vocabulary, one that now reflects the situation far more truthfully and accurately than just a few days ago, and we also know that, just as the editors of the Wall Street Journal pointed out, Western societies do face a fundamental choice. One way or another, it’s a choice that cannot be long avoided.
Where are Europe's armies? The dangers inherent to the decline of military power in Europe
All this is also tied to the next story, and it’s also from the Wall Street Journal; this time from the weekend edition, a headline on the front page,
“Europe Reckons With Its Depleted Armies.”
It’s a really interesting article. An entire team of reporters for the Wall Street Journal tell us, and I quote,
“Soldiers in Germany’s Light Infantry Battalion 413 near the Baltic Sea coast complained last year that they didn’t have enough sniper rifles or antitank weapons or the right kind of vehicles. During exercises, they told a parliamentary ombudsman, their unit didn’t have the munitions to simulate battle. Instead, they were told to imagine the bangs.”
This article comes in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s visit, where he accused many other Western nations, particularly European nations, of not carrying their own weight in terms of national defense. But as the Wall Street Journal points out in the aftermath of the European outrage at what President Trump said, there’s a basic, almost universal admission, as the Journal said that,
“Europe lacks the capabilities to defend itself.”
In the aftermath of the controversy, the Dutch Prime Minister said simply,
“To an extent, he has a point.”
Indeed, he has a massive point. We’ve been tracking on The Briefing what many others have noted, and that is the effective disarmament of much of Europe. And this came not only with the end of the Cold War, but it also came as Western nations were not foreseeing the kinds of actual threats that they have faced now not only in the last, say, five or six years, but for at least the last two decades. The European nations have been very, very slow to respond, and the documentation is pretty shocking. The reporters for the Journal tell us,
“Europeans have tried for decades to more efficiently build military hardware and organize troops. That effort is littered with failures, delays and compromises. Today European allies spend roughly half as much as the U.S. on defense yet have less than one-sixth of its combat power.”
Even as Vladimir Putin and Russia pose a direct threat to many nations there on Russia’s western border, we are told that these nations are spectacularly unready for any kind of armed military conflict, which has of course opened the opportunity for Russia even wider. Here are some of the stats from the Wall Street Journal:
Germany has been “cutting tank numbers, from a Cold War peak of 2,125 Leopard 2 battle tanks to a force as of last fall of only 244, of which just over half were ready for action.”
So that’s a cut from 2,125 to 244, only half of which work. The Journal then tells us that,
“The dearth extends beyond tanks. Last year, only around nine of Germany’s 48 NH-90 transport helicopters and 40 of its 123 Eurofighter jets were usable at any given time.”
Now at this juncture, let’s just remind ourselves that this is Germany, a nation that prides itself perhaps above all in terms of efficiency. And it’s not just Germany. As the Journal tells us,
“Stories of shortages abound …. Britain’s storied Royal Navy is without a single aircraft carrier while it awaits the delivery of two carriers. When the HMS Queen Elizabeth sets sail in 2021, it may initially carry U.S. Marine Corps F-35B fighter planes while Britain builds up its own fleet.”
So the British Navy that once proudly ruled the seas now has not a single battle ship or aircraft carrier, and the first aircraft carrier that might come to the fleet will come no earlier than 2021. And at that point it’s not even going to feature British planes, but is instead going to have to borrow American planes while, as the Journal says, it builds up its fleet. Europe depends, by the way, on American tanks and American infantry in terms of actual military power there in Western Europe, but it’s also interesting to note that the Europeans do not allow the U.S. military to drive their tanks on the highways because they are too heavy. Nor is there the rail capacity, which means at this point the tanks are not where they need to be and certainly would not quickly be where they need to be in case of emergency.
All this in terms of the Christian worldview should underline what is perhaps counterintuitive but undeniably true. A nation does not build up its military necessarily to use it, but as is the case with Western democracies, they build up their militaries in order that they do not have to use them. Many of the problems these very democracies now face in the world would have been far more difficult in terms of their emergence had there not been the opportunity that was presented to them by the effective disarming of these European countries. The Journal makes the point that many of these countries and NATO, of which they are commonly a part, now recognize it is a problem. But one of the scariest things is, it’s not a problem that can be quickly remedied. Perhaps we can understand why Vladimir Putin and others see the opportunity when we are told that a German light infantry battalion is having to say “bang! bang!” to one another because they actually don’t have bullets.
Former KY Gov. Beshear wants to be seen on "right" side of gay marriage, but history isn't cooperating
Next, we shift back to the United States. Indeed, we shift to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The former governor of this state, Steve Beshear—he was governor from 2007 to 2015—has written a book, a political memoir in effect. It’s entitled,
“People Over Politics”
But what makes this story really interesting is what it tells us about how many Democrats and others on the left are going to have to redefine themselves and try to reinterpret their legacy on the issue of same-sex marriage. Steve Beshear was basically off the national radar until national controversy over ObamaCare or the Affordable Care Act. At that point he became rather famous as a Democratic governor that was extremely supportive of the ObamaCare Act. But the real issue in terms of this book, the issue of my interest, comes down not to the issue of health insurance but rather to same-sex marriage. This is what’s really interesting because in this book, you see the recasting of a narrative in a way that we’re going to see over and over again. It’s extremely interesting and revealing.
In the book the former governor points to March 4, 2014. He says it was a disconcerting moment. Indeed, he says, that’s an understatement. He begins the chapter by saying that at one time the political left was singing his praises as the defiant governor who had ignored his state’s dislike of President Obama and boldly embraced and implemented healthcare reform, the president’s most visible and controversial initiative, he says. But at just about the same time, meanwhile, those on the right, he says, “a group with whom I had disagreed on almost every single issue and for years had vilified me and all I stood for, suddenly was holding me up as the heroic defender of their beliefs and ideals.” He says to describe March 4, 2014 is disconcerting. He says again, that’s an understatement. But listen to his words,
“That was the day I announced Kentucky’s appeal of a federal judge’s decision that threw out the Kentucky Constitution’s ban on gay marriage. That was the day I isolated my personal feelings and embarked on a lonely path that in the eyes of some tarnished my legacy of progressive leadership, but it was also the day that set in motion events that would bring clarity to one of the most contentious issues of our time.”
So what’s going on here? Well, it was the day that Governor Beshear, basically acting independently of the state’s attorney general, personally sought legal representation for Kentucky to challenge a federal judge’s decision striking down the state’s constitutional amendment limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman. Just listen to the governor as he writes,
“I saw that contention firsthand. In my entire eight years as governor, no single social issue was more politically or morally sensitive than that of same-sex marriage. Not surprisingly,” he wrote, “there was also no issue on which my views and actions were more mischaracterized, misinterpreted, and misunderstood.”
Well, I’ll simply interject at that point, the man responsible for the mischaracterization, misinterpretation, and misunderstandings was none other than the former governor. He concedes that basically in the next sentence when he writes,
“Now I share the blame for that confusion for a number of reasons. First,” he says, “I played my proverbial cards close to my chest,” he says. “Even as the media questioned me almost daily about my personal views on the subject of gay marriage, I declined to answer. This issue wasn’t about Steve Beshear, I told them, it was much bigger. My own views on same-sex marriage weren’t important,”
“What was important was getting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court that would bring clarity and finality to this issue. My decision not to talk about the issue on that personal level left others to assume they knew my motivation.”
Now let’s just take that at face value and move on. He writes,
“The second reason for the misunderstanding was that my views on the subject had greatly evolved over time, much like those of this nation as a whole.”
Well, now you see where this is going. In the first place, the former governor tells us that even though on behalf of the state of Kentucky he sued to protect Kentucky’s constitutional amendment and spoke not a word against it, he says we should now know that he was actually for same-sex marriage. He was just believing that the Supreme Court needed to act on the issue. But we’re also told that if we did know what Steve Beshear actually personally believed about same-sex marriage, that would depend in terms of his own words on when we asked him.
The former governor himself places it in a political context when he says that when he was growing up this was simply not an issue that was discussed. Well, that’s quite obvious. But then he says that as recently as 1996, the number of persons in America who approved the same-sex marriage was only 27%. He says,
“If you went back further into the 50s and 60s when I was growing up, that number was probably in the single digits if not close to 0%.”
Well, again, of course, the issue wasn’t even discussed. Continuing later in the chapter, the former governor writes,
“When I first ran for governor in 2007 and I was facing questions on the campaign trail, I still wasn’t sure where I stood.”
On the next page he very candidly says,
“In fact when I was asked whether I had voted for the ban on same-sex marriages in 2004, I conceded that I had but that was then.”
He says that his position evolved and continued to evolve and,
“Whereas my conviction was slow to form, it nevertheless formed in a solid way. I came to believe the government was wrong to dictate that only mixed sex couples could marry. Rather if two people love each other, be they male and female, male and male, or female and females, they ought to have the right to enter into such a relationship and that relationship should be recognized for legal purposes.”
In the most amazing sentences in the entire chapter, the former governor writes,
“The bottom line is that today same-sex couples across Kentucky can finally both marry and have their out-of-state marriages recognized in this state. I’m proud that Kentucky played such an important role in getting this matter settled across the country, and I believe it was settled in the right way.”
That’s simply stunning. Here you have the former governor pointing to the fact that on behalf of Kentucky, he entered into a federal lawsuit that he lost, and he says that all the time he was hoping he would. And then it’s bizarre beyond words that all of a sudden you have him saying that he’s proud of Kentucky for playing such a role in terms of the Obergefell decision. In terms of the verdict of history on this issue, it’s clear that what we see here from former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear won’t be limited to Kentucky. This is the kind of story we’re going to see in terms of revisionist biography over and over again.
Miracle at Midway: 75 years ago, America routed the Japanese navy, turning the tide in the Pacific War
Finally we need to note that this week marks the 75th anniversary of one of the most significant events in all of naval history in 1942: the Battle of Midway. What’s most important about this battle is that it came just six months after the Japanese sneak attack upon Pearl Harbor. Just six months later, the United States Navy largely defeated the Japanese Navy by turning the tables, and the fact that it did so within just six months is one of the most amazing stories of military history.
In the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor, the task force included six aircraft carriers, but only four of the biggest of the so-called flat tops. Admiral Yamamoto, the leader of the Japanese Navy, wanted to strike what he considered to be a final knockout blow against the American Navy by luring it into a battle in terms of the Midway Islands in the remote North Pacific.
But U.S. Naval intelligence, having intercepted and broken the Japanese code, actually knew where the Japanese Navy was headed and knew that they were trying to lure the Americans into a trap. The United States Navy under Admirals Chester Nimitz, Frank Jack Fletcher, and Raymond A. Spruance, well, they took decisive action, and rather than the Japanese surprising the American Navy, it was the U.S. Navy that surprised the Japanese forces. By the end of the battle all four of the Japanese biggest flat-tops, the Akagi, the Kaga, the Sōryū, and the Hiryū, were destroyed at the bottom of the Pacific.
John Keegan, one of the most respected military historians in the 20th century, referred to the battle as “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”
It was an extremely brave United States Navy battered beyond words by the attack upon Pearl Harbor that acted in such a decisive way. It was Navy aviators who made the decisive difference. Fewer and fewer of those battle veterans are alive today, but our indebtedness still goes to the United States Navy and what took place in the Battle of Midway 75 years ago this week.
In light of this and understanding our nation’s story, I want to recommend a book, and that is “Miracle at Midway” by Gordon Prange. It’s still available often in terms of just used book availability. But I also want to recommend watching a movie together as a family, if not as a family then perhaps fathers and sons. The movie is Midway. It was released in 1976. It starred Charlton Heston, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford, and James Coburn amongst others. It tells this story in an undeniably vivid and dramatic way, and it’s a story that needs to be told.