Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Understanding the Crusades

The Crusades are a poorly understood historical event. They are dragged out and used by anti-Christian bigots as an example of how corrupt Christianity is. Muslims point to the Crusades as an example of Christian persecution of innocent Muslims. Let me explain a few things about the Crusades so you can get a better understanding of what they really were all about.

Shortly after Islam was established, Muslim armies grew in numbers, and broke out of Arabia to conquer vast tracts of land that generally were Christian. Islam spread in North Africa, Spain and Portugal, and the Middle East by military conquest, not by peaceful missionaries building hospitals and orphanages.

The Western Roman Empire had collapsed and former parts of it in North Africa fell like dominoes before the Islamic armies. The Byzantine Empire (the eastern portion of the Roman Empire) was weakening, and had lost much of its territory to the Islamic armies. Although conquering Muslims at first allowed Christians to practice their religion, they became more repressive as time went on. After the conquest of mostly Christian lands, they gradually restricted non-Muslim religious observances and humiliated non-Muslims. They made non-Muslims pay a poll tax and wear a special symbol on their clothes or they had to wear distinctive clothes (similar to Nazi Germany with the Jews).

Unfortunately, Christianity had been weakened by heresies, division between East and West, politics, and other problems. Because Christianity was weak, most Christians in the conquered lands eventually converted to Islam rather than deal with the repression. After the Crusades, Turks continued to spread Islam into Asia Minor (now Turkey) and The Balkans (former Yugoslavia) by military conquest. The Turks eventually made it into Eastern Europe before being defeated in a decisive battle called the Battle of Vienna. The siege itself began in July 14, 1683, and the decisive battle took place on September 12, 1683. The battle marked the turning point in the 300-year struggle between the forces of the Central European kingdoms, and the Ottoman Empire. The legacy of the Turkish conquest of the Balkans is the Muslim population still living in that part of Europe. Eventually Muslims (“The Moors”) were driven out of Spain and Portugal, leaving behind some beautiful architecture.

Aside from the founding of Islam by the Prophet, the defining moment for Islam seems to be the Crusades. Apparently in the Middle East, stories of the Crusades are still told as if they had just happened (according to TV program I saw on the History Channel). The Crusades have had a tremendous impact on Islam, even though they occurred 900 years ago. The Islamic view of the Crusades is that the barbarian Europeans invaded peaceful Islamic lands for no good reason except religious imperialism.

A Geo-Political War

We learned in school that the Crusades were launched to take back the Holy Land from the Muslims, who conquered Jerusalem in 638. That’s not the whole story. There were really four reasons Europeans conducted the Crusades, with the most important reason being Geo-Political.

In 1095, Byzantine Emperor Alexius asked Pope Urban II for help in stopping Islamic expansion. Many Christian lands had been conquered by Muslims over the centuries, and the Byzantine Empire was continuing to lose territory to the Islamic armies (especially to the Turks). The Byzantine Empire (the eastern remnant of the Roman Empire) had been reduced to a shadow of its former glory, and was still losing ground to the Turks. The Europeans believed that if Constantinople fell, the door would be open for the Islamic armies to conquer Europe. In fact, these fears were realized when Constantinople finally fell to the Turks in 1453. The Muslim armies did invade Eastern Europe and made it all the way to the gates of Vienna.

Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire were barriers to the expansionist Turks, so it was in Europe’s best interests to keep them from falling into Turkish hands. The Pope, at that time the most powerful ruler in Europe and very much involved in politics, agreed to help the Byzantine Emperor beat back the Turks. The plan was for the Crusaders to not only stop the Turks, but to retake much of the land the Byzantine Empire had lost to them.

An additional benefit is that the Crusaders would take back lands that were sacred to Christians, especially Jerusalem, where Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead. In addition to protecting Europe and taking back the Holy Land, the Pope hoped to exert more influence on Eastern Christianity, which had split from Western Christianity. So to summarize, below are the four major reasons for launching the Crusades:

1. Maintain Constantinople and what remained of the Byzantine Empire as a barrier to a Turkish invasion of Europe. This was the geo-political reason – protect Europe.

2. Take back some strategic cities and other lands that had been taken by force by the Turks. This was the strategic reason.

3. Take back Jerusalem and other places sacred to Christians. This was the religious reason.

4. Provide an opportunity for the Pope to exert influence in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. It had separated itself from western (Roman Catholic) Christianity over theological differences and the pope’s attempt to exert authority over all Christendom. This was the political reason for the Crusades.

To give an incentive for people to join, the Pope declared the Crusades to be a Holy War, and anybody who participated in it would go to heaven, guaranteed (sounds a lot like jihad). While the Crusades did seem to have valid geopolitical purposes, Muslims and others don’t see it that way. Moreover, any valid reasons for the Crusades are overshadowed by the atrocities committed by the Crusaders. There were atrocities on both sides, but the Crusaders had launched the invasion in the name of God and should not have harmed civilians.

Today many feel it was inappropriate for a major leader of a religion that preaches “peace on earth and goodwill towards men” and “turn the other cheek” to launch an invasion of sovereign lands. We have to remember, however, that at that time the pope was not only a religious leader but a political leader. As such, he was involved in secular affairs. He controlled much of Italy via the Papal States.

Religious Conflict

The Crusades are viewed by Muslims as a religious conflict between Christianity and Islam. Today, Muslims still view Christianity as its enemy, which has a Crusader mentality by wanting to overrun Muslim lands if given the opportunity. The most severe persecution against Christians, even indigenous Christians, takes place in Islamic lands. Free practice of any non-Muslim religion is forbidden in many Islamic countries, and there are ongoing atrocities against Christians in such countries as Indonesia and Sudan.

While Westerners might view any struggles with the Islamic world in terms of clash of cultures, Muslims don’t make any such distinction. State, culture, and religion and all mixed together to them: there is no separation. So to the Muslims, this is a war of religions, even if the West doesn’t see it that way. Europe is in the post-Christian era, but the Muslims still see Europe as fundamentally Christian (in heritage, if not practice).

As we continue to export our culture, which many Muslims find offensive, the Muslims see that as an invasion no less frightening than the physical invasion by the Crusaders. They see our culture as a corrupting influence on young Muslims.

Now that we have troops in the Middle East, many Muslims see that as an invasion of their sovereign territory by armed force not unlike the Crusades. They believe that once the camel gets his nose into the tent, the whole animal is sure to follow. They also view corrupt regimes in Islamic countries as an affront (especially those who are friendly to the West – traitors to Islam). The extremists are fighting to overthrow those governments and establish Islamic caliphates in their place.

Finally, most Muslims (at least in the Middle East) view the establishment of Israel as an outrage, but that is relatively minor compared to the other factors I just mentioned. The West could do away with Israel tomorrow, and nothing would change, so certain experts have claimed. The terrorists are fanatics not following the more peaceful commands of their religion. The Qur’an calls for moderation in war, following certain rules of engagement and to not harm civilians. The terrorists ignore those commands, and focus on the more violent Qur’anic verses. We must never abandon Israel, and must never appease the terrorists.

Even if it means violating some of the moral commands in the Qur’an, they believe they are beating back the modern-day Crusaders and protecting Islam from the corrupting influence of “infidel” religions and cultures. To them, the ends justify the means if it will result in the defeat of the evil Western societies, the fall of corrupt regimes in Muslim countries, and the establishment of Islamic caliphates throughout the world.

Fundamentalists

Often the terrorists are mislabeled as “fundamentalists.” From what I’ve read, the terrorists are not fundamentalists in the sense of being devout followers of Islam, following a more conservative theology. I believe, rather, that the terrorists are cultural and religious imperialists, not because of any theological reasons, but because they feel their way is superior (religion, culture, law) to Christianity and Judaism, and to forms of Islam different from theirs. The terrorists who hijacked the airplanes in 9/11 are said to have broken many of the rules of Islam during their stay in the US. That doesn’t sound like fundamentalism to me.

Conclusion

It is important to know your enemy. Sad to say, the radical Muslims view us (the West) as the enemy, and will settle for nothing less than Islamic control over Western nations. Typically Westerners are naïve when it comes to enemies they don’t know or understand. “If we just dialog with them…” or “if we just give them what they want…” (like offering up Israel to placate them) Chamberlain took an appeasement approach with Hitler, and it led to the conquest of most of Europe by the Nazis. Appeasement doesn’t work, especially when you are dealing with fanatics whose sole reason for being is terrorism, conquest, violence, and power. Simplistic and naïve solutions won’t work because you are dealing with fanatics:
-whose lives are devoted to destruction of the western way of life,
-who are coming from a position that God is on their side,
-who keep looking back to history to justify their aggression, and
-who are convinced their way is far superior.

That is a dangerous combination. Hopefully this overview helped you gain some kind of understanding of the Crusades and why they were fought. I hope this brief overview gives you some insight as to where Muslims are coming from. If they are viewing this as a religious struggle, then doesn’t it make sense for us in the West to repent and turn to God for help? 2 Chronicles 7:14 tells us:

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” NRSV

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Understanding Islam

Since we in the West are one of the targets for terrorist acts perpetrated by Muslims, we should understand these adversaries. Moreover, there are a lot of statements made about Islam that are questionable. I’m not an expert in Islam but I do know some things about it. Let me share with you some thoughts that might help you separate fact from fiction.

Nature of Islam

We should understand the nature of Islam in that it is both a religion and a culture. In predominantly Muslim countries the religion and the culture are so intertwined that they are inseparable. Of course the culture is heavily influenced by the religion. The terrorists aren’t particularly devout or religious in that they break a number of commands in the Qur’an by their terrorist activities. The goal of the terrorists is to establish an Islamic caliphate that would have an Islamic culture and be governed by harsh Sharia law, with the Islamic religion at its core.

What do we make of those who say we aren’t at war with Islam? My response to that statement is that we may not be at war with the religion, but we are certainly at war with those who are dedicated to imposing their culture and religion on the rest of us, replacing western culture and religions with their own repressive and often cruel brand of Islam.

Support and Approval

How many Muslims really support or approve of Islamic terrorist activities? I think we can answer that question by looking at the different segments of Islamic society:

(1) The Terrorists. These are the hard-core radicals who plan and carry out violent acts of terrorism. They do these acts against non-Muslims (mostly Christians and countries with a Christian heritage) and even against their fellow Muslims who are of a different sect (Shia vs. Sunni) or who practice their religion differently from the terrorists.

Terrorists are relatively small in number but are fanatical and willing to die for their cause.

(2) Those Who Approve. There are those Muslims who do not carry out acts of terrorism but approve of those who do, believing the terrorists are doing the will of Allah. Some of these sympathizers, mostly young men, become radicalized after listening to terrorist propaganda and may idolize ISIS or some other group of radicals. Many of these come from Europe and the U.S. where they have enjoyed the freedoms they are now trying to take away from the rest of us. For the life of me I can’t understand why these people, who have experienced such freedom, want to install repressive regimes.

(3) The Silent Majority. The vast majority of Muslims do not support terrorist activities, I suspect. Most of the radicals come out of the Middle East. Meanwhile, large numbers of Muslims live peaceably (for the most part) in India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, and parts of Africa. The Silent Majority doesn’t speak up either because of fear, apathy, or they’re neutral on the subject of Islamic terrorism.

As long as the Muslim Silent Majority remains silent and Muslim countries tolerate terrorist acts, the terrorists will continue to kill Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Moderate Muslim countries must take action to put an end to terrorism or they will eventually fall. They can’t rely on the US or NATO to do their job.

What Does The Qur’an Say?

The Qur’an, their holy scriptures, says that Christians and Jews should be treated with respect. Why aren’t we seeing this respect? Unfortunately the Qur’an is somewhat double-minded in its treatment of Jews and Christians. On one hand, it portrays Jews and Christians as “People of the Book” who are to be respected, and on the other hand they are evil infidels to be conquered and even done away with. The Quran distinguishes between People of the Book and “pagans.” It considers People of the Book to be people of God, as opposed to the pagans, who worship idols.

“Behold! Those who have faith, and those who are Jews, and Christians and Sabians – those who trust in God and the Last Day, and do what is righteous, they shall have their reward; no fear shall come upon them, neither shall they grieve.” (Sura 2:62; 5:69)

In another part of the Qur’an, Judaism and Christianity are shown as corrupted. Mohammad said:

“Had the followers of the scriptures accepted Islam, it would surely have been better for them… Ignominy shall attend them wherever they are found, unless they make a covenant with Allah or with man. They have incurred the wrath of Allah and have been utterly humbled: because they disbelieved his revelations and slew his prophets unjustly; and because they were rebels and transgressors. Yet they are not all alike. There are among the followers of the scriptures some upright men who all night long recite the revelations of Allah and worship him…” (Sura 3:106 ff)

Despite what the Quran says about Jews and Christians in one part of the book, it condemns them as “unbelievers” in another part:

For the Unbelievers are unto you open enemies. (Sura 4:101)

Believers, take neither Jews nor Christians for your friends and protectors: they are but friends and protectors to each other. Whoever of you seeks their friendship shall become one of their number. (Sura 5:51)

Fight those who believe not in God nor the last day, nor hold that forbidden by God and his apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the (poll tax) with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. (Sura 5:29)

Terrorists and their supporters use passages which command them to fight “unbelievers” to justify their violent actions, even though they go against more peaceful commands in the Qur’an.

Fight in the cause of Allah those who fight you… and slay them wherever you catch them... and fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah. (Sura 2:190-193)

And if ye are slain or die in the way of Allah, forgiveness and mercy from Allah are far better than all they could amass. (Sura 3:157)

Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war). (Sura 9:5)

Hopefully this post will give you some insight into the world of Islam.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Middle Eastern Refugee Dilemma

Thousands of people are fleeing Syria and other Middle Eastern countries because of the fighting and bombing taking place. They aren’t migrating to Europe for economic reasons, but to save their lives. Most of these refugees are Muslim.

At the same time, Islamic terrorists are attacking Europe and planning more attacks if their propaganda is to be believed. This creates a dilemma for European countries and the U.S. From a practical point of view, we should ask these questions:

-How can we expect a country absorb so many people so quickly, people who don’t speak the language, and are culturally different?

-How can we find jobs for so many people?

-How will medical facilities and social services cope with such an influx?

While these are important considerations, the main sticking point is that Western countries will be welcoming people who are affiliated with a religion and culture that are hostile to Western culture and the Christian religion. What might happen if we let these people in?

-Terrorists may sneak into a country posing as refugees.

-Some of the refugees may become radicalized as has happened to other Muslims in the West.

-It’s impossible to check the backgrounds of these refugees because the countries they are leaving are in chaos.

So the dilemma is: do we show our compassion for these people who are fleeing for their lives, or do we make safety and security our main concern and don’t risk problems by letting the refugees into our countries?

The Western countries are generally compassionate as a result of our Judeo-Christian ethic. On the other hand, the first priority of any government is the safety and security of its citizens.

Another consideration is this: why don’t the oil-rich Middle Eastern countries take in many of these refugees? Language is the same, culture is the same, religion is the same. The refugees could be more easily absorbed into those societies than into the West. Where’s Saudi Arabia in all this? They have billions of dollars from oil revenue and they can’t take care of their fellow Muslims?! They leave it up to us.

Write your governor, senator, and congressman with your position on the matter so they can make decisions based on the will of the people. Pray that they’ll make the right decision, whatever that may be. Pray for the safety of the people, and pray that Western intelligence services uncover and thwart all planned terrorist plans. Finally, pray for President Obama and Congress, that they will act firmly and decisively to defeat those groups who want to harm us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

More Thoughts on Terrorism

We Are at War

The western nations were rightfully outraged when the terrorists struck Paris in January 2015. They were even more outraged by this most recent attack, on November 13, 2015.The President of France called this aggression “war”, and that’s what it is. Unfortunately some western leaders, most notably President Obama, refuse to accept that reality. ISIS and other Islamic fanatics know they are at war with the West, but despite numerous attacks on innocent civilians, the West doesn’t get it. Don’t these leaders know they are putting their people at severe risk? Have we lost the will to fight for our survival as a nation and for security for future generations? Do we really want to live under Sharia law?

What about Israel?

While everyone is rightfully outraged by these latest attacks in France, where’s the outrage when Israel is attacked? With Islamic militants shooting 11,000 rockets from Gaza into Israel since 2005 and 4,000 rockets from Lebanon in 2006 alone, where’s the outrage? With the Arab militants constantly breaking the cease-fire agreement they signed with Israel, where’s the outrage?

The outrage comes when Israel eventually retaliates and bombs Palestinian strongholds in an attempt to stop the rockets and protect its citizens. All of a sudden the world jumps all over Israel for bombing poor, innocent Gaza. How many countries would tolerate continuous rocket attacks like Israel has had to endure? Yet the Europeans and U.S. liberals are quick to condemn Israel for doing what any country would do: try to protect its citizens. Talking doesn’t do any good, treaties are useless, so Israel must resort to military options. Can you blame them?

When Israel does retaliate, the liberal press condemns Israel for killing civilians. Meanwhile, where are the Palestinian rockets aimed? At population centers, in an attempt to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible. If the press criticizes Israel for killing Palestinian civilians, they should criticize the Palestinians for using human shields, and for using hospitals and schools for their operations, guaranteeing there will be civilian casualties.

To show how naïve Obama is, he’s signed a terrible treaty with Iran that benefits them and we get very little. You can be sure Iran will break the treaty as soon as it’s convenient for them to do so.

In the U.S. next November, we will have to opportunity to vote in a new President and various senators and representatives. We must pick a President who is a leader, isn’t naïve, is willing to stand up to ISIS, and is a strategic thinker. Too bad Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t available.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Another Attack

Once again there has been a major terrorist attack, this time in Paris again. It appears that ISIS is responsible. As ISIS gains strength and other terrorist groups get bolder, the world must stand up and seriously deal with this ongoing threat.

What can we do? Plenty. I’m no expert but I believe western countries could do the following at a minimum to defeat those who seek to destroy us.

Commit

The Allies defeated the Axis powers in World War II because they were fully committed. The U.S. was on a war footing, with much of our resources devoted to the war effort. Failure was not an option.

While the nature of today’s war is different from WWII, there is no less need for total commitment. The weapons of today can be very destructive. Think of cyber warfare as an example. The allies must use all weapons at their disposal, including propaganda, cyber, and military.

Unite

The Allies defeated the Axis powers in World War II because they were united in their resolve to defeat the enemy. The U.S. provided supplies and equipment to its allies. For example, Studebaker trucks by the thousands were sent to Russia, which made huge difference in its ability to transport goods and troops to the front. It’s said that those trucks were a significant factor in defeating the Nazis. With Russia as an ally, both the U.S. and Russia can redirect resources to fighting the war on terrorism.

If we are to win the war against Islamic terrorism, Russia must become our ally, similar to what happened in WWII. I don’t know what it will take to do that, but I would hope that Putin would realize that it’s in his best interest to share intelligence data with other countries for the good of Russia as well as the whole alliance. Russia must get over its historic mistrust of the West.

Destroy

The Allies defeated the Axis powers in World War II because there were no restraints put on the military. In Vietnam, for example, the military was forbidden to go certain places and do certain things, and I’ve read where there were similar restrictions put in place in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you’re going to fight a war, do it right.

In the case of Islamic terrorism, the allies must fight to win, meaning the total destruction of ISIS and other terrorist organizations, including destruction of training camps. Why these training camps aren’t bombed is a mystery to me. We must know where they are. Why can’t we destroy them?

People suspected of terrorist ties or for whom there is evidence of radicalization, should be deported and never allowed back into the country. This includes those who have traveled to certain countries where terrorist training takes place. International borders must be made more secure. It might be a good idea to restrict the free flow of people across borders in the European Community for the time being.

Conclusion

As long as there are Hitlers in the world and there are movements like Islamic jihad there will be conflict. Distasteful and repugnant as war is, our survival as a free country is at stake. Israel’s enemies want to totally destroy it (“push it into the sea”). Now the west is faced with a similar threat: destruction of our way of life, living instead in a harsh caliphate sunder sharia law.

Unconventional wars such as the war against terrorism are difficult to fight in a free society. Moreover, many of our enemies are within, even citizens of our country (such as France and England especially) Our freedom and openness make us vulnerable. So does our compassionate nature. Look at what the Europeans are doing: letting in thousands of refugees from Syria and other Islamic countries. Once those refugees get settled, sleeper cells will be established and they will carry out terrorist attacks. But the west’s Judeo-Christian ethic dictates that we show compassion and help these refugees, many of them fleeing for their lives.

We hear talk of “the war on terrorism” but are we really fighting against those who seek to dominate us? Have we become so complacent that we no longer have the will to fight, and will we, like ancient Rome, fall to the barbarians at our door?

Not only should we do what I wrote above, but most importantly we must turn back to the God who has blessed us as a nation. The jihadists are fighting us in the name of their god, so shouldn’t we seek the help of our God? If we don’t return to the faith of our fathers, then I don’t know what will become of us. One thing I do know, and that is, it won’t be pretty.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Armageddon?

Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon. Revelation 16:16 (NIV)

There’s always been an interest in the End Times, especially when there are movies and popular books available that contain fictionalized portrayals of those events. Just like we want to know how we got here, we also have a desire to know how it all will end. I remember back in the 1970s and 1980s that whenever there was trouble in the Middle East, people would say, “Armageddon.” It was sort of a knee-jerk reaction.

Today, I’m beginning to think that Armageddon may not be too far in the future. Obviously a number of things must happen first according to the Book of Revelation and other apocryphal books of the Bible. Nevertheless, with Russia now involved militarily in Syria, and ISIS a factor, an Armageddon-like battle doesn’t seem so remote any more. We could see the End Times play out in our lifetime. Are you prepared?

My advice is to grow closer to God by weekly worship, daily prayer, reading your Bible and maybe even attending a Bible study. If you are interested in the End Times, get a book on the subject by a reputable Christian author. Those who have a personal relationship with God have nothing to fear from the End Times. Indeed the End Times will usher in a whole new era, with a new heaven and a new earth. I’m looking forward to it. Are you? Read this description from the Book of Revelation:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”

Revelation 21:1-4 (NRSV)

Friday, October 9, 2015

Head for the Hills!

There are people who plan for catastrophes by keeping stocks of food and water. They are called survivalists, because they plan to survive any disaster that may result in disruption of the supply chain. There are any number of possible disasters of that nature, such as trucker strikes, massive crop failures, widespread power outages, communications systems shut down, oil shortages, and a host of other calamities. These can be man-made (such as strikes) or natural (such as solar flares disrupting communications and frying electronics over a wide area).

These risks have been with us for a long time, but there’s a new risk which is difficult to defend against. I’m talking about a cyberattack. As I understand it, the technology exists to disrupt electronic communications, bring down the power grid, and shut down much of the electronic activity of a country. When Russia attacked Georgia a few years back, they shut down Georgia’s electronic communications in a cyberattack.

I’m not an alarmist, but I think these are real threats. I’m especially worried about North Korea and ISIS. The leadership of North Korea is unstable, and ISIS consists of fanatics. Moreover ISIS is well-funded and is sophisticated when it comes to communications. From what the experts say, the U.S. is woefully unprepared to weather a cyberattack. The world is a dangerous place, with technology allowing countries or movements to do all kinds of damage that was unheard of just a few years ago.

So what can we do? We can and should pray for our country to be protected from such devastating attacks. Rather than turning our backs on God we should be seeking his protection and drawing closer to him. We should also stock up on non-perishable foods like MREs, freeze dried foods, and canned goods. Rotate your stock because these items only last for a limited time (MREs last about 5 years).