Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Terrorist Attacks – Not the New Normal

With terrorist attacks occurring with some frequency, it is easy to slip into a fatalistic mentality which views them as the “new normal”. The excerpt below talks about that frequency:

Yet, the fact remains that there have been at least 60 Islamist-inspired terrorist plots against the homeland since 9/11, illustrating the continued threat of terrorism against the United States. Fifty-three of these plots were thwarted long before the public was ever in danger, due in large part to the concerted efforts of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence.
The Heritage Foundation has tracked the foiled terrorist plots against the United States since 9/11 in an effort to study the evolving nature of the threat and garner lessons learned. The best way to protect the United States from the continued threat of terrorism is to ensure a strong and capable domestic counterterrorism enterprise—and to understand the continuing nature of the terror threat.
The bombings in Boston are not likely to be the last such attempt to attack the U.S. as a whole. Now is not the time for the U.S. to stand still.
60 Terrorist Plots Since 9/11: Continued Lessons in Domestic Counterterrorism
Jessica Zuckerman, Steven P. Bucci, Ph.D. and James Jay Carafano, Ph.D.

We can not accept terrorism as the “new normal.” The United States, Canada, Australia, Russia, Western Europe, and other targeted countries shouldn’t just take defensive actions in the hope of preventing attacks, important as that is. The world needs to be on a war footing and make a concerted effort to eradicate the curse of radical Islamic extremism by such groups as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Boko Haran, and many others which commit acts of terrorism every day. We don’t hear about most them unless the act of terrorism is so horrendous that it gets the attention of the western press, or the act is against a western target (like what happened recently in France).

We should support and encourage our country’s counter-terrorism efforts. Think of all the misery these terrorist groups cause: anguished parents of kidnapped girls in Nigeria, the thousands butchered by ISIS, most of whom are Muslims, the bombings of marketplaces in Iraq, Pakistan, and other countries, just to name a few. This savagery must be dealt with by every civilized country, no matter what the dominant religion. We can’t let these groups continue to terrorize and kill people.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Pluralism and the Duke University Chapel

Sometimes the desire for pluralism goes a bit too far. This happened at Duke University recently. The school, which has a Wesleyan (Methodist) heritage, decided to allow a Muslim call to worship to be announced from speakers in the chapel bell tower on Fridays. This was done in the interest of “pluralism,” but because of numerous complaints, the university reversed its decision.

The chapel is an interfaith place of worship, so what’s the problem? There are a number of issues I have with Duke permitting a Muslim call to worship from its chapel.

(1) The chapel is not a mosque, and it is not appropriate to announce a Muslim call to worship from a building that is primarily Christian. Duke was, in essence, turning it into a mosque.

(2) Pluralism, whatever that means in the wacky world of political correctness, is already present in the university by its diversity, religious and otherwise. There’s no need to broadcast a Muslim call to worship that would be heard all over the campus in order to foster “pluralism.”

(3) The religion Duke wanted to elevate is the very religion that suppresses and oppresses women, persecutes and kills Christians, kidnaps children in Nigeria, and burns churches in Egypt and elsewhere. I know, I know, the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful, you say, but remember, they are still free to practice their religion in the United States. All I’m saying is don’t convert a church into a mosque to accommodate a religion in whose name terrible things are done. It sends the wrong message.

(4) We should also remember that while Muslims are free to worship as they please here in the U.S., Christians and other religious minorities do not enjoy such freedoms in many Islamic countries. While we don’t want to stoop to that level in the United States, we don’t need to celebrate a religion that is essentially at war with Christians, Jews, and the West.

Don’t miss the meaning of that final point. We are at war with Islam whether we want to admit it or not. While it is a small segment of the Muslim population that commits terrorist acts, their radicalism is based on the Qur’an’s teachings, which most Muslims are familiar with. In one part of the Qur’an, it refers to Christians and Jews as “People of the Book” who should be treated with respect. However, in other parts the Qur’an suggests harsher treatments of these “infidels.” Those parts of the Qur’an seem to be the ones that Muslims pay attention to, not the “People of the Book” sections.

More about the spiritual aspects of this struggle in a future post. Also, more about pluralism and diversity in universities in a future post.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Rights and Responsibilities

With the terrorist attack against the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France, the issue of “rights” has come up, especially the right of free speech and freedom of the press. These are enshrined in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution, a remarkable document at the time it was written. Let me point out a few things about rights and the responsibilities that go with them:

(1) We should keep in mind that no right is absolute, including speech and press. Using your right of free speech to slander someone is illegal and may result in a lawsuit. It is wrong to falsely yell “fire” in a crowded theater. Governments can control some rights in the interest of public order, such as requiring a permit to assemble.

(2) In our Bill of Rights, free speech and freedom of the press are not necessarily “blanket” rights with no restrictions whatsoever. Their main purpose was to permit criticism of the government without fear of reprisal. Unfortunately these rights have been invoked for things the writers of the Constitution never envisioned, such as pornography and flag burning.

(3) Just because something is a right doesn’t make it right. What I mean is that something may be allowed by law but it might be immoral or unethical according to the Judeo-Christian tradition which informs much of our moral code (or at least used to).

(4) Publishing a newspaper, magazine, or even a blog comes with the responsibility to tell the truth, not to plagiarize, check your facts, and not insult or make fun of anyone because of their race, color, nationality, religion, or any other aspects of their lives.

Responsibility and good taste should be used when exercising any of your rights.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Good will come out of these attacks

The horror of the attacks in France and the potential for similar ones in Belgium have galvanized support for a united front against Islamic terrorism. Until now, most of Europe was sitting on the sidelines of the War on Terror (for the most part), and letting Uncle Sam do most of the heavy lifting. I believe that is going to change because of the almost universal outrage.

Fortunately the “bad guys” make strategic errors that help the “good guys” to eventually defeat them. For example, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, awakening a sleeping giant which ultimately defeated them. Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, opening up a second front. He was defeated. I believe that we will start to see more being done against terrorism by the European and other countries. France has already dispatched an aircraft carrier to the eastern Mediterranean to fight against ISIS. The hacking group “Anonymous” is disrupting terrorist computer systems. I would like to see Russia join with us and Europe to fight against radical Islamic terrorists so we can truly present a united front.

By the way, there should also be outrage for the atrocities being committed against people in Nigeria and other countries. What’s taken the world so long to recognize what a threat these radical groups are to the stability and well-being of the world?

One last point. In tracking down terrorist cells, we may lose some of our privacy. That’s all right with me, and should be with you. I figure if I’m not doing something illegal, immoral, or evil, I really don’t care about some loss of privacy. I’d rather give up some privacy than endure a terrorist attack.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Pope’s Comment

The other day the Pope made some comments about the terrorist attacks in France. His comments have been subject to misinterpretation. I believe he meant to say what I wrote in my last post dated January 10, 2015. Read that post to get a sense of what the Pope was trying to communicate. In no way would he say that insulting a religion justifies terrible acts of brutality.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Good Taste

There is a tension between rights and good taste. With every right comes responsibility, the responsibility to use that right for good, not harm. Of course “good” is often in the eye of the beholder, meaning some people may claim to be doing “good” but in fact are not, at least according to the general understanding of what is good and what isn’t. In the United States what is defined as good or evil is based on society’s norms, which were mostly formed based on biblical principles and Judeo-Christian ethics. Sadly those are being eroded and as a result, looser standards of behavior are replacing them. Comedy is getting more “edgy” meaning more offensive and even nasty.

Two recent events highlight this tension between freedom of speech and the press, and responsibilities, as well as the need to exercise good taste and good judgment – not crossing the boundary into being offensive or hateful.

The first case in point is the movie “The Interview” which has to do with a fictitious plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but the North Koreans aren’t amused. I’m not a fan of the North Korean regime, which is exceptionally cruel and repressive, but put yourself in their shoes for a minute. Would we find funny a comedy having to do with a plot to kill the President of the United States? I doubt it. I haven’t seen the movie, but I suspect it is not that funny and lacking in good taste.

The second case in point is the terrorist attack against a satirical French newspaper because it made fun of Mohammad and Muslims. I’m not a big fan of Islam but I can appreciate how they feel when mocked and made fun of in a disrespectful way. Apparently this newspaper made fun of other religions as well, it’s just that Christians aren’t in the habit of performing terrorist acts when offended (and we are offended often). Bill Maher and his ilk would be long dead of Christians reacted violently to being made fun of.

There used to be a self-imposed line that few comedians and writers would cross, and that line was to ridicule religions. Today religions and people of faith (any faith) are fair game, from the Broadway play “Book of Mormon” to vicious attacks by Bill Maher and other religion-haters like him. A little respect for religions, even if we disagree with them, might just make the world a slightly safer place. With Islam, we have to separate the terrorists who use a distorted form of that religion as an excuse to do terrible things, and your average Muslim in the street, most of whom just want to live their lives in peace.

There is an old adage that says we should never talk about religion and politics. In the world of comedy, that is good advice, at least the religion part. Comedians and others should be less offensive and more funny, and clean up your language while you’re at it.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Significance of Christmas

We just celebrated Christmas, and for many it is a secular holiday. To them it is about family, shopping, good cheer, Santa Claus, and all that warm and fuzzy stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that, but for those of us who are Christians, the day has a much deeper meaning that often gets lost in the busyness of the season. In addition, political correctness – that harsh taskmaster of linguistic control – dictates that we wish people the insipid “happy holidays” lest we offend someone. Since many non-Christians celebrate some form of Christmas, I don’t think too many people – except for die-hard bigots – would be offended by our good wishes.

I invite you to consider the deeper meaning of Christmas alluded to above. That deeper meaning is summarized in Philippians 2:5-8
You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross. (Holy Bible, New Living Translation ®, copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.)

Read the above passage several times to get the full meaning. Just think of it: Jesus left heaven and came to earth in the form of a man to ultimately suffer and die on our behalf. That’s because of God’s love for us.

We read in John 1:14-15:
And the Word [referring to Jesus] became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. NRSV

Why did Jesus “become flesh and dwell among us?” There are at least two reasons, the first one being by far the most important as we read in that well-known passage John 3:16-17:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. NRSV

The second reason is spelled out in Hebrews 4:15:
For we do not have a high priest [referring to Jesus] who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. NIV

There’s a lot more to Christmas than this brief overview provides, but I invite Christians to keep in mind what God did for us in sending Jesus into the world. What did God accomplish? As the Charles Wesley hymn “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” tells us:
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!”

A separation from God exists because of mankind’s sinfulness. Christ’s death on the cross wiped away the stain of sin and reconciled us to God. Those who accept what Jesus did on the cross are back in right relationship with God. We can’t earn our way into that relationship, as we read in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith [in Jesus and what he did], and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. NRSV

I wish you a blessed (if late) Christmas and all God’s best for you in the New Year.