The Briefing 12-09-14

The Briefing 12-09-14

The Briefing


December 9, 2014

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


It’s Tuesday, December 9, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Rise of young Western Islamists result of disillusionment with secular worldview

Those who rule the worldview and the narrative of the rising generation eventually rule the future. Keep that in mind when you consider the headlines now coming out of Canada. Here’s one from one of Canada’s major newspapers, the National Post; the headline, “John Maguire and ISIS Fighter from Ottawa Appears on Video Warning Canada of Attacks ‘Where it Hurts you the Most’.” Stewart Bell reporting for the National Post tells us that,

“ISIS attempted to incite further attacks against Canadians…, issuing a propaganda video in which an Ottawa extremist scolded the government for joining the international military coalition fighting the terrorist group.”

The video’s about six minutes long and in the video this former Canadian, still a Canadian citizen, said that Canadians would be indiscriminately targeted, that Muslims were obliged to either to join ISIS or to follow the example of the terrorist group who struck in Ottawa just a matter of weeks ago.

The young man, known as John Maguire, said to his fellow Muslims there in Canada,

“You either pack your bags, or prepare your explosive devices. You either purchase your airline ticket, or you sharpen your knife,”

The young man identifies himself on the video as Abu Anwar al-Canadi, but former friends have recognized him as John Maguire – a dropout from the University of Ottawa who converted to Islam and became radicalized. Last year at some point he vanished, now to appear in this ISIS video.

As the National Post reports,

“[Maguire] looking gaunt and sounding alien to those who knew him in Canada …. Read from a script [apparently] The camera shots appeared to be staged to show ruined buildings and a mosque dome in the background.”

The Post goes on to say the video is a part of a propaganda push by ISIS that appears  to be designed to attract recruits and use the threat of terrorism to deter the US-led air campaign that has killed hundreds of fighters and, according to military officials, stalled the group’s advance.

One of the most interesting comments in the story comes from Professor Amarnath Amarasingam of the Dalhousie University Resilience Research Centre there in Canada. He said,

“It follows quite closely to the theme of a variety of videos aimed at Western audiences, like the video aimed at French Muslims a few weeks ago,”

The professor went on to say,

“The interrelated themes are of course ones of religious obligation: if a caliphate has been established and Muslims have been persecuted by the state you are living in, you are required to leave the state you are living in. The risk of staying is hellfire. Maguire’s video is similar to the video aimed at French Muslims, asking a simple question: what are you waiting for?”

You’ll recall that back in October Canada was roiled by the fact that at least two separate killings of Canadian force members had taken place; one in Québec, one in Ottawa – both by men who had converted to Islam and joined the Islamic radicalism movement. But the video by John Maguire – again he’s not identified by that name but rather by an Islamic name in the video – is different in that he is clearly seeking to identify with young Canadians – in particular, young Canadian Muslims. He says,

“I was one of you. I was a typical Canadian. I grew up on the hockey rink and spent my teenage years on stage playing guitar. [He said] I had no criminal record. I was a bright student and maintained a strong GPA in university. So how could one of your people end up in my place? And why is it that your own people are the ones turning against you at home? The answer is [says the young man] that we have accepted the true call of the prophets and messengers of God.”

A quick look at the video tells you a great deal of the story. The young man appears, whether he is known by his Islamic name or by the Canadian named John Maguire, as clearly very young. Indeed given the fact that one of the obligations of young Muslim men is to grow a beard, it’s clear that this young man’s having difficulty growing a full beard. But even more haunting is a photograph that appears in the National Post coverage of John Maguire as a young boy – perhaps aged 12 to 13. He appears just like any other normal Canadian boy, and that’s exactly what he’s trying now to use as the point of argument in his recruitment video. He says, ‘I was just like one of you but something changed.’

The something that is changed, according to his logic, is that you now have the Western nations, by his own logic, that are involved in this conflict with Islam. And his logic is very clear: Canadian Muslims, whether they are born into a Muslim tradition or whether they convert, have an obligation greater than their obligation to Canada – that is their obligation to Islam. And that obligation to Islam means that they must now see Canada as an enemy even if they are Canadian citizens. And the radicalization is made very clear when he asked the question, ‘what are you waiting for?’ in order for these young Canadians with him to join the radicalistic movement and to join in killing Canadians.

But this story is not limited to Canada. As a matter fact, Saturday’s edition of the New York Times had a story with the headline, “Britain Puts 2 in Prison after Return from Syria.” In this case, it’s about two young men who are both 22 years old, who had left United Kingdom, had gone to Syria or the other parts in the Middle East, had been engaged in terrorist activities with extremist groups, and then came back to the United Kingdom. Once they arrive back in the UK their own families assisted police in placing them under arrest. They were both sentenced to 12 years in prison for their participation in terrorism.

But as the New York Times article makes abundantly clear, the big concern in the United Kingdom is not just over these two but about the ones who have not returned home and have not been arrested – perhaps not even identified. There is no doubt that there is something now of a steady stream of very young Britons going to joining group such as ISIS.

And it’s not just Canada and United Kingdom; the New York Times also last week had a major new story on France – the headline in this article, “A French Town Reels after Teenage Girl Vanishes, Apparently to Join Jihadists.”  We talked about this on The Briefing as there had been various media reports of teenage girls and young women, primarily we should note teenage girls who had been leaving France and Britain in order to joining the Islamic movement as jihadi wives. As the Times reported last week,

“Experts say that the problem appears most severe in France, which has a large Muslim population from the Middle East and North Africa and where more than a hundred families,”

Now listen to that again,

“…more than a hundred famlies have been talking to experts to help them cope with their daughters’ growing radicalization.”

But American should find no confidence in the fact that these headlines have been from Canada and the UK and France because the same pattern is happening here. American intelligence officials have also indicated that there are a number of young Americans who are going to join these extremist groups. At this point it appears that most are young American men – teenage boys and young men – and most of them are converts to Islam, although some also come from enduring Islamic families. But the one thing common to all these media reports, whether it’s Canada or the United States or the United Kingdom or France, is the big question ‘why?’ ‘How could this be happening?’

Just recall the fact that we’re living in the 21st century, in the year 2014 in which the forces of modernity are supposed to a produced a new secular society in which at least in terms of these nations – Canada, the United States, Britain, and France – there shouldn’t be the kind of radicalized religious worldview that these young people are now joining and not only joining but being mobilized by in terms of becoming extremist, terrorist, even murderers. We need to recognize that when a picture of someone like John Maguire shows up in the national press, whether in Canada or in one of these other Western nations, this leads secular authorities to an absolute point of perplexity. How is it that our own children – remember that picture that appears in the National Post of John Maguire as a young boy – how can our own children turn into converts to Islam who then see the United States, France, the UK, or Canada, as an enemy.

At this point Christians thinking from a biblical worldview simply have an explanation the secular world does not have – and even if it heard it, it could not understand it based on its own first principles on the secular worldview. The Christian worldview makes very clear that human beings are not biological accidents but rather we are creatures, we are creatures made by the creator and we are made by the creator in his own image. Thus, amongst all the other artifacts of creation, all the other creatures, we are the only creature that is built with a moral conscience, that is made in the image of God, that is given the capacity to know him and is given a drive for stewardship and dominion that is made very clear and averse such as Genesis 1:28. But Christians operating out of a biblical worldview understand that the problem, in terms of understanding this, is at the very basis of understanding what it means to be human because the modern secular naturalistic understanding of the human as something of a biological accident simply can’t explain someone like John Maguire. Furthermore, the Christian worldview begins with the understanding that the human being is a creature, a creature unique amongst all the other parts of God’s creation in that the human creature is the only creature made in God’s image – thus given a moral capacity, a moral consciousness. Made in the image of God such that we alone are able to know the creator and we alone are morally accountable to Him. And then building on this we come to understand that God made the human creature desperate for a sense of meaning, desperate for a sense of purpose, desperate for a sense of mission. And the secular world simply shows itself to be incompetent and empty and sterile in producing the kind of meaning and mission and purpose that will invigorate a young generation.

In one sense, what we’re seeing in terms of these young radical converts to Islam is the fact that they have looked at the modern, sterile, consumer pop culture of the West and they have said that’s not worth living, it’s for is not worth dying for. Desperate for a search for passion and purpose and meaning, even mission, they are found that in Islam and thus they have become converts and with the zeal of converts they are now speaking to their fellow young Westerners saying, let’s just use the words of John Maguire, ‘what are you waiting for?’

The secular who are looking at this just wants to ask the obvious question, ‘what’s gone wrong?’ but they are unprepared for the answer. What’s gone wrong is the sterility of a modern secular Western worldview that simply doesn’t offer, in the long run, any lasting sense of purpose or mission or meaning. It’s not offering a credible alternative to that which is presented to many young people in the West by a resurgent Islam. And this is where Christian churches, Christian parents, Christians just observing the headlines, have to realize that a very deep an essential theological point is being driven home – tragically enough – in these headlines. We are made for purpose and we are made for mission and we know it. Whoever supplies the coming generation with that sense of mission, that sense of purpose, with the narrative of that kind of mission, is going to rule the future. With the explicit rejection of the Christian worldview and with the explicit embrace of a sterile secularism, the modern West is finding itself unable to mobilize its own young to defend themselves against this kind of resurgent worldview. So when you see the teenagers sitting at your dinner table, or sitting in the pew next to you at church, when you look in and see the youth group at your church, when you look in and see high school students talking on the street corner, just realize what you’re actually watching – you’re watching the future taking shape. Whatever narrative rules their hearts is going to rule the future and if Christians need any further impetus towards the education of our young in the truth and the gospel, and the absolute preaching of the gospel to our own young people, not just as an isolated set of truth but as a comprehensive worldview that comes with mission and purpose and passion, than just consider the story of John Maguire and ask why it’s not your own young person who is appearing in that video.

According to the secular press, these stories are a wake-up call for the security agencies of the Western world. But in a far more fundamental way these articles, these headlines, are wake-up call for the Christian church and for Christian parents. It’s one thing for secular analysts to be scratching their heads asking the question, ‘how did this happen?’ it’s another thing for all of us to watch those videos and listen to John Maguire ask the question posed to his fellow young Muslims in the West, ‘what you waiting for?’ I can only wonder if that question shouldn’t be pointed back at America’s Christian parents and Christian churches, ‘what are you waiting for?’

2) Former Muslim points to integral nature of Islamic theology to Islamist terrorism

Next I turn to a very important column in a related issue that appeared in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times, in this case by popular author and columnist Thomas L Friedman; his headline, “How ISIS Drives Muslims from Islam.” He’s making the point that at least some, especially westernized Muslims, are looking at the picture of Islam presented by ISIS – the Islamic state – and they’re saying they want nothing to do with it – that’s good news. But Tom Friedman’s article leads us ask the question what’s going on here and how does this picture differ from the picture of John Maguire.

Thomas Friedman writes,

“On Nov. 24, published a piece on what was trending on Twitter. It began: ‘A growing social media conversation in Arabic is calling for the implementation of Shariah, or Islamic law, to be abandoned. Discussing religious law is a sensitive topic in many Muslim countries. But on Twitter, a hashtag which translates as ‘why we reject implementing Shariah’ has been used 5,000 times in 24 hours. The conversation is mainly taking place in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The debate is about whether religious law is suitable for the needs of Arab countries and modern legal systems.’”

One of the most interesting aspects of Tom Friedman’s article is that he goes to some of the critics of Sharia law, some of the critics of Islamic extremism from within the world of Islam, he writes about Ismail Mohamed, an Egyptian he says,

“on a mission to create freedom of conscience there, started a program called ‘Black Ducks’ to offer a space where agnostic and atheist Arabs can speak freely about their right to choose what they believe and resist coercion and misogyny from religious authorities. He is part of a growing Arab Atheists Network.

Well let’s just pause for a moment and point to the obvious, and that is that there will be a fundamental misrepresentation of the picture here if we are lead to believe that there is a large growing group of atheists in the Muslim world or that they would be tolerated in any sense whatsoever. Anyone who has ever spent any time in the Islamic world would know that is fundamentally untrue, dangerously so.

Tom Friedman basically acknowledges this when he says the conversations taking place not in the public square per se but in social media, on the Internet where there is a degree of anonymity. But my reason for looking at this article is not to look to the first individual cited, but rather the second, known as Brother Rachid, a Moroccan who created his own YouTube network to deliver his message of tolerance and expose examples of intolerance within the Muslim faith community. By the way he’s identified as a man who was born into a Muslim family but converted to Christianity. But the primary interest of this section of Tom Friedman’s article is that this individual’s message is being directed not primarily at fellow Christians or his former fellow Muslims but rather at President Barack Obama, because he says President Obama is aiding and abetting Muslim extremism by refusing to deal with the fact that it is Islamic.

Now again, what makes this important is primarily that it is appeared in a column written by Tom Friedman in the New York Times. In this case the man known as Brother Rachid writes, and I quote,

“Dear Mr. President [speaking to President Obama], I must tell you that you are wrong about ISIL. You said ISIL speaks for no religion. I am a former Muslim. My dad is an imam. I have spent more than 20 years studying Islam. … I can tell you with confidence that ISIL speaks for Islam. … ISIL’s 10,000 members are all Muslims. … They come from different countries and have one common denominator: Islam. They are following Islam’s Prophet Muhammad in every detail. … They have called for a caliphate, which is a central doctrine in Sunni Islam.”

He continues,

“I ask you, Mr. President, to stop being politically correct — to call things by their names. ISIL, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Al Shabab in Somalia, the Taliban, and their sister brand names, are all made in Islam. Unless the Muslim world deals with Islam and separates religion from state, we will never end this cycle. … If Islam is not the problem, then why is it there are millions of Christians in the Middle East and yet none of them has ever blown up himself to become a martyr, even though they live under the same economic and political circumstances and even worse? … Mr. President, if you really want to fight terrorism, then fight it at the roots. How many Saudi sheikhs are preaching hatred? How many Islamic channels are indoctrinating people and teaching them violence from the Quran and the hadith? … How many Islamic schools are producing generations of teachers and students who believe in jihad and martyrdom and fighting the infidels?”

Again the stunning thing about this column is that has appeared in the New York Times, the stunning thing about these comments is that the appeared in this kind of article. The stunning thing about this young man’s point is that he is claiming that theology actually matters and the issue in terms of Islamic terrorism can’t be removed from Islamic theology. That’s something Christians once again understand, we understand that theology always matters, it always matters especially when you have a situation in which there is an explicit theological identity that is quite obviously the common denominator here. That’s the point made explicitly by Brother Rachid, it’s the point that is being explicitly denied by those in the Western media the he says have become the enablers of Islamic terrorism. Brother Rachid’s point is well understood by Christians, he’s exactly right, you can’t possibly come to understand Islamic terrorism if you won’t deal with it as an issue of Islam. We can appreciate that kind of theological and worldview candor in the pages of the New York Times.

3) Zuckerberg’s mission to connect world to Facebook pale replacement for gospel

But finally, this concern for mission and purpose in life takes me to the current cover story of this weeks’ Time magazine. It’s about Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, it’s entitled, “Half the World is Not Enough.” It talks about Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to get every human being on the earth online. The article is by Lev Grossman. This is the second cover story he’s done on Mark Zuckerberg and he talks about Zuckerberg’s plan for the future. He looks back over the first decade of Facebook noting that it grew like crazy. It has now grown to 1.35 billion users and 8,000 employees. In other words, Facebook right now involves about one quarter of the earth’s population. But Mark Zuckerberg, that’s not enough, it’s not nearly enough.

As a matter fact when it reached 1 billion about two years ago, Zuckerberg said,

“If your mission is to connect the world, then a billion might just be bigger than any other service that had been built. But that doesn’t mean that you’re anywhere near fulfilling the actual mission.”

Notice his explicit use of the word mission. Mark Zuckerberg, this cover story makes very clear, is driven by a mission. His mission is to get every single human being on the planet connected, and connected as you are already might have guessed, to Facebook. This challenge is pretty large, the population of the Earth is about 7.2 billion, there about 2.9 billion people on the Internet, that leaves, says Grossman, 4.3 billion people who are off-line and needs to be put online.

Grossman says this is absolutely perplexing to the folks in Silicon Valley who just can’t imagine there might be people who don’t want to be online. That becomes a very clear point when Grossman writes that about 85% of all human beings on the planet right now have access to the Internet and yet billions of them are not connecting to the Internet and they’re not connecting to Facebook. Grossman says maybe it’s that these people don’t have access to the technology itself – that is they don’t have enough money for a phone and for a plan – but he says maybe they don’t know enough about the Internet or maybe they do know enough about it and just don’t care because it’s totally irrelevant to their day-to-day lives. Mark Zuckerberg, this article makes clear, can’t imagine a human being who would actually see the Internet as irrelevant to their day-to-day lives.

Grossman’s article is really interesting. As I said, it’s his second cover story on Mark Zuckerberg in the last several years. He points to the fact that Zuckerberg and his plans for Facebook basically amount to a form of digital colonialism, he calls its colonialism 2.0. He states his concern very clearly. He says,

“There’s something distasteful about the whole business: a global campaign by a bunch of Silicon Valley jillionaires to convert literally everybody into data consumers, to make sure no eyeballs anywhere go unexposed to their ads. Everybody must be integrated into the vast cultural homogeneity that is the Internet.”

He calls it World War Z(uckerberg). But most interesting aspect of the articles is where Grossman himself says that Zuckerberg operates out of a rather superficial understanding of anthropology – that is of human beings. He says the human beings are basically driven by a need to connect. Grossman writes,

“One might argue that somebody who shapes the social lives of a billion people and counting ought to have a more finely wrought sense of human nature, a deeper appreciation for what is lost when a new technology becomes part of our lives as well as what is gained.”

That would certainly be nice, he says, but those kinds of people probably don’t start companies like Facebook.

My point in raising this article is to follow up the two previous stories by indicating once again that everybody’s driven by a purpose. Mark Zuckerberg’s sense of mission appears to get every single human being on the planet onto the Internet and not only on to the Internet but also participating in Facebook. That the great need of the world as he sees it. But of course my deeper purpose is this: we come to understand that Mark Zuckerberg is driven by this purpose, he’s driven by this mission, and he’s trying to come up with every strategy imaginable to succeed in it – to fulfill it.

Christians, to the contrary, are driven by the understanding that the great need of humanity is reconciliation with God and thus the gospel of Jesus Christ. The really humbling thing for us is whether we believe our mission with the intensity that Mark Zuckerberg does when it comes to Facebook. The real question for us is if we know that our gospel is the gospel that saves, how is it the Facebook might get there first? Perhaps the most important insight Christians can draw from this article is they’ll notice the passion that drives Mark Zuckerberg with his mission for Facebook. The real question for us is, what infinitely greater passion should drive Christians when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ?


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you tomorrow for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Rise of young Western Islamists result of disillusionment with secular worldview

ISIS fighter from Ottawa appears in video threatening Canada with attacks ‘where it hurts you the most’, National Post (Stewart Bell)

Britain Puts 2 in Prison After Return From Syria, New York Times (Stephen Castle and Melissa Eddy)

A French Town Reels After Teenage Girl Vanishes, Apparently to Join Jihadists, New York Times (Suzanne Daley and Maïa de la Baume)

2) Former Muslim points to integral nature of Islamic theology to Islamist terrorism

How ISIS Drives Muslims From Islam, New York Times (Thomas Friedman)

3) Zuckerberg’s mission to connect world to Facebook pale replacement for gospel

Inside Facebook’s Plan to Wire the World, TIME (Lev Grossman)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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