The Briefing 01-08-15

The Briefing 01-08-15

The Briefing


January 8, 2015

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


It’s Thursday, January 8, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.


The war on terror took on a savage new phase when two gunmen entered the headquarters of a French satirical newspaper known as Charlie Hebdo and opened fire, killing eventually 12 people – 10 people connected with the newspaper and two police officers. As the Washington Post reports this morning,


“France’s deadliest terrorist attack in modern memory unfolded with chilling precision here Wednesday as gunmen speaking fluent French burst into a satirical newspaper’s weekly staff meeting and raked the room with bullets, leaving behind what one witness described as ‘absolute carnage.’”


As reporters Griff Witte and Anthony Faiola also reported,


“After shooting dead their final victim, the exultant killers calmly fled the scene, sparking a manhunt that extended across this capital city [that is Paris] and deep into its suburbs.”


“France raised its security alarm to the highest level and mobilized teams on foot, by air and in vehicles seeking the three masked assailants, who carried out the assault shouting the Arabic call of “Allahu Akbar,” or “God is great,” amid the gunfire.”


Charlie Hebdo is well-known in French culture as a far left satirical magazine. France is a culture that has thrived on both irony and satire. And Charlie Hebdo had been a newspaper that had been put out of business by the French government for some time due to inflammatory comments made in the aftermath of the death of the late French President Charles de Gaulle. But it re-started in 1992 and in recent years it had become world-famous for running satirical cartoons – including those against the prophet Mohammed.


Cartoons of a similar form have incited Islamic rage and terrorist attacks over the last decade. And the scene of carnage in the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo was yet another sign that the Islamic culture, at least as represented by these terrorists, is absolutely ready to take whatever steps necessary to put an end to what, in the Islamic mind, is considered as blasphemy.


As of last night an 18-year-old young man considered to have been the driver in the getaway car, surrendered to police after his name had been revealed on French social media. Interestingly, the name was made possible in terms of the knowledge of the police by the fact that the young man evidently left his identification in the car that was later abandoned by the terrorists.


French President François Hollande said that the attack Wednesday was “a terrorist attack, without a doubt.” He went on to say,


“Journalists and police officers have been assassinated in cowardly fashion. [His statement then followed] France is in a state of shock.”


The attack on the headquarters Charlie Hebdo – that means Charlie Weekly – was hardly unprecedented. Back in 2011 the headquarters was firebombed after a similar cartoon controversy having to do also with the prophet Mohammed. Video of the attackers making their escape made very clear exactly what was at stake when the attackers claimed that they had avenged the honor of the prophet Mohammed. As the Washington Post reported, there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack, but messages of praise appeared on websites and other online forums linked to Islamic militants.


As the Washington Post also reported,


“Charlie Hebdo’s iconoclastic style frequently pushed the envelope. The newspaper was already under regular police guard after being targeted in the past.”


As the news of the massacre unfolded I immediately thought of an editorial run by the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal in the last edition of that newspaper for the year 2014. That editorial entitled “Progressives and Disorder” pointed to the fact that Western elites are often relatively unwilling or unable to deal with the disorder that has now emerged on the world scene. Western elites believe and insist that humanity operates on basically rational terms. No one better illustrates this rationalist approach to world affairs than the current President of the United States, Barack Obama. But as the Wall Street Journal editors made clear, those Western elites are relatively helpless when it comes to dealing with the world that will not operate by the same rules of rational order and rational discourse.


The massacre in Paris is yet another sign that a good bit of the world, a good portion of the world’s population, operates by a very different worldview and by a very different moral code. Of course there is a form of rationality that is very evident in the Islamic attacks, in the larger context of Islamic terrorism, and in particular in the attack upon the newspaper Charlie Hebdo. But that rationality is the rationality of Islam, not of the Western worldview; certainly not of the modern Western secular worldview.


An example of the perplexity of the West is demonstrated in an article that appears in this morning’s edition of the New York Times. Written by Steven Erlanger and Katrin Bennhold, the articles entitled “‘Dangerous Moment’ for Europe, as Fear and Resentment Grow.” The article cites Olivier Roy, a French scholar of Islam and Islamic radicalism, who defined the Paris assault – noted as the most deadly terrorist attack on French soil since the Algerian war ended in the 1960s – as,


“… a quantitative and therefore qualitative turning point. [He went on to say] This was a maximum-impact attack. They did this to shock the public, and in that sense they succeeded.”


But the New York Times article is notable for the fact that it lacks any moral clarity about how to understand this massacre in terms of a worldview context. The article cited Andrew Hussey, identified as a Paris-based professor of post-colonial studies, who said,


“Politically, the official left in France has been in denial of the conflict between France and the Arab world. But the French in general sense it.”


The New York Times article also notes the fact that at least 2000 young French citizens have traveled the fight with militants in the groups known as the Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. But many among the Western elites seem to be far more concerned at this point about an overreaction in terms of their characterization of those in the West to this kind of action undertaken by Islamic terrorists.


One of the fundamental problems here is that these elites basically can’t understand a theological worldview in the form of Islam. Being basically rational and secular in their own worldview, they find it almost impossible to get into the mind of someone who would take such actions on behalf of a theological worldview. But Islam, if anything, has a theological worldview. And that worldview separates the world by official Islamic teaching between what is known as Islam, or the world of Islam – that world which is under submission to the Quran and Sharia law – and what is defined as the world of war, identified as that portion of the world that is not yet brought under that kind of Sharia rule. That logic is simply something that the modern secular mind really cannot understand and the American government seems almost resolutely determined to ignore or even to deny.


Speaking on Hugh Hewitt’s radio program yesterday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina made very clear that this is a religious war. But that statement is not echoed by other sectors of the American government – in particular, the United States State Department and, even more pointedly, the American White House. President Obama, we’ve noted in the past, continues to refer to the group that calls itself the Islamic state by the acronym ISIL – trying to do anything to avoid mentioning the word Islam.


Similar efforts are undertaken, very categorically, by the United States State Department. Similar kinds of efforts have been undertaken by governments in Great Britain and also in France. Even though France has been on the front lines of the war on terror, in terms of its military dimension, French leaders have been unwilling to take on Islam as a cultural challenge, a theological challenge, an ideological and more importantly, a worldview challenge.


In an absolutely stunning development this morning, USA Today has run an article by an extremist Muslim cleric in Britain under the title of its opposing view column. Though in its own editorial, the newspaper called for there being no silence when it comes to free expression. The newspaper actually runs an article by cleric Anjem Choudary of Great Britain, who wrote,


“Contrary to popular misconception, Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone. Therefore, Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people’s desires.”

He went on to write,


“Although Muslims may not agree about the idea of freedom of expression, even non-Muslims who espouse it say it comes with responsibilities. In an increasingly unstable and insecure world, the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.”


Choudary went on basically to defend the massacre in Paris. He wrote,


“Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be dearer to them than that of their parents or even themselves. To defend it is considered to be an obligation upon them. The strict punishment if found guilty of this crime under sharia (Islamic law) is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic State. This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, ‘Whoever insults a Prophet, kill him.’”


To my knowledge, this is the first time a major American newspaper has run an editorial column by a radical extremist actually calling for the death of those who insult the honor of the prophet Mohammed. In its tagline for the article USA Today actually states that Choudary “is a radical Muslim cleric in London and a lecturer in sharia.” But as the Washington Post has reported, there is no doubt about Choudary’s actually ties to Islamic terrorism.


In a very important article published on October 11, 2014 the Washington Post made very clear that Choudary is an Islamic extremist who has proven very elusive to British authorities. Ironically enough, this article is by reporter Griff Witte – one of the very reporters who was combined in the article I just cited from the New York Times this morning. In that article The Post reported, and I quote,


“Iraq and Syria, Choudary says confidently, are only the beginning. The Islamic State’s signature black flag will fly over 10 Downing Street, not to mention the White House. And it won’t happen peacefully, but only after a great battle that is now underway.”


The article cites Choudary as saying,


“We believe there will be complete domination of the world by Islam. That may sound like some kind of James Bond movie — you know, Dr. No and world domination and all that. But we believe it.”


Witte then wrote,


“With such grandiose proclamations, it is tempting to dismiss Choudary as a cartoonish hate preacher straight out of central casting. Many do. But harder to ignore is his record of inspiring impressionable young men to carry out violence in the name of Islam — both in Britain and overseas.”


Again, I cannot think of a precedent whereby a major American newspaper has given this kind of extremist, this kind of terrorist, that kind of voice right in the pages of its own newspaper.


From a Christian worldview perspective there are a couple of very crucial issues for us to consider. First is the issue of blasphemy. Islam considers blasphemy a capital crime and defines blasphemy as any insult to the Quran, to Islam, or most specifically and personally, to the prophet Mohammed. Christianity on the other hand also has a concern about blasphemy, but as a spiritual crime – as a sin, not as a matter of civic law.


As a matter of fact, when Christians understand the reality of blasphemy we come to understand that Jesus Christ himself suffered insults on our behalf. He told Peter to put his sword away, he did not revile those who blasphemed him by calling for violence, but rather he accepted this. As the prophet Isaiah says, He was despised and rejected of men. He willingly bore our grief’s and our sorrows and He bore the open scorn of those who crucified Him, even at the foot of His cross. That is a stunning difference between the understanding – theologically speaking – of blasphemy in the Christian world and the understanding of blasphemy in the Islamic world.


As Choudary made very clear in his article in USA Today, Muslims have a basic responsibility to protect – even by violence if necessary – any insult to Islam or the prophet Mohammed. After citing Mohammed to say, “Whoever insults a prophet, kill him,” Choudary wrote, in USA Today,


“However, because the honor of the Prophet is something which all Muslims want to defend, many will take the law into their own hands, as we often see.”


Indeed, as we saw quite murderously in Paris yesterday.


It is very important that Christians understand that it is not our business, it is not our responsibility, to defend the honor of Jesus Christ. As the Bible makes clear, he will do that himself. Our responsibility is to bear testimony to Christ and, in following his example, bear scorn where necessary in his own name. For this reason, Christians support freedom of expression; understanding that to be a basic human right, not one that is granted merely by the secular state but one that is incumbent upon our understanding of what it means for God to have created human beings in his own image. And furthermore, what it means for Christians to claim freedom to bear testimony to Christ in the public square.


We must thus risk the kind of statements against Christ, claims against Christ, even the kind of scorn that comes from modern secular artists and others, without resorting to the kind of reflexive anger that is now considered to be a basic principle of Islam – and not just now, but from the very beginning of Islam as a world religion and as a worldview.


As Christians we understand that every word will eventually stand under divine judgment – even, as the Scripture says, every idle word. There is absolutely nothing to celebrate in blasphemy. But, even as Christians understand the grave sinful consequences of blasphemy, we do not consider it our responsibility to punish the blasphemer; that’s a very important issue, one that is in keeping with the example of our Lord Jesus Christ himself.


Keeping in mind the statement cited in this morning’s New York Times by Andrew Hussey, again I quote,


“Politically, the official left in France has been in denial of the conflict between France and the Arab world. But the French in general sense it.”


The reality is that secular elites in general find it incomprehensible to imagine exactly what has taken place in Paris, – not the what, but the why. The denial is and that is now present in so many Western intellectual circles is going to be far harder to hold in light of this kind of massacre. Even as the manhunt for the two brothers identified as the primary assailants spread throughout France and now into much of Europe, the reality is that the French intellectuals, European intellectuals and their American compatriots, are finding themselves hard-pressed to deny that this is indeed a religious war – that there is a theological dimension here that simply must be accepted.


Trying to put this into an adequate context, it is true of course that not all Muslims are radicalized or extremist. It is true that many Muslims, especially in the West, have nothing to do with this kind of terrorist attack – either in plotting it or in supporting it. It is also true that most of the Muslims around the world, even if they hold to a theological worldview that justifies this kind of action, will never be involved in it. But the other side of the equation is profoundly true, and that is that the Western world now finds itself at war with at least a very large sector of Islam and a sector of Islam that the larger Islamic movement has been either unwilling or unable to limit in terms of its terrorist reach.


Indeed, there is evidence that Islamic terrorism is growing. Keep in mind the report in the Washington Post that over 2000 young Muslims in France have joined the jihad in the Middle East. To those numbers must be added similar figures of young Muslims joining the jihad from the United Kingdom and from other European countries. But we can’t stop there. Reports are of several hundred at least young Muslims leaving United States from cities including Minneapolis, Minnesota to join the jihad as well. There is a role for satire in the Christian worldview, even within the Bible. Just think of Isaiah 44’s satirical description of the folly of human idolatry. But that is no warrant for Christians to enter into any kind of irresponsible and intentionally offensive form of satire.


The Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris was known for satirically attacking just about every form of religious expression – including Orthodox Judaism and Christianity. But the newspaper didn’t have to fear any kind of terrorism from Orthodox Jews or from Christians. Both Jews and Christians take blasphemy to be a grave sin but not in the sense of Islam. And the reality that is now undeniable is that the French elites and the French people have now been informed of exactly what kind of jihad has now been declared against them as a nation, against them as a people, against freedom of expression – not just against Charlie Hebdo, but against all basic institutions of the West. Those institutions based upon the understanding of freedom of expression and the very important understanding of the marketplace of ideas.


Just consider the example of the apostle Paul found in the book of Acts chapter 17 when the apostle Paul was standing at Mars Hill in the context of religious pluralism and from a Christian worldview, abysmal religious ignorance. But the apostle Paul did not resort to satire or ridicule. Instead, he boldly declared Christ. And he did so in a way that was calculated to make a very clear distinction between the worship of Jesus Christ and the worship of idols. He did so in a way that should serve as an example to all Christians, especially in our contemporary context of radical religious pluralism – and beyond that, of worldview pluralism.


Senator Graham was right when he insisted yesterday that we now face a religious war. But this doesn’t mean a war between Christianity and Islam. It does mean a war between Western civilization and the challenge of a resurgent and terroristic inclined Islam.


From the 18th-century onward, the Western civilization’s elites have been determined to try to create a world order ruled by reason and rationality. There’s good reason to believe that in much of the world, that has succeeded. But the reality of what took place in Paris yesterday is a very cruel and undeniable reminder that the rest of the world isn’t going along – not just in terms of what took place in Paris, but what is taking place throughout the Middle East and furthermore, not only their but in the Pacific Rim and far beyond.


There were so many other important stories from a Christian worldview perspective that I had intended to discuss this morning. They all got swept aside by the story coming out of Paris, the horrifying news of the terrorist attack that took place in a newspaper’s headquarters. That’s just the way the world is these days. When you think you know what you’re going to be thinking about in the course of a day, you can find yourself – by force of events, by not only the headlines but the graphic images that cross our digital screens – you can find yourself having to face the reality you had not intended.


From a Christian worldview perspective, there’s no more important issue for us to get right than understanding from a Christian worldview perspective what’s really at stake. What these pictures and these headlines really mean. And what this will represent as a challenge for generations to come, it appears, a great conflict of worldviews and Christians had better be the first to understand what is at stake.


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’m speaking to you from West Palm Beach, Florida and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Heinous massacre in Paris is another grisly reminder Western society is in a worldview war

Charlie Hebdo suspect said to surrender; two others at large after Paris terrorist attack, The Washington Post (Griff Witte and Anthony Faiola)

Progressives and Disorder, The Wall Street Journal (Associated Press)

‘Dangerous Moment’ for Europe, as Fear and Resentment Grow, New York Times (Steven Erlanger and Katrin Bennhold)

People know the consequences: Opposing view, USA Today (Anjem Choudary)

In Britain, Islamist extremist Anjem Choudary proves elusive, The Washington Post (Griff Witte)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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