The Briefing 02-25-15

The Briefing 02-25-15

The Briefing


February 25, 2015

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


It’s Wednesday, February 25, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) ISIS recruits young ‘cubs’ in effort to create multi-generational jihad

Sometimes the photograph is even more powerful than the news story that is found behind. That’s the case in a recent report from NBC News about the efforts of the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS or ISIL, to recruit new soldiers. The reason the photograph is so effective, the reason it is so haunting, is because these new soldiers are about age 8 to age 12 and they are known as the ‘Cubs.’ The Islamic State has announced and is now bragging before the world that it is recruiting boys as young as eight or nine or 10, up to about age 12, to join the jihad. And these new soldiers they call Cubs serve a dual purpose. On the one hand, they are being indoctrinated ideologically into the murderous worldview of the Islamic State. On the other hand, some of them are even now being deployed in terms of decoys or, in some cases it is now suspected, as suicide bombers.

As the NBC report states,

“While their peers in the U.S. build campfires, ISIS’ diminutive devotees go from Quranic recitation drills to the front line of battle.”

One of the Iraqi security officials that spoke to NBC News on condition of anonymity said,

“They teach them [speaking of these young boys] how to use AK-47s. They use dolls to teach them how to behead people, then they make them watch a beheading, and sometimes they force them to carry the heads in order to cast the fear away from their hearts.”

That’s a very difficult sentence to read, much less to come to terms with. But as Charlie Winter, a London-based expert on terrorism, said,

“It’s being done for the same reasons that Hitler had the Hitler Youth. That’s effectively what we’re seeing here — military training and ideological training.”

Now when Mr. Winter speaks of ideological training we, operating out of the Christian worldview, need to understand that this ideological training is also a moral training. This raises a very interesting question: how do you produce a jihadist? How do you produce someone who is willing to buy into the murderous worldview of the Islamic State? Well as has now become clear in many of the secular societies of Europe, you recruit jihadists by presenting to them a strong theological vision that is much stronger than the secular worldview that is offered as the alternative. But in terms much of the Muslim world it turns out that you recruit these youngsters for the jihad by indoctrinating them in a great moral shift, a great moral change that takes place in these children.

One of the things that become abundantly clear in this NBC report is that there is a great moral desensitization that takes place with these youngsters. They are being trained not to protect life, but to take life. They are being trained not to be gentle and kind, but to be absolutely murderous. They are being trained to be killers and their being desensitized to death even at extremely young ages. Winter told NBC News,

“There’s no term better suited to it than brainwashing. These children won’t have any point of reference other than jihadism so the ideology will be a lot more firm in their heads and a lot more difficult to dislodge.”

Now again, Christian should think about this very carefully. What this reinforces is the basic truth that what a child learns at these very early and formative stages of life will, to a tremendous degree, determined the worldview that child would have as an adult. If you’re going to build a multi-generational movement of jihad you’re going to have to reach out to the young and as your movement goes forward the young will have to be defined in younger and younger ages. An insider account of the military training and the ideological brainwashing these children says that the cycle of the learning is rather quick:

“Analysts estimate that the cubs typically graduate within a two-week to one-month time frame.”

This is a very intensive form of jihadist education. The insider said,

“Most of these kids don’t fight right away. They’ll start by accompanying older militants to the front lines to get ‘acclimated’ and only later engage in battle.

Still, whether they engage in battle today is somewhat irrelevant. They will be engaging in battle, they will be fighting in battle. It’s a matter of time.”

This figure also said, and I quote,

“In two, three, four years they’re going to be adults. By raising them up on this ideology and methodology, it becomes part of their everyday life. These kids are going to grow up, abide by and adhere to the ideology and carry out what ISIS want.”

The NBC report says,

“In videos, young boys clad in camouflage share lunch and later target practice. Chubby-cheeked kids flash ISIS’ one-fingered salute while clutching AK-47s which dwarf their small bodies. Many dot the periphery of beheading videos. Cub ‘graduation’ ceremonies feature boys of 10 or 12 fidgeting with ski masks, holding hands with other pint-sized jihadis who can’t be more than six or seven.”

From a Christian worldview there is so much to be troubling here but there is also something that is under the surface of the story. These jihadists are out for the long haul. One of the things that is abundantly clear in this report is that they intend to be about a multi-generational jihad against the West. A multi-generational jihad for the supremacy of the Islamic State and for the establishment of the Islamic caliphate they now claim – that is an Islamic authority under one supreme ruler. And make no mistake, they are looking at a very long strategy. That’s one of the most frightening aspects of this video. No doubt the most troubling aspect of this is the involvement of these children in the jihad itself and the fact that they are now appearing in the periphery of some of these horrifying videos released by the Islamic State. But the other thing becomes immediately clear is that they are looking at the future, they are seeking to raise up a new generation of jihadist who will be even more ardent, even more committed, even more murderous than the generation we now know and already fear.

So for Christian parents, as you put your own children to bed tonight and as you check on them and pray for them as they sleep, just remember that around the world there are some children who’ve been taken out of their homes and are being trained in jihad and they’re being told that the enemy is you.

2) Journalist celebrates Obama’s duplicity on same-sex marriage as help to the nation

Next, an update on a couple of stories that we’ve already discussed on The Briefing. Sometimes these updates are appropriate simply because the story continues to unfold. And when it comes to certain stories sometimes the best thoughts come a few days after the effect, a few days after the story has landed when people begin to step back and say, ‘now wait just a minute, what did this mean?’ For instance, in recent days we talked about the revelation made by David Axelrod, formally one of the major political consultants to Pres. Barack Obama, about how Pres. Obama had finessed (that’s a gentle word to use here) his position on same-sex marriage over his political career. Axelrod acknowledges and states explicitly what virtually everyone, especially on the conservative side, actually did believe. And that is that President Obama was for the legalization of same-sex marriage all along.

When he was running for the state Senate in the state of Illinois he’d indicated on the questionnaire he was for the legalization of same-sex marriage. When he ran for president in 2008 he said he was against it, stating that he was for something like civil unions but stating that he did not believe that what he called ‘sacred marriage’ could include anything other than a man and a woman. But when he ran for president in 2012 he was an ardent supporter of the legalization of same-sex marriage and even more recently he has called for the US Supreme Court to rule, at least by this coming spring, that same-sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states. So he has gone from being for same-sex marriage to being against it to being for it to being for it for everybody all at once.

Now just to remind you, in the immediate aftermath of the release of David Axelrod’s book in which he said ‘we knew where the President was all along’, he had basically said what was necessary in order to bring along the African-American religious leaders in terms of his campaign. Now with all that already said President Obama came out and said that his position wasn’t exactly as was there described. He said that David Axelrod had failed to make a distinction between his personal sentiments and his public position. But actually that was Axelrod’s point all along.

Now I mentioned that there’s an update on this because the aftermath has been particularly interesting, not on the right but on the left; not so much among conservatives, but among liberals. For instance, David Graham writing at the Atlantic pointed out that flip-flopping may not have been “strictly moral,” but he says it was politically effective. Now there’s just something for us to note. Something may not be, again the word was strictly moral, but it might be politically effective. Well just imagine if we were talking to a young child about that moral equation. Just imagine a child who is facing the issue when asked a direct question by a parent, do I answer what is strictly moral or do I answer what is politically expedient? I think most of us, both as children and parent, know how that goes.

But my point is simply that no parent is going to accept the argument that this truth is necessary for political expediency. That’s because one of the main responsibilities of parents is to teach children that truth matters and to make it stick. But David Graham’s point is not only that President Obama though while acting in a way that wasn’t strictly moral, but politically effective, he says it was actually good for the country. Because in his words, President Obama’s confusing of the issue actually allowed Americans to move along morally so that when the President ran not for election but reelection, he could champion the legalization of same-sex marriage knowing that millions of Americans were by now behind him. The implication of David Graham is that if the President had been honest in 2008 he might not only have cost himself some political chances of being elected, he might also have stunted the conversation on Americans who might not have been ready or a Presidential candidate to announce he was supportive of legalized same-sex marriage.

It’s an interesting argument. This is the moral shift from saying the President may have lied, but that’s no big deal because it worked, to now saying his lie helped the American people. Because even as most of the people in the opinion classes understood what the President meant rather than what the President said, the fact is that most Americans weren’t ready to go along with the argument yet. So David Graham says, in that sense, the President’s confusing of the issue actually help the American people. That’s a very interesting moral argument, and it tells us a great deal about why we are where we are on so many of these issues. Finally, one of the most important and honest lines in David Graham’s article is this,

“Sometimes lying does pay,”

Well perhaps from a political calculation that can be said to be true, but from a moral understanding that can never be true.

3) Christians cannot dodge socially difficult questions for sake of political expediency

Next, following up on the conversation about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on the question of evolution, we talked about that in recent days, because as some you will remember when Gov. Walker was recently in London he was asked about evolution and his response was that he was going to punt on the issue. This led a good many people, especially on the left, to say, ‘this man can’t be president because he refused to answer a straightforward question.’ But as David Harsanyi points out writing at the Federalist, liberals often don’t get asked these questions. It’s conservatives that get asked these questions concerning such things as evolution or creation, and then if they do punt on the question (and by the way, he should not have punted on the question) they are then lampooned as doing exactly that – punting, avoiding the question, operating out of political or intellectual cowardice.

But as Harsanyi points out, those on the left are often not asked the questions and when they are asked the questions and offer a very similar kind of response, they get a political pass. He reminds us that President Obama was once asked,

“Is a 20 week old unborn child a human being?”

The President’s response was that that question was,

“Above his pay grade,”

Harsanyi’s point is abundantly clear; every single one of us will face questions we don’t want to answer, every single one of us, regardless of our worldview, will at some point face a question that will put us in a position of social awkwardness to say the very least. But we as Christians understand that it is our responsibility to give an answer, an honest answer, and we hope a winsome and a capable answer when we are asked a direct question. It may be possible for a governor or a President or any number of candidates for whatever office to avoid answering such questions and to avoid the evitable fallout. But Christians cannot avoid the fallout, we cannot avoid the judgment, we cannot avoid the responsibility. When we are asked a crucial question we need to let are yea be yea and our nay be nay. We need to be very clear on these issues.  The fact that people on both the left and the right are sometimes unclear is no excuse for us to be similarly evasive.

Finally, again on these issues, Harsanyi in a different article published at pointed out that when you’re looking at the President on the issue of same-sex marriage, you should compare it to how liberals, those on the cultural left, will be in absolute apoplexy, they would be in an absolute fit if the question were different and the pattern of answer were on a different question. For instance he says this, ‘what if a candidate, who claims to be pro-choice, won the presidency and then admitted he was actually pro-life and started appointing pro-life judges?’ That is an absolutely brilliant question. It’s the kind of question I can only wish had emerged in the immediate aftermath of the new story.

And that’s the reason I raise these issues today, some of these questions actually arise only after people are able to reflect upon the news, to reflect upon the happenings, to listen to a statement and say, ‘now wait just a minute, is that what he is that she actually said? If so, what does that mean? For Christians that is a good reminder of the fact that even as headlines come and go the issues really don’t come and go. The big crucial questions, the central question such as the dignity of human life and the definition of marriage, those questions will never ever go away.

4) Academy Award winners reveals growing distance between elites and movie goers

Another follow-up issue, yesterday’s edition of the New York Times had a headline in the Arts section; the headline was this, Moviegoers and Academy Move Further Apart. It’s a really interesting article by Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes. It’s in the aftermath of the Oscar ceremony last Sunday night and the big point being made by these two reporters is this: if you look at the awards (and again it takes a little time to think about this) that were actually handed out on Sunday night, they are overwhelmingly for movies virtually no one has seen or will ever see. The point of these reporters is that Hollywood and the American people may find each other mutually fascinating but when it comes to worldview and taste they are stridently and increasingly a part.

By the way, it take some time for these statistics to come down to us, but the viewership on ABC for the Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night was down almost 15% from just the previous year. It was about 36.6 million, that was down 14.9 – that is almost 15% – from roughly 43,000,000 just the previous year. It was the lowest rated Oscar show since 2009. Now the people behind the program and especially the people buying the advertising, and some of the people within Hollywood who care about Hollywood are beginning to ask the question, ‘why would so many millions of Americans tune it out?’ And the answer given even by the New York Times is, it just may be that the American people have a very different judgment when it comes to films in the Academy Award. And, as they are also pointing out, the interminable program of the Award ceremony turns out to be less interesting to Americans as Hollywood makes it more bizarre year-by-year.

As Cieply and Barnes write,

“Following the best picture win on Sunday night by ‘Birdman’ — a brainy film seen by fewer than five million ticket buyers in North America — the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences woke on Monday to soft television ratings for its Oscar telecast and fresh signs that its movie awards have become hopelessly detached from movie viewers.”

The people buying the tickets are operating out of a very different worldview than the people who were giving out the awards. The bigger problems say the Times,

“….as the results came in, were indications — visible amid a confusing tangle of awards that went in many different directions — that both the Academy and the echo chamber of Hollywood’s awards-system machinery have nearly broken their connection with the movies that many millions of people buy tickets to watch.”

That is a horribly convoluted sentence that just begs for an editor to try to save it, but nonetheless it does communicate a very essential point. It turns out that the Academy – and remember they named themselves the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences – evidently has a vision of the film industry that the American people aren’t buying. Now that is not to say, in terms of moral judgment, that the American people are necessarily trying to go after more moral projects – that this has something about taste or morality. It might, as a matter fact, but what it really points out is the incredible gap between the artistic tastes of the elites, those who are in the film industry and those who give out the awards, and the actual entertainment tastes of the American people. Because the American people are buying tickets to movies the Academy absolutely ignored and the American people are ignoring the movies that won the big awards at the Academy Awards.

Another example was the film “Whiplash.” It won 3 Oscars, it has been seen by,

“…perhaps 1.4 million ticket buyers since its release more than four months ago.”

That is a statistical blip in terms of Hollywood. That means that, statistically speaking, a miniscule number of Americans actually saw the film. There are lessons here for all of us: there can be a tremendous gap between perception and reality, but it’s a very dangerous gap when you begin to believe that you’re reality must be real simply because you have a big awards ceremony and you give each other prizes.

But lest we just throw the motion picture Academy under the bus on this, let’s remember that evangelical Christians can do the very same thing. We can be just as self-congratulatory, we can be just as self-referential, and we can encounter and lock ourselves in our own echo chamber. Reality may be tough to take but reality is at the end of the day, reality. And being in an echo chamber is not healthy. That’s one of the reasons why evangelical Christians must be very careful that we do not merely read our own material; that we look outside ourselves and make sure we’re part of a larger conversation. That is a discipline we have to learn lest we become our own echo chamber.

The sad thing in a sinful world is not how hard it is to believe your own publicity, but how easy it is. How easy it turns out to be, and how important it is that we know it. This story, as it turns out, is not just about Hollywood.


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Podcast Transcript

1) ISIS recruits young ‘cubs’ in effort to create multi-generational jihad

ISIS Trains Child Soldiers at Camps for ‘Cubs of the Islamic State‘, NBC News (Cassandra Vinograd, Ghazi Balkiz and Ammar Cheikh Omar))

2) Journalist celebrates Obama’s duplicity on same-sex marriage as help to the nation

Yes, Obama Was Lying About Opposing Same-Sex Marriage, The Atlantic (David Graham)

3) Christians cannot dodge socially difficult questions for sake of political expediency

Here Are The ‘Science’ Questions Reporters Should Ask Politicians, The Federalist (David Harsanyi)

Obama: Good BS’er, Terrible Liar, National Review Online (David Harsanyi)

4) Academy Award winners reveals growing distance between elites and movie goers

Oscars Show Growing Gap Between Moviegoers and Academy, New York Times (Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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