The Briefing 03-28-16

The Briefing 03-28-16

The Briefing

March 28, 2016

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

It’s Monday, March 28, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Christians in Pakistan gathered in a park for Easter massacred by Taliban suicide bomber

While hundreds of millions of Christians were gathered for the annual festival of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead this Lord’s Day, Sunday evening, Easter became a pretext for terror. As the Los Angeles Times reports,

“Taliban says it targeted Christians in a park on Easter Sunday, killing 70.”

Reporter Shashank Bengali, reporting from Mumbai, India for the Los Angeles Times, writes,

“A bomb ripped through a public park packed with families celebrating Easter in the Pakistani city of Lahore on Sunday evening, killing at least 70 people and wounding more than 300 others, most of them women and children, officials said.

“A suicide bomber set off an explosive vest packed with ball bearings in a parking lot just feet away from amusement park rides in Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park, located in a mostly residential neighborhood of western Lahore.”

A splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, which it said was aimed at Christians celebrating the Easter holiday. It is known that Pakistan is of course a majority Muslim nation—as a matter fact, Christians number only about 2 percent of Pakistan’s 182 million people. What this proves is that the Pakistani Taliban is nothing like the spent force that some Western intelligence agencies had claimed. Clearly in Pakistan and in Afghanistan the Taliban is still a deadly and lethal force for Islamic jihadism. Furthermore, what we have is a trio competing in order to be the most extreme jihadist and the most lethal. And this means that the Islamic State, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban are now locked in what amounts to a propaganda war as to which is the most lethal group in terms of Islamic terrorism. The Los Angeles Times documents just how deadly the Pakistani Taliban has been. The attack on Sunday was, according to the Times,

“The deadliest attack in Pakistan since the December 2014 massacre at an army-run school that left 143 people dead, most of them children.”

That according to the Times “marked a devastating new turn in militant violence against Pakistani civilians.”

The paper went on to chronicle targeted attacks against Christians.

“In January, a separate splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a raid on a university in the northeastern town of Peshawar that killed 21, many of them students who were shot at close range in their dormitories.”

If you recall that story, the Pakistani Taliban held the students at gunpoint and required them to renounce Christianity and to recite a Muslim prayer by memory. If they could not or would not do so immediately they were executed. The Times then goes on to write,

“Christians, who make up less than 2% of Pakistan’s 182 million people, have frequently been targeted by Pakistani extremist groups. In 2013, 75 Christians were killed in a suicide bombing at a church in the northeastern city of Peshawar.”

The news coming out of Pakistan documents once again the fact that a clash of worldviews is often deadly, and that is particularly the case when groups such as the Taliban are involved. And yesterday as Christians gathered to celebrate the resurrection from the dead of the Prince of Peace, there were Christians who paid for that celebration with their lives murdered by the Taliban, targeted particularly because they were identified as Christians.

Part II

Aftermath of Brussels attack reveals massive intelligence failures and further vulnerability

Next, a series of important articles that are datelined in Brussels having to do with the deadly bombings that took place there just last week: It is now known that military officials had warned the citizens of Brussels to expect such an attack just one day before it happened, horrifyingly enough, but what is now admitted is, as the New York Times headline story said over the weekend, Belgium is now admitting lapses before the attacks took place.

It is really important for us to look at this story, because it tells us that sometimes even when people know that danger is very, very close, they miss the very signs of the danger that is coming. What this story documents, as reporters Alissa Rubin and Rick Gladstone make clear, is that top Belgian officials at the end of last week had to acknowledge miscommunications and other errors in the prelude to the Brussels suicide bombings, as growing evidence of links to the Paris assault by the Islamic State suggested that a wide network of trained attackers leading back to Syria is now rooted in Europe. According to the paper,

“The Belgian justice and interior ministers acknowledged that their departments should have acted on a Turkish alert about Ibrahim el-Bakraoui, a convicted Belgian criminal briefly arrested in Turkey last year on suspicion of terrorist activity, who turned out to be one of the suicide bombers.”

Now the importance of the story, once again, is the fact that even as you are told that someone has evil intent, and even as military intelligence officials there in Brussels warns citizens to expect this kind of attack, the law enforcement officials themselves missed the signals of the attack as it was happening and as it was being plotted.

“Taken together, they amounted to the first high-level acknowledgment that European officials could have done more to avert the bombings, and came amid other recriminations in the European Union about recurrent failures among its national police forces and intelligence services to share information.”

Then comes another very important warning from the New York Times telling us that officials in Brussels are now concerned about the security of nuclear facilities in that nation. As Alissa Rubin and Milan Schreuer report,

“As a dragnet aimed at Islamic State operatives spiraled across Brussels and into at least five European countries on Friday, the authorities were also focusing on a narrower but increasingly alarming threat: the vulnerability of Belgium’s nuclear installations.”

The background of this story is additionally shocking, because it tells us that even as all of these terror networks have been identified and even as recurring terrorist attacks have taken place in the heart of Europe, Belgian authorities have not moved with any speed or effectiveness to guard even the nuclear facilities there in Belgium. This is one of those stories that staggers the imagination. How could it be that a government would warn its citizens of such danger, would continue to state that it’s expecting this kind of attack to take place and yet would leave even their nuclear facilities relatively vulnerable? And by relatively vulnerable, that’s an understatement once you read the story. The documentation in the New York Times article is genuinely concerning. I quote,

“The revelation of the video surveillance footage was the first evidence that the Islamic State has a focused interest in nuclear material. But Belgium’s nuclear facilities have long had a worrying track record of breaches, prompting warnings from Washington and other foreign capitals.”

The paper goes on to say that,

“Some of these are relatively minor: The Belgian nuclear agency’s computer system was hacked this year and shut down briefly. In 2013, two individuals managed to scale the fence at Belgium’s research reactor in the city of Mol, break into a laboratory and steal equipment.”
But others are not minor in any sense.

“In 2012, two employees at the nuclear plant in Doel quit to join jihadists in Syria, and eventually transferred their allegiances to the Islamic State. Both men fought in a brigade that included dozens of Belgians, including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, considered the on-the-ground leader of the Paris attacks.”

What can only be defined as a clear and present danger is made clear in this paragraph,

“At the same plant where these jihadists once worked, an individual who has yet to be identified walked into the reactor No. 4 in 2014, turned a valve and drained 65,000 liters of oil used to lubricate the turbines. The ensuing friction nearly overheated the machinery, forcing it to be shut down. The damage was so severe that the reactor was out of commission for five months.”

What we’re looking at once again, is the fact that you have intelligence agencies that appear not to be acting very intelligently. From a Christian worldview perspective, the interest is this: It turns out that as a species we are largely incapable of judging risk and taking many appropriate actions when it would seem that the mandated actions are right before our eyes. One of the things clearly going on now is that Belgian and other European authorities are looking at the fact that the threats are coming so fast and so furiously they hardly know how to assimilate all the data that is coming out about suspected jihadists and potential terrorist actions.

Part III

Brothers in crime: Why are so many family members involved in Islamic terrorism together?

But there are two other big angles on this story from a Christian worldview perspective. Additionally, this comes from the New York Times, the headline,

“Belgian Brothers Named in Attacks; 3rd Man is Hunted. One More Time Siblings Unite in Terror.”

This very interesting article in the New York Times tells us of a recurring pattern that is now becoming apparent. Jihadists often travel in pairs, and the pairs, it turns out, are often brothers. As the team of reporters for the New York Times tell us, the two brothers now identified as being at the heart of the attacks in Belgium, they are now confronting investigators and counterterrorism experts with a disturbingly recurrent question: Why do so many terrorist turn out to be brothers? That’s a very interesting question. The article goes on to say that these brothers join a list of brothers involved in,

“…nearly every major attack on Western soil has involved siblings, with three sets of Saudi brothers among the 19 hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks [in the United States]. Before then, the grim roster included 19th-century French anarchists, militants in Southeast Asia and the Jewish extremists who assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel in 1995.

“For terror groups, brothers can be ideal recruits. They radicalize each other while reinforcing a sense of purpose and ideological calling. They keep watch on each other to ensure an attack is carried out. One new study suggests that up to 30 percent of members of terrorist groups share family ties.”

The article captures our attention when it goes on,

“Siblings also present a formidable challenge for law enforcement. They often live in the same house. They can communicate easily, without using cellphones that are vulnerable to surveillance. And the glue of family can often — though not always — serve as insurance against one member of a cell betraying the mission to the authorities.”

Explaining the rise of this particularly deadly version of a band of brothers, Audrey Kurth Cronin, an author and scholar at George Mason University said,

“Brothers would likely be exposed to similar radical messages, and they might well debate and brainstorm together about them. And if you can rely on a family member in your plotting, it’s probably less likely that they’ll go to the police. It’s a question of security and trust.”

Now this kind of story goes right back to the Scriptures where we understand that brothers can be forces for great good or brothers can be forces for great evil. And it’s not only siblings, of course, that can function in this way, but in the context of a family, siblings, given the power of their relationship, given the relationship between two brothers committed to a cause, as this article makes very clear, it turns out that siblings, that brothers in particular, have been involved in almost every major jihadist attack on the United States since September 11, 2001. J. M. Berger, a terrorism analyst and co-author of “ISIS: The State of Terror” explained,

“Violent extremism spreads through social contact, and for most people, siblings are a big and important part of their social environment. You may feel you can talk to a sibling about matters you can’t discuss with others.”

Another expert, Mia Bloom, co-author of “All in the Family: A Primer on Terrorist Siblings,” cited scholarly research, according to the paper,

“…showing that as many as a third of the people terror groups send to carry out attacks came from the same family. Examples abound of jihadists marrying a sister or daughter to another jihadist family in order to build alliances.”

She said,

“These groups are always worried about infiltration. When a family member tried to join, it’s a great vetting mechanism. Then they know they can trust them.”

But there’s another very interesting twist to the story, because as it turns out, even as these brothers tend to be very involved together in jihad-ism they do not like to see each other die. And so jihadist organizations tend at the moment of the attack to send siblings to two different locations so that they are not restrained by love of brother from carrying out their deadly intentions. That also really tells us something. It tells us that even as brothers may be inclined to become radicalized together, they are still brothers. They may plot mayhem and murder, but they are still brothers and when it comes to actually carrying out their terrorist intentions, they do not want to see each other die.

As this article makes clear, this pattern of siblings being involved together in terrorism is not unique to Islamic terrorism, but it turns out to be a major feature of Islamic terrorism in the modern world. Shockingly so, as this front-page article in the New York Times makes clear, one of the things that becomes very apparent in this article is that this pattern has been of interest to law enforcement and intelligence officials for a long time. So much so that when two brothers are found to be in the very heart of the deadly attacks in Brussels last week, intelligence officials were not only not surprised, they were not surprised at all.

Part IV

Europe's secular project splitting at the seams as nation states lack common worldview

The other really important and interesting dimension of the story in Belgium over the weekend has to do with what didn’t happen in Belgium and what that actually points to. What didn’t happen was a resurgence of Belgian pride and patriotism in the aftermath of the deadly attacks. Again, coming from the New York Times, Dan Bilefsky writes,

“In the United States, the Sept. 11 attacks unleashed an outpouring of patriotism. After the attacks in and around Paris on Nov. 13, the tricolor of the French flag was ubiquitous as the country channeled its grief.

“Not so in Belgium. In this wounded nation, politically fragmented and divided between Dutch-speaking Flanders in the north and French-speaking Wallonia in the south, displays of the black, yellow and red of the Belgian flag have been relatively restrained, even as the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building lit up in its colors.”

One 19-year-old Belgian explained,

“We Belgians do not wrap ourselves in the flag — it is not our way.”

The big dimension of the story has to do with the fact that Belgium, as a nation, seems to lack a coherent sense of self identity and patriotism so that they know how to respond as a nation in the aftermath of these attacks. The article makes this point very, very clear. The lack of national unity within Belgium is made very clear by the fact, as the paper indicates, that the nation once had three sitting parliaments at one time; the nation once went over 500 days without any government at all; and in one of the facts made clear in this article, in Brussels, the nation’s capital, until last year there were 19 different police forces and they did not share information with one another. One dimension was made very clear in a question asked in the paper,

“How, some critics here and abroad asked, could a country that in the past had been barely able to form a government — and a city that until recently had 19 police forces — effectively hunt for terrorists?”

The article goes on to state,

“Belgium, a tiny country of 11 million people, has long had an identity crisis. It lives in the shadow of its larger and more powerful cousin, France. Brussels, the capital, doubles as the capital of the European Union and headquarters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, giving it global heft but also subsuming its already fragile and fragmented persona to plodding bureaucratic institutions.”

But the question of Belgian identity actually pales over against the larger question, and that is European identity. And that’s the question that comes up again and again in the aftermath of what’s going on not only in Brussels, but what took place last year in France and what’s going on throughout all of Europe—huge questions about whether Europe is actually a civilization, whether Europe now shares a common culture. Over the past several decades, and especially in the aftermath of World War II, Europe had been moving into ever closer integration, especially with the formation of what is now known as the European Union. The great experiment was declared to be to create in Europe the analogy to the United States, whereas the United States is a federation of 50 states, the suggestion was that Europe should now be a counterbalance to the United States by having European nations share a common political identity that would transcend all of their national differences. To state the very least, that has not happened. But the reason why it didn’t happen is of utmost importance from the Christian worldview.

What has become glaringly apparent is that Europe doesn’t share a common civilizational core. That common core is what explained the rise of Europe as a civilization. That’s what explained why Europe became the leader of the world in so many ways in the development of modern society and modern culture, why Europe became the great powerhouse of world history throughout most of the centuries of the last 2000 years. And yet Europe now lacks an identity. And from a Christian worldview perspective, this should be especially clear, because that European civilizational idea was essentially, historically, organically rooted in Christianity. It was Christianity that formed the moral discourse that gave Europe birth. It was Christianity that was the very essence of the civilizational glue that held Europe together. It was a Christian worldview that held together European communities that spoke different languages but did throughout most of those centuries share a common civilizational ideal. And yet it is that very common core that has been denied and has even become something of an embarrassment to modern European nations. Modern Europe tried to replace the Christian worldview with the worldview that could well be described as cosmopolitanism—a worldview that tried to state that what Europe would now represent is modern values and a modern assertion of human rights, a modern secular vision of the good life, a modern secular moral discourse. And yet what we now see is the abject failure of that secular worldview to create a core that can hold Europe together.

Part V

21 years later, justice is served: Radovan Karadzic convicted of genocide at the Hague

And next, that brings us to our final story for The Briefing today. As is so often the case over the weekend, the most important headlines from a worldview perspective are those that have dominated the global scene. The Wall Street Journal had a very important editorial over the weekend entitled,

“A Genocide Conviction.”

As the editors wrote,

“The conviction at the Hague this week of Serb leader Radovan Karadzic deserved more attention than it has received. The Karadzic conviction was no mere tidying up of the Balkan wars of the 1990s. It is relevant to the brutal events in Brussels that transfixed the world this week, as have similar bloodlettings at the hands of Islamic State.

“Karadzic was a Serbian demagogue who drove the first organized genocide on European soil since World War II. The details of his conviction, including the killing of 8,000 Muslim males in Srebrenica in 1995, don’t begin to tell the story.”

But we have to tell the story. Under the leadership of Radovan Karadzic, his Serbian forces lined up in Srebrenica every man and every boy over the age of 10 and massacred them in an effort to bring an end to the Islamic population there in that city. As the editors of the Wall Street Journal note,

“’Ethnic cleansing’ is the grim phrase born in those years to describe the murder, torture and rape that in 1992 alone took some 45,000 lives, both Muslims and Catholic Croatians.”

Once again, linking this to the failure of Europe in the post-Christian age, the editors wrote,

“Europe was incapable of acting. The killing didn’t stop until President Bill Clinton, under bipartisan pressure, committed the U.S. and NATO to an air and ground campaign that forced Serbia to negotiate the war’s end with the Dayton Agreement.

“Today the world confronts the Islamic State and its homicidal leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. That will end when the same will that stopped Karadzic’s killing is brought to bear.”

But this is what happens when nations fail, and nations fail when they lack to have a common core identity that holds its peoples together. The kingdom of Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia was formed in 1918 in the aftermath of the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the end of World War II. It was reestablished as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in 1929; it was transformed into a Soviet satellite state under the leadership of Joseph Tito, and yet he died in 1980. In the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia broke into competing parts, some of them more aligned with the old Austrian Hungarian empire and others with the old Ottoman Empire and genocide in what was claimed to be ethnic cleansing then followed. But we also need to note that Karadzic wasn’t convicted of these crimes at this international tribunal until 21 years after the murders had taken place when under his leadership ethnic cleansing became national policy.

In one additional bizarre twist to the story, when the time came for him to be arrested after he was discovered in 2008, more than 10 years after he vanished, he had taken a new identity says the Times, “posing as a faith healer and using the alias Dr. Dragan Dabic. He had grown a bushy beard and had long hair fastened in a topknot.”

But from a Christian worldview, the important thing to recognize is that even the world in all of its moral confusion knows that something like the genocide conducted by Radovan Karadzic has to be answerable to justice. From the Christian worldview, the most important thing is to understand that justice is the demand that even a confused secular society understands in the face of such monumental crimes as this. It is certainly true that in this case, it was justice delayed because Radovan Karadzic was convicted 21 years after these horrifying crimes. But just keep in mind that there are still trials going on of those who perpetuated the Nazi genocide during the Second World War. Justice may be delayed, but it must come. And this is where the Christian worldview reminds us that it is possible for someone to escape human justice. It happens over and over again, but our confidence is absolutely secure that no one will escape the judgment of God.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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