The Briefing 05-25-17

The Briefing 05-25-17

The Briefing

May 25, 2017

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

It’s Thursday, May 25, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The failure of integration and global jihad: Why are so many British youths being radicalized?

As expected, we now do know at least a bit more about the deadly suicide bombing that took place on Monday night in Manchester in England, a suicide bombing that was particularly directed at maximum terror and maximum injury and death against an audience of young people, primarily young women and girls, who been gathered for performance by the pop star Ariana Grande. It was the largest death toll, now reaching 22, going all the way back in the United Kingdom to July 7, 2005 in an orchestrated attack then on the public transit system in London.

What we’re looking at here in terms of what we know now that is more than we knew Monday is following a very familiar pattern. That familiar pattern in much of Europe has to do with those who are born in those European nations, in this case in the United Kingdom, but whose parents have come from predominantly Muslim countries. There’s a common thread running through all too many of these stories. It’s a thread that tells us about young people who were born in these European nations to parents who would come from predominantly Muslim countries. And these young people one way or another have made their way back from Europe to those Muslim dominated lands where they have somehow picked up the virus of radicalism and jihadism, and then they go back to those nations where they had been born, those European nations, but they go back as jihadists in training, an all too easy activation.

We’re also interested to know that this kind of activation is no longer necessarily contemporaneous or even personal or individual. Instead, the Islamic State and other global entities involved in the jihad have given a blanket preauthorization and pre-activation. This relates especially to the so-called lone wolf terrorists who, we now know, are deeply embedded in many Western societies merely awaiting an opportunity. Furthermore, the Islamic State and other organizations have publicly published all kinds of instructions about how to carry out the terror attack to maximum effect.

And there’s another very important statistic, a fact that has come to light just in the last 24 hours or so; that is this, we now know, as reported by The Independent, National Public Radio, and other worldwide media authorities, that at least 850 young people from the United Kingdom have gone from the UK to the Middle East or to North Africa; there they have been believed to have been radicalized by the Islamic state. They have received jihadist training, but at least half of them have returned to the United Kingdom. That’s an amazing fact. British authorities are now indicating that they believe that there are over 400 trained jihadists who have gone from the United Kingdom to the Middle East and North Africa, received training, and come back. That raises an obvious question. Why in the world would any kind of Western society allow this pattern to exist, much less to continue?

As reporter Lizzie Dearden of The Independent states,

“Of at least 850 extremists known to have left the UK for Isis territories in Iraq and Syria, at least half are believed to have returned and 15 per cent been killed.”

Now once again, the math is quite frightening. We’re looking at over 400 young people who are now documented known to have gone just to these two Middle Eastern countries and returned as trained jihadists.

One of the hallmarks of Western civilization is a certain openness to our societies, societies that are marked by a very prized liberty. But that liberty, we need to understand, is absolutely predicated upon a certain safety and stability. Liberty and freedom, openness, cannot long exist when a society lacks the ability to preserve that necessary stability and security, that necessary safety. So what we’re looking at here is that British authorities are now admitting that they have allowed about 800 of their own young people to go to Iraq and Syria, and about 400, or more than that actually, to be radicalized and then to have come back and to have been allowed back in to the United Kingdom.

Salman Abedi, who is now believed to have been the 22-year-old suicide attacker there in Manchester, fits the profile precisely. He was born to Libyan parents but he was born in the United Kingdom. But as an older teenager, he went to the Middle East. There he was radicalized. He was allowed back in the country. By the way, British authorities indicated yesterday that members of his family may be implicated in this or in similar plots. Both his brother and his father have been arrested and detained at least for interrogation by British authorities. The brother it is believed may have been involved in an attempt for a similar kind of terrorist attack in Libya.

In an editorial that ran yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, that paper’s editors said that,

“Muslims will have to take ultimate responsibility for rooting out radicals in their midst. British Muslim groups,” they say, “have made strides, but they are often in the minority among imams and community leaders. As long as that continues, the failure of integration will pose a mortal threat to Europe.”

That failure of integration is a key category here. What we’re looking at in the case of that fact about over 400 young persons from the United Kingdom who have been radicalized in return, what we’re looking at is an entire generation of young persons who do not want to integrate with British or other European societies. They hold themselves out as distinct. Their goal is not at all integration. That’s the problem with this editorial in the Wall Street Journal. The editorial’s irrefutable in its logic. The problem is a failure of integration. But what we need to note, the problem is not just a failure of integration, it is a resistance to integration.

It’s at this point that we have to add another layer of analysis here, a layer that’s largely missing in terms not only of the secular media but in the global conversation. The basic problem here in terms of the resistance to integration is not political, it’s not economic, it’s not sociological. If those were the key issues, then there would be sociological, political, and economic solutions. What we know as Christians is that the basic problem is indeed just that. It’s more basic. It is a conflict of worldviews. What explains what took place in Manchester on Monday night, frighteningly enough, can’t be reduced to any kind of politics, economics, or sociology. It was deeply theological. And there is a theological argument that runs behind this wave of terror. That’s made clear, amazingly enough, in that editorial in the Wall Street Journal where once again the final paragraph began with the statement that,

“Muslims will have to take ultimate responsibility for rooting out radicals in their midst.”

There’s another interesting angle on this story reported in terms of the British press. For example, The Guardian, one of the more liberal newspapers in London, is reporting that there’s a generational distinction that’s important here. Many older Libyans who had left their country and come to the United Kingdom had been warning British authorities for years, we are told, of the radicalization of so many of their own young people. More specifically, as Chris Stephen of The Guardian has reported, it is very well known that open recruitment for jihad has been going on in the streets and also in the mosques and in the neighborhoods of cities such as Manchester. A free society that allows that kind of recruitment, not to mention the activation of jihadists, a free society that allows so much freedom that it allows young persons to go and train for jihad and to return, that kind of free society, let’s just state the obvious, will not remain free for long.

Part II

What should Christians think of espionage? Wrestling with the moral dimensions of spying

Another very sad headline in terms of what it means to live in a fallen world came in the New York Times over the weekend. The headline in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times on the front page, and I quote,

“Killing C.I.A. Informants, China Stifled U.S. Spying.”

The subhead in the article says,

“One of the Worst Breaches in Decades —Investigators Clash Over the Cause.”

An entire team of reporters for the New York Times tells us,

“The Chinese government systematically dismantled C.I.A. spying operations in the country starting in 2010, killing or imprisoning more than a dozen sources over two years and crippling intelligence gathering there for years afterward. Current and former American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades.”

The reporters tell us that there is great division in terms of the American intelligence community as to who is at blame at least in terms of the American side, but as the reporters tell us,

“But there was no disagreement about the damage. From the final weeks of 2010 through the end of 2012, according to former American officials, the Chinese killed at least a dozen of the C.I.A.’s sources. According to three of the officials, one was shot in front of his colleagues in the courtyard of a government building — a message to others who might have been working for the C.I.A. Still others were put in jail. All told, the Chinese killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 of the C.I.A.’s sources in China, according to two former senior American officials, effectively unraveling a network that had taken years to build.”

The reporters then summarize,

“Assessing the fallout from an exposed spy operation can be difficult, but the episode was considered particularly damaging.”

Now this is an aspect of modern life that many Christians simply almost never think about and most certainly never think about in very serious terms. Now we look at spy movies and the popularity of spy stories, that in itself tells us something very interesting. Those who look at literature by terms of the Christian worldview have noted that there are two particular kinds of stories to which people are often drawn. One is the murder story, the other is the spy story. What’s the distinction between the two? They actually follow very different literary forms. One of the hallmarks of the murder mystery is the fact that there is almost always a clear right and a clear wrong. There is the one who did the crime, there is the crime, there is the evil of the crime, and then there is the investigation in order to solve the crime. And the basic moral presupposition of a murder story is the fact that murder is undeniably wrong, the murderer must be caught, and then justice must be executed. But when it comes to the spy novel, that’s a very different narrative. The distinction between the murder story and the spy story is that the morality becomes much more opaque in the spy story. That’s one of the reasons why these stories often make very good movies, and it also explains why many of the lead characters in these stories and in these movies are themselves so morally mixed, often so psychologically troubled, in many cases morally ambivalent about at least some of what they have to do.

Now the world is not evenly divided between those who would rather read a murder mystery or a spy novel, but the reality is they are two very different forms of literature, and the moral contexts are actually quite different. Here’s a front-page news story out of the New York Times telling us that American spy operations have been largely crippled in China, and that once the Chinese had penetrated our spy organization, it eventually led to a very public execution of at least one of America’s spies and to the death or at least the jailing of at least about 18 to 20 others. And just keep in mind whenever you see a story like this, this is what has been confirmed by sources. The reality may be much, much larger.

There’s another interesting facet of this story. It has been noted by some Christians, but it has also been noted by literary scholars who are not Christians at all, there is something of a chronology to the popularity when you compare murder mysteries and spy novels. The murder mystery was at its heyday in the 19th and early 20th century. The other thing to note here is that murder mysteries have often been explicitly Christian in terms of the worldview, and so also have been many of the authors of those stories, including G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James, and others. But the popularity of the espionage or spy novel is something that is actually more recent, coming mostly after World War II in terms of English and American literature, and that tells us something about the change in the moral tenor of the times. We’re looking at a greater moral confusion, a deeper moral ambiguity in those decades. We’re also looking perhaps at a greater resistance to make very clear distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil.

As we’ve often reminded ourselves on The Briefing, when it comes to warfare Christians have been thinking very carefully for centuries now. The main tradition of moral reasoning considering warfare is known as just war theory, divided into two parts: the conditions in which war would be justified and then the conditions by which war must be carried out by any just power. During World War II and well into what became the Cold War, Americans and others became far more deeply involved in state-sponsored spy-craft and espionage than ever before. One of the interesting things for Americans to note is that we had no official spy agency that would be given to that officially in terms of a charge by the United States government until the Second World War, and even then far more in reality in the Cold War.

As recently as 1963, then former President of the United States Harry Truman lamented his creation of the Central Intelligence Agency. As he told the Washington Post, again in 1963,

“For some time, I’ve been disturbed by the way the CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. I never had any thought,” said the former president, “when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime, cloak and dagger operations.” He says, “This quiet intelligence arm of the president has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue and is subject of Cold War enemy propaganda.”

There former President Truman was expressing regret that the CIA would be involved in espionage, especially when it came to foreign powers, in what would not be identified as the conditions of war. But as we now know, his successor in office, former general Dwight David Eisenhower, he had no such qualms about the use of espionage, and under Eisenhower the role of espionage in American foreign policy and operations expanded tremendously. In 1954, almost 10 years before President Truman made those remarks, Eisenhower had given a responsibility to then retired U.S. General James Doolittle to look into the operations of the CIA and the larger context of American spy craft. General Doolittle reported to President Eisenhower, and remember this is 1954,

“It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost,” Doolittle wrote. “There are no rules in such a game… If the United States is to survive, long standing concepts of ‘fair play’ must be reconsidered. We must develop effective espionage and counterespionage services and must learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, more sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us.”

He then went on to say,

“It may become necessary that the American people be acquainted with, understand, and support this fundamentally repugnant philosophy.”

All that before what we now know as the War on Terror. Back during the time of the Cold War, American espionage was particularly directed against the Soviet Union and China and their allies.

All this points to a very different moral formula. Looking back from 2006, James M. Olson, the former chief of CIA counterintelligence, spoke to that change in the moral situation with these words,

“I will concede that spying is a dirty business. But my question is this: what’s the alternative? No intelligence? Should we abstain from lying, cheating, deceiving, and manipulating and do without the intelligence they produce? Should we unilaterally discontinue espionage and covert action operations overseas? Should we put all our trust in overt sources of information, diplomacy, and the peaceful arts and hope our enemies will not take advantage of us? Is that the real world? Would that be safe?”

Answering his own question, James M. Olson—he was indeed the former chief of CIA counterintelligence—came to the conclusion that the American people had come to a very different understanding of espionage than where Americans might have been when President Truman was in office, making that point that he affirmed in the interview in 1963.

“The American people settled and have now come to the position, “said Olson, “that the question is not if but when this kind of espionage is morally justifiable.”

We need to remember the very words that Olson used in describing the dirty business of spy craft. He included words such as these: “lying, cheating, deceiving and manipulating.”

From a Christian worldview perspective, the most sobering aspect of all of this is that all of those verbs have now become the tools of modern warfare. What has been described over the last several decades as the new asymmetrical form of warfare means that we’re not looking at warfare primarily in terms of nation against nation, army facing army, but rather the kind of warfare, including what is now known as the War on Terror, that includes lying and deceiving and all that was identified by Olson in terms of the dirty business of spy craft.

One of the excruciating and very humbling realities of living in a fallen world is that what Olson describes as this dirty business is indeed what we now expect our government to undertake on our behalf. But it’s morally significant that most Americans don’t want to know about what actually takes place. It’s one thing to be entertained by the kind of spy thriller that you might see coming from Hollywood, it’s another thing to have to read the kind of headline news story that appeared this past Sunday on the front page of the New York Times.

Here we also pause to remember that the Christian worldview helps us to think about how to think. It doesn’t always give us an easy way to resolve a very difficult question. This is one of those very difficult questions that is exceedingly difficult to resolve. It’s easy to come to the conclusion, as Olson does in his book, the conclusion, I think he’s right to say, that the majority of the American people have come to: the question is not if but when this kind of technique would be necessary. It’s another thing to recognize that there are very real flesh and blood human beings who are having to make many of these very excruciatingly deadly decisions on an almost—and here are the keywords: on our behalf.

It’s also good for us to remember that this isn’t only a modern story. We can go back in our own biblical knowledge to Joshua chapter 2 verse 1 when we read,

“Then Joshua sent two spies from the camp at Acacia with orders to go and secretly explore the land of Canaan, especially the city of Jericho. When they came to the city, they went to spend the night in the house of a prostitute named Rahab.”

There were tough moral issues there in Canaan in Joshua chapter 2. We shouldn’t be surprised that in our own time, the problems haven’t gotten easier, only more excruciating.

You know finally one other thing we need to keep in mind is that many, many Americans, no doubt at least those who read the New York Times or similar newspapers, saw that story about the crippling of U.S. espionage efforts in China and thought, that’s a real loss for our national security. Undoubtedly, it is. But we as Christians have to understand something else. We have to read every one of these stories in human terms. There were persons we now know in China who were assisting the United States in the defense of liberty, and as we now know some of them are paying for that cooperation in prison terms, others paid with their lives. The spy movies, let’s remind ourselves, are escapism. For some of those who have taken on responsibility to deal with these issues, we now know there is simply no escape.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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