Thursday, October 19, 2017
The Briefing 10-19-17
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, October 19, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see the caliphate in retreat. We’ll see the resistance of secular Westerners to recognize the Islamic nature of the Islamic state. We will note a 3 ½ hour speech you probably missed, and we’ll hear a teacher’s chilling question from rural China.
The Caliphate in retreat: Coalition forces seize Raqqa from the Islamic State
For the last several years an ominous flag has flown over what was considered to be an increasing amount of territory, and that territory was known as the Islamic state. Something the global community had not seen for centuries the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. That is a government under a Khalif, a government under the Islamic rule, an aggressive government, a government that was aggressive in terms of its military and its terrorist ambitions. Over the course of those same years, the Islamic state has become one of the most feared and dreaded entities on the planet, and now there is good news coming out of Syria. The Islamic state in establishing its caliphate, what it claimed to be its caliphate, its territory under Islamic rule that it intended to extend according to its own words to the end of the earth, that caliphate had been headquartered in two big cities. Those cities were Mosal in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.
Now as of Tuesday of this week military authorities indicate that coalition forces have control of over 90% of rock, and that is after Mosal had already been taken by Iraqi forces. The Islamic state is in constriction. It is now very clearly in retreat. But even as we note this development and try to take measure of its long-term meaning, it becomes very clear that the world was not taking the Islamic state seriously either as a state or in terms of its Islamic theology. Graeme Wood writing in a very important article in the Atlantic magazine just a matter of a couple of years ago trying to correct the foreign-policy establishment of the secular Western nations in making clear that the Islamic state was not merely using Islam it was driven by Islam. One of the problems that we have seen repeatedly is that the secular Western elites are unable given their own generally secular worldviews to take into full account, to recognize much less to understand a genuinely theological argument. And make no mistake, the argument being made by the Islamic states and also by others who were involved in global jihad is inherently and irreducibly Islamic.
Amongst the realities we should note is the fact that this Islamic state was able to recruit many persons who would even fairly recently converted to Islam. Many of them in disaffected communities, minority immigrant communities in major European cities but also some from the United States as well. The front page article in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times declared,
“Whether final or not, the seemingly inevitable defeat in Raqqa of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, carries heavy symbolic weight. At its height in 2014, the group controlled Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, as well as Raqqa and large stretches of land on both sides of the border. And it had grand aspirations to increase its territory and cement its rule.”
Now the most immediate threat posed by the Islamic state in terms of territorial ambitions was in the very area surrounding where the Islamic state had conquered territory, which was not only in significant parts of Syria and Iraq but also in certain parts of north Africa. But we should also remember that the Islamic state pledged that in terms of its expanding caliphate that one day its flag would fly over the White House. The Times article goes on to say,
“The Islamic State leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who once spent time in a prison run by occupying American troops in Iraq, claimed to be the successor to the caliphs, the Islamic emperors who shaped the region in past centuries.”
The article goes on to say,
“He persuaded tens of thousands of Muslims from around the world, some new to the faith or poorly versed in it, to travel to the region to fight.”
Reporters for the Associated Press also yesterday tell us that once this announcement was made,
“Fighters from the SDF celebrated by chanting and honking their horns as they spun doughnuts with their Humvees and armored personnel carriers, and hoisting yellow SDF flags around Naim, or Paradise Square.”
Listen to the next words,
“The infamous square was the site of public beheadings and other killings by the militants.” That is the Islamic State. “Bodies and severed heads would be displayed there for days, mounted on posts and labeled with their alleged crimes, according to residents who later dubbed it ‘Hell Square.’”
The resistance of secular Westerners to recognize the Islamic nature of the Islamic State
The modern secular elites, especially in the West, fail to understand and even now continue to deny the role of Islamic theology in the Islamic state because they don’t understand a theological argument, nor do they understand the theological animation and motivation behind those who joined the Islamic state. Classical Islamic teaching rooted in the Quran separates the world into two different spheres. They’re described as two different worlds: the world of Islam – that is the world that is now already under Islamic rule – and what is called the world of war, where every faithful Muslim must strive in order that it too every single square inch of it would be brought under Sharia law or the rule of Islam. If you understand classical Islamic thought, it is bringing the world under the rule of the Quran that will lead and will only lead to peace and human happiness and human flourishing. This we have to understand is a theological motivation – that is, surprisingly enough, in this secular time and in so many post-Christian nations in Europe – it is an animating cause that attracts as the New York Times said tens of thousands of recruits to the Islamic state in order to join the jihad. And then we remind ourselves that the Islamic state has the headlines now only after it seized those headlines from the terrorist group Al Qaeda that was behind several notorious attacks, most infamously the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York City and Washington D.C.
The Islamic state grabbed those headlines with two huge and deadly developments. The first was it was going to claim territory. It had territorial ambitions in the announcement that it was reestablishing the caliphate. Al Qaeda was distributed around the world in cells. It did not claim territory. This was new. Furthermore, the Islamic state also said that all of the existing supposedly Islamic governments were inadequately and unfaithfully Islamic. But add to this the fact that the Islamic state gained those headlines and grabbed the attention because it also deviated from the plan of Al Qaeda and previous forms of Islamic jihadist terrorism. It did so by intentionally targeting civilians and also by breaking the code of Al Qaeda, which was that Muslims on jihad should never willingly and strategically kill fellow Muslims. All those rules are off according the Islamic state because even Muslims who resist the Islamic state but are part of other Islamic governments or under other Islamic rule are potentially the enemy rather than the ally.
So in light of this good news, the good news about the fact the coalition forces are now in control of Raqqa after Mosal, even in light of this good news we need to think very carefully as Christians recognizing that a part of what we see demonstrated here is the very unfortunate collision between the secular West and a resurgent Islam. To put the matter bluntly, that’s not a fair fight because the secular West has disarmed itself very effectively when it comes to theology even understanding theology. The other thing we have to recognize is that the Islamic state is not going away even if it is losing its territory. Again, going back to the New York Times article, I read,
“Analysts say the group is already preparing for a new phase, morphing back into the kind of underground insurgency it started as, when it took root among disaffected Sunni populations that were willing to tolerate, if not wholeheartedly embrace, its ultraconservative brand of Islam. And,” concludes the paragraph, “while many Arabs quickly soured on the group because of its brutal crackdowns and unfulfilled promises, their underlying political disaffection has not been addressed.”
So even as these headlines lead the news, we have to understand that what we’re looking at here is a very important battle won, but not the war. The war goes on.
Chinese President Xi outlines vision for total Communist control in 3½ hour speech
Next, most Americans will give inadequate attention to a major political speech that deserves attention. It was given yesterday, and it wasn’t given in the United States. It was given in Beijing. It was given by Xi Jinping who is the president of China. As he was speaking to the Chinese Communist Party Congress and what makes this speech important is not just its length, it was we need to note 3 ½ hours long, but rather what it represents as the retrenchment of the Chinese Communist Party, which is after all a country of 1.3 billion people, a country that over the last several decades has appeared to embrace first a form of a market economy and then what can only be described as some form of outright capitalism, a nation that had been known for entering the world of nations in a whole new way after centuries of isolation in the big scheme of history and even after decades of isolation after the Chinese communist revolution in 1949. But we now see in China under the leadership of President Xi Jinping is that the Communist Party is intending to exert a whole new doctrine of purity, communist purity within the nation, and to reinforce its control over every aspect of Chinese life.
In recent years the Chinese government has become even more repressive after at least a couple of decades of what was hoped in the West to be something of a fall on matters of human rights. The Chinese Communist Party has been cracking down on Christian churches, especially the so-called unregistered churches often described as underground or house churches there in China. It has also even undermined some of the churches that were recognized in China, tearing down towers and steeples of churches and doing its very best to erase the visibility of Christianity from the entire society as well as from the city skylines. Furthermore, the indoctrination of just about every level of Chinese society by the repressive power of the Communist Party has been reasserted and this has caught the attention of just about everyone who was watching China. And what it has also caught now is the attention of the Chinese people because the Chinese Communist Party in the announcements made over the last several years and especially in the President’s speech to the Chinese Communist Party yesterday it was three and a half hours of describing how the Chinese Communist Party is going to assert a very strong doctrinaire form of communism and Marxism throughout every dimension of Chinese life.
Simon Denyer at the Washington Post reported it this way,
“For 3½ hours, China’s President Xi Jinping commanded the stage and the nation’s television screens as he set out a far-reaching agenda for the Communist Party, outlining a vision of total control, not only of the nation’s economy and the Internet but also of culture, religion and morals.”
We have seen this developing over time. But what happened yesterday in that 3 ½ hour speech and in the successive days of the Chinese Communist Party Congress is the announcement by the Congress that it is even going to take control of religion. And by that it means it’s a doctrinaire Marxism that has to be the religion of the land. The President said to the over 2000 members of the party elite gathered yesterday,
“It will take more than drumbeating and gong-clanging to get there,” he added. “Every one of us in the party must be prepared to work even harder toward this goal.”
Xi Jinping is actually coming to the end of his first five-year term, and traditionally at the end of the first five-year term, the Chinese president has appointed or at least anointed a successor would conceivably come into office at the end of the president’s second five-year term. But Xi Jinping is sending very strong signals that he doesn’t intend to leave after the customary 10 years serving as Communist Party leader and as China’s president. He intends to remain, and thus the Economist of London in its cover story this week declared Xi Jinping,
“The world’s most powerful man.”
That’s a stunning development that cover story in the Economist because in the modern age in the modern world since at least the middle of the 20th century it would have been taken for granted that the individual sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office of the White House would be the most powerful person on earth. But the cover story in the Economist is not so much about the American presidency at all, but about the very powerful and assertive leadership that is being brought by a man who could only be described as a newly recognized dictator within communist China. Chris Buckley wrote the cover story for yesterday’s edition on the Communist Party Congress in China for the New York Times and he tells us,
“Mr. Xi has also ordered party members and officials to return to an almost puritan faith in Marxism and Mao,” meaning Mao Zedong, “even amid China’s flashy wealth. He introduced,” Buckley tells us, “draconian rules weaning cadres off fancy meals, heavy drinking and karaoke sessions. He shook up the military and security services, dumping dozens of generals, including two commanders last summer.”
Now leaving the karaoke sessions to our imagination, I want to go back to what was described as the newly asserted form of Marxism that is ordered by President Xi Jinping. But I want us to note the word that was used to describe this newly assertive and doctrinaire form of Marxism. Once again Buckley tells us that the Chinese president has ordered party members and officials,
“to return to an almost puritan faith in Marxism and Mao”
Almost Puritan? Well let’s simply note that the word Puritan has one specific theological context of meaning and that’s within English-speaking Christianity, indeed within English-speaking Protestantism, within the Church of England properly and the separatists who came out of the Church of England. It was the Puritans represented for example by the pilgrims who came first to the United States as English-speaking settlers. And thus we clearly understand, within Protestant Christianity, English-speaking Christianity, what it means be Puritan. But what could it mean to be a Puritan Marxist in China? Well clearly this particular metaphor indicates first of all that Americans still do have something of a theological vocabulary even if they’re not sure how to define it, but what is brought to mind here is the fact that this is going to be a very pure or undiluted form of Marxism.
A teacher’s chilling question from rural China
But there are a couple of very important observations to make here from a Christian worldview perspective. The first is this: if you really do want to bring about this kind of newly doctrinaire and rigid communism, you’re probably not going to be able to bring that about in terms of the newly wealthy and powerful elites there in China. The adults well they have already become rather accustomed to more Western ways of thinking. If you want to go back to a doctrinaire Marxism, you’re going to have to aim young. Javier Hernandez writing for the New York Times several days before the Chinese Communist Party Congress began takes us into rural China,
“With the fiery zeal of a preacher, Xie Hong addressed her class of 50 fourth-grade students, all in matching red tracksuits.” The teacher said, ““Today’s life is rich, blessed, happy and joyous.” She then asks the question, ““Where does our happy life come from? Who gave it to us?”
The right answer was given by one of the children right off the script.
“‘It comes from the blood of revolutionary martyrs! From the Red Army!’ said a 9-year-old boy, Li Jiacheng. The class,” we are told, “burst into applause, and Ms. Xie beamed.”
Hernandez then tells us,
“For decades, the Chinese Communist Party has pushed a stiff regimen of ideological education on students, requiring tedious lessons on Marx and Mao and canned lectures on the virtues of patriotism and loyalty. Now, amid fears that the party is losing its grip on young minds, President Xi Jinping is reshaping political education across China’s more than 283,000 primary and secondary schools for a new era.”
This ideological crackdown is directed not so much to the parents but to the children, not so much even to college or university students as to elementary school students. We’re talking in this story about fourth-graders. But you also need to note how this indoctrination represents a totally comprehensive worldview. Even asking the question, who has given us the good things of life? With the answers that are drilled into these children, these things have come to us by the Chinese Communist Party, by the martyrs of the revolution and of course by the current Chinese Communist Party leaders. Back in the first half of the 20thcentury and throughout the Cold War, this was the kind of indoctrination that was associated with Soviet communism. And just about every observer makes clear, it was the breakdown and the breakup of the USSR and of the Russian Communist Party that has led to this absolute determination of retrenchment amongst the Chinese Communist Party leadership.
Another very important observation on this story is offered by Andrew Browne in the China’s world column of the Wall Street Journal. He points out that the Chinese Communist Party is now using high-tech, indeed the headline is,
“President Uses Big Data to Tighten Big Brother’s Grip.”
It turns out that the Chinese Communist Party and the government in China are trying to develop facial recognition software so that they can document and track and rate on obedience, attitude and patriotism every single individual in China, all 1.3 billion of them, to reinforce mind control and political control right down to the fact that cameras located throughout the country will know by facial recognition software where every single individual is and what that individual is doing and perhaps even thinking. But Andrew Browne doesn’t leave it there. He reminds us of the economist F.A. Hayek, who in the book Road to Serfdom points out that economic socialism can never exist if the only socialist coercion is found in the economy. Rather if communism or socialism are ever to exist for any length of time, it is because the government and the party will claim control of every dimension of life. He writes,
“Ultimately, Mr. Xi’s draconian approach takes the notion of “Big Brother” to a new level. Economic planning,” wrote Hayek, “is not merely control of a sector of human life which can be separated from the rest,” so said the Nobel Prize winning economist. He said, “It is the control of the means for all our ends.”
It is the communist’s party’s determination to control every single dimension of life which becomes very apparent in that 3 ½ hour-long speech given in Beijing yesterday. But perhaps more chilling than anything that could have been said by President Xi Jinping in that speech was what we heard from that teacher and those children in rural China. The ominous form of indoctrination found there simply reminds us that if you own the minds of the children you indeed own the future.