briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, November 18, 2019

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

It’s Monday, November 18, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Blockbuster Report Details Mass Detention of Religious Minorities in China: The Horrifying Outcome of Not Falling in Line with the Communist State

A leak of over 400 pages of internal documents from the Chinese Communist Party offers an absolutely chilling view of the repression now undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party against the Uighurs. That’s an ethnic Muslim minority within the Chinese province of Xinjiang. The New York Times deserves credit for a massive blockbuster of a story entitled “Show Absolutely No Mercy: Inside China’s Mass Detentions.”

The reporters, Austin Ramzy and Chris Buckley, began their account this way: “The students booked their tickets home at the end of the semester, hoping for a relaxing break after exams and a summer of happy reunions with family in China’s far west. Instead, they would soon be told that their parents were gone, relatives had vanished and neighbors were missing – all of them locked up in an expanding network of detention camps built to hold Muslim ethnic minorities.”

As the reporters summarized, the authorities in the Xinjiang region worried the situation was a powder keg, and so they prepared. And they prepared an absolutely draconian system of repression of what amounts to concentration camps, and also to a massive act of deception and public relations, even in trying to explain so many people missing to those who returned looking for them, particularly the college students, the offspring of those who had been sent away, who would come back home expecting to find their parents and family, only to find no one.

The reporters tell us, “The leadership distributed a classified directive advising local officials to corner returning students as soon as they arrived and keep them quiet. It included,” they write, “a chillingly bureaucratic guide for how to handle their anguished questions, beginning with the most obvious: Where is my family?” The answer provided by the government in this bureaucratic program: “They’re in a training school set up by the government.” And if pressed, officials were to tell students that their relatives were not criminals, yet could not leave these “schools.”

The reporters then tell us, “The question and answer script also included a barely concealed threat. Students were to be told that their behavior could either shorten or extend the detention of their relatives.” In the kind of Orwellian language that the 20th century taught us to expect of totalitarian dictatorships, the government statement told the local officials to say, “I’m sure that you will support them because this is for their own good and also for your own good.” As The Times recognized, the documents “provide dan unprecedented inside view of the continuing clampdown in Xinjiang, in which the authorities have corralled as many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others into internment camps and prisons over the past three years.” The trauma involved in taking so many of these people into these internment camps, basically brainwashing camps, was included by the reporters with this kind of description: “Children saw their parents taken away. Students wondered who would pay their tuition and crops could not be planted or harvested for lack of manpower. Yet,” said The New York Times, “officials were directed to tell people who complained to be grateful for the Communist Party’s help and stay quiet.”

The Times is right. This is the most massive internment program in China since the time of Mao Tse-Tung, the dictator who founded the modern Communist Party in China. The documents reported by The New York Times revealed that, “President Xi Jinping, the party chief, laid the groundwork for the crackdown in a series of speeches delivered in private to officials during and after a visit to Xinjiang in April 2014, just weeks after Uighur militants stabbed more than 150 people at a train station, killing 31. Mr. Xi called for an all-out ‘struggle against terrorism, infiltration, and separatism’ using the ‘organs of dictatorship’ and showing ‘absolutely no mercy.'”

As to what takes place in these camps, The Times reports, “Since 2017, the authorities in Xinjiang have detained many hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims in internment camps. Inmates undergo months or years of indoctrination and interrogation aimed at transforming them into secular and loyal supporters of the party.” Notice the language there: “Secular and loyal supporters of the party.”

There can be no doubt that this is a radical infringement of religious liberty. It’s a basic undermining of all human rights. These human beings are not being treated as human beings, but rather they are being treated as wayward instruments of the Chinese Communist Party, and by extension, of the Chinese state. The Chinese communist leadership now finds itself in a very difficult position, precisely because it has taken about a million people into these effective concentration camps. But at the same time they had been taking the children, the older children, from these Uighur and other cultures, and taking them to China’s elite universities all over the nation in order to secularize them and make them good citizens, according to the Communist party. And good agents are extensions of the state itself.

But when the students went back home, the state recognized it would have a problem. They were going back to many villages that were effectively emptied out. Not only were their parents and siblings gone, but the extended family, and in some cases even elderly grandparents. Again, using the kind of chilling language we associate with the Communist movement and this kind of totalitarian government, the students were to be told that their relatives were being “worked with.” The plan called for police officers in plain clothes and local officials, to intercept these students as soon as they returned to their villages, “to show humane concern and stress the rules.” Notice the construction of that phrase, “to show humane concern and stress the rules.” The officials were to tell the returning students concerning their missing relatives, “It is just that their thinking has been infected by unhealthy thoughts.” They were to continue, “Freedom is only possible when this virus in their thinking is eradicated and they are in good health.”

One statement from the Communist Party said, “We Communists should be naturals at fighting a people’s war. We’re the best at organizing for a task.” And indeed, what you see in this repression by the Chinese Communist Party, and thus by the Chinese government, what you see is one of the most draconian evidences of this kind of organized repression in any recent human history. And on this scale, you can only look back to the former Soviet Union for any kind of precedent whatsoever, unless of course you’re talking about Nazi Germany during the period of the Third Reich. And whether the ideology is Fascist or Communist, one of the marks of this kind of ideology, a totalitarian ideology, is that the only acceptable opinions are the opinion of the state. The only acceptable truths are the truths affirmed by the state. The only possible source of authority is the Communist Party. And if one deviates in opinion or practice or ideology from the Communist Party and its doctrine, then you are to be treated as mentally ill, as affected by a mental virus.

One of the things we should note is that these re-education camps have been known to the West for a matter of years now. You’ll recall that the visit to Xinjiang was in 2014. Shortly thereafter, the Communist party began its repression, but this trove of documents, actually now leaked, demonstrates the internal evidence of the strategy behind all of this, and frankly the very cold calculation and manipulation, even right down to the details of how to respond to college students wondering where their families have gone.

By the end of the 20th century, many in the West, in particular in the United States and Europe, felt that whatever the age of totalitarian temptation had been, that it was over. The coming down of the Berlin Wall and the fall of the Soviet Union. All of this was a sign, to many of the intellectuals in the West, that the ideals of democracy and liberty and freedom of the West had triumphed over a totalitarian ideology, whether that be Fascism or Communism.

At that time, China, though of course established as a communist state under the Communist Party in 1949, China was considered to be moving in the right direction. Western intellectuals on both the right and the left were deceived into believing that China was liberalizing, but actually it was doing no such thing. China was instead creating a fusion of a market economy and a totalitarian regime. And even in just the last several weeks, major foreign policy journals have run headline articles on the fact that the United States should accept that we are now in a new cold war. We can only hope that it stays cold and doesn’t turn hot. That is, in an exchange of weapons, a new cold war with China.

Part II

The Chinese Government Stares Down an Army of Young Protestors in Hong Kong: How Should the West Respond to This Challenge?

And just as if to underline that situation, consider the unrest in Hong Kong and the fact the headlines this morning indicate an escalation of the violence with flames, including those from homemade bombs and Molotov cocktails going off on Chinese campuses, many others being endangered and at least some involved in overt acts of violence.

As a team of reporters for The Washington Post report this morning, “The demonstrators, who spent Sunday countering police water cannons of stinging blue dye with gasoline bombs, held their ground early Monday morning local time just before daybreak. Officers from a special tactical unit entered the campus and made dozens of arrests, according to local news reporters at the site. Then a live feed showed a university entrance engulfed in flames. Demonstrators were feeding the fire to hold off police.”

As the team reported, “The confrontation showed how many young protesters have followed a steady path of radicalization as the movement presses forward with significant public support. Although police insist on ending the protest and neutralizing their core of frontline activists, it grows increasingly unclear where the unrest will lead, how it will end, and whether the damage can be undone.”

The main focus of the protests and media attention this morning was at Hong Kong Polytechnic University where, we are told, “protesters rained Molotov cocktails down on riot police officers and their vehicles, in one of the longest days of fighting on Sunday, since the demonstrations began in June.”

These demonstrations have rightly, if generally, been described as pro-democracy demonstrations. The protests broke out in Hong Kong due to the fact that China was breaking the agreement that it had with its former province, that had for over a century been under the control of Britain, the promises that China had made that Hong Kong would continue for decades as a special autonomous province. But just in recent months and weeks, the Chinese communist leadership has demonstrated its absolute determination to repress in Hong Kong, just as elsewhere, to make Hong Kong basically just another part of China. And that means, as The New York Times prophetically indicated in an editorial over the weekend, that meant forcing Hong Kong into that Orwellian animal farm, even decades before the residents of Hong Kong expected it to happen.

But even before the latest outbreak of violence, the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal reported a front page story about how young many of the dissidents and protesters are in Hong Kong. And by young, we’re not just talking about those in their 20s or even in their teens. We’re talking about those who are actually even pre-adolescent, some of them even armed with Molotov cocktails. As The Wall Street Journal reported, “Confrontations between protesters and police have turned university campuses into battle zones.” And looking at a larger context, the Journal declared, “Young people drive protest movements across the globe, but the extreme youthfulness of Hong Kong’s protest has alarmed Chinese and local officials. Although college campuses have been the scenes of violent confrontations, the fight is rapidly spreading into high schools, where a new type of frontline is emerging.”

The reporters tell us that actually more than a third of the 4,000 protesters arrested thus far are age 20 and younger. Among those are dozens who are 14 and younger, and thus far the youngest protester arrested has been 11. Even as police shot two teens, one of them 14 years old, in an earlier incident, “recently a 13 year old was arrested on the subway carrying two unlit Molotov cocktails. Adam,” a student who is actually not named Adam but identified that way, “a high school senior who turned 17 in October, said, ‘This is the most important fight of our generation. We can’t back down now, no matter what the teachers say or how they try to stop us.'”

But then that takes us back to the editorial that appeared in Sunday’s print edition of The New York Times entitled “Hong Kong Protests: How Does This End?” The editors of The New York Times raise a very important issue. The protests and the unrest in Hong Kong is so unorganized that there is no structure and there is no spokesperson. And furthermore, it appears to now have taken a very self-destructive turn.

The editors wrote, “After nearly six months of escalating protests, Hong Kong is a mess, its reputation for efficiency in tatters, its economy in recession, its roads and rails often blocked, and there is no end in sight. That,” said the editors, “poses a quandary for those who admire and support the protest movement, but who recoil at the notion of such a unique and vibrant enclave self-destructing. The difficulty” they wrote, “is compounded by the fact that the movement has no leadership, no coordinating committee to advise, to cheer or to warn.”

History records that this kind of moment and this kind of movement without organization generally does not end well, especially when you’re talking about very young people. Just consider the fact that so many of them are 20 and under, so many of them are actually 14 and under. They are facing the absolute repression of the Chinese Communist Party as reflected in the repressive regime and the police force that now faces them in Hong Kong.

But after raising all of those concerns, the editors wrote, “In the end, however, there is no choice for those who cherish freedom, but to support the protests, as a bill pending in the United States Congress does.” At this point that bill has wide bipartisan support, that is support from both Democrats and Republicans. At the very least, the United States government can respond with a clear moral statement including specific sanctions against the Chinese. And we can also make very clear that the entire world is watching — watching as a totalitarian government tries to stare down an army of young people, including teenagers. But we can also hope that the pro-democracy movement can actually become an organized movement with accountability and leadership and the ability to try to restrain violence. At this point, the entire province of Hong Kong appears to be a powder keg, just about ready to explode.

Looking at these two huge stories out of China, we have to recognize that in worldview analysis this takes us back to the early 20th century, to the Bolshevik Revolution in the Soviet Union and also to the rise of Hitlerism in Nazi Germany. The question was: Just how seriously should Western powers take this threat? It is clear that this is a worldview conflict. You’re looking at two very different understandings of government, between the totalitarian government in China and representative democracy in the United States and other Western nations. But Christians understand that that is not where that worldview analysis must begin. The governmental differences are just evidence of deeper differences. And at the deepest level, it comes down to whether or not human beings deserve dignity and respect, and every single human being is to be understood as possessing inherent rights that are given simply by fact that a human being is a human being.

But here’s where Christians also have to recognize that the fact that in the West that affirmation is made, historically made, has everything to do with the fact that the West was premised upon a biblical worldview and a biblical understanding of why human beings are distinct and why human beings have dignity and why human beings are recognized to possess these inherent rights. It’s sad to say that in the beginning of the 21st century the West is even less equipped to deal with these challenges than the West was in the beginning of the 20th century. At the end of the day, a secular Western civilization will not be much of a threat, nor for that matter even much of a conscience for an atheist regime in China.

Part III

Planned Parenthood and Mainstream Media as “Fellow Travelers” — The Agenda Revealed in News Coverage of the Lawsuit over Undercover Videos

Coming back to the United States, another remarkable headline over the weekend. This story by Sabrina Tavernise is also in The New York Times. The headline: “Court Awards $2 million to Planned Parenthood.” This is one of those articles you have to read carefully to believe.

“Planned Parenthood was awarded as much as $2.2 million in damages on Friday after a federal jury in San Francisco ruled that an anti-abortion activist had broken federal and state laws when he secretly recorded workers for the organization.” No doubt, most listeners to The Briefing are familiar with this story that broke first in 2015 when David R. Daleiden recorded the videos, as The Times says, “in an attempt to show that Planned Parenthood was illegally selling fetal tissue, a claim that created a political uproar,” says The Times, “and mobilized conservatives against the organization.” A bit of a footnote here: Those videos did indeed increase conservative and pro-life opposition to Planned Parenthood, but this is hardly the start of it. Planned Parenthood has been the enemy of the sanctity of human life, going back to the foundation of the organization in the early decades of the 20th century.

The Times reports, “Mr. Daleiden, the leader of a group called the Center for Medical Progress, posed as a biotechnology representative to make the recordings. The jury found that he had trespassed on private property and committed fraud, according to court papers. Planned Parenthood said in a statement that the jury had ruled in its favor on each of its claims.” And The Times said, “The ruling was an important victory for Planned Parenthood, which had been buffeted by the political fallout from the videos, whose release in the summer of 2015 incited widespread outrage.”

Well let’s just remind ourselves of how we arrived at this point. Back in 2015, David Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress, by these undercover videos, did document beyond any question that Planned Parenthood officials were engaged in bartering with technology companies — biotechnology companies — to obtain specific tissues and organs from aborted fetuses, and the officials of Planned Parenthood were even discussing how they could strategically destroy the unborn baby in the womb in order to optimize the particular tissues or organs that were desired by the research firms. And there was compensation.

But when you look at The New York Times and other major media reports, there is no real acknowledgement of what took place and what was documented on those videos. For example, The New York Times report says, “Abortion opponents claimed that the videos revealed that Planned Parenthood was engaged in the illegal sale of body parts. The organization has denied the charge,” says the Times, “which has not been supported in numerous congressional and state investigations prompted by the release of the videos.”

But keep in mind that Planned Parenthood had to apologize for the crass language used by one of its chief medical personnel. In the undercover videos, there is no question that Planned Parenthood was doing exactly what was described here. The only crucial word in this New York Times report, and in this case it misleads, is the fact that there was no “illegal” sale of body parts. And that is because, at least to this point, Planned Parenthood has not been held legally accountable for what was taking place. They charge that they were not actually selling the tissues and organs, but rather were merely being compensated for the expenses involved in obtaining them.

But in almost none of the mainstream media do you have the acknowledgement that Planned Parenthood was doing exactly what the videos reveal. After all, they were undercover videos in which the incriminating language came from Planned Parenthood personnel themselves. David Daleiden’s defense is that he was in this case acting as a journalist with his undercover videos, and after all, journalists do that kind of thing all the time. Was he trespassing? Well, in some sense, yes, but so are mainstream reporters when they do the very same thing, but because they’re working for one of the mainstream media sources, they are counted as journalists. But what you also have here is the fact that the journalistic community defines itself, and it’s overwhelmingly pro-abortion. It defines its own membership.

But it is encouraging that David Daleiden’s legal team indicated that there will be an appeal of this decision that came down from this federal court in California. Back during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, between the West and Soviet communism, one of the vocabulary terms that was very familiar was the term “fellow traveler.” Fellow travelers were understood to be extended agents of communism. They weren’t themselves members of the Communist Party. They were just supporters of the Communist Party.

The function of mainstream journalism in the United States, when it comes to the abortion issue, is that most of those journalists are very well-recognized as “fellow travelers” with Planned Parenthood. The coverage of the videos and the background to this verdict that came down in California is ample evidence of that fact.

Part IV

Last Survivor of the Hindenburg Disaster Dies at 90: Horrifying Ideologies Outlive Even Disastrous Technologies

But finally, as we’re thinking about the passage of time, in recent days came the obituary for Werner G. Doehner, the last survivor of the Hindenburg crash. That disaster took place just before 7:30 PM on the 6th of May in 1937. It became one of the most familiar and terrifying sites of the 20th century. It happened at the intersection of so many massive historical events. First of all, the rise of Nazi Germany. The Hindenburg was its prize airship, in a time in which airships were considered to be the future of Atlantic transportation. The United States and Germany and other nations developed these massive blimps or dirigibles, as they were known, and Germany was ahead, having used Zeppelins during World War I.

But during the interwar years, Germany leapfrogged over many other nations, developing these massive passenger liners that would cross the Atlantic. The Hindenburg was the greatest of these examples, and there was also much speculation about what Germany would do with these Zeppelins if there were to come another war, as that war did come. But the age of the Zeppelin came to a flaming and horrifying end on the 6th of May 1937. The Hindenburg was held aloft by massive tons of hydrogen. The hydrogen, which was lighter than air, is what gave the Zeppelin buoyancy. But hydrogen is also one of the most flammable gases on earth, and some kind of spark that came as the Hindenburg was attempting to land in New Jersey set the entire Zeppelin aflame. 36 people were killed, including Mr. Doehner’s father and sister.

But the Hindenburg was also a mighty symbol, or until its crash it was a mighty symbol, of Nazi Germany. Rick Zitarosa, a historian and vice president of Navy Lakehurst Historical Society — it was at Lakehurst that the explosion took place — he said, “The Hindenburg was a huge flying billboard for German aeronautical supremacy. It was a great flying machine bearing 50 foot swastikas on its tail.”

The Hindenburg had been late to arrive in New Jersey and was to turn itself around almost immediately going back across the Atlantic, carrying passengers in time for the coronation of King George VI of England. Werner Gustav Doehner, the eight year old who survived the crash along with his older brothers and his mother, he eventually moved to Mexico. He graduated with a degree in engineering, and in 1984 he moved to the United States to work for General Electric. History will record that the age of the Zeppelin came to a fiery end on the 6th of May 1937, but not the Third Reich, whose swastikas were emblazoned 50 feet tall on the Hindenburg’s tail.

The explosion of the Hindenburg remains one of the most viewed video clips in all of human history. It does remind us of the passage of time, that the eight-year-old boy who survived the Hindenburg died just in recent days in the United States at age 90.

History will record that Werner Doehner was the last survivor of the Hindenburg, but history will also record that horrifying ideologies outlive even horrifyingly disastrous technologies. Sadly, it appears that in the 21st century we’re going to have to learn many of the most horrible lessons of the 20th.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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