Monday, August 23, 2021
It's Monday, August 23rd, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
“Biden’s Debacle” — The Disaster in Afghanistan Continues to Spin Out of Control
The disaster in Afghanistan just continues to unwind and unfold. And it is a horrifying picture to watch, embarrassing, indeed humiliating for the United States, and downright deadly for those who are now basically under direct threat from the Taliban there in Afghanistan. It is now known that we do not control the Kabul airport to the degree that had been claimed. We now know that there are Americans who can't get to the airport. We now know that violent means are being used not only in major cities in the countryside outside of Afghanistan's capital but now inside the capital by the Taliban. This should have been expected. It is absolutely categorically inexcusable for the United States government, and in this case, our commander-in-chief, the president of the United States to fail in such a spectacular way and to continue in obstinance without even the slightest ability to admit the disaster that has come at his hand.
When Joe Biden was running for president, not only in the general election but before he won the Democratic nomination, there were those inside the Democratic Party who said that one of their major concerns was that they wanted to keep Joe Biden as far as possible from American national security and foreign policy affairs. Now, one of the persons who said that right out loud and reaffirmed it in May of 2019 when Joe Biden was really running for the presidential nomination of the Democratic Party, you had former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He had served, yes, as defense secretary under President George W. Bush but also under President Barack Obama. He made the statement in his memoir that Joe Biden "has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue of the past four decades". He wrote that in his memoir.
He was asked in May of 2019 if he stood by his statement, he said that he did. One of the most interesting things to note right now is that the national security establishment has just about universally repudiated the action taken by the president, or at least the exit plan without any adequate planning, any adequate staging, and any adequate consideration for the likelihood that the Taliban would gain control, and murderously so. Now, in worldview terms, we simply need to understand that what we are seeing here is the affirmation of what the left has been denying for a very long time, and that is that we are in a clash of civilizations. That's going to be a major theme of our consideration. Civilizations are based upon experience and presuppositions. They are based upon culture and morality. They are based upon what can only be described as a worldview. And they are based upon some understanding that is essentially theological.
That's very easy to see in the case of the Taliban and Islam. And, of course, we are looking at the fact that you have the reality that what's going on in Afghanistan is being driven by this clash of civilizations. The elites in the West have been trying to deny that there is a clash of civilizations. The secular myth of the West is that all human beings are basically the same as you think about our expectations for life, for security, for civilization, for morality, respect for human rights, and all the rest. But that simply is not the case. It never has been the case in human history. The kind of respect for human rights that you see in the West was hard-won by experience, and it came only from a specific civilizational trajectory.
It comes only, it is built only on the basis of certain foundational civilizational principles. Those are lacking in most of the Islamic world, the Islamic-dominated world, and they are profoundly opposed by so many of those who are now in charge, for instance, in the Taliban or in the jihadist movements around the world. But what other things we're going to see is that study after study has affirmed the fact that as you're looking at the basic koranic logic, millions upon millions upon millions of Muslims around the world who are not actively involved in jihad think that, nonetheless, that is indeed a Muslim duty. Leadership matters and leadership as commander-in-chief matters particularly in the United States, but it also matters for our allies.
An astounding cover story this week in The Economist, one of the world's most influential magazines published in London, the cover story shows four photographs from the airport there in Afghanistan and a blazing headline: "Biden's Debacle." Now, this is a media source that has been very, very affirmative of Joe Biden, very much supportive of the Democratic agenda, very much in support of a Biden victory in 2020. But that screaming headline is extremely clear if uncharacteristic, actually, of The Economist to give that kind of vivid art and graphic support to its point. This is Biden's debacle. He owns it. He rightly owns it. And interestingly, even those who have been his enablers and supporters in the mainstream media are boxed into this situation where they have to affirm that he owns it.
A very important point was made recently in the Global View column of the Wall Street Journal by Walter Russell Mead. His point is that this is Joe Biden's Chamberlain moment. But what he means comes down to this. If you make a major national security or foreign policy decision as a president of the United States and your enemies cheer it and your allies decry it in the strongest possible terms, that is, in essence, unavoidably a fail. If it pleases your enemies such that they celebrate this.... And when we're talking about enemy celebrating this, we're not just talking about in the Muslim world, we're talking about Vladimir Putin in Russia, we are talking very, very clearly about the Communist Party in China pointing to this American humiliation and saying, "Look, America's on retreat. America's weak. Trust us to maintain order in the world."
President Biden said that he had not really heard complaints from our allies, but now we know, for example, that he stonewalled the British Prime Minister about the decision. And furthermore, the British foreign minister and leaders of not only the Conservative Party but of other parties in great Britain have indicated their absolute condemnation of the American action. But absolutely basic to our understanding of what is happening in Afghanistan, what has happened there for centuries, and what is likely to happen in the future, we have to look at even deeper worldview issues. And that includes that crisis or clash of civilizations. That language about a clash of civilizations goes back to the late scholar, Samuel Huntington. It was his argument that what we see in the world, even though the liberal West under the influence of the enlightenment and cosmopolitanism, even as it tries to deny that there is a clash of civilizations, that's exactly what is happening.
It may be true that just about everyone in every society watches certain kinds of programs, knows certain cultural reference, and drinks Coca-Cola, but the reality is we are operating from very, very different civilizational foundations. There is a clash of civilizations. Samuel Huntington made very clear that the most crucial clash of civilizations is between Western civilization based upon a Christian foundation and Islam. In the Islamic-dominated world where jihad is not the exception, at least in terms of the logic of Islam, we should be glad that there are not more Muslims actively involved in jihad. But, as I documented on the briefing some time ago, the reality is that in many nations around the world, the majority of Muslims say that they think they ought to be. And that the logic of jihadism is right because it's right there in the Quran.
The clash of civilizations means that when you are looking at, say, the Taliban and the West, just think of the United States, you're not looking at a common understanding of freedom or the priority of personal liberty. You're looking at exactly the opposite. To millions of people in the West, it simply makes sense that personal autonomy is the greatest good. That makes no sense whatsoever in the Islamic world. It makes no sense in other parts of the world as well. But the reality is that this clash of civilizations comes down to the fact that when people in the West talk about human rights, most, especially those who are operating from a secular worldview, don't even know why, they can't even argue why human beings should have certain rights.
The arguments they're making, let's just be clear, are certainly not persuasive in much of the world, and in particular, in much of the Muslim-dominated world and specifically right there in Kabul in Afghanistan. The clash of civilizations is just about 24/7 right now on your video feed.
What is the Fundamental Issue in Afghanistan? Ultimately, It IS a Clash of Civilizations between the Western Civilization and Islam
Most in the secular media won't even touch this issue, though it is undeniably true. Credit, in this case, goes to the Wall Street Journal for running an article in the Friday edition of the paper last week entitled, "The Unconquerable Islamic World." It's by Robert Nicholson. It's an opinion piece. He's identified as the president of The Philos Project. To the credit of the Journal, in running this article and to the credit of the article itself, it makes clear that there is an irreconcilable difference between the values of Western civilization, the worldview of Western civilization based upon those Christian foundations that gave birth to that civilization, and what you see in Islamic civilization, in Islamic cultures.
The reference here in the headline is to the unconquerable Islamic world. The point being made by Robert Nicholson is that it really doesn't matter how many armies you march, it really doesn't matter how many helicopters you send, this is a battle over ideas. And those ideas are, whether the secular left will accept it or not, whether the average person on the street in the West accepts it or not, on the Arab street and in the Islamic mind, it is absolutely clear that they are determined not to be conquered, and this means in terms of morality, human rights, political claims, and all the rest, by what they consider to be a Christian civilization. It is not going to happen. They will wait. They will fight. They will resist. And what we've seen in the Taliban is as soon as any kind of opening is seen, they will march right through it, and they will reconquer the territory that had been held by the West.
Because so far as the mind of the Taliban is concerned, the West never really controlled Afghanistan, it simply was exercising might until the West grew weary of exercising such might at such cost. Nicholson writes, "Historian soldiers and politicians will debate for decades the particulars of what went wrong during America's intervention in Afghanistan. But a simple truth has been apparent for years. We, Westerners, failed not for lack of effort, but because military and economic power alone cannot change the Islamic world in a lasting way." That's a statement that is transparently true. It is, if anything, an understatement, but it is very, very clear.
Nicholson writes, "The US-led coalition arrived in South Asia 20 years ago seeking justice after 9/11. Soon, we turned into apostles of universal civilization, the idea that human beings everywhere would make the same basic decisions we made in building political community. We set out to establish a liberal democratic state, not realizing that politics lies downstream of culture and culture downstream of religion. It never occurred to us that America was what it was because of Christianity and Afghanistan was what it was because of Islam." Now, there's a major error in what Nicholson wrote there, but it just has to do with the pronoun we. No, many of us did see this, many of us did know this. Even many in the intellectual class were honest enough to say it until the overwhelming secular majority with the complicity, the mainstream media silenced the argument effectively for decades.
Speaking of the blindness of so many in the left, including policymakers, including our commander-in-chief, Nicholson writes, "This blindness is driven by a noble desire to see humans as equal interchangeable beings for whom faith and culture are accidents of birth. But these accidents are non-negotiable truths for hundreds of millions of people who would rather die than concede them. Failure to comprehend this is a symptom of spiritual emptiness. Alienated from America's Christian origins, millions cannot fathom how faith could play a vital role in binding humans together." But, of course, the great secular myth is that Americans, or for that matter beyond us, Western civilization and its citizens can be united by something that isn't religious or isn't theological. Ultimately, I believe that's going to turn out to be impossible, which is why you see the breakdown of any kind of civilizational consensus. Where you do not see the breakdown of any kind of civilizational consensus is in the Islamic world. That consensus is very, very clear.
Nicholson correctly points to the doctrines that drive the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Hamas, and he goes on to say that their commitments "are far from radical. Most Muslims see them as normative, even if they fail to act on them." Again, the West says, "Look, these are just outliers who are resisting to go along with a modern Islamic tide." The problem is that that modern Islamic tide doesn't really modernize Islam. You can see skyscrapers and all kinds of modern technology, jets fly through the air, but that does not mean that the worldview has become consistent with that of the West. It starts from a very different place, it ends in a very different place. Again, who can witness what is taking place in Afghanistan right now and deny that?
We'll be talking more, as we have in the past, about this clash of civilizations. That's really what we're witnessing right now in undeniable terms. But we're also going to talk about the fact that under that clash of civilizations is a clash of worldviews. And that's where Christians better understand, at base, this will turn out to be theological, one way or the other.
Astounding Moral Shift Evident as Social Media Platform Known for Its Pornographic Content Changes Its Guidelines — Not Based on Morality but Pressure from from “Payment Partners"
But next, as we're considering the moral state of our own culture, consider this headline in Saturday's edition of The New York Times, "OnlyFans to Ban Sexually Explicit Content, Citing Partners' Pressure." It's an interesting headline. OnlyFans turns out to be a social media platform that has largely based its success and very significant growth on pornography and what can only be described as sexually explicit content. And this is of a whole new nature only possible by means of the digital revolution and these social media platforms. We're talking about what amounts to a live prostitution form that is taking place in the digital world.
That is what has led to radical growth for this social media platform, OnlyFans, but it made the announcement at the end of last week, indeed on Thursday, that it's going to be banning what it identifies as sexually explicit content, but not by the way, we should note, nudity. It's instead specifically trying to find language to say that it is going to stop this kind of live pornography and sexually explicit for-profit business on the social media platform. Now, what's also interesting is why the platform is doing this. It is not doing this for what it identifies as any kind of reason of morality. It is doing this because, well, the headline said it is citing partners' pressure. Who are the partners? Well, it turns out they are the major credit card companies because that is the funding platform on which this kind of sexually explicit material or online prostitution or what's defined as we shall see as sex work, that's how the money changes hands. Without the money changing hands, this would not be a for-profit enterprise to the extent that those who are making this sexually explicit content will get paid for their content.
And so you have the platform OnlyFans saying that it is going to end what it defines as sexually explicit content because, otherwise, they're going to lose the ability to function financially. CNN is reporting that the financial pressure on OnlyFans came not only from the credit card companies but from likely sources of venture capital. "Venture capital firms," said CNN, "are often wary of investing in platforms that host adult content." Now, in one sense, a cursory look at fallen human history will remind us that both prostitution and pornography have been longstanding vices in one form or another, but the digital revolution has allowed what no other media technology has allowed. And now you see this right here in the headlines.
And again, this is not supposedly about morality, at least when it comes to the announcement that is being made by OnlyFans, it's financial pressure. But what is perhaps most morally telling in all of this is the fact that when the mainstream media talk about the production of this material that now will be banned, it refers to those who are involved as sex workers. And not only that, the argument being made by so many in the mainstream media is that this is a bad development that will force sex workers into a more disadvantaged position outside the mainstream economy. And just think about that. The logic is they should be in the mainstream economy. The argument being made is that this is going to push them back into the shadows as if you're looking at a legitimate business and you're looking at legitimate professionals and they ought to be able to be funded and fully involved in the economy just like everyone else. This is an astounding moral shift in the United States, and it's showing up on the financial pages.
An article by Leticia Beacham at Yahoo News includes this material, "Sex workers see the pending ban on sexually explicit content as a snub after helping OnlyFans obtain a valuation of a billion dollars. 'The new policy also underscores the limited ways in which sex industry workers can financially participate in society,' former and present sex workers told The Post." That would be The Washington Post. We're told that the president of the group known as the "Adult Performance Artists Guild" which fights for better working conditions and protections for adult performers said she is concerned about the financial and mental health of her members who will be impacted by the loss of money they're about to face. She said that removing adult entertainers from OnlyFans "is troublesome yet also indicative of how internet companies value sex workers until they don't."
There's another big moral dimension to this. Just consider the fact that so many nations are now so actively involved, and thankfully so, in fighting sex trafficking, which involves this kind of sex work as it is defined. But you have the argument here right in print "'Lumping sex workers in with those who are trafficked only pushes sex workers, especially those from marginalized communities, deeper into the shadows and dangerous working conditions,' advocates said." Let's follow the logic of that. That basically means you can't fight sex trafficking if the person is presented as a sex worker. Rather you're going to have to back off and redefine the entire thing. And that just shows you the cultural and moral, not to mention the legal insanity of this.
But finally, as we look at this situation, you also understand something that's telling in moral terms. Sometimes what you're looking at when you have a major decision, policy, law, ruling that has to do with an inherently moral issue, you have people around it, such as in this case, saying, "This really isn't about morality." So if it's not about morality, then what is it about? Well, for one thing, you have moral stigma. That's why so many venture capitalists and their funds don't want anything to do with this kind of business, or at least they don't want to be publicly attached to it. It is because there is a stigma attached to this kind of work, this kind of business, precisely because we know what it is. It's the same logic that leads people in the pro-abortion movement to say they have to remove the stigma around abortion. From a logical perspective based in the Christian worldview, that's not going to happen. It's not even going to happen amongst the people who say it must happen. That's why you have very few doctors, very, very few physicians who want to identify with abortion in any way.
But the second thing you need to note is liability. It's not just stigma, it's liability. You have the credit card companies and others saying, "We don't want to be involved in a situation in which we may make ourselves corporately not only, say, exposed to moral judgment and stigma in the association but also liability." There could be liability claims made here. And indeed, we can certainly understand why. But one of the things we ought never to miss is that that very structure of liability implies morality. If you're looking at liability, you're looking at the claim of harm, and harm is claimed as something that is wrong. Wrong means moral, and morals means morality.
And once again, that just affirms a basic understanding of the biblical worldview. All of reality, all the time is theological, whether it's recognized or not. And because of the very character of God is revealed in creation, every moment of life, every incident, every event, every headline, every human thought, and pervasively, every human life is inherently and irreducibly moral. From that, as the scripture makes clear, there is absolutely no escape.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.