Monday, March 25, 2024

It’s Monday, March 25, 2024. 

I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Deadly Terrorist Attack in Russia — Who Was Behind It and Why? ISIS Claims Responsibility

We’ve got to begin today’s edition of The Briefing by going to Moscow where a major terrorist attack has killed well over 130 people, and the death toll is expected to mount in coming days and hours. The attack took place last Friday, it took place in Moscow. And even as this is big headline news, it becomes even more significant when we understand the worldview issues that are at stake, and when we also understand that the United States government, through its own intelligence gathering, uncovered the likelihood of such a plot, and two weeks ago made that announcement not just privately to Russian officials, but in public. And back at that time the Russian government dismissed it as a form of Western paranoia, but of course it turns out to be anything but, and very sadly, the deaths of well over 130 people now mark what took place when Russia ignored the advisement concerning the likelihood of a terrorist strike, and right down to an entertainment venue.

But there are some massive worldview considerations here, and it has a great deal to do with who did the attacking, who was attacked, and why. The who was attacked in this case is probably largely symbolic. It was a concert venue in Moscow, and it was an aging older Moscow-based rock group. It was one of those mid-level attractions, and yet there were thousands of people who were present there. The terrorists used weapons as well as explosives, and eventually they set fire to the facility, and various victims are killed by those individual forms of deadly attack, or multiple forms undertaken in the course of the event.

Almost immediately there was an international outcry. This is the kind of thing that even in Russia, with controlled press, you can’t hide. There are simply too many people, and in the modern digital revolution, not even a controlled society, an autocracy like Russia, can control this kind of news getting out.

And then people began to connect the dots. There was this American warning coming from American Intelligence Services, and it had been shared not only privately with the government, but publicly. Now, that raises the question why, why would American intelligence do this? It is because the American intelligence agencies, along with most Western intelligence agencies, they have a policy of announcing a likely terrorist attack and giving a heads-up, even to enemy or antagonistic governments. So it is well documented that in recent months and years the United States, through its own intelligence agencies, have issued both private and public warnings of imminent terrorist attacks to governments, not only including nations such as Russia, but also Iran, very much itself a source of malevolence in the world.

But the United States makes a clear line when it comes to terrorist attacks, and when it has an awareness of a likely or impending terrorist attack it has articulated the moral responsibility to announce that in order to seek to thwart world terrorism. Now other nations of the world don’t hold themselves to that policy or to that example. And furthermore, it goes with a considerable amount of risk, risk for the exposure or the ending of intelligent sources.

So you understand this really is a major moral statement by the United States. When there is considered to be a clear and credible risk of a terrorist attack, the United States puts its own sources and methods at at least some level of risk in order to warn persons, and the big issue here is civilians. The United States government officially distinguishes between what might be attacks, say, on a military facility, there might be some kind of private warning about that. But when it comes to the public, when it comes to threats against civilian lives, well the United States, and frankly our allies, tend to follow a very Western human rights-based moral worldview and believe that there is a responsibility to warn people. So you talk about a worldview clash, just consider which nations consider that a moral responsibility and which do not. Sadly, they follow some rather predictable lines.

There are a couple of other very predictable responses in the aftermath of the attack. It was spectacular, it was deadly. So just remember that the mentality, the methodology of terrorism as an organized movement, going back especially into the 19th century, the effort is to try to get maximum fear, maximum terror among the populace out of a minimally complicated strike.

So that’s not to say terrorist attacks are always uncomplicated, it is to say they want to do only what is necessary to make the biggest terror splash possible. They’re trying to bring about political change, and they’re trying to do so by conducting terrorist acts that lead to a weakening of the regime, or at least for an opening for public criticism and public pressure to be brought against the government. In this case, of course, that would mean public pressure against the government of Russia. This was an intentional attack to humiliate the Russian government, to show the Russian government, and its President Vladimir Putin, to be very ineffectual in protecting Russians from this kind of attack.

Now, this comes with no accidental timing, considering the fact that just days ago, into last weekend, Russia held a sham election. That, of course, predictably led to the reelection of Vladimir Putin to a new term. We talked about that election, or so-called election, last week. It’s a sham, it’s a charade, it’s an effort to try to provide some kind of legitimacy to autocracy, but it’s very, very important for us to recognize that Vladimir Putin has presented himself to the Russian people as their protector, and that’s why it has a great deal to do, of course, with the fact that Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, who in this case did not protect his people, even in the face of public warnings, credible warnings from the United States, he has tried to turn this to, if not his political advantage, then to blunt the political harm or political disadvantage by saying this is really all about Ukraine.

Now remind yourself that Russia is the aggressor, it invaded Ukraine, it is the former imperial power that is trying to reestablish its empire by force, and it is conducting a brutal military campaign against Ukraine. Ukraine’s an interesting story in itself, but what’s important to recognize here is that Vladimir Putin immediately tried to translate the vulnerability of what had taken place in this very deadly attack upon Russians, when he had sworn himself to be their protector, so he turned this into instead something that is supposedly being undertaken by Ukraine when he announced the arrest of several of the suspected terrorists, including four main terrorists who are accused of having carried out the attack. Western authorities, by the way, seem to indicate there’s plausibility to the arrest here. Vladimir Putin made the claim that they were trying to escape to Ukraine, indicating that somehow Ukraine was, if not behind the attacks, then somehow supportive of the attacks. We should point out there’s no evidence of it.

Now in a fallen world, and when you have two nations at war, it’s not impossible, but in this case it’s far more likely that Vladimir Putin is making a false claim than that Ukraine was actually directly involved in any such terrorist attack, because after all, it really wouldn’t serve Ukrainian purposes. What would serve Ukrainian purposes is for the Russian people to know that damage was inflicted upon them by Ukraine. It makes no sense for Ukraine to try to work behind a group that would attack in secret, that just doesn’t make sense.

Putin is going to have to find some way to turn this, if not to his advantage, then at least not to his extreme disadvantage. There’s no telling what exactly he’s going to do with this, we might count on show trials. On the other hand, it might be that those accused simply disappear somehow, as has had precedent in Russia’s legal system.

But we need to recognize there’s something even bigger going on here, and this comes as something of a surprise to people. Within hours of the savage attack, and again, the death toll has now risen above the high 130s, it’s likely to go considerably higher in days ahead, it’s really interesting to note that within hours of the attack a group known as ISIS, that is the Islamic State, claimed responsibility. And it’s not just the Islamic state, it is a particular branch of the Islamic state that is centered in Asia Minor, and in particular in the portions of Asia Minor that had previously been under Russian influence, or Soviet influence.

In this case, it is the group known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province or ISIS, the Islamic State, K, as in Khorasan, or it identifies itself or is identified by ISKP. So you’re looking at various designations, and a part of this is just the fact that around the world you have different languages, you have different media guides, you have different claims being made. There are even other names being used about this group, some of them considerably more derogatory. But the point is the word Islamic is right up there in front, regardless of whether it’s the initial I as in ISIS, or ISIS-K, or if it’s in Islamic, as in the Islamic State, that’s what we’re dealing with here, we’re dealing with Islamic terrorism.

So then you might ask yourself the question, then why is this terrorist strike against Russia? And the answer to that’s very interesting, and it takes us to the fact that the Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, has actually undertaken rather deadly strikes, not only against nations such as Russia and the United States, our Western allies, but Russia’s included in it, but so also have there been attacks on Iran, the Shia radical Islamic Nation, a theocracy, an Islamic theocracy, of course known for its own extreme views and its sponsorship of terrorism. Why would ISIS launch attacks in Iran? Why would ISIS, in this case, launch a deadly attack against Russia?

Part II

Islam Versus Order Across the Globe: The Religious Agenda Behind the Terrorist Attack in Russia

Well, of all things, it turns out theology matters. And in this case, it matters because it’s Islamic theology. And it matters when it comes to Iran because ISIS is a Sunni Muslim group, it is opposed to the Shia vision of Islam that drives Iran. Furthermore, Iran has been in support of the Taliban. So just understand this, the Taliban were our Islamic enemy in Afghanistan. They sought refuge in Pakistan. Just remember the name Taliban, just remember America’s experience in this part of the world, in Central Asia, the War in Afghanistan, consider that the Taliban was our enemy and the Taliban was identified as an extreme and sometimes even terrorist Islamic group.

But ISIS-K is more radical than the Taliban. Indeed, it is the goal of ISIS-K to establish what is known in Islam as a caliphate right there in Afghanistan, which is Islamic rule by means of this major figure known as a caliph, who is a teacher of and a judge of Islam, and that is to replace what they now accuse as being the decadence of the Taliban. So their argument basically is the Taliban’s gone soft, it’s not legitimately Islamic. So that’s why they have attacked Iran, that’s why they have attacked the Taliban. Iran is seen as supportive of the Taliban, so is Russia. And furthermore, Russia has been targeted because of attacks upon, if not ISIS-K itself, then the allies of ISIS-K in Syria, where Russia has been backing up the dictator known as Bashar al-Assad. And that’s a very longstanding dynasty of tyranny there in Syria.

So we’re looking at the fact that theology really does matter. We’re living in a secular age where particularly you had the secular elites in Europe and in the United States who said, look, theology can’t matter for long, and here it comes roaring back. And it comes roaring back in this case in an Islamic context, and it comes back reminding that theology actually is more fundamental than just about anything else. ISIS is not driven by a primarily, say, political, economic, much less sociological agenda, it is driven by a theological vision. And when you’re looking at the Taliban, the group that ISIS-K is now seeking to defeat and to supplant, they’re not non-theological, they’re very clearly Islamic. And you have group after group after group. So in one sense, this is Muslim versus Muslim, but in the larger context, it is Islam versus order, not only in the region, but all over the globe.

Now, this theological dimension explains why the normal secular way of looking at the world and looking at the current world crises just doesn’t work. Yaroslav Trofimov, writing in the Wall Street Journal, makes this point very insightfully when over the weekend he wrote this, “The US and its liberal democratic allies may be facing off with authoritarian powers Russia, Iran, and China as wars in Ukraine and Gaza inflame global rivalries, but to the Islamic state, they’re all enemies of the Muslim faith that should be annihilated.”

So the average secular American looking at the world says, wow, the big rivalries are the United States versus Russia versus China, kind of a triangulation going on, you also have major terror organizations and frankly, threatening nations such as Iran. But along comes a group like the Islamic State that, remind yourself, is not yet a state. It wants to be a state, but it’s not a state at this point, and it basically reshuffles the entire map. And by the way, all of these nations, including Russia, including the United States, including China, they’re all considered enemies of ISIS. So even as you have rivalries between, and very active rivalries between the United States and Russia, clash of worldviews between the United States and Russia and China and Iran, go down the list, so far as the Islamic state is concerned, there’s something even more fundamental.

We’ll be following this story in weeks and months ahead, there are likely to be, regrettably, likely to be some major developments yet in the future, but it is very interesting right now to notice that Vladimir Putin’s been trying to claim that the West is the great enemy of Russia. That is certainly not the way it looks in Moscow right now, but that means there are likely to be developments not only in the war on terror, but internally to Russia as well. We’ll try to watch it all.

Part III

What Did He Know, and When Did He Know It?’ — The Developing Story Around Illegal Betting, Shohei Ohtani’s Translator, and the Future of Major League Baseball

Well, okay, let’s frankly go into a very complicated story, it’s very cloudy, it’s very murky, and it’s likely to stay that way for some time before it’s clarified, but it is a big story anyway you look at it. I’m talking about the story about baseball player Shohei Ohtani, and the fact that there is now so much controversy about him, and Major League Baseball has at least started a major investigation, whether they’re calling it that or not, as to potential consequences of Ohtani’s translator, known as Ippei Mizuhara, having participated in rather massive betting with huge betting losses with illegal bookies, which may or may not have been on baseball. He says not, but then again, he’s changed his story on some of the major facts over and over again.

The original version of the story was that he had been involved in yes, illegal betting with illegal bookies on all kinds of sports, he lost $4.5 million which he had stolen from Shohei Ohtani. And furthermore, he assured that he hadn’t been betting on baseball, but he said that nonetheless, it was Ohtani who decided to cover his losses. Ohtani quickly understood that he was now being implicated in something that could be not only with great legal consequence, but with tremendous consequence to his career in Major League baseball. He just signed to a record $700 million 10 year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, so we’re talking about a massive, massive story here, and it’s one that eventually will unfold.

Here’s the truth, it’s simply going to unfold. It might be at this point that Major league baseball doesn’t even want to know the truth here, but you know what? The public is eventually going to demand the truth, and if there are legal proceedings, someone’s going to have to swear under oath, someone’s going to have to be cross-examined and deposed, it’s virtually impossible that a story like this can stay opaque and confused for very long.

Was, in this case, Shohei Ohtani, was he directly involved in this? Was his translator basically acting as an intermediary with bookies? Was he betting on his own sport perhaps even? Well, you can imagine the worst, the worst in the context of illegal betting and professional sports, or for that matter, you could say collegiate sports, is when someone places a bet against, well, his or her own team. That’s the ultimate felony, so to speak.

But the other big part of this picture is that you have professional sports, and, let’s face it, collegiate sports, trying to have it both ways. They want the income from legalized gambling, but it’s just like the same pattern with legalized drugs, legalized marijuana in particular. Sports at virtually every level understood that they had to respond with an absolute wall of protection against gambling, an absolute allergy against gambling, but the money eventually spoke louder than their moral judgment, even their self-preservation instinct for their respective sports, so now they’re trying to make as much money as possible with so-called legal betting with all kinds of protections, and yet when it comes just a very short amount of time after Major League Baseball signed a single player to the biggest contract in history, it turns out that the whole thing may be jeopardized. Not to mention, the brand. 

But again, as I often point out on The Briefing, you legalize marijuana, but the illegal market is still bigger because, quite frankly, it doesn’t have to meet some of the costs of the legal market, so big surprise there. When it comes to gambling, where are you going to make more money? If you’re just looking for money you’re likely to make it in illegal gambling, not in legalized gambling, in legalized gambling everybody gets a cut, including, of course, the government.

Well, here’s my prediction, and don’t worry, I’m not going to give a sports prediction, I’m going to give a moral prediction. This will not stay a confused picture for long. Not because, by the way, there aren’t people who want to keep it confused, and that might even include the people who want to protect the brand of Major League Baseball. No, this is just too big a story, and the way this works in our society, it wouldn’t work this way in Russia with an autocratic government, the way it works here is there’s going to be someone who’s going to work this story, find some source and make some claim, and eventually you’re going to have claim and counterclaim, report and counter report, and before long, whether or not the courts are involved, there will be a clarification of what’s going on here.

And let’s face it, the big story is not what did Shohei Ohtani’s translator do, the big question is, as was phrased in the Watergate proceedings, what did he know and when did he know it? And eventually the story could become big enough that it’s what did he do and when did he do it? At this point all we know is that Shohei Ohtani has said that it was not true that he had voluntarily covered the losses experienced by illegal betting on the part of his translator. So, well, you can expect pretty quickly, if it’s not a voluntary covering of those losses it’s some form of theft, and so yeah, they are going to be legal proceedings, so just wait.

Part IV

The Precarious Condition of Monarchy in the Modern World: With Prayer for Recovery for the Princess of Wales and Protection for Her Young Family, the Monarchy Is Shaken Once Again

Well finally, another story broke on Friday, early in the day here in the United States, when it was announced by video that the Princess of Wales, that is Catherine Middleton as she has been known throughout most of her life, has been diagnosed with cancer, and in recent weeks has been out of the public eye precisely because she’d been receiving what was described as an advanced form of chemotherapy.

And so looking at this, well, of course, it’s a very sad story. She asked for privacy, she made this very unusual statement on behalf of a member of the royal family, because there’s so much pressure and speculation there, and of course it had all been fueled by basically a complete mishandling of the situation by Kensington Palace, including the release of a doctored photograph that frankly just didn’t come with enough explanation, it looked like some form of royal conspiracy. But it’s not so much, at least at this point, from what we know, a conspiracy as much as it was a badly handled public relations and communications challenge.

But in a worldview perspective it does remind us of several things at stake. Number one, here you have a young woman who of course is very much in the public eye, the Princess of Wales, at least at some point expected to become the Queen of England, who is also expected at some point to become the queen consort to a king of England, and likely the queen mother to yet another king of England. That would be her husband, William, now the Prince of Wales, and her son, George, who would be next in the throne, second in the line of succession after his father.

Now at this point, it becomes quite understandable that the princess has been outside the public eye as she has been fighting what’s been diagnosed as cancer. The palace had announced upon her, “scheduled abdominal surgery,” that it had not been expected that she would have cancer, and then it was not about cancer when all of a sudden it was announced on Friday it is about cancer because some level of malignancy was found, some form of malignancy, after the surgery in pathological reports, and she said she’s experiencing this early round of chemotherapy, of course in an effort to try to prevent a recurrence of the cancer, all that’s quite understandable. The family asked for time and privacy because they’ve been discussing this issue with their young children, and of course the princess needs time also to recover, she’s undergoing what almost assuredly is a very difficult form of chemotherapy and medical treatment.

So all that’s understandable, but it has to be put into a context, and that context is that the official claim of the British system, the British Monarchy, the British constitutional understanding, is that the identity of the nation is tied very much to the physical bodies of the king and those who may or will become king. That’s just a concrete fact, and so, so much of it is actually constitutionally tied to what is sometimes referred to, well quite coldly, as the king’s body, because he is the embodiment of the nation, the body thus becomes very, very important. And of course one of the points of the monarchy, particularly in the modern age and in the media age, is that there is so much of a strange combination of the mysterious and the very revealed in terms of the credibility of the throne.

And so the bottom line is, as in so many things, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a constant publicity machine that builds up the monarchy as a very visible institution, and the people in the monarchy, those royal bodies as being central to the entire project, and then all of a sudden admit that the king himself has some form of cancer, non-disclosed, and now the Princess of Wales has some form of cancer, again, acknowledged but not really defined. The British people don’t know what they’re dealing with, but what they’re dealing with is supposed to be the very essence of the foundation and source of authority for their constitutional system and the embodiment of the sovereign and those who are likely to become the nation’s sovereigns.

It’s a complicated picture, but it does indicate the precariousness not only of basing a system on the physical reality of a king’s body, or in this case, expanded also through members of the royal family, it’s also just a very clear reminder that in a modern media, social media, instantaneous communication age of nearly endless exposure and media manipulation, the fact is that it’s completely understandable that Catherine, the wife and mother, would seek privacy and want to have personal privacy in this situation. It’s another thing to recognize a nation is now clamoring to know what exactly is going on with the King and also with the Princess of Wales.

We’ll let the British sort this out, but it does simply point to the fact that if you build your system around the celebrity and the majesty of a monarchy, then you really can’t all of a sudden go into a period of unexplained privacy. Well, to state the matter just as bluntly as I know, what worked in the medieval era just might not work so well in the modern era because, well let’s just say, back in say, well, the 16th century, well, nobody had smartphones. These days, in our society, at least you assume, everybody’s got smartphones.

In conclusion, for Kate Middleton, the human being, for Kate Middleton, the mother, for Kate Middleton, the daughter, for Kate Middleton, the wife, we wish for her privacy, and we certainly wish for her healing and recovery. For the Princess of Wales, it’s hard to imagine that that’s exactly the same equation. That’s just a part of what it means to be royal. The late Queen Elizabeth II explained her role by saying, at least in part, “I have to be seen to be believed.” Well, at least we can say this, she wasn’t wrong.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College, just go to 

I’m speaking to you from Atlanta, Georgia, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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