Responding to the Paris Attacks and Muslim Youth Radicalization

Western Europe is still reeling from the terrorist attacks that struck Paris on the evening of Friday, November 13, killing 129 people and injuring over 300 more, many critically. Political leaders are discussing appropriate responses to follow up on France’s initial airstrike against Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State that has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

franceDetails are emerging about the eight gunmen who carried out the attacks, all in their 20s or 30s. They appear to include at least five French citizens, including the Abdeslam brothers, Salah and Brahim, who lived in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, described by Belgian authorities as a “breeding ground for jihadists.” Two others were born and bred in Paris, the target of their attacks. Another of the terrorists was a Syrian national who appears to have arrived in Greece and registered as a refugee in October.[i]

An obvious question that arises from the above details is the motivation of the eight young Muslim terrorists. US Secretary of State John Kerry offered an answer:

They are in fact psychopathic monsters and there is nothing, nothing civilized about them. So this is not a case of one civilization pitted against another. This is a battle between civilization itself and barbarism and fascism. Both at the same time.[ii]

This analysis is wildly off-target, completely ignoring any religious dimension to the motivation of Muslim terrorists. The fact that a US government official of Kerry’s stature and influence could so misunderstand the situation is itself a matter of great concern.

What are the factors that led these young Muslim men to undertake such violent acts, and what are the factors that are driving so many other young Muslims to commit themselves to fight for the Islamic State caliphate?

Elements in the radicalization process

There is a central idea fuelling Muslim youth radicalization: young Muslims travelling this path are following a particular conceptual role model that praises activism for Islam, jihadi militancy, and death for the sake of Allah. A range of intersecting elements underlie this core idea.

The first is the problem of radical preachers in some mosques, as revealed in the “Undercover Mosque” series of documentaries produced for Dispatches in the UK some years ago.[iii] It is very likely that some mosques and their preachers attended by the Paris attackers, especially in the Molenbeek area of Brussels, were a source of some of their radical ideas.

The subversive role of such preachers is exacerbated by easy access to radical Islamic websites and social media sites. Jihadi groups such as the Islamic State are very skilled at hooking impressionable young minds through social media. From time to time such sites are banned by governments, but others quickly emerge in their place. Such websites create the ingredients for a further key element reinforcing the radicalized role model: a peer group of real-life and virtual radicalized youth which adds fuel to the pressures on young Muslims.

Sadly, parents sometimes also provide a radicalized role model. The father of one of the much discussed 15-year-old jihadi brides from Bethnal Green in London who joined the Islamic State in Syria was filmed taking a very active part in one protest led by the notorious radical preacher Anjem Choudary.[iv] Many young Muslims are brought up in family contexts where rabid anti-Westernism is a key part of family discourse. This is likely to have been the case in the Abdeslam family, which provided two of the participants in the Paris attacks.

A further radicalization role model for young Muslims is provided by the prophet of Islam himself. Muhammad is a complex character, but during the last 10 years of his life in the city of Medina, Islamic sources, such as the prophetic traditions or Hadith and the authoritative biography of Muhammad or Sira, record that he developed the doctrine of jihad, plundered trading caravans, sanctioned the beheading of perceived enemies, and endorsed forced concubinage.

How to respond to the radicalization process

So what can be done to prevent the radicalization of Muslim youth in the West, and thereby to prevent attacks such as recently took place in Paris? To some extent, responses can be linked with the above factors producing radicalization.

First, there should be a mechanism for monitoring sermons in mosques which have a history of questionable preaching. This practice is already followed in some countries, including Muslim countries, such as in Singapore, Pakistan, and Egypt.[v]

Second, radical preachers should be prosecuted and, where possible, deported, as was the case with Abu Qatada, who was expelled from the UK to Jordan,[vi] and Abu Hamzah al-Masri, who was extradited from the UK to the United States to face terrorism charges.[vii] At the same time, Western governments should take steps to limit access to radical websites. Civil libertarians will be uncomfortable with any suggestion of censorship of sermons or websites, but these are unusual problems that require extraordinary solutions.

Furthermore, citizenship should be withdrawn from dual nationals found guilty of involvement in radical groups, as is being explored by Australia and France.[viii] This should also apply to parents involved in radicalization of their children. At the same time, there is an urgent need for re-education programs for returning jihadis and their brides.

Finally, moderate Muslim leadership needs to address the elephant in the room: the role of Muhammad as a model for jihadi activism. This issue is barely touched upon in public discourse and, when it is broached, it is usually addressed in hushed tones and from an oblique angle. But there is little doubt that radical Muslim youth look ultimately to the example of their prophet during his years in Medina. It cries out for a full and free discussion.

As for Christian responses, the church must work with government and other social institutions in addressing this crisis along the above lines. The potent cocktail of ingredients that lead young Muslim youth down the path of radicalization debunks a simplistic explanation that has been popular amongst church people, namely, that Muslim youth radicalization simply results from their alienation from majority society, which must bear the major responsibility for the result. No other marginalized religious minority community produces hostile and radicalized youth in this way. Islam is a special case, a fact that should be acknowledged and acted upon by church and state alike.

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[i] “5 Terrorists Identified, One by Shot-Off Finger,” November 15, 2015, RT Website, https://www.rt.com/news/322155-paris-terrorists-identities-revealed/ (accessed November 18, 2015).

[ii] Nahal Toosi and Eliza Collins, “Kerry Calls Paris Attackers ‘Psychopathic Monsters,’” November 16, 2015, Politico, http://www.politico.com/story/2015/11/john-kerry-paris-visit-215941 (accessed November 18, 2015).

[iii] Ole Olsen, Dispatches – Undercover Mosque, February 5, 2011, https://vimeo.com/19598947 (accessed November 18, 2015).

[iv] Jake Wallis Simons and Chris Greenwood, “Exclusive: Father Who Blamed Police for Not Stopping his Daughter Joining ISIS Attended 2012 Rally Led by Hate Preacher Anjem Choudary and Attended by Lee Rigby Killer,” March 26, 2015, Daily Mail, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3013703/Father-jihadi-bride-schoolgirl-attended-2012-Islamist-rally-attended-Lee-Rigby-s-killer-led-preacher-Anjem-Choudary.html (accessed November 18, 2015).

[v] Khalid Hasnain, “MYC to Monitor Friday Sermons in Mosques,” May 27, 2015, Dawn, http://www.dawn.com/news/1184519 (accessed November 18, 2015); Christa Case Bryant, “Islam, scripted: Egypt Reins in Friday Sermons at Mosque,” April 28, 2014, Christian Science Monitor, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2014/0428/Islam-scripted-Egypt-reins-in-Friday-sermons-at-mosque (accessed November 18, 2015).

[vi] “Abu Qatada Deported from UK to Stand Trial in Jordan,” July 7, 2013, BBC Website, http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-23213740 (accessed November 18, 2015).

[vii] “Radical Cleric Abu Hamza Jailed for Life by US Court,” January 9, 2015, BBC Website, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-30754959 (accessed November 18, 2015).

[viii] James Bennett, Eliza Borrello, and Chris Uhlmann, “Government Promises Laws to Strip Citizenship from Dual-Nationality Terrorists Within Weeks, Amid Debate within Cabinet,” May 26, 2015, ABC Website, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-26/government-promises-laws-to-strip-citizenship-from-terrorists/6498300 (accessed November 18, 2015); “France to Strip 5 ‘Terrorists’ of Nationality,” October 6, 2015, The Local, http://www.thelocal.fr/20151006/france-to-strip-nationality-from-five-terrorists (accessed November 18, 2015).

Is Art Appreciation Part of the Christian Worldview?

The subject of artwork has caused its fair share of controversy among followers of Jesus. From opposition to religious images by Byzantines in the eighth and ninth centuries to debate among the Reformers over what forms of art were acceptable, StainGlassCHistoryChristians have long differed over the role of artwork in a Christian worldview. But amid the debate, believers have almost always agreed that art appreciation is part of a Christian worldview. That belief stems from the Bible itself, which says much related to aesthetics, artwork, and creativity. Consider the following:

God is the ultimate artist. There can never be a creative act more magnificent that God’s fashioning of the universe. Genesis 1-2 provides details related to color and light and notes that the trees God created were not present merely for food but as objects “pleasant to the sight” (Genesis 2:9). Imaging God, Christians have contended, surely includes imitating His creativity through artwork.

In the Old Testament, God assumed there would be visual artists among His people. At the construction of the Tabernacle, He appointed Bezalel and Oholiab “to devise artistic designs” (Exodus 31:4). Again at the building of the Temple, artists were required to fashion the intricate particulars of the design, from carving 15-foot cherabim of olivewood (1 Kings 6:23) to engraving “all the walls of the house” (1 Kings 6:29). When God commanded Moses in the wilderness to fashion “a fiery serpent and set it on a pole” (Numbers 21:8), He presumed there was a metalworker to craft the bronze serpent.

Scripture celebrates all five senses as means of experiencing God’s good creation. Song of Solomon 1:1-5 illustrates this well, with the Shulamite woman extoling the touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight of her lover. The God who created all five senses intended for His people to use them all, including the viewing of artwork, to appreciate His handiwork.

— Although the New Testament isn’t as explicit in its commendation of artwork, Paul commanded the Philippians to set their minds on “whatever is lovely” (Philippians 4:8). Surely that command includes the appreciation of artistic beauty.

Revelation’s descriptions of heaven assume God’s people have cultivated a taste for things that are aesthetically beautiful. Foundations “adorned with every kind of jewel” (Revelation 21:19) and the “river of the water of life, bright as crystal” (Revelation 22:1) clearly appeal to mankind’s desire for artistic beauty.

Of course, the Bible warns against using artwork for idolatrous purposes. That is made explicit in the Second Commandment (Exodus 21:4), and the harmful effects of ungodly artwork are illustrated in the account of Israel’s making a golden calf (Exodus 32). Further, Scripture’s emphasis on the word as God’s primary means of communicating with humans (e.g., Romans 10:17) precludes using art as the only expression of our faith.

Still, Augustine of Hippo was right when he argued that the good, the beautiful, and the true are really one in the same—and they are all of God. Christians have taken that reality to heart through creating artistic expressions as diverse as Sistine Chapel frescoes painted by the Roman Catholic Michelangelo, the Reformation’s simple Bible illustrations and depictions of “secular” life, and the countless paintings, ceramics, and sculptures created by believers today. So the next time you take brush, pencil, chalk, clay, or any other artistic tool in hand, remember that you’re participating in a rich Christian tradition.

The Bible and National Borders

National immigration policy is front and center in public discourse around the world, most prominently in the West, to which many are fleeing. In a presidential election season, Americans are sharply divided over what should be done about the millions of illegal or “undocumented” residents coming from the south. Europe is trying to cope with waves of Syrians and North Africans either fleeing conflict or seeking a better standard of living. Some are drowning as their boats capsize in the Mediterranean. Others are hit by trains in the rail tunnel beneath the English Channel. Some nations are strengthening their borders; others are opening their arms to vast numbers of newcomers. So what should a Christian accept or prescribe?

afenceNot surprisingly, the Bible does not provide a clear template for setting quotas, issuing work visas, deporting offenders, and such. For one thing, the governments and rules in play in ancient times were widely divergent, some theocratic, others imperially profane. On the harsh side, we see God’s order to the Israelites to sweep the house clean of Canaanites. On the tender side, we find prescriptions of kindness for the “stranger” and “sojourner.” Furthermore, early populations were often sparse, tribal, and mobile, ill-suited for the firm lines we see on political maps of the world. City-states such as Athens and Nineveh were more typical than nation states.

Still, there are general principles informing the debate, items which suggest a country’s right to control its borders:

  1. Jurisdiction: In Mark 12:17, Jesus tells us to render to Caesar his due, and in Romans 13:1-7, Paul says we must submit to governmental authorities. Rulers are rulers by virtue of jurisdiction over territory.
  2. Citizenship: In Acts 25, Paul claims his rights as a Roman citizen to have a hearing in Rome. Citizenship is a prerogative of the state, which can and must stipulate who does and does not qualify for it.
  3. Particularity: In Genesis 11, the Lord confounded the languages of mankind to discourage the vanity and treachery of a monolithic world. When we, in effect, erase borders by not enforcing them, we risk losing the “separation of powers” essential to the political economy of fallen man.
  4. Core Values: Time and again, the Bible describes the central standards of a culture, whether the YHWH worship of Israel, the Law of the Medes and the Persians, or the Hellenism of Alexander’s “offspring.” They range from evil to splendid, but there is no society without them. Ironically, a nation which opens its borders wide to those who do not share its core values dilutes the very qualities which made it an object of desire in the first place. By embracing those with toxic ideologies, a nation will commit cultural suicide.
  5. Property. In Proverbs and Deuteronomy, there are warnings and, indeed, curses regarding the movement of a neighbor’s boundary stones. The ownership of real estate is sanctioned by God, and trespass is a genuine offense. We may not just walk anywhere in the world we please, doing what we please on whichever plot of land we choose to visit. And, indeed, to breach a national boundary is typically to trespass on private property as well.
  6. Refuge. Under God’s direction, the Israelites set apart cities to which those guilty of manslaughter might flee relatives who sought blood vengeance (Number 35:6-32). Hezekiah dug a water tunnel from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam to prepare Jerusalem for an Assyrian siege (2 Kings 20:20). Both acts were predicated on the need for walls to maintain the integrity and safety of the residents.
  7. Finitude. There is one God, and we are not He. A nation cannot do every nice thing, for its resources and its ability to impose intrusions upon the populace are limited. If all charitable immigration decisions were good, then the more the merrier, but this would be chaotic nonsense.

Of course, none of this specifies whether, when, where, and to what extent immigration is desirable or even obligatory. Rather, it suggests that being “Christlike” is not the same as saying anything goes.

Zondervan Academic and BibleMesh Collaborate to Offer Online Distance Learning Courses

BibleMeshPressReleaseFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Date:  10/15/2015

Contact:
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Casey Harrell
Director of Corporate Communications
tel:  615-902-1109
email: casey.harrell@harpercollins.com

Dr. Michael McClenahan
Executive Director, BibleMesh
email: michael.mcclenahan@biblemesh.com

 

Zondervan Academic and BibleMesh Collaborate to Offer Online Distance Learning Courses

(Nashville, TN)—Zondervan Academic, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing, and BibleMesh, a producer of online courses for theological education, announced today a collaboration that will further both entities’ interest in distance learning.   Online courses offered through this new collaboration will be available to colleges and seminaries for use in their curriculum, as well as to individuals interested in non-credit, online continuing education. The first courses will be available in November, 2015, with as many as twenty-five available by the fall of 2016.

“We are committed to publishing the highest-quality resources for schools to help instructors teach and students learn,” said Dr. Stanley N. Gundry, Zondervan senior vice president and publisher. “Building the best online courses for both undergraduate and graduate level study is a natural extension of that commitment. Zondervan Academic has superb content that will be built into the courses, and BibleMesh has experience and expertise in online distance learning. This is why this collaboration makes such good sense and will be such a quality service to schools.”

Courses will be taught by leading evangelical scholars, including Wayne Grudem, Andrew E. Hill, William D. Mounce, Gary D. Pratico, Miles V. Van Pelt, John H. Walton, and many others. Courses available in November will include Basics of Biblical Greek, Basics of Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Interpretation, New Testament Survey, and Old Testament Survey.

In addition to making courses available to schools to use within their online programs, Zondervan and BibleMesh will make online courses available to individuals not enrolled in a college or seminary, with an option to get credit from a partner institution.

“BibleMesh has invested years in developing a superior online learning experience for students using cutting edge technology,” said Michael McClenahan, Executive Director of BibleMesh. “Now, the collaboration between BibleMesh and Zondervan Academic will give schools the chance to offer even more online options for their students.”

Last year 72-percent of incoming college freshmen reported taking an online course the previous year. Many Christian colleges and seminaries have begun to offer online courses to meet the demand and stay competitive, seeing their importance for growing enrollment and leveraging new learning technologies.

The new courses can be used as part of a traditional residential program, within a flipped classroom, or as part of online-only degree programs. Schools can use them to supplement an existing online program or start a new program using courses with content from Zondervan Academic incorporated into the BibleMesh platform.

To be notified when the first courses are available and to receive news and updates, sign up at http://zondervanacademic.com/online-courses-coming-soon/.

HCBibleMeshAbout BibleMesh: A provider of cutting-edge online educational services, BibleMesh promotes understanding of the Christian scriptures and Christian discipleship. BibleMesh advances this mission through core curriculum development, particularly in the biblical languages, alongside strategic initiatives with content creators. BibleMesh was launched in 2010 by Emmanuel A. Kampouris, retired chairman, CEO, and president of American Standard Companies, Inc. and his wife Camille, an educator and performer best known for her work with The Jim Henson Company and Sesame Street. For additional information, please visit www.biblemesh.com.

About HarperCollins Christian Publishing: The world’s leading Christian publisher, HarperCollins Christian Publishing Inc., comprises both Thomas Nelson and Zondervan publishing groups in addition to Olive Tree Bible Software.  The Company produces bestselling Bibles, inspirational books, academic resources, curriculum, audio and digital content for the Christian market space.  Also home to BibleGateway.com, the world’s largest Christian website, and FaithGateway.com, an online community dedicated to helping people grow in their faith. HarperCollins Christian Publishing is headquartered in Nashville, TN with additional offices in the U.S., Mexico and Brazil.  For more information visit www.HarperCollinsChristian.com.

 

 

The Book of Judges and Modern America

While every section of the Bible is relevant for people living in every period of history, sometimes a particular section of Scripture takes on special relevance for people in a specific place and time. Through studying Judges with a small group at my local church, I have come to wonder whether the final section of that book, chapters 17-21, may have Biblepagessuch special relevance for modern America. A postscript of sorts to the entire book, this section illustrates the extent to which Israel had come to resemble the pagan Canaanites around them. The parallel between some of Israel’s actions in Judges 17-21 and news headlines in modern America is striking. Consider the following:

1) In Judges 17-18, a man who called himself a priest of the Lord performed forbidden services for God’s people in order to gain money and, more importantly, social acceptance. An obvious comparison can be drawn to so-called Christian ministers today who perform same-sex weddings for the same reasons.

2) Judges 19 and 21 reveal an Israelite cultural milieu that contributed to sexual assault. Chapter 19 recounts the gang rape of a Levite’s concubine while drawing an implicit comparison between Israel’s city of Gibeah and ancient Sodom. Chapter 21 recounts the kidnapping and forced marriages of more than 400 women with the approval Israel’s leaders. Though the parallel is not exact, this calls to mind the situation on some US college campuses, where a culture awash in sexual immorality also seems to contribute to sexual assault. A National Institute of Justice report says as many as 18-20 percent of female college students may experience some form of sexual assault.

3) In Judges 19, a human being is dismembered with various body parts sent to different sections of the nation. It’s difficult not to relate this to the series of videos released by the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood executives discussing the sale of fetal body parts obtained through abortion. Apparently baby remains routinely are shipped across the country in the name of fostering scientific research. One unfortunate difference between ancient Israel and modern America though is that such violence sparked universal outrage among Israelites while too many Americans seem to yawn and move on.

The author of Judges was intent to illustrate that things previously thought to occur only among Canaanites were now occurring in Israel. Without too much imagination, one can see a parallel “Canaanization” occurring in America.

This bleak picture should, first of all, lead the Church to sound a call for national repentance. As the author of Judges notes more than once, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Indeed, without godly leaders pointing a nation in the right direction, moral chaos will prevail. The present is an opportunity for Christians to provide such leadership—which brings us to a hopeful note, for Israel eventually turned back to God under Kings David and Solomon, with the author of 2 Samuel observing, “David administered justice and equity to all his people” (8:15). God’s people should take the present darkness as a call to action. Though America has descended into a striking parallel with Israel’s decline, we must pray and work for a parallel revival.

St. Augustine and ISIS

botticelli-st-augustineEach week brings news of fresh horrors in the Middle East as ISIS extends its stunningly evil sway in the region. Through rapes and beheadings and countless indignities, these barbarians have brutalized and tormented essentially anyone who’s not ISIS, including Christians. Those of us in safety marvel at the courage and grace that believers have shown, whether by simply abiding in the land, or reciting Scripture at the moment of their execution.

This past week, while reading again the opening chapter of Augustine’s City of God, I was struck by its pertinence to this current situation. Rome was collapsing under its own decadence and “barbarian” invasion, and this great empire, which had slaughtered not only our Savior on Calvary, but also His followers in the Coliseum and Circus Maximus, was blaming its troubles on the Christians. Augustine set out to demonstrate that this was nonsense, and in the course of his argument, he spoke of the character, thinking, and deeds of believers who had undergone great persecution. In so doing, he appealed to Scripture:

  1. To those dismayed that God made “his sun rise on the good and on the bad, and sends rain alike on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45), he explained that a system which blesses believers only misleads and corrupts all concerned. As for sufferings, it depends on what you make of them, and what they make of you, for “the fire which makes gold shine makes chaff smoke; the same flail breaks up the straw and clears the grain.”
  2. To those who muzzled themselves lest their words offend and provoke retaliation, he said that a believer may be blameworthy if, as a “watchman” (Ezekiel 33:6), “he recognizes, but ignores, opportunities of warning and admonishing those with whom the exigencies of this life force him to associate.” (It may be that “he evades this duty for fear of offending them, because he is concerned for those worldly advantages, which are not in themselves discreditable, but to which he is unduly attached.”)
  3. To those mourning the loss of security and material goods, he reminded them, “We know that God makes all things co-operate for good for those who love him” (Romans 8:28), and that, though impoverished, they may be “rich in the sight of God” (Luke 12:21). Besides, hunger can teach Christians “to live more frugally and to fast more extensively.” And should they be killed, “Christians know that the death of a poor religious man, licked by the tongues of dogs, is far better than the death of a godless rich man, dressed in purple and linen” (Luke 16:19ff.)
  4. If they lacked a decent burial, they found themselves in the good company of those pictured in Psalm 79:2: “They have set out the mortal parts of thy servants as food for the birds of the sky; and the flesh of thy saints as food for the beasts of the earth.” If they landed in prison, they shared the fate of Daniel (Daniel 1:6).
  5. Since some had found themselves impressed with a culture that glamorized suicide as a way to escape torture or to “keep oneself pure” from rape or moral compromise, he urged that they submit to Exodus 20:13 (“Thou shall not kill”), which forbids “self-slaughter.” Society at large may honor such figures as Cato and Lucretia for murdering themselves to avoid humiliation, but Christians must not follow suit.

Augustine concluded the chapter by noting that as horrible as their persecutors may be, the people of the “City of Christ the King,” must “bear in mind that among these very enemies are hidden her future citizens.” Indeed, the Saul is a striking case in point: Once an accessory to murder, he became the Church’s leading missionary and theologian. And who knows but what an ISIS foot soldier could one day find the Lord and preach the gospel fearlessly at great peril.