ISIS: Enemy or Frenemy?

I have long been confused about the terror organization that calls itself ISIS. Something stinks to high heaven about this group, and it has nothing to do with its public image and/or its terror campaigns. Nothing makes sense about it, and despite attempts by many to explain the group to us, its behavior just doesn’t match up. So let’s ask a few questions.

Why is ISIS missing its core target?Here’s a cartoon by an Arab political cartoonist that’s been around for about two years. The original cartoon (top) lacks the ISIS label and the Star of David on the terrorist’s headgear, but the rest of the two are identical. The one in English was just recently posted on social media, one presumes, to make a point. As the cartoon illustrates, terror has struck everywhere over the past two years except the stated target of terrorist organized crime. Why is this?

I’m sure that many will point out that Israel has its own terror problems with Palestinians, but that argument is irrelevant as it relates to organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. These groups are getting the vast preponderance of media coverage worldwide. Besides, the terror that Israel deals with directly is internally incited and very different. The best Israel can do with ISIS is publicly align itself with those who are cleaning up terror’s aftermath by stating their shared suffering. After all, an Arab is an Arab and a Muslim is a Muslim, so it’s all the same, right? Well, no.

So why is it that these terror organizations, whose sworn enemy is Israel, constantly direct their terror elsewhere? It’s a question you must ask yourself as you study global politics.

Another argument could be made that these groups are actually targeting “the West” or “Western values.” This, too, is irrelevant in light of the most recent spate of attacks, which are against Muslims and Muslim targets. A highly speculative CNN article today on the bombings in Saudi Arabia – especially the one at the holy city of Medina – describes ISIS’ activity over the last month.

While there has been no claim of responsibility so far for the Saudi attacks, analysts believe that, like a number of other attacks this Ramadan, they could be the work of ISIS or its sympathizers.

For the vast majority of Muslims, the holy month is a time for fasting, prayer and good actions, but Islamist terror groups see it as an especially auspicious time to launch attacks.

ISIS, facing the loss of its territory in Iraq, had called on its followers to launch attacks this Ramadan, and the response has been a string of deadly incidents around the world.

As well as the attacks in Baghdad, Istanbul, Dhaka and Saudi Arabia, extremists have struck in Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon.

Last month, a gunman killed 49 in a nightclub in Orlando, Florida; an attacker killed a police commander and his partner in France and four Israelis were killed at a Tel Aviv market.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for some of these attacks, and authorities believe other perpetrators were inspired by the terror group.

The article cites “analysts” and “authorities” without identifying them, and don’t even get me started on lobbing the Tel Aviv deaths in with the bunch. The point is that ISIS is targeting Muslims, and that makes no sense whatsoever in light of the global fear of destroying the West and Israel. The cartoon nails it beautifully, and the whole thing makes me suspicious.

We cannot look away from what was happening in the Middle East when ISIS first burst on the scene. Let’s go back and review all that for a moment. Remember the beheadings and Jihadi John? The first 75 beheadings were Syrian soldiers. That took place on July 25, 2014. I remember that these videos and the ones that followed were very well-produced for television and that the group used “teaser” promotional announcements to advise what was coming next. For a group angry with “the West,” it sure borrowed from our know-how in the TV production practices it used.

But there’s something very important about that date, because Israel was being bombarded with negative worldwide attention for its inhuman activity in Gaza, where IDF war planes and troops killed over 2,000 Palestinians, including 500 children. Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” began on July 8, 2014. Ground troops were added on July 17, 2014. As the world watched in horror, pressure from governments, charities, rights organizations, and many others began to threaten the moral high ground that Israel claimed in the annihilation of Gaza. But the heinous videos from ISIS – just one week later – immediately took the pressure off Israel by putting the focus back on so-called “Islamic terrorism.” Each ISIS event seemed worse than the one before, including burning a Jordanian military pilot alive. The group augmented its horrendous behavior by destroying sacred antiquities, and suddenly the horror of Gaza was but a distant memory.

Convenient? Coincidence? “God?”

And so we have to ask ourselves, “What gives?” Who’s telling the truth, if there really is any to tell? Why are all these bombings aimed away from the core target of organized terror? Will we ever truly know whose fingerprints are on the business and organizational plans of ISIS?

I wouldn’t count on it.

Of course evangelicals can vote for Trump; they just shouldn’t

Donald TrumpEvangelical Christians face a quite a quandary this election season, because they’ve painted themselves into a narrow corner when it comes to politics. It’s the right-wing conservative way or no way, and that forces them into the camp of Donald Trump, a slick, self-promoter with questionable business and personal ethics. Mr. Trump also comes off as pretentious, racist, bigoted, and uninformed, and watching Evangelicals rationalize their support is frustrating, confusing, and sad. Were it not, it might actually be humorous.

Believe it or not, the biggest issue for these Christians is who will appoint perhaps as many as four Supreme Court justices over the next four years. That’s it. That’s issue number one for Evangelicals. This is what Christians are willing to roll the dice over in electing a man who admits he will stretch the truth to get what he wants. Read his book. He’s a salesman for whom it’s all about closing the deal, not about how you get there, and that disqualifies him for anything other than being one of the globalist corporate menaces that he accuses others of being. Anyone who believes anything that comes out of his mouth is dangerously misled, and that includes my Christian friends.

jackgrahamLast week, Mr. Trump met with certain hand-picked Evangelical Christian leaders (who were publicly referred to as “Christian Leaders,” a bad joke) where he selected a board of advisors and spoke to them about why he’s the only candidate on their side. In the wake of that meeting, evangelical pastor Jack Graham of the mega Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas published an article titled “Of course, Evangelicals can vote for Trump.” He gave three reasons why “I could easily vote for Mr. Trump this November without endorsing him, his behavior, his language or his “temperament,” adding, “I would vote for Donald Trump because he has convinced me he will fight for the issues that matter most to conservatives.”

He then lists these three issues: the Supreme Court, abortion, and religious liberty. Pastor Jack notes that Mr. Trump’s opponent “promises” she won’t support any of those, and so he’s willing to roll the dice on everything else required of the President of the United States, just because he’s got us covered on the Supreme Court.

If this is at all representative of other Evangelicals (it is), then the faith has gone completely mad. I got into a discussion about this with Christians yesterday on Facebook, and here’s a portion of it:

LL: And to me, SCOTUS is the ball game when you will have as many as 3-4 justices appointed that could affect and dictate policy for the next 50 years — and on much more than just abortion. I’ll pass on Hillary, whose intentions are clear, and go w Trump, whose stated intentions I can agree with…

Me: L, it would be more honest if you were to say “go w Trump, whose stated intentions I can agree with, no matter what.” I appreciate your candid position otherwise.

LL: Not sure I understand your first point, but thanks for the rest…

Me: That you’re fully prepared and content with whatever might happen with him as long as you get your Supreme Court justices.

LL: Let’s say I am willing to take my chances with Trump, and consider it a calculated risk. I am also about derailing globalism, and feel he is our best chance for that as well.

‘Lest you think I was speaking with a fool, this person is very intelligent and has done her homework. However, she believes Mr. Trump is a fine family man and would give her the Supreme Court justices she requires. Where did she do her research? I don’t know. Most of the conservative talking points come from the many loud fearmongers who filter everything through a sky-is-falling lens that distorts the reality of liberalism. But I digress.

Donald Trump’s very own life has proven him to be a tickler of the ears, and he admits as much in his book. Remember, he’s trying to sell us on the idea of himself as U.S. President:

The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That’s why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.

I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and a very effective form of promotion.

He is utterly untrustworthy, my dear Christian friends, and even if he’ll give you conservative justices, there’s no assurance they’ll be approved. Even if he’s pro-life, there’s no assurance that will mean anything in real life. And even if he is stating how much he supports Christianity (not religious freedom), there’s zero assurance he’ll ever be able to act upon it. Of course, I don’t believe he ever would anyway.

He just wants to close the deal, and we can’t let him.

The turd in terror’s punchbowl

TerrorismThe horrible terrorist act in Orlando a week ago brought out the predictable finger-pointing and then some. The concept of assigning blame has become so routine with the press in every event today that contemporary consumers of “news” must think it’s one of the five W’s of journalism. Oh I suppose an argument could be made that this is the “why” of news reporting, but it’s way beyond that. In a world dominated by process and planning, we are driven to “find out” every causal factor, because that’s the way we attack human nature. There are no accidents in life anymore, for example, because everything is cause and effect.

But life isn’t NASA, and the press certainly doesn’t function as engineers.

I’ve seen just about everything associated as causal with this Orlando night club mess. The poor AR-15 assault rifle is the problem. It’s the NRA. Homophobia. Homosexuality. President Obama, Mental illness. Slipping through the cracks in the FBI terror watch list. And my favorite – Islam – and this particular voice is getting louder and louder, led by the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. I’m also reading a lot of “Islam needs to reform” in order to put an end to “these radicals.” Somehow, we naively believe that “the problem” is a religion that has been so demonized by certain forms of Christianity that “it just has to be” the cause! You cannot possibly understand how foolish this assertion appears to Muslims, especially in the Middle East.

In the blaming of Islam, observers are ignoring the great turd in the punchbowl while complaining about the less-than-fruity taste of the liquid. Never – and I mean NEVER – does anyone in the practice of explaining events relating to terrorism ever mention the role of Israel. This American ally is conveniently shoved aside as irrelevant in even in-depth commentary about “why do they hate us.” “Islamic terrorism” may have Palestinian roots, but that’s as far as it goes. Folks, this is one of the great magic tricks of modern life, and it’s time we all stopped pretending that God Himself resurrected Israel, because Jesus is about to come back. This, of course, will automatically be labeled antisemitic, and I’m prepared for that. Having Palestinian family in Jordan doesn’t mean I’m antisemitic; it just means my window on the world is perhaps a little different than yours.

The Shirky Principle, named for NYU professor Clay Shirky, states that “institutions will always try and preserve the problem for which they are the solution.” Zionism was implemented in the Middle East by the United Nations – led by the U.S. – after World War II and the horror of the Holocaust. Israel is considered the solution to the problem of real or perceived antisemitism in the world, but the Shirky Principle reveals that buried beneath all the defensive rhetoric and political propaganda is a real need to keep the problem alive, ‘lest the reason for Israel cease to exist. You see, nobody consulted with the land owners in the region at the time – Arab Muslims for whom the area has profound spiritual meaning – if it would be alright to forcibly remove them. Israel claimed all the good lands and, most importantly, the water rights. Today, Israel functions as an apartheid state, continuing to claim territory that doesn’t belong to it and brutalizing the Palestinian Arabs in the process.

Israel is at the very center of the matter of blame for terror in the Middle East and beyond, and if we’re going to be serious in our attempts to find a solution to future Orlandos, we’re going to have to stop pretending otherwise. Why do they hate us? Because “we” drove the process of Zionism and continue to pour billions of dollars in aid into Israel year after year.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent his condolences over the Orlando massacre in a video to Americans. A careful listen reveals lots of references to terror his country is familiar with – “radical Islamic terrorism.” It ends with this remarkable statement: “We need to stand united, resolute in the belief that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, regardless of their race, regardless of their ethnicity, all people deserve respect, deserve dignity.” Sounds great, but it’s a special form of hypocrisy, for it ignores his own government’s treatment of Palestinians.

There. If you want better tasting punch, we’re going to have to do a more thorough job of straining.

Remember the name: Emad Abu Shamsiya

The mainstream press won’t do this, so I will and proudly.

Regular readers know that I am a supporter of Palestinian rights and a staunch anti-Zionist. I have Palestinian family that lives in Amman, so my view is outside the mainstream. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism, and therein is the problem, for supporters of Israel must believe they are one in the same. They are not, and the events that take place in the region daily are badly – and deliberately – distorted by influential groups who are manipulating truth for their own gain. This is especially true in the United States, where we send staggering resources in support of an Israeli government that is badly out of control. It’s the duty of certain American evangelical Christians to look the other way, because they believe Zionism is Biblical prophecy fulfilled. With such a belief in place, it’s necessary to deny any narrative that disputes this, no matter how logical, reasonable, or validated it may be. So deeply held is this belief that their ears are utterly shut to all but the Israeli narrative.

The irony of this is that Zionism – which was born of a response to the Holocaust – has produced in Israel a clone of the Warsaw Ghetto from which the Jews fled in the first place. This ghetto is where Israel “allows” Palestinians to live in the occupied territories, a euphemism for land the Israelis possess illegally. Israel wants all of that land for itself, and American Christians support it, because God promised them everything from the sea to the Jordan River. Of course, this promise was tied to righteousness, which is nowhere to be found in the current State of Israel. But I digress.

The shooter, Elor Azraya

The shooter, Elor Azraya

I’m a reader of Mondoweiss, a publication that reports about the Middle East from a perspective that asks hard questions about the Zionist narrative. Well-intentioned Americans may think of the daily events in these territories as reflecting on our own “wild west,” but the law in the west never sanctioned extrajudicial executions of outlaws by lawmen. This is why a disturbing video by Emad Abu Shamsiya last Thursday of such an execution in the streets of the Hebron ghetto has raised such alarm. The photo to the right is Elor Azraya, a young Israeli soldier who executed a wounded, immobile, unarmed, and incapacitated Palestinian named Abed al-Fattah Yusri al-Sharif. According to the Israelis, the victim and an accomplice had stabbed another Israeli soldier.

The shooter, Azraya, claims he thought the victim might have had a bomb and shot him when the semi-conscious man moved. This documented event is causing turmoil not only in the occupied territories but on the streets elsewhere, for we have seen this kind of atrocity coming for months. Azraya’s real crime was getting caught on video, but even his lawyer says it was justified, that Azraya “acted in accordance with the rules of engagement as suggested by his superiors.” Mondoweiss reported recently that “the practice of Israeli medics abandoning triage protocol is increasingly prevalent and has support among medical professionals and some in the government.” The abandonment of internationally recognized triage protocols means death for the Palestinians, and death outside judicial oversight.

I’ve seen the video a dozen times. Here, I’ve isolated frames of the video, so that you can see for yourself what happened. This is murder in the streets, in a ghetto created by Israelis to support its expansionism.

The Palestinian is on the ground (arrow), just beyond an ambulance that is moving slowly. Azraya is circled. He’s speaking with another soldier who some suggest is a superior. Watch what happens, and note the two soldiers closest to the Palestinians. They are talking on the phone and are 3-4 feet away, and yet they do not suspect any sort of threat.

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This is the frame in which the gunshot rings out and the man on the ground’s head explodes. After the ambulance passes, we see streams of blood flowing from the man’s head. It’s hard to watch and not be affected.

Mondoweiss interviewed the man who shot the video a few months ago as part of an ongoing series of reports about life in the Hebron ghetto. He has been threatened many times, and especially since the release of the above video last week. The latest insult today comes from two Israeli Hebron settlers who suggest that the shoe cobbler who shot the video was acting in concert with the two dead Palestinian attackers in the hopes of capturing on video exactly what he did. They call it “naive” to think otherwise:

Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bentzi Gopstein, far-right settlers and followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, have filed a complaint with Israeli police against Emad Abu Shamsiya, the Palestinian videographer who captured the execution of an incapacitated Palestinian suspect in Hebron.

In their letter to the police, they claim that Abu Shamsiya’s presence during the killing is no coincidence, but was coordinated with the alleged attack in order to capture damning video.

Remember the name Emad Abu Shamsiya – the shoemaker. He will be in the news again.

And so the story advances, with only one side being told in the West. The Israelis have charged the shooter with murder, but there is no evidence whatsoever that he will be held accountable, despite the public pronouncement of Israeli leaders. This is simply political chest-beating, while the real story takes place in the streets, where shoot-to-kill is the order. Such is the dehumanization of Zionism’s opponents.

And if you can get quiet enough, you’ll hear the voices of the brave Jews from the ghetto of Warsaw crying out in shame, “How could you?”

The futility of the darkened glass

darklyOne of my favorite thoughts from the Bible is that we “see through a glass darkly” in our human experiences. Now, you can find all sorts of meanings about this depending on which version of theology you embrace, what church you attend, or whose commentary you choose to read, but to me, it identifies the absurdity of trying to control one’s life.

In order to have control, one must know at least the immediate future, so as to avoid tripping along the path from here to there. However, this simple teaching – that we’re unable to see ourselves or our lives as life sees us – reveals the vanity of our efforts. What we want is some cosmic flashlight that will cut through the darkness and light the way, but that is the textbook chasing of one’s tail.

We’re happy to trust God and His promises, as long as He lets us in on the plan. We beg for guidance when, as Brennan Manning used to say, what we really need is trust. “Give us a roadmap,” we plead, “so that we can plan accordingly.” We have control over so very little in life, but it’s never enough. We don’t want to get whacked downstream, so we hope for knowledge of when to duck. This path is fraught with problems and danger, yet we pursue it until the very end.

The result, as Blaise Pascal wrote, is that we never really live. The best we can do is hope to live, and so, like a butterfly we chase across life’s flower beds, happiness eludes us. It’s only available in the here and now anyway, but we’re all worried about what’s next. This is the life trap that addicts know so well, but it is by no means limited only to those who suffer this terrible affliction. I thank God for the knowledge gained through recovery that I am a spiritual being on a human journey, not the other way around. This has opened the door to the study and practice of being a better human than trying to be more spiritual, for in this reality, there is nothing I can do as a human to “be” more spiritual. The quest of recovery is not to quit the object or event to which we are addicted but rather to learn how to live without it. It begins and ends with learning to “live life on life’s terms” and not our own. Most people don’t know that the author of our AA literature, Bill Wilson, added a fourth line to the serenity prayer, “Thy will, not mine, be done.” “Thy” has always meant “Life” with a capital L, which is another term I use for God.

This constant staring at the darkened glass is a human insecurity born of our insistent demand for our own perfection. We’re on a quest to be spotless, even though we know it’s an unachievable goal. We need be perfect, because we can’t stand the way we feel about ourselves or our lot in life, and if we can’t actually BE better, we can at least LOOK better. We live a life of “what ifs,” and we just know that it would somehow be better, if we could just perform at a higher level. We gauge our internal feelings by what we see in others, unaware that they, too, are just as imperfect as we are.

These are the challenges of what C.S. Lewis wrote about when he compared humans to amphibians, able to exist in two differing realms simultaneously. We humans tend to think in linear terms and live within our senses, which is why we feel comfortable with an anthropomorphized God sitting on a metaphorical throne. But we also live in the spiritual dimension, where this “dark glass” doesn’t exist, because there is no yesterday or tomorrow in the spiritual realm. The spirit exists in an eternal here and now. Time and distance are created dimensions, linear concepts that trap us in a world we can’t control, and yet we insist we must. The pursuit of happiness is, after all, a self-evident human right, right?

Like much of life, however, this is a paradox, for happiness depends on what’s happening, whereas the state of being happy, joyous, and free is one that doesn’t depend on external circumstances whatsoever. This is the place of human contentment, a safe zone to which we can retreat 24/7 to find rest and safety. Notice how David prays for this in Psalms 43:

O send out Thy light and Thy truth
And let them lead me.
Let them bring me unto Thy holy hill and to Thy tabernacle.
Then will I go unto the alter of God,
Unto God, my exceeding joy.
Yea, with harp will I praise Thee, O God, my God.
Why art thou cast down, O my soul?
Why art thou disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
Who is the health of my countenance and my God.

This isn’t some great mystery. It’s David retreating to his place of safety, away from the things that trouble his soul, and into the arms of God’s perfect grace and peace. The concept is so simple that it confounds the very human souls for which it is intended and why David felt it necessary to remind himself through this Psalm.

And I hope that by sharing this today, I’ve reminded you, too. The darkened glass can never satisfy.

The Long View

Elegantly quoting scripture in a blog post for Christianity Today, Blogger/Theologian Ed Stetzer has written a nice piece about the need for us to take “the long view” in our lives. In other words, keep our eyes fixed on the prize of an afterlife in heaven. He writes of “delayed gratification” and notes, “Our perspective on the future impacts our decisions in the present.”

Yes it does, Ed, but it can also be a deceptive and sinister trap.

canaanIt’s interesting that I would read this article today, for I was just considering the lyrics of nearly all of the bluegrass gospel songs that I listen to daily. I LOVE this music, and yet the overriding theme is the afterlife that Mr. Stetzer has written about. The general theme is this:

All my suffering and broken dreams won’t matter on the day the Lord takes me “home.” Here’s the chorus of My Eyes Shall Be On Canaan’s Land:

I’m traveling to the land of Canaan.
I know that He will take my hand.
When storms of life shall rock my vessel,
My eyes shall be on Canaan’s land.

This is the message of the gospel, the hope to which Christians cling that includes the ideas that “the last shall be first” and that rich people will have a very difficult time entering into that land of Canaan. Sadly, however, another interpretation could be “if I keep my nose clean, do what I’m told, and don’t make waves, I’ll be rewarded in the end.” And all this despite the corrupt nature of those in charge, who live the good life in the here and now and have their “good lives” supported by the labor and suffering of those who do so willingly in order to get to those shores of Canaan.

I know that I’m often pigeonholed as a cynic by those who don’t know me (and probably by some who do), but I just can’t help pointing out the convenience of this stance for those who run everything. And what is/was colonialism if not the bastardization of this spiritual concept in the natural world? “Let’s enslave everybody and teach them that their lot in life doesn’t matter as long as they’re going to heaven.” Right.

Back to Ed Stetzer’s article:

By contrast, the spirit of this age encourages you to take the short view. The Ashley Madison hack last year opened the world’s eyes to a website for people seeking to cheat on their spouse. They told visitors, “Life is short; have an affair.” The implication is “the long view doesn’t matter.”

But that’s the exact opposite of the perspective we see in the Scriptures. Instead the Bible says that life is eternal; therefore, live your brief time on this earth in light of the eternal realities. It’s about taking the long view.

It’s not that I disagree with his conclusions, but I do have problems with those who assume this or any other issue is a matter of black and white, all or nothing. If the quest for heaven is the goal of the “long view,” then it must follow that any other view is evil. This is preposterous, and yet that’s what were confronted with in the world of absolutes. Is it not possible – even preferable – to do both? Can we not live in the moment in taking the long view? These are the kinds of questions, I realize, that don’t sell a lot of tapes, but they’re the kind that must be addressed in the Great Horizontal.

Mark my words. The institution of religion will one day bow its knee to the people, for just like every other creation of humankind, religion began in service to others but has evolved to serving (mostly) itself.