The National Intelligence Council “predicted that an American-led invasion of Iraq would increase support for political Islam and would result in a deeply divided Iraqi society prone to violent internal conflict,” hence engendering terror within Iraq and worldwide. The NIC confirmed these expectations in December 2004, reporting that “Iraq and other possible conflicts in the future could provide recruitment, training grounds, technical skills, and language proficiency for a new class of terrorists who are ‘professionalized’ and for whom political violence becomes an end itself.” The NIC also predicted that, as a result of the invasion, this new globalized network of “diffuse Islamic extremist groups” would spread its operations elsewhere to defend Muslim lands from attack by “infidel invaders,” with Iraq replacing Afghanistan as a training ground. – Noam Chomsky in Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2007)

Turkey Shoots Down Russian Fighter

Current events have me concerned about international conflict. How could Turkey be this stupid? Part of me wonders if this is not a calculated action meant to achieve some sort of end. Conspiracy theory never fit me that well, but sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. You really couldn’t write up something more complicated. Not since the first world war have so many sides and so many interests collided in one area. It seems inevitable now that World War III – if whatever follows can eventually be called by such a name – would start in the Middle East. All eyes have been fixed on Israel, but Syria was off everyone’s radar until a few years ago. The killing there and what has become of that country is terrible. I can’t help but think we are in large part responsible for what has happened. The 2003 invasion of Iraq is now so clearly the direct cause of much of the instability which now characterizes the region. It has allowed the rise of ISIS. What’s worse, our government saw this coming. I’m worried. Whatever comes next it is clear to me that the United States should stay out of it. But we won’t. The potential for both domestic and international fallout on a catastrophic scale is beyond imagining.

On Myths and Flags

It seems I really could write about anything without saying much at all. All the things I really want to say, either by necessity or by self-imposed filtering, are censored. So I offer these musings. Perhaps they can be much like bread crumbs – leading the way to the conversations I’d really like to have.

Patriotism is a curious thing. It is at once tribalistic and arbitrary, yet also inspiring and necessary. But when it comes to patriotism and the Church I get rather annoyed. A perfect example of this comes straight from my home church, where a giant American flag obnoxiously adorns the front of the sanctuary. I wouldn’t mind it so much if it didn’t seem like flagrant idolatry. The only thing I could think about was that it completely obscured the cross. I wonder if anyone else had the same thought? Of course, Veterans Day is nigh and it is only proper to think upon the sacrifice that many have made. Bravery, courage, sacrifice are all noble and in one sense it is entirely patriotic to celebrate and commemorate acts that are appropriately described in such ways. At the same time the flag hanging there, in all its obtrusive pugnacity, sends up the fragrance of myth from the altar.

Does God make deals? Sure. From all accounts you’d definitely regret breaking one made with the Most High. But does he have a deal with us as Americans? I’m more than tempted to say no, but before the howling grows too loud let me ask a question. Can God ever say no to deal offered to Him? The mythology of a Christian nation presupposes that God simply accepts any deal that comes his way. From Pilgrims to puerile pastors people have inadvisedly taken it upon themselves to claim the rights of a contract that does not exist. Nowhere in the New Testament does it ever even intimate that Christians are to form nations (let alone nations that are so self-important as to assume a role in redemptive history).

I suppose challenging notions particularly dear to people can often be thought of as rude. But can we drop the ludicrous notion that our fate is somehow wrapped up in how much we fall away from a vision that was never more than a mirage? Frankly, I have better words for it than “mirage” but I’m trying to keep this PG for the kids. Can’t we just accept America for what it is? An imperfect nation full of possibilities? Possibilities better realized if we move on from the myth. And for God’s sake, take that damn flag down.

The Flag of Our Enemy

Grant a thought experiment in light of yesterday’s momentous lowering of the Confederate battle flag. Imagine you are a Civics teacher who has discovered a magical ability to raise historical figures from the dead. You are immediately excited because now your guest speakers are much closer to the events you teach about in class than that ACLU rep just trying to get a plug in to a group of sophomores. As you start your unit on the importance of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the Constitution you think now would be a great time to bring back one of the most venerated presidents in American history, Abraham Lincoln. Upon your incantations ole Abe forms before your eyes. After some explaining you catch President Lincoln up as much as possible before class begins. Of course, the class is an instant success. The kids just can’t believe how realistic the guest “impersonator” is. But just before class ends one student towards the back raises her hand.

“Mr. President, or whoever you are, what do you think of the call to lower the Confederate battle flag from the capitol grounds in South Carolina?”

“Excuse me, dear. Did you say the Confederate battle flag?” Lincoln answers with a certain degree of incredulity.

“Yes, sir.”

Lincoln turns to you and says, “What it is this, that the flag of our enemy is still up?”

Historical perspective is something that always helps, in most cases anyway. If you were to walk with a risen Abraham Lincoln through the streets of modern Columbia, South Carolina he would undoubtedly notice and comment on all the progress, both technological and social. But what do you think he’d say about the flag of insurrection still flying over the first state of secession?

Let me briefly introduce you to another thought experiment to see if I can drive the point home a little more forcefully. If you were able to raise a black Union soldier from the dead, one who died in combat, only for him to discover the flag he met on the field of battle still flew in the breezes over South Carolina what do you think he’d say? I know the arguments about heritage and Southern pride. But what heritage? And pride in what? As Americans are we not proud of Lincoln and the black (and white) Union soldiers who gave their lives? What about that heritage and pride? When Dylan Roof brandished the Confederate flags in his photos he was appealing to a heritage that would have approved of his cold-blooded murder. I would suggest to all those (exclusively on the Right) who are either defending the flag of our enemy or who are expressing sympathies that they show a little more loyalty to a legacy of unification and freedom.

What struck me most about the ceremony yesterday was how American it was and how proud I was to be one.

Maine and “Constitutional” Carry

Well, we’ve done it. Maine is now a “constitutional” carry state. For the most part I think this is a good thing. Law abiding citizens can now conceal and carry without a permit, which makes them safer. My concern is that some (and it only takes one) will be rather reckless with this new right. Many of the state’s law enforcement agencies were against the law. I’ve tried to look at it from their perspective. An increase in the number of weapons present in a difficult situation could make things worse, and harder to control. My hope is that whoever takes advantage of this new right also get safety training. I plan to within the next year. But overall I think this is a good thing. We’ll see. This is what it means to let the states be the laboratories of democracy.

On Terror, Free Speech, and Moral Clarity

Before the marches stop and the uproar dies down I want put a few words in on the goings on in France and how the wider culture has responded. First, we need to understand the nature of our enemy. So many of us scratch our heads and ask, “Why?” Why do terrorists commit such terrible acts of violence? The answer nobody seems to grasp is that the Muslims believe they are fighting for something real. We have lost this concept in our postmodern era. Relativism is so pervasive that acting as if something is worth killing (and dying) for makes no sense whatsoever. Beliefs are simply adornments, political positions, or “stances.” All are subject to change, however, because as soon as any real kind of pressure is applied to change or abandon these beliefs they evaporate into simple silence or a “personal evolution” on the issue. Of course, some Christians in the West have stood up for their beliefs at great personal cost (look at the public firing of several CEO’s for example). But for the most part our culture is characterized by its ambivalence on just about everything.

Now, before I get into what I’m about to say next I want the record to be clear. Murder is always wrong. I was so upset by what happened in France that I’ve seriously thought about organizing something at school to show solidarity with our French brothers. Gimme some french fries in exchange for those freedom fries and would somebody hang the Tricolour from the Capitol building already. Count me as someone who was glad the terrorists were killed in the stand-off. And with that I’ve already broken one of my own personal rules: say what you believe without qualification. But alas, in these days we sometimes have to, so here goes.

There is something weirdly perverse in all the rhetoric we’ve seen in the last few days. What I mean is that two extremes are arguing as if they were the only things to be considered. On one side people are arguing that freedom of expression is so sacred that defending obscenity is the essence of what free speech is all about. On the other side radical Muslims (one could say consistent Muslims) believe their religion is so sacred that killing in the name of the prophet is a moral obligation. Before you object that I am engaging in moral equivalency let me stop you and say there is none. Believing in the right to publish obscenity and believing you must kill to achieve shari’ah law are qualitatively different. But they are qualitatively different wrongs.

The content at Charlie Hebdo magazine was obscene. It not only targeted Islam, but all religions in attempt to satirize and degrade them. You may believe that this is an essential right, the essence of free speech, and go on drawing your cartoons. But what you cannot do is believe there is no inherent cost in doing so, and I’m not talking about the risk that comes from masked gunmen. The cost is moral clarity and stability. When a society believes in defending the profane above all else it has utterly lost any moral defensibility. At that point the gates of Western Civilization are no more effective than the Maginot Line, and the clamor of ugly passions that was once kept outside can hardly be contained once they are within. If you thought that last crack was a little insensitive, I’d remind you that most of the moral confusion of our age has come from Europe, and namely France at that. This is not to say that anyone deserved what happened. Absolutely and unequivocally not. What I am saying is that the secular view, adopted and embraced by a secular Europe, is unequipped to give an answer as to why angry Muslims should not commit heinous murders in the name of Mohammed.

Limits on free speech may seem antithetical to the notion of freedom of expression, but paradoxically they support the right to think and speak. If you want to say religion is stupid, fine. If you want to go a step further and say religion is harmful, fine. I would defend your right to do so. But we should all agree that there is a line one should not cross. The institution of laws that establish those lines creates moral clarity. The rule of law is more than just something that keeps our more base instincts in check, it shapes culture. Some things should be sacred, and that sanctity should be a value expressed not only around the dinner table, but on our streets, in our institutions, and in the press. If you disagree with me, fine, but realize you have actually given Western Civilization away. It is surrendered because if there is nothing worth protecting, if there is only the profane and nothing sacred, then we are simply sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Let us stand for something today and say, “Vive la France!” with all our might.

It’s All About the System

At first glance the tragic series of events that have unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri appear to be all about race. A white cop kills a young black man. There can be only one explanation. As if on cue a chorus of voices erupted explaining that officer Wilson’s actions were part of a pattern. In fact, this shooting was nothing more than state-sanctioned violence.  Placard signs with the phrase, “Black Lives Matter” have become talking points on shows like MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry. It all seems so self-explanatory that issues of character seem to have no place in the discussion, unless of course it comes to explaining the character of the cop, whom it is assumed, prima facie, has it out for anyone with a black face.

Regardless of the overwhelming evidence that this had nothing to do with race and everything to do with character there is something else being lost in the discussion. The Ferguson police department has now become one of many under investigation by the federal Department of Justice. According to this Washington Post article, as many as 34 municipal police departments are now under federal investigation for civil rights abuses. Police tactics and practices are under scrutiny and several have had to put their officers through sensitivity training. The long arm of the federal government is now reaching for officers badges, even if they were only defending themselves.

Policing is hard work. Many decisions have to made in a matter of seconds. Adding further complexities, as the federal government is apt to do, will only make the work more burdensome and more dangerous. But as always the federal government thinks it knows better when it comes to such matters. Notice how the event has provided the context for a “discussion” or “conversation” about the Grand Jury process, a constitutional right, that some consider evil. Whenever a tragic event provides an opportunity to increase your power (if you’re one who believes in government as the answer) then you cannot let it pass you by. This is what’s happening right now. Look at the movement to have cops start wearing body cameras; Obama wants to buy some right away. Or look at the calls for a national commission on justice. The meme that someone has to do something runs straight through the language of those on the Left regarding this issue. Race is very successfully being used as a pretext for government action.

I say successfully because there is no denying that America’s history of race-relations is fraught with prejudice and outright violence. This is something deeply seated in the consciousness of African-Americans. Racism still exists and only an ignorant fool would deny that it plays no factor at all in how some police officers carry out their work. But by using this specific case, which is complicated by Brown’s own actions before his death, and building a movement off of its example only make the calls for a national “discussion” that much more transparent.

Unfortunately, any serious discussion on race now seems impossible. The division that some people feel is now so entrenched that it will take years to bridge the gap. Civil rights “leaders” and, disappointingly, our president seem all too happy to let others believe this is about black and white. And Americans will pay the price, not only because they will see in black or white, instead of the color of character that Martin Luther King Jr. so extolled, but because policing will be that much harder. Americans will be less safe, more tragedies will come, and the only thing to console us will be the heat from burning buildings. But don’t worry, the federal government will have a plan for that too.