What comes after the Paris demonstration for unity against terrorism?

Will it be a new direction, or a short term distraction?

The massive rally in France drew European leaders together with a defiant and determined population in response to last week’s lethal attacks there by Islamic radicals. As big as it was, it was still little and late. It was trending, live in Paris and on social media, the thing to do at the moment. It was impressive to witness and encouraging to consider the opportunities this moment in history presents. Still, in these days in the immediate aftermath.

But look with the longer lens.

Why is free speech so fierce a battle cry now? The sudden, vicious and terrifying attacks on a publication in France started this new wave of international unity for free speech. Pens have become emblematic of this revolution against violent extremism that seeks to destroy free expression of ideas repulsive to the terrorists. But it took this week of terror to come to this unified stand against radical extremism. Before this, even the threat of such violence worked to stifle free speech, as Nina Shea has said time and again, and most recently here.

What lesson will Europe draw from the Charlie Hebdo massacre? Will it get serious about ending Muslim extremism within its borders, or will it try even harder to curb offensive political cartoons and speech about Islam? Up to this point, Europe has responded to Islamist violence in retaliation against ridicule, and even against sober critique of Islam, by taking the latter course.

In 2008, the EU mandated religious hate-speech laws, with European officials indignantly declaring that there is “no right to religious insult.” More revealingly, one official European commission delicately explained that this measure was taken to “preserve social peace and public order” in light of the “increasing sensitivities” of “certain individuals” who “have reacted violently to criticism of their religion.”

Consider this recall Shea makes:

Europe was frightened and wanted to cool down its angry Muslim populations and appease the censorship lobby that claims to represent them in the 56-member-state Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Since 2004, it had seen the assassination of Theo van Gogh in an Amsterdam street for his and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s film on abuses against Muslim women; worldwide Muslim riots and economic boycotts over an obscure Danish newspaper’s caricatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammed; and yet more rioting and murders after Pope Benedict presented a paper to an academic audience at Regensburg University that questioned Islam’s position on reason. The subjective hate-speech laws were intended to placate those — including Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, who in 1989 issued a fatwa against novelist Salman Rushdie — who demand that Europe police its own citizens for conformity to Islamic blasphemy codes. European leaders insisted that this could be accomplished while somehow still upholding Western principles of free speech.

These hate-speech laws have failed in both aims. Islamist extremism continues to grow in Europe, while speech critical of Islam is undertaken at ever greater personal risk, including risk of criminal prosecution. Some are so intimidated that they remain silent even when it is their duty to speak up.

And so on. Read Nina Shea’s whole article. She’s an expert on persecution and terrorism against minorities, and continually shines the spotlight on hard truths that slip into obscurity if not recalled as she does so often.

NRO’s Andrew McCarthy makes the same case, about what has happened for years when the fundamental principles, liberties and essential identities of Western nations were threatened by radical extremists opposed to their core values and being.

What is the response of Western governments, particularly in the United States — the leader of the free world, whose government was formed for the primary purpose of protecting our God-given fundamental liberties, including the right to free expression?

Surely we know this as a knee-jerk response by now.

Snug among her “Istanbul process” partners in Turkey, then–Secretary Clinton lamented that — despite energetic Obama-administration efforts — the campaign to muzzle “Islamophobia”…had been hampered by a legal inconvenience: Throughout American history, free speech had been deemed “a universal right at the core of her democracy.”

But there was, she declared, a way around the First Amendment, a way around the parchment promises of law. The United States government would “use some old-fashioned techniques of peer pressure and shaming so that people don’t feel they have the support to do what we abhor.”

Was that clear enough? Since we can’t make the law prohibit critical examination of Islam, we hereby endorse coercion.

It wasn’t long afterwards that four American officials, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were murdered by jihadists in a terrorist attack on Benghazi. Almost all of the terrorists are still on the loose, but Secretary Clinton, President Obama, and their underlings took pains to blame the attack, falsely, on an anti-Islamic video. In particular, they choreographed a high-profile jailing and prosecution of the video producer.

That was shameful then, all the more culpable now for probably emboldening radical jihadists.

This Wall Street Journal editorial continues the point. Consider it carefully.

Wednesday’s massacre, following a long string of plots foiled by police in the U.K., France and elsewhere, is a reminder that jihadism isn’t a distant Middle Eastern phenomenon. There will be many more such attempts at mass murder, and authorities in the U.S. and Europe need broad authority to surveil and interrogate potential plotters to stop them.

This offends some liberals and libertarians, but imagine the restrictions on liberty that would follow if radical Muslims succeed in blowing up a soccer stadium or half a city. Men willing to execute cartoonists in Paris and 132 children at point-blank range in Peshawar in the name of religion

(remember that?)

won’t shrink from using more destructive means to impose mass casualties. Better to collect metadata and surveil some people now than deal with public demand for mass Muslim arrests or expulsions after a catastrophe.

Wednesday’s attack also demonstrates again that violent Islam isn’t a reaction to poverty or Western policies in the Middle East. It is an ideological challenge to Western civilization and principles, including a free press and religious pluralism. The murder of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists is merely the latest evil expression of a modern arc of Islamist violence against Western free speech that stretches back to Ayatollah Khomeini ’s 1989 fatwa calling for the killing of novelist Salman Rushdie.

There are the reminders again. How quickly we forget atrocities when the cameras go away and the headlines move to other news. Or fail to cover atrocities at all.

Like the story I heard Saturday on the BBC about a 10 year old girl strapped with explosives and sent into a busy market in Nigeria.

The bomb exploded in a market in the city of Maiduguri, in Borno state.

“The explosive devices were wrapped around her body,” a police source told Reuters.

No group has said it carried out the attack. The market is reported to have been targeted twice in a week by female bombers late last year.

Correspondents say that all the signs point to the militant Islamist Boko Haram group.

They have been fighting to establish an Islamic caliphate in the north-eastern states of Borno, Yobe and Adamawa, which have borne the worst violence in their five year insurgency.

Where and when did you hear of this, if at all?

Have you heard about the attack carried out by Boko Haram after that one? The horrific “deadliest massacre” to date, in the words of Amnesty International?

Reporting in northern Nigeria is notoriously difficult; journalists have been targeted by Boko Haram, and, unlike in Paris, people on the ground are isolated and struggle with access to the internet and other communications. Attacks by Boko Haram have disrupted connections further, meaning that there is an absence of an online community able to share news, photos and video reports of news as it unfolds.

But reports of the massacre were coming through and as the world’s media focused its attention on Paris, some questioned why events in Nigeria were almost ignored.

On Twitter, Max Abrahms, a terrorism analyst, tweeted: “It’s shameful how the 2K people killed in Boko Haram’s biggest massacre gets almost no media coverage.”

Musician Nitin Sawhney said: “Very moving watching events in Paris – wish the world media felt equally outraged by this recent news too.”

If the unity rally was to be a consequential tipping point – and I believe it was intended as that and has the potential to be that – then it has to quickly spawn groups resolved to focus global attention on all the atrocities committed by violent extremists against innocents, and ready to direct relief, aid and protection to those children, women and elderly innocent people especially endangered by them.

Full stop.

“Paris was worth a march”

America’s president was conspicuously absent. Why? “Mr Obama is wholly out of sync with U.S. thinking and sentiment.”

So says Peggy Noonan in this Wall Street Journal column. It’s good reading for those fed up with fed-up-ness.

Here are the reasons the president of the United States, or at very least the vice president, should have gone [Sunday] to the Paris march and walked shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the world:

To show through his presence that the American people fully understand the import of what happened in the Charlie Hebdo murders, which is that Islamist extremists took the lives of free men and women who represented American and Western political freedoms, including freedom of speech;

To show through his presence that America and the West, and whatever nations choose to proclaim adherence to their democratic values, will stand together in rejecting and resisting extremist Islamist intolerance and violence;

To demonstrate the shared understanding that the massacre may amount to a tipping point, whereby those who protect and put forward Western political values will insist upon them in their sphere and ask their Muslim fellow citizens to walk side by side with them in shared public commitment;

To formally acknowledge the deep sympathy we feel that France, our oldest ally, suffered in the Charlie Hebdo murders a psychic shock akin to what America felt and suffered on 9/11/01. The day after our tragedy, the great French newspaper Le Monde ran an unforgettable cover with an editorial of affection and love titled Nous sommes tous Américains: “We are all Americans.”

I’ll never forget that. I can’t say we are all Charlie Hebdo, as the trending pop slogan declares. But I can say we are all citizens of the world, virtually the same language Barack Obama used in his July 2008 Berlin address just four months before his first presidential election. Back when he wanted to identify with the masses, and embrace adoring crowds. Neither is happening now. But what is happening of import, is happening without his participation, acknowledgement or obvious concern.

Peggy Noonan concludes her piece with the historical reference to Gen. Lafayette, “our first foreign friend” who fought alongside Gen. Washington in 1776. Noting that the reference was starting to appear in social networks, she said that

…it would be good to send our friends in France, again through social media, the sentence, “Lafayette we are here, still, and with you, even if our leaders were not.” [Signed:] “The American people.”

Free Asia Bibi

And countless others she personifies.

Whoever originally uttered the much misattributed statement that the death of one is a tragedy, the death of millions is a statistic, it’s been often cited and reapplied for good reason. It fits the Twentieth Century and first decade of the Twenty-First.

So personalizing the threat to one endangered, vulnerable, persecuted woman, man or child personalizes and humanizes the ongoing daily, hourly plight of countless millions of others we don’t see and easily forget.

Nina Shea, Nina Director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, has been a frequent guest on my radio show for her exhaustive work in protecting endangered religious minorities around the world. She’s one of the forces behind Persecution Report. Look it over, read it and weep. It’s so much worse even than it appears there, because the administrators are too busy fighting to save lives to update a website.

It was from Nina that I first learned of Asia Bibi. Here’s an update she published.

On October 16, for the first time, an appeals court affirmed a death sentence for blasphemy meted out to a woman. A Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi was arrested in 2009 after fellow field hands complained that, during a dispute, she had insulted the prophet of Islam. No evidence was produced, because to repeat blasphemy is blasphemous. Similarly, anyone who defends an accused blasphemer risks being labeled a blasphemer; two officials who made appeals on Bibi’s behalf—Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, federal minister for minorities affairs—were assassinated in 2011. Bibi has one last legal recourse, an appeal to the federal Supreme Court, but now no public official dares speak up for her—or for any other blasphemy defendant.

Accusations of blasphemy are brought disproportionately against Pakistan’s Christians, some 2 percent of the population. Intent is not an element of the crime, and recent years have seen cases brought against illiterate, mentally disabled, and teenage Christians. Each case seems to heighten the sensitivities of the extremists and further fracture society. The flimsiest rumor of a Koran burning can spark hysteria ending in riots against entire Christian communities. Lahore’s St. Joseph Colony was torched last year in such a pogrom.

The American Center for Law and Justice relentlessly drove a social media campaign to save Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani’s life, which probably did, in the end. They have pursued the same aggressive campaign of awareness and engagement for Pastor Saeed Abedini (who is American, by the way) and Asia Bibi.

A committed Christian. A mother of five. A loving wife. A servant of all.

But will she also be a martyr?

That’s Asia Bibi. She’s been sentenced to death by hanging under Pakistan’s Shariah blasphemy law. She was targeted as a member of the sole Christian family in her small Pakistani village. She was falsely accused of “blasphemy” – for supposedly speaking against the prophet Muhammad.

Last week an appeals court in Lahore, Pakistan upheld her execution sentence.

Here’s how this valiant Christian woman describes her plight, in her own words:

I’m the victim of a cruel, collective injustice.

I’ve been locked up, handcuffed and chained, banished from the world and waiting to die. I don’t know how long I’ve got left to live. Every time my cell door opens my heart beats faster. My life is in God’s hands and I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. It’s a brutal, cruel existence. But I am innocent. I’m guilty only of being presumed guilty. I’m starting to wonder whether being a Christian in Pakistan today is not just a failing, or a mark against you, but actually a crime.

But though I’m kept in a tiny, windowless cell, I want my voice and my anger to be heard. I want the whole world to know that I’m going to be hanged for helping my neighbor. I’m guilty of having shown someone sympathy. What did I do wrong? I drank water from a well belonging to Muslim women, using “their” cup, in the burning heat of the midday sun…

It’s as simple and devastating as that. For five years, she’s been imprisoned on death row over a cup of water. But what’s really at issue here is her Christian faith.

To her radical Islamic community and under Shariah law in Pakistan, her Christian faith is her “crime.” It’s her death sentence.

Her family is in hiding, fearing for their lives. In addition to the death sentence, Asia Bibi has a price on her head. A radical cleric has implored the Taliban to carry out her execution sentence before the Pakistani government does. Two Pakistani government officials who have spoken out on her behalf are now dead, murdered in cold blood for standing up for her human rights.

This atrocity cannot stand. No one – anywhere – should ever be put to death because of their religious beliefs.

All of us who have the freedom to speak out have the responsibility to speak out. It’s incumbent upon all of us to demand her freedom.

Though she has one final appeal at Pakistan’s Supreme Court, it is often public pressure and not a legal argument that wins freedom in these cases.

Asia Bibi has made a final plea to the ‘international community’ we speak of so often but specify and scrutinize so little. Who are ‘they’ and why aren’t ‘they’ doing more in these cases? This case provides another chance to engage the radical forces behind these crimes against humanity.

From her prison cell in Multan, Asia Bibi has become a symbol of the struggle for religious freedom in the world.

With social media, blogs and Facebook posts and Twitter hashtags, elite media notwithstanding, her rescue should be a viral story. For crying out loud, it’s well past time to use all these means of global communication to spread awareness and demand human rights be upheld. Not knowing is not an excuse anymore.

“we are saying poverty is not about money”

“One can be poor in spirituality, poor in ideas, poor in education, and in many other ways.”

Gems of wisdom.

Who is speaking with such bold clarity, and to whom? Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, to a Vatican press briefing during a break in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

What he said is compelling.

We are confronted with some issues, and sometimes [they are] quite perplexing. We recently had a big conference on pro-life issues, and in that conference, we came out very clearly to ascertain the fact that life is sacred, marriage is scared, and the family has dignity.

We get international organizations, countries, and groups which like to entice us to deviate from our cultural practices, traditions, and even our religious beliefs. And this is because of their belief that their views should be our views. Their opinions and their concept of life should be ours.

We say, “No we have come of age.” Most countries in Africa are independent for 50, 60, 100 years. We should be allowed to think for ourselves. We should be able to define: What is marriage? What makes the family? When does life begin? We should have answers to those [questions].

We are wooed by economic things. We are told, “If you limit your population, we’re going to give you so much.” And we tell them, “Who tells you that our population is overgrown?” In the first place, children die — infant mortality — we die in inter-tribal wars, and diseases of all kinds. And yet, you come with money to say, “Decrease your population; we will give you economic help.”

Now you come to tell us about reproductive rights, and you give us condoms and artificial contraceptives. Those are not the things we want. We want food, we want education, we want good roads, regular light, and so on. Good health care.

We have been offered the wrong things, and we are expected to accept simply because they think we are poor. And we are saying poverty is not about money. One can be poor in spirituality, poor in ideas, poor in education, and in many other ways.

So we are not poor in that sense. We may be poor materially but we are not poor in every sense. So we say no to what we think is wrong. And time has gone when we would just follow without question. Now, we question. We evaluate. We decide. We ask questions. This is what we do in Africa now.

Reading that, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Where are we hearing such strong voices of clarity and conviction these days?

This is an important voice and message, and we need to pay it respectful attention. Note what Vatican analyst George Weigel said in this piece ahead of the Synod.

The collapse of marriage culture throughout the world is indisputable. More and more marriages end in divorce, even as increasing numbers of couples simply ignore marriage, cohabit, and procreate. The effort to redefine “marriage” as what we know it isn’t, and to enforce that redefinition by coercive state power, is well-advanced in the West. The contraceptive mentality has seriously damaged the marriage culture, as have well-intentioned but ultimately flawed efforts to make divorce easier. The sexual free-fire zone of the West is a place where young people find it very hard to commit to a lifelong relationship that inevitably involves sacrificing one’s “autonomy.” And just as the Christian understanding of marriage is beginning to gain traction in Africa, where it is experienced as a liberating dimension of the Gospel, European theologians from dying local churches are trying to empty marriage of its covenantal character, reducing it to another form of contract.

The Christian understanding of marriage, which is the understanding of a sacramental covenant between man and woman is “beginning to gain traction in Africa, where it it experienced as”…what?…liberating. Imagine that.

It’s time the West becomes aware of and comes to terms with what we – through any number of proxies – have been exporting to Africa and other developing countries.

This Washington Post interview with Bill Gates is revealing.

Ezra Klein: Your letter talks a lot about the myth that aid will just lead to new problems through overpopulation. I was a bit surprised to read you focusing on it. Are fears around overpopulation an impediment in your day-to-day work?

BG: It’s a huge impediment in convincing rich-world donors that they should feel good about these health improvements. Our foundation focused in the 1990s on reproductive health. We weren’t nearly as big then. But we wanted to make contraception available because we thought population growth would make everything so difficult, whether it’s the environment or feeding kids or stability. It was only when we found out about this phenomenal connection between improved health and reduced population growth that we felt: Great, let’s just make the foundation as big as possible to go after these health problems. Because before then the commonsense thing was more kids would make these problems less tractable.

I don’t think people like to say out loud that we want to let these kids die because there are too many of them. But by choosing not to get into health in our early days I was a victim of the myth around overpopulation.

And here we are today:

An African archbishop attending the worldwide meeting of Catholic bishops frankly criticized Western attitudes toward his continent Wednesday, lambasting imposition of foreign cultures on African people.

Africans “have come of age,” said Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama. “We should be allowed to think for ourselves.”

“We are wooed by economic things,” said Kaigama, who heads Nigeria’s Jos archdiocese. “We are told if you limit your population, we’re going to give you so much. And we tell them, ‘Who tells you that our population is overgrown?'”

Good. Question.

Saints, cynics, and striving souls in apocalyptic times

The world is in turmoil, the grip of darkness, and it seems things are spiraling out of control. What can we do?

Some people turn away, it’s all too much. We can’t turn away. This is an extraordinary, historically pivotal time. ‘A Necessary Look at Reality‘ is in order when the world is in such disorder, writes my friend Elizabeth Scalia, and she points to a New York Times’ piece ‘The Great Unraveling’ as the necessary reckoning with it.

This morning (September 15), the New York Times published an exquisitely-written dose of reality via Roger Cohen. If “only Nixon could go to China” then perhaps only a NYT columnist could spell this out and thus permit us to credibly acknowledge that things are as grim as we have all known, in our guts:

“It was the time of unraveling. Long afterward, in the ruins, people asked: How could it happen?

“It was a time of beheadings. With a left-handed sawing motion, against a desert backdrop, in bright sunlight, a Muslim with a British accent cut off the heads of two American journalists and a British aid worker. The jihadi seemed comfortable in his work, unhurried. His victims were broken. Terror is theater. Burning skyscrapers, severed heads: The terrorist takes movie images of unbearable lightness and gives them weight enough to embed themselves in the psyche.

“It was a time of aggression. The leader of the largest nation on earth pronounced his country encircled, even humiliated. He annexed part of a neighboring country, the first such act in Europe since 1945, and stirred up a war on further land he coveted. His surrogates shot down a civilian passenger plane. The victims, many of them Europeans, were left to rot in the sun for days. He denied any part in the violence, like a puppeteer denying that his puppets’ movements have any connection to his. He invoked the law the better to trample on it. He invoked history the better to turn it into farce. He reminded humankind that the idiom fascism knows best is untruth so grotesque it begets unreason.”

The Cohen piece, Scalia notes, is a must-read, loaded with observations and provocations, and “it beats at us like a drum. Or, really, like a gavel, calling us to order:”

It was a time of breakup. . .It was a time of weakness. . .It was a time of hatred. . .It was a time of fever…”

It is, finally, perhaps a time of dawning realization that the centers are not holding; old orders are in extremis; new orders are in capricious adolescence.

The troubles briefly enumerated in this sobering op-ed are only the most obvious issues. They are the pebble tossed into the pond, rippling outward in ever-widening circles — expanding to include a unique “time” of global crisis: governments failing at every level, everywhere; churches are divided, their freedoms challenged; citizens are distracted, dissatisfied and distrustful, their election mechanisms in doubt; schools are losing sight of the primary mission of education; families are deconstructed and the whole concept ripe for dissolution; respect for human dignity is doled out in qualified measures; there is a lack of privacy; a lack of time to think, to process and to incarnate; a lack of silence.

“It sounds terribly, terribly depressing, yes. Who wants to read that? Who wants to think about that?

Sadly, this is essential reading; this is essential thinking…

With this column, Mr. Cohen has done us the remarkable service of showing us the ugly landscape all around us; the one we have not wanted to pretend was neither so vast nor so damaged and fragile. Without taking it in, we cannot possibly begin to address the least-precarious bit of it.

Here’s Roger Cohen’s op-ed in full.

Then there’s the assortment of things I came across over the past week or so of news coverage, things I took note of for one reason or another, because there is indeed a great unraveling happening at a faster pace now, we got shocked as never before in ‘the civilized world’ and we’re confronting genocidal ferocity and barbarism ‘over there’ and accelerating social breakdown right here and people are getting very fearful and depressed.

Tod Worner, another respected friend, brings two things together at this point in one post that I believe is also a must-read.  Always facing the true, good and bad, I’m also always looking for the good and the beautiful. He put that together here. In covering a wide swath of news, commentary, social and political and theological analyses, and more, he finally came to say ‘Enough.’

The point is that I could become and did become rather fluent in the events of the day. Only it made me a bit cynical and depressed. Nowadays, everyone is a muckraker, everywhere there is injustice, and everyday requires the long climb up the hill to fight another fight. Now let me be clear, I am not arguing that there is no evil, hardship and injustice in the world. Sadly, there is plenty. Even further, I would not jettison all writing/reporting that informs and spurs us to improve the lot of humanity. But this is not all that humanity is. We were not designed to constantly look in the mirror…to rend our garments and spit at it. We are called to receive the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. We are designed to cultivate the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, temperance and courage. The devil is constantly reminding us, “You are a lousy, unworthy creation.” Whereas God is, instead, calling us, “Though imperfect, you are redeemable and called to achieve great things in my name.” Neither of these voices neglects our shortcomings, but one sees us through to greater ends. The other tempts us to wallow in the inky blackness of our sin.

I’ll come back to that remark about the devil.

Read Worner’s post, because it’s all so good, and he starts to point out some of the bad news we’ve been hearing so much about in recent weeks but adding the good news in related topics that never got attention. I love this quote he cites from newsman Bob Schieffer, a “moment of clarity” on “the virtue of courage.”

As I watched the documentary on PBS this week about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and their cousin Teddy, I couldn’t help but think about what set them apart from today’s politicians. Yes, they were very smart but there are still a lot of smart people in Washington. Yes, they saw wrongs that needed to be corrected. But we still have those with good hearts, and yes they were good politicians but we still have a few good politicians around here. What set them apart to my mind was their courage. When they saw wrong, they not only tried to make it right, but they did so with no guarantee of success. What a glaring contrast to the Washington of today which spends most of its time doing nothing and the rest of its time devising schemes to avoid responsibility for anything. The latest example: when congress approved arming the Syrian rebels, they stuck the legislation in a bill that also provided money to keep the government from shutting down. That way, if arming the rebels turns out to be a debacle, members can say, ‘I was never for arming the rebels, I just voted to prevent a government shutdown.’ The Roosevelt documentary was 14 hours long spread over seven nights. A story about the courage of today’s Washington would take about 30 minutes-at most.”

And then the account of a friend’s father who passed on this month, and left a legacy evident in some of the comments left in his online obituary, respect and appreciation for his witness to a life well lived, and for others.

You see, these stories, these lives, are not the common currency of all the subscriptions I had (with the exception of the theological ones). And yet, these are the ones that matter. These are the stories that edify, that embolden, that grapple with suffering and loss, yet encourage me to keep going. Sure, at times they make me wistful and sad, but by the grace of God, they also make me smile. And keep moving forward. I have cancelled most of my subscriptions and watch less TV. Oh, mind you I still pay attention, shake my head and occasionally my fist. I will never stop caring. But I won’t be cynical. I won’t believe that we are irretrievable failures. I can’t believe we are beyond redemption.

That has become a theme that, thankfully, kept repeating all this past week in different ways and places, in articles and columns, radio show roundtable discussions and messages in church, both local and universal.

This article by my friend Kathryn Jean Lopez candidly and unapologetically says that ‘amid arguments, it can be easy to forget that God is love.’ Citing a documentary made by the group Courage, she writes:

“Look at the face of the other. . . . Discover that he has a soul, a history, and a life, that he is a person, and that God loves this person,” the film begins. It’s a quote, as it happens, from Pope Benedict.

Kathryn came from the East Coast (I never know if she’s in DC or NY) to Chicago to hold our regular roundtable with Word On Fire’s Fr. Steve Grunow in person, around an actual table, live in the Chicago studio. We did two shows, and in those two hours of in depth conversation, and extra time before and after, we tackled the issues of the day, the moment, and what we must do not just to be in the public square, but make a difference there.

We talked about the terminology of ‘battle’ in so much news and discourse, and Kathryn made a good point that while we hear about all these so-called ‘wars’ going on like the ‘culture war’ and the ‘war on women’, there are real wars happening out there with great humanitarian consequences. And Pope Francis has called on the Church to be the “field hospital” for the wounded. Fr. Grunow said “the real battle is spiritual, where dark powers inflict wounds on people” and we all noted how frequently Francis has brought that up, talking about the devil and evil in the world. “That didn’t get press attention,” Kathryn noted.

“The pope’s insights are very Ignatian,” Fr. Grunow explained, since he’s a Jesuit, “and part of that is asking ‘whose banner do you follow? Christ’s, or the devil’s? You have to make a decision.’ And Francis challenges people to see that choice clearly.”

They don’t. Kathryn shared the “odd situation” she found herself in several months ago “in a mall with a shooter, a poor kid who felt no one could reach him,” which she only found out by having a few moments to talk with him after he shot himself. “We’re having policy debates in this country all the time on all sorts of issues, and that’s important, but there’s a prior step,” she continued. “People are facing dire circumstances. They need to be addressed in their needs.”

I asked Fr. Grunow if an existential crisis is one of the most urgent problems the Church faces today, and he pointed out that the top crisis globally is of course the persecuted Church in danger of extinction in some areas of the birthplace of Christianity. But “the existential crisis is the perennial work of the Church to address in every age,” he added. “Everyone has a relationship with God, whether they realize it or not.” How to help doubters, skeptics, atheists and those who have lost hope realize that is a mission more than a task.

Pope Francis repeatedly calls Catholics, Christians and all people of goodwill to ‘go out to the existential peripheries’, to ‘create a culture of encounter’, and meet people where they are. That means noticing someone across the globe, the street, the room or dinner table or office space from you. Which circles back to the question at top, what can we do?

Michael Cook pointed to one outstanding witness, Bishop Alvaro del Portillo. Who knew how to serve whoever he met by doing whatever he could, and well, to be the presence of faith, hope, charity, and joy.

“He knew how to be very human when treating people, in the work that he did, knowing that his work was also a springboard, an aid to approach God and to be with God,” Bishop Javier Echevarria Rodriguez, prelate of Opus Dei, told CNA in Rome Sept. 26.

“He helped us, he understood and encouraged us and at the same time he was greatly interested in all things that affected us. He didn’t feel distant from us or indifferent.”

Bishop Echevarria said del Portillo was “totally at the disposal of others.”

“He was a person who knew how to love, who knew how to serve and who knew how to be at hand.”

It’s what I learned years ago from a young priest as ‘the ministry of presence’, being in the moment. Which, providentially, came up in the homily on Sunday of a local parish pastor reflecting on the two sons in the parable of the Gospel, one who said he wouldn’t go work but wound up going, the other who said he would, but didn’t show up. He talked about decisions, regret, anxiety, love, forgiveness and the importance of the moment.

He quoted Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen on this profound awareness of something we tend to miss altogether.

“All unhappiness (when there is no immediate cause for sorrow) comes from excessive concentration on the past or from extreme preoccupation with the future. The major problems of psychiatry revolve around an analysis of the despair, pessimism, melancholy, and complexes that are the inheritances of what has been, or with the fears, anxieties, worries which are the imaginings of what will be…But God in His Mercy has given us two remedies for such an unhappiness: One is the sacrament of Penance…Nothing in human experience is as efficacious in curing the memory and imagination as confession…

“The second remedy for the ills that come to us from thinking about time is what might be called the sanctification of the moment – or the Now….The present moment includes some things over which we have control, but it also carries with it difficulties we cannot avoid..

We don’t or can’t always know why suffering happens, he continued, but God can draw good out of evil, and “the human mind must develop acceptance of the Now, no matter how hard it may be or us to understand its freight of pain.” To accept pain and suffering, with belief that God is in control, “is to have taken the most important step in the reformation of the world…the reformation of the self.”

G.K. Chesterton nailed it in his book ‘What’s Wrong With the World”, by concluding that his best response was “I am.” Our human nature recoils from the pain and misery and evil happening around us by crying out ‘Someone ought to do something!” True and understandable reaction.

But we should also ask ourselves ‘what am I doing?’

International religious freedom and national security

Last week, a congressional oversight committee hearing was held to check on government compliance with the International Religious Freedom Law. It was virtually unprecedented.

Congress hasn’t been paying attention. Now that they did, the press wasn’t paying attention.

That law was passed 16 years ago, but this is the first time Congress has checked on whether the State Department is implementing it. Given what has happened in the world with increasing global crises involving religious extremism and religious persecution, one wonders whether anyone has wondered about this law. The answer is yes, and Thomas Farr. He has been asking questions for years. Because he knows international religious freedom is an issue of national security, besides being a human rights issue.

Here’s his latest.

I address three questions: First, given the status of religious freedom in the world, how has the current administration implemented IRFA during its approximately six years in office? Second, how can US IRF policy be employed to advance American national security? Third, the president has nominated Rabbi David Saperstein as the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

(The fact that the job of Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom went vacant from October 2013 to late July 2014 when Rabbi Saperstein was finally nominated to it, is itself egregious. But wait…Saperstein has only been nominated.)

Farr continues:

How can Rabbi Saperstein be empowered to succeed in a field where others have had precious little success? In particular, what can the Congress do?

He lets that question dangle long enough to extend credit where it’s due to those inside the bureaucratic apparatus who are committed to doing what they can for religious freedom around the world through assorted programs.

Unfortunately, their work is compartmentalized, marginalized, and isolated within the State Department. The course at FSI is voluntary and, in any case, does not train diplomats in how to promote religious freedom. Funding levels are tiny and are not controlled by the person responsible for US policy—the IRF Ambassador. The State Department’s working group on religion and foreign policy is made up of civil society representatives; we need a working group on international religious freedom made up of senior U.S. foreign policy officials.

This is all unacceptable.

The key point, however, is that each of these efforts is ad hoc. None is part of an integrated strategy to advance international religious freedom. Such a strategy has not existed for the five years and nine months of this president’s tenure, and it does not exist today.

As a consequence, the United States has had virtually no impact on the global rise of religious persecution. While American diplomats have helped in individual cases, we have had no comprehensive policy in place to help the millions who suffer because of their faith.

Emphasis added. That’s a serious statement, the revelation of a grave fault line.

Equally important, we have missed opportunities to employ IRF policy as a means of undermining the development of violent religious extremism, encouraging economic growth, and helping struggling democracies to stabilize.

The evidence for this stark assessment is compelling. When testifying before this committee in June of last year, I could not identify a single country in the world where the United States under this administration has advanced religious freedom or reduced religious persecution. That remains true today. Meanwhile, we have seen an explosion of violent Islamist extremism, and the continuing decline of struggling democracies in highly religious societies such as Iraq, Pakistan, and Egypt.

So, totally understating the obvious, Farr says international religious freedom is not a priority for the Obama administration.

The president’s nominee, Rabbi Saperstein, should be confirmed immediately. But when he steps into the job, the post of Ambassador at Large will have been vacant for almost a full year since the departure of the previous incumbent, and vacant for over half the tenure of this president.

Consider that for a moment, together with Farr’s observations about the US having no plan, and no impact on advancing religious freedom or reducing religious persecution. That it’s “not a priority” for this administration is acknowledging that they didn’t just overlook it, they put it aside.

Compare the administration’s treatment of this position with another similar job: that of Ambassador at Large for Global Women’s Issues. Someone has been in that position for virtually the entire tenure of this administration. Why? Because women’s issues are a priority, as they should be. On the other hand, it is difficult to conclude that the office of the IRF Ambassador at Large, or the issue it represents, is perceived as important at the State Department.

To cite but one example: if you peruse the Department’s listing of “Assistant Secretaries and Other Senior Officials” on its website you will find Coordinators, Special Advisors, and Special Envoys for a host of issues, including Global Food Security, Global AIDs, Global Youth Issues, the Arctic, Muslim Communities, the Organization of Islamic States, and many others.

But you will not find listed the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom.

The reason for that omission is clear. If religious freedom is not a priority for the administration, there is little reason to label that Ambassador a “senior” official with an important portfolio. The sad fact is that he is not considered senior, nor his job of any real significance, by this State Department or this president.

It’s more than a sad fact, worse. It’s egregious, to repeat.

I would note that the IRFA established this Ambassador as a “principal advisor to the President and Secretary of State” on religious freedom abroad. Whatever Congress intended that phrase to mean, under this administration it has meant very little.

You can be sure that the Department of State’s marginalization of the Ambassador and U.S. international religious policy is not lost on America’s diplomats, who fully understand the low priority that policy has been given. Nor is it lost on foreign governments and those who persecute on the basis of religion.

Here’s why this issue is so important, no matter what your beliefs.

There are two powerful reasons for a coordinated, comprehensive American strategy to advance religious freedom. The first is a moral imperative.

Last year in Rome, Iraqi Patriarch of the Chaldeans, Archbishop Louis Raphael Sako, said something that still haunts me: “If they kill us all, will you do something then?” We have a responsibility to that man, and to the others of Iraq and Syria—Christian, Yazidi, and Muslim alike—who are fending for, or fleeing for, their lives.

Patriarch Sako said something else. The title of his speech was: “What Happens to the Middle East if Christians Flee?” The answer was twofold: terrible suffering for the Christians, but also increased instability and harm to the societies themselves.

Yes, that means everyone, in a community with any diversity.

Here lies the second reason for a coordinated, comprehensive US strategy on religious freedom. Religious freedom is not simply a “nice to have” human right, consisting mainly of the right not to be tortured or killed, or a right to private worship. It is a fundamental human right that has distinct and inevitable public dimensions. As such it is utterly necessary, not only for individual human flourishing but for the success of any state—especially highly religious nations like Iraq, Pakistan, or Egypt.

Ample research demonstrates what common sense suggests: democracies cannot consolidate without religious freedom. Economies cannot develop without religious freedom. And—perhaps most important for American national security—religious freedom is a counter to religion-based terrorism.

Farr lays out a plan of action and details a strategy the president should take up now.

It is no accident that ISIS announced itself to the world by its efforts to eradicate Yazidis and Christians. This vicious group defines itself by its religious intolerance. And now we see that ISIS poses a serious and direct security threat to the United States. Surely we can learn from our past neglect and failure that religious freedom can contribute to the long-term solution. Military action is now necessary to defeat ISIS. But integrating religious freedom into our overall strategy can reduce the need for future military action. At a fraction of the cost, and without loss of blood, a diplomatic counter-terrorism offensive can increase American national security.

Robert George, immediate past chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), has been saying this for months. In September he said this:

Wherever violent religious extremist groups have held sway, be it central Somalia or elsewhere, they have penetrated every nook and cranny of human endeavor, imposing their will on families and communities in horrific ways. In many instances, they have banned routine activities such as listening to music and watching television. They have crushed all forms of religious expression other than their own, even seeking to destroy historic Islamic religious sites. They have imposed barbaric punishments on dissenters, from floggings and stonings to beheadings and amputations.

As a result, especially in places where these forces operate, people want an alternative: They want the right to honor their own beliefs and act peacefully on them. And as a number of scholars in recent years have shown, societies where this right to religious freedom is recognized and protected are more peaceful, prosperous, and free of destabilizing terror…

In other words, in a world where religion matters, a key answer to violent religious extremism in the post-9/11 era is for governments to act in such ways to affirm and protect freedom of religion. It is not only a moral imperative – it is a practical necessity, empowering people everywhere to choose a better way.

As Farr concluded:

Such changes will not work overnight. But without steps like this, and without the commitment of the president, the Secretary of State, and the Congress to support the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom and the policy he leads, the remaining Christians and other minorities of the Middle East will face violent persecution into the indefinite future. And the United States will face a permanent threat from the ever spreading phenomenon of violent Islamist extremism. For all these reasons, I urge you to act.

Pope Francis cites possibility of being in World War III

“Brothers, humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep.”

Citing a history of relentless conflict, marking the centennial of the start of WWI, Pope Francis noted the ways humanity actually may be in early stages of the third World War.

The Pope on Saturday morning celebrated Mass at the Italian Military Memorial of Redipuglia. The area was the scene of fighting between Italy and the forces of the Central Powers during the 1914-1918 conflict.

“There are tears, there is sadness. From this place we remember all the victims of every war,” Pope Francis said during a homily at a Mass for the fallen and victims of all wars. He called war “madness” and “irrational” and said its only plan was to bring destruction.

“Greed, intolerance, the lust for power…. These motives underlie the decision to go to war, and they are too often justified by an ideology; but first there is a distorted passion or impulse,” said the Pope.

Speaking at the end of a week in which President Obama announced a new plan to combat the terrorist group Islamic State, and with almost constant news of growing conflicts in various parts of the world, the Pope said that “even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.”

Francis celebrated Mass at this Military Monument at such a poignant time, the atmosphere was heavy, the pope’s remarks challenging and provocative.

The first reading narrated the story of Cain and Abel, and in his homily the Holy Father commented on the murder of Abel to condemn indifference in the face of war.

He has called out the “globalization of indifference” often since he first used that term in his first apostolic journey outside Rome as pope at a Mass in Lampedusa, a destination of hope for refugees seeking safety and a new life, but one not reached by so many who perished along the way.

At the Military Monument of Redipuglia, Francis repeated that message but with greater urgency and the weight of gravity. The sub-head of this homily about global indifference would be ‘What does it matter to me?’

“Greed, intolerance, the lust for power … are the motives underlying the decision to go to war, and they are too often justified by an ideology; but first there is a distorted passion or impulse. Ideology is presented as a justification and when there is no ideology, there is the response of Cain: ‘What does it matter to me? Am I my brother’s keeper?’. War does not look directly at anyone, be they elderly, children, mothers, fathers. ‘What does it matter to me?’

“Above the entrance to this cemetery, there hang in the air those ironic words of war, ‘What does it matter to me?’ All of the dead who repose here had their own plans, they had their own dreams, but their lives were cut short. Why? Because humanity said, ‘What does it matter to me?’. Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction. In all honesty, the front page of newspapers ought to carry the headline, ‘What does it matter to me?’. Cain would say, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’.

Right. What’s happening now is deeply disturbing and should be for all civilized humanity. And it is on some front pages. But so much space on those pages is filled with politics and scandal and cultural distraction.

Stop, Francis says. Pay attention.

From this place we remember all the victims of every war. Today, too, there are many victims … How is this possible? It is so because in today’s world, behind the scenes, there are interests, geopolitical strategies, lust for money and power, and there is the manufacture and sale of arms, which seem to be so important! And these plotters of terrorism, these schemers of conflicts, just like arms dealers, have engraved in their hearts, ‘What does it matter to me?’

“It is the task of the wise to recognise errors, to feel pain, to repent, to beg for pardon and to cry. With this ‘What does it matter to me?’ in their hearts, the merchants of war perhaps have made a great deal of money, but their corrupted hearts have lost the capacity to weep. Cain did not weep. He was not able to weep. The shadow of Cain hangs over us today in this cemetery. It is seen here. It has been seen from 1914 right up to our own time.

People rooted in one political ideology or another will read that according to how it fits their ‘narrative’ and backs their party politics. But he’s talking about global humanity, and calling out the inhumanity.

I heard a news report Monday of how wealthy ISIS has become, how much they control in oil fields and banks they’ve seized, and how they tap into that to provide for the ‘army’ and the ‘state’ they have built in trying to erect a caliphate and run a military operation, one that holds daily executions in the public square in some places, according to a BBC report I heard over the weekend, and the very public beheadings of western journalists and relief workers, among other ongoing atrocities they’re committing.

“With the heart of a son, a brother, a father, I ask each of you, indeed for all of us, to have a conversion of heart: to move on from ‘What does it matter to me?’, to shed tears: for each one of the fallen of this ‘senseless massacre’, for all the victims of the mindless wars, in every age. Brothers, humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep”.

And act.

Stopping the atrocities of ISIS

We have to know the enemy we’re confronting. How close are we to that task?

Thirteen years after 9/11/2001, not close, it appears.

The president finally steps up to act. There are at least as many questions about what he says as shows of support for it.

The beheadings of two U.S. captives by Islamic State have steeled lawmakers to the need for more military action, and both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders were supportive of Obama’s plan on Wednesday.

But some Republicans in particular say they want more information from the administration about its wider strategy to combat global terrorism, and many would prefer a broad vote rather than one focused on funding.

Meanwhile…

Democrats are crossing the aisle again, this time as they voice strong support for attacking Islamic State, though the overwhelming majority of lawmakers from both parties oppose the idea of sending in any U.S. ground troops…

The White House has said Obama does not believe he needs Congress’ formal authorization to attack Islamic State.

And therein lies another problem.

Obama flatly said–sure, in the midst of saying he has already won congressional support for doing this (war against ISIL)–that he has the authority to do this. Period.

This reflects Obama’s contempt for all matters constitutional. He consistently abdicates his responsibility to use occasions like this to remind and inform the public about the constitutional issues involved. Now, I think he does have the authority to do this, but he needs to explain why…

I want a president who openly says, “Look, here’s a law on the books, and when I can abide by it without compromising our security I will, and thus I will go before Congress as the statute says, and thus seem to need its after-the-fact ratification of my decision to go to war, but this is not one of those cases, so I’m going to ignore this unconstitutional law.” Or, I want one who says, “I intend to obey the War Powers Act, because it’s law, and it’s constitutional.” Or I at least want one who says, “Hey, opinions on the constitutionality of the law are divided, and I’m going to consult Congress as much as I can and make the decision about whether to abide by its timetables only when the deadline comes.” But this blank “I have the power” talk telegraphs contempt for the intelligence of the American people, and for their duty to know their Constitution. Of course, a public that accepted that duty would cause problems for Obama in other areas.

And besides…

Isn’t it time we had a president who says aloud the obvious fact that when you massacre a bunch of Christians, you’re making it that much more likely that the American public will demand that the U.S. attack you? Right now, this would be a useful thing for certain terror organizations in Africa to hear…

Yes, really. Even, and especially, support from moral leaders in the Democratic Party.

And leading voices in media who join them in calling for relief from the onslaught of evil. Kathryn Jean Lopez covers that in this post at National Review Online.

But that circles back to the question at the beginning, do we, or does the administration, know the enemy?

Some learned views…

Charles Krauthammer:

Charles Krauthammer said President Obama’s was forced to develop his forthcoming plan to defeat the Islamic State because of the shift in public opinion. “This is a man who’s been dragged kicking and screaming to face reality,” Krauthammer said. “This is a classic example of leading from behind where he [Obama] waits for public opinion and now it’s the public who’s demanding he does something. Americans don’t like to see other Americans killed on television by a prideful enemy like that and our president doing nothing.”

He went on to say if the videos showing the beheading of two American journalists had never been released, Obama’s strategy toward the Islamic State would be completely different. “It changed everything,” Krauthammer said. “It [the videos] changed public opinion—and Obama is nothing if not responsive to public opinion. He doesn’t lead. Here it’s the public that’s leading.”

Because the public is seeing the brutality and threat of this manifestation of totalitarianism.

If we are to defeat the violent Islamist radicals who are today threatening the world, we must shine the brightest of spotlights on this malignant idea at the heart of their ideology. And we must counter it, not just with the force of arms, but with a compelling defense of the anti-totalitarian idea of morally ordered freedom.

What defines totalitarianism is a list of shocking and unprecedented demands:

Give fanatical leaders and movements absolute and permanent authority.
Make these leaders and their followers into virtual gods, charged to take control of history and transform humanity itself.
Release them from accountability to any law and institution, belief and custom, moral norm and precept.
Grant them complete control of every facet of human existence, from outward conduct to the innermost workings of conscience and belief.
The rise of this extremist ideology to prominence coincided with a deep crisis of faith that engulfed Europe after the carnage of World War I nearly a century ago. In response to this crisis, totalitarianism – initially in communist and fascist forms – rose to fill the void. Its vision amounted to the state’s replacing God as central to all things, while anointing certain people and their movements as humanity’s new leaders, deserving the ultimate powers once reserved for the deity.

For the better part of a century, totalitarianism has donned its share of masks and hijacked key vehicles in its efforts to subjugate the world….

The same totalitarian impulse that drove Nazism and communism has hijacked religion as its latest vehicle, creating radical Islamism.

From ISIL to Iran’s mullahs, and from al-Qaeda to the Taliban, these new totalitarians pose similar threats to freedom, dignity, and peace. Displaying characteristic contempt for the rule of law and the crucial distinction between combatants and noncombatants in the conduct of war, they have deliberately targeted civilians and resorted to mass murder, precisely as the Nazis and Communists did.

And here’s a bottom line…

the struggle we face today does not pit one religion against others, nor is it a battle of religion against humanity; rather, it is a struggle pitting lawlessness and tyranny against freedom and dignity. The irony is that this time it is being trotted out in religion’s name.

In this struggle, Muslims have a duty to their faith and to humanity to stand resolutely against Islam’s hijacking by people driven by the same diabolical impulse that unleashed the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot on the world. They must rip away its religious mask and reveal its idolatrous soul before the world.

The religious ideology of this group must be understood to be addressed. But the president keeps sidestepping the Islamic factor in this battle of civilizations.

In a televised address on how to address the Islamic State this evening, President Barack Obama declared the organization variously known as ISIS or ISIL to be “not Islamic.”

In making this preposterous claim, Obama joins his two immediate predecessors in pronouncing on what is not Islamic. Bill Clinton called the Taliban treatment of women and children “a terrible perversion of Islam.” George W. Bush deemed that 9/11 and other acts of violence against innocents “violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith.”

None of the three has any basis for such assertions. To state the obvious: As non-Muslims and politicians, rather than Muslims and scholars, they are in no position to declare what is Islamic and what is not. As Bernard Lewis, a leading American authority of Islam, notes: “It is surely presumptuous for those who are not Muslims to say what is orthodox and what is heretical in Islam.”

The president and his spokesmen claim to not be at war with the extremists who declared war on the US.

In a truly shameful display, the administration has spent the day after President Barack Obama’s address to the nation outlining his proposed response to the threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria by downplaying his address to the nation…

On its face, it seems like the administration is sending mixed signals. The president made a rather clear case for a long campaign aimed at rolling back the nascent Islamic State in Iraq and eventually confronting them in their Syrian stronghold. Sources have suggested that this is a mission which will likely outlast the Obama presidency. So why pull punches today?

Josh Earnest made the administration’s thinking clear during his press briefing on Thursday in which he went to tortured lengths to insist that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda were synonymous. Why? Well, claiming these two groups are the same would mean that the administration does not have to approach Congress for a new resolution authorizing use military force.

Which is a big deal.

Josh Earnest made the administration’s thinking clear during his press briefing on Thursday in which he went to tortured lengths to insist that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and al-Qaeda were synonymous. Why? Well, claiming these two groups are the same would mean that the administration does not have to approach Congress for a new resolution authorizing use military force.

Instead, the White House can point to the 2001 authorization targeting al-Qaeda, even though the White House had previously argued that the resolution was dated and should be repealed.

Kerry, too, asserted that ISIS “is and has been al-Qaeda.”

“By trying to change its name, it doesn’t change who it is, what it does,” he added.

Just don’t tell them that. “In a message posted on jihadi websites the al-Qaeda general command stated that its former affiliate ‘is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group [and al-Qaeda] does not have an organizational relationship with it and is not the group responsible for their actions,’” Time Magazine reported in February.

The White House’s insistence that the present campaign is merely a continuation of George W. Bush’s War on Terror is unlikely to quiet the increasingly loud voices in Congress demanding a vote on a new authorization.

Okay, well, even if we’re playing legal games with the word “war” and are trying to avoid the politics of getting the people’s representatives to sanction military action abroad, at least there is a plan for victory, right?

“What does victory look like here?” Earnest was asked on Thursday. “What does destroy mean?”

“I didn’t bring my Webster’s dictionary,” Earnest replied.

So while this nonsense has been going on, so has this. Read it and weep for her, and for her family and the countless other families of religious minorities in Iraq and other countries targeted by extremist Islamic actions to dehumanize or eliminate them. This is going on every day, like the other atrocities we’re hearing about, representing the countless others we don’t hear about.

I had a US Congressman as a guest on my radio show this week to talk about this, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry. He has been a champion of humanitarian rights. Immediately after the program, listeners spoke up asking that his voice of clarity and leadership be posted online. It is on the network show page, and on the app.

Here it is, in the first half of the show, on 9/10. Or in the podcast on the app. Around 15 minutes in, he’s compelling.

We can do a lot. Complacency is not an option.

ISIS has declared war. Now what?

How can leaders of the most civilized, powerful nations in the world not yet have a solid plan?

While governments fail to act or make attempts at cobbling together a plan of action against a well organized, well funded, vicious and ambitious irregular army hellbent on wreaking chaos and destruction to take over the world, it’s the religious leaders and scholars and humanitarian relief experts who are speaking out and doing the most to call for action, care for people and protect populations from genocide in the meantime.

Princeton Professor Robert George has been one of the foremost, gaining a lot of attention and support for his Plea on Behalf of Victims of Barbarism in Iraq. It’s the backdrop for his grassroots Iraq Rescue effort.

The so-called Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS/ISIL) is conducting a campaign of genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and others in Iraq. In its fanatical effort to establish a caliphate, ISIS/ISIL has engaged in crimes against humanity by deliberately causing mass starvation and dehydration, and by committing unconscionable acts of barbarism against noncombatants, including defenseless women, children, and elderly persons.

It is imperative that the United States and the international community act immediately and decisively to stop the ISIS/ISIL genocide and prevent the further victimization of religious minorities. This goal cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable ISIS/ISIL forces. President Obama was right to order airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL to stop its advance on key cities, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to people fleeing their assaults. Much more needs to be done, however, and there is no time to waste.

We, the undersigned, are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. We are conservatives, liberals, and moderates. We represent various religious traditions and shades of belief. None of us glorifies war or underestimates the risks entailed by the use of military force. Where non-military means of resolving disputes and protecting human rights are available, we always and strongly favor those means. However, the evidence is overwhelming that such means will not be capable of protecting the victims of the genocide already unfolding at the hands of ISIS/ISIL. That is why Iraq’s Chaldean Patriarch Sako has requested military intervention.

Therefore we call upon the United States and the international community to do everything necessary to empower local forces fighting ISIS/ISIL in Iraq to protect their people. No options that are consistent with the principles of just war doctrine should be off the table. We further believe that the United States’ goal must be more comprehensive than simply clamping a short-term lid on the boiling violence that is threatening so many innocents in ISIS/ISIL’s path. Nothing short of the destruction of ISIS/ISIL as a fighting force will provide long-term protection of victims.

We call upon President Obama and the Congress of the United States to expand airstrikes against ISIS/ISIL with a view to eroding its military power, and to provide full air support for Kurdish and other forces fighting against ISIS/ISIL. Further, we endorse the Washington Post’s call for the United States to provide arms, ammunition, and equipment to Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesmen, and others who are currently hampered in their ability to fight ISIS/ISIL by a lack of sophisticated weapons and other resources. The U.S. should also assist with intelligence. We are hopeful that local forces, with adequate support and assistance from the U.S. and the international community, can defeat ISIS/ISIL.

The expansion of humanitarian aid to the displaced and fleeing is also urgent. Local churches and aid agencies are overwhelmed, and we have grave concerns about how these victims of violent religious persecution will be cared for this winter. The U.S. can and should take the lead in providing food, water, medicine, and other essential supplies.

It’s a comprehensive call to action in what Prof. George told me on radio this week is the conflict with a force “more formidable than any enemy” we have known in our lifetimes. “They are better funded, better organized, better armed and more brutal than Al Qaeda,” he said. “The mistake members of government, both liberals and conservatives, are making is thinking this is an Eighth Century movement of barbaric, Dark Ages murderers. They are far more modernized and organized and therefore dangerous then that.”

Prof. George’s petition went on:

We must be mindful that in addition to stopping the genocide, the U.S. and Europe have very concrete interests in disabling ISIS/ISIL. As the Washington Post has warned:

“The Islamic State forces, which have captured large numbers of U.S.-supplied heavy weapons, threaten not only the Iraqi and Kurdish governments, but also Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. With hundreds of Western recruits, they have the ambition and capability to launch attacks against targets in Europe and the United States.”

It is also worth bearing in mind that our own nation is not without responsibility for the plight of victims of ISIS/ISIL genocide. What is happening to these people now, and the further threats they face, would not be happening but for errors and failures of our nation’s own in Iraq. This can and should be acknowledged by all, despite disagreements we may have among ourselves as to precisely what these errors and failures were, and which political and military leaders are mainly responsible for them. The point is not to point fingers or apportion blame, but to recognize that justice as well as compassion demands that we take the steps necessary to end the ISIL/ISIS campaign of genocide and protect those who are its victims.

It is key to stop politicizing this and work together to stop it. Everyone who has a sense of what the civilized world is up against is saying the same thing.

Then, as the world knew immediately, early in the week, the second beheading of an American journalist was carried out, videotaped, and posted for the world to see, taunting the West and especially the US.

A new video appears to show the execution of Steven Sotloff, the second American killed by a self-professed member of the Islamist terror group ISIS.

In the video, which appeared online [Tuesday] Sotloff addresses the camera, saying, “I’m sure you know exactly who I am by now and why I am appearing.”

“Obama, your foreign policy of intervention in Iraq was supposed to be for preservation of American lives and interests, so why is it that I am paying the price of your interference with my life?” the journalist says calmly as the black clad militant holds a knife casually at his side.

Later the video then cuts to the militant who says, “I’m back, Obama. I’m back because of your arrogant foreign policy towards the Islamic State [ISIS].”

“… [J]ust as your missiles continue to strike our people, our knife will continue to strike the necks of your people,” the figure says.

The camera cuts again and the militant appears to kill Sotloff.

Horrifying as it was, the news got far less media coverage than the beheading of James Foley, just days ago. There’s no reason for that. The execution of Sotloff was just as brutal and inhumane, and it was another provocation to the US, another declaration of war with such a globally visible murder of an innocent American journalist.

Here’s what a lot of people may have missed, since media gave the execution less attention.

Speaking at a press conference in Florida, Sotloff family spokesman Barak Barfi said that Steven “wanted to give voice to those who had none”…

“From the Libyan doctor in Misrata who struggled to provide psychological services to children ravaged by war, to the Syrian plumber who risked his life by crossing regime lines to purchase medicine, their story was Steve’s story. He ultimately sacrificed his life to bring their story to the world,” Mr Barfi said.

“Today we grieve but we will emerge stronger. We will not allow our enemies to hold us hostage with the sole weapon they possess: Fear.”…

Mr Obama said the US would build a coalition to “degrade and destroy” IS.

Where that stands got a little clearer now that he’s huddling with international leaders at the NATO summit.

But meanwhile, religious leaders and scholars continue to raise their voices with specific calls for action. The Vatican did, again.

And while Prof. Robert George’s Iraq Rescue petition is getting more attention, it calls for more signatures. Meanwhile, he’s warning anyone who will listen that the Islamic State will carry out “mass slaughter in the United States’ if it is not destroyed as a fighting force.

Princeton University professor Robert George warned Wednesday that the Islamic State will carry out “mass slaughter in the United States” if it is not soon “destroyed as a fighting force.”

“They have every intention of getting [to the United States], and these are people who achieve what they set out to achieve,” George said… “Unless somebody stops them, they make good on their threats. They have threatened to carry out activity in the United States — killing people, mass slaughter in the United States.”

“Believe me, I plead with you, I want your listeners to believe me — these people will do it if they can,” George continued. “And they will be able to do it unless we stop them.”

The Princeton professor described the Islamic State as “genocidal,” saying: “They mean to wipe out entire communities, and there is nothing they will stop short of when it comes to achieving their goal.”

“Our well-being, our security, our place in the world are vitally threatened by ISIS and ISIL,” he said. “They will stop at nothing … in order to destroy anyone standing in their way so that they can establish the caliphate.”

George advocated working with the international community to supply air support, as well as strategic and intelligence support, to Kurdish forces, Sunni tribesmen, and other local forces resisting the Islamic State. He also advocated airstrikes against Islamic State strongholds.

George said “we’re going to have to fight them eventually.” The only question is whether we do it in Iraq, or wait “until they’re carrying out terrorist activity within the United States.”

Prof. Robert George is not given to hyperbole. He is probably the most eminently reasonable scholar I know, or know of. These words issue a sober warning, from an expert who has served in various capacities on behalf of the U.S. on international commissions dealing with human rights and justice.

Congress returns at the beginning of the week, the week of 9/11, when many people predict a possible or likely attack on American soil again. The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch has renewed his plea to the United Nations, upping the intensity.

And the reminder that “the whole world’s watching” has been resounding. Only this time, with far greater stakes than at the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago when student demonstrators started that chant. Prof. George and his bipartisan, interfaith, unified supporters declare there’s something much larger and far more dangerous at work now in the ISIS onslaught. And they ask for all people of goodwill to join the movement to stop it.

The coalition of the willing can sign on here.

How to help Christians, minorities in crisis

It’s good news that people are asking.

Stalwarts who have been working with embattled and endangered communities all along are pleading for relief. Whether they’re clergy, other religious, or faith-based organizations, they’re spent and crying out for help.

One anguished priest wrote to Pope Francis, out of desperation. He got a response.

Pope Francis has telephoned an Iraqi priest who is ministering in a refugee camp, according to a Vatican Radio report.

“The situation of your sheep is miserable,” Father Behnam Benoka, until recently a seminary vice-rector near Mosul, said in his letter. “They die and they are hungry. Your little ones are scared and cannot do it anymore. We, priests, religious, are few and fear not being able to meet the physical and mental needs of your and our children.”

“Your Holiness, I’m afraid of losing your children, especially infants who every day struggle and weaken more,” he continued. “I’m afraid that death will snatch some away. Send us your blessing so that we may have the strength to go on, and maybe we can still resist.”

In response to the letter, the Pope called Father Benoka and “reiterated his full support and closeness to the persecuted Christians, promising that he will continue to do his best to bring relief to their suffering,” Vatican Radio reported.

The refugees and those caught up in the violence while trying to deliver aid are at the point of helping each other survive.

Christians and other religious minorities who have fled areas in Iraq that have fallen under Islamic State control are now helping one another to survive as refugees, an aid worker said.

“They themselves have been displaced and they’re going around caring for those who are in need, who are in situations like they are,” Todd Daniels, International Christian Concern regional manager for the Middle East, told CNA Aug. 27.

Last week, Daniels was in Iraq, where it is estimated that more than 1 million people have fled from their homes amid the invasion of the radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS. The militant group has taken control of numerous cities and ordered Christians and other religious minorities to convert, pay a tax known as a jizya, or be killed.

The fleeing Iraqis – including Christians and other religious minorities – have sought refuge in other areas, such as the northern city of Erbil.

Daniels said that while the situation is desperate, there is much hope in the way religious communities and refugees are working to improve life there.

“Probably one of the most striking impressions was just the activeness of the local churches,” he said. “From morning to night they’re out there providing aid, providing relief and actually, a lot of the man power, for the groups we were working with by people who themselves have been displaced.”…

Some refugees hope that international security forces will help create a safe haven for Christians and other religious minorities, while others are just trying to grasp the reality that they will most likely never return to their homes.

“There’s really a feeling of not knowing what to do,” Daniels said.

Though I cover this ongoing crisis just about every day on radio and in writing, bringing in experts and giving out information, it can’t be repeated often enough. Because some people are just beginning to learn, others just beginning to pay attention, and some who realize the reality is dire, the relief organizations are on the ground and delivering aid, and the need for support is urgent and critical. But they don’t quite catch where they can contribute to that effort.

I was caught off guard by a frustrated listener who said, frankly, that tuning in briefly at different times as he could, he caught some of the conversations but not the ways to help, and wanted that information to be repeated often, so people tuning in and out as time allowed would hear something that gave them access to the relief organizations doing the hard, firsthand work of sustaining people fleeing for their lives.

For everyone’s sake, here are some of the best.

Catholic Near East Welfare Association is a papal agency delivering humanitarian aid and pastoral support in many locations globally, most acutely in the Middle East right now. They’re lean on staff and support costs, so most of the contributed funds go straight to the people actually in greatest need.

Catholic Relief Services is another long established aid organization on the ground where needs are the greatest across the globe, especially in the Iraq crisis.

Aid to the Church in Need is similar, also under the guidance of the pope and with the mission of aiding persecuted Christians and other suffering minorities.

The Knights of Columbus launched a major fund to help Christians threatened with extinction in Iraq.

“The unprovoked and systematic persecution and violent elimination of Middle East Christians, as well as other minority groups, especially in Iraq, has created an enormous humanitarian crisis,” said Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. “Pope Francis has asked the world for prayers and support for those affected by this terrible persecution, and we are asking our members, and all people of good will, to pray for those persecuted and support efforts to assist them by donating to this fund.”

Anderson added: “It has shocked the conscience of the world that people are systematically being purged from the region where their families have lived for millennia – simply for their faith. It is imperative that we stand in solidarity with them in defense of the freedom of conscience, and provide them with whatever relief we can.”

To that end, the US Bishops Conference has asked all parishes across the country to take up a special collection over the next two weekends to support immediate humanitarian and pastoral needs in the Middle East. Some began this past weekend. The USCCB site provides complete information on this initiative, including all the ways people can send aid and relief.

I was struck by a couple of different expert guests on radio last week saying the same thing, separately, on different days, about what was being lost in the elimination of Christians from the earliest birthplaces of Christianity. Besides the obvious.

They each said Catholics and other Christians have traditionally provided the hospitals, shelters, schools, homes, orphanages and distribution centers for basic needs in the areas they’re now being driven from, possibly at a point of no return. What will happen when they’re gone?

As Kathryn Lopez asks,

How many times have we heard: “Never again”?…

How often have we quoted: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”? And yet: Do we do nothing? What do we actually say in the face of evil?

We say those words over again, that quote from philosopher Edmund Burke, among other things that make us feel good to be aware and engaged, and feel like we’re alerting others to something grave that must be met with greater good and truth that can vanquish evil. But after saying those things, we too often go on to the next thing in our busy lives and tend to it.

This is a pivotal point in history.

“The spectacle of tragedy has always filled men, not with despair, but with a sense of hope and exaltation,” wrote Whittaker Chambers, whom National Review founder William F. Buckley Jr. described as “the most important American defector from Communism.” Chambers explained: “Crime, violence, infamy, are not tragedy. Tragedy occurs when a human soul awakes and seeks, in suffering and pain, to free itself from crime, violence, infamy, even at the cost of life. The struggle is the tragedy — not defeat or death.”

Is this a time of awakening?

At one point in his Witness, Chambers recounts how the daughter of a German Communist explained her father’s defection: He had been an unquestioning Communist, and then “one night — in Moscow — he heard screams. That’s all. Simply one night he heard screams.”

Do we hear the screams? Do we join with the persecuted in the prayers they have led us in? Will we join their witness to the truth about the dignity of every man and woman, of whatever faith or no faith? Will we never again be silent as evil is happening?

That is as unthinkable as the crimes against humanity that are happening daily.