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Paying the Ultimate Price

The headlines announced that 21 Egyptians were beheaded in a rebel-controlled portion of Libya this week, but it usually required reading several paragraphs into the stories to learn that the men were so cruelly executed by the Islamic State not because of their nationality but because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.
Much of the media and all of the administration officials they quoted are clearly uncomfortable reporting these rather crucial details, for various reasons. The murderous presence of the Islamic State in Libya does not confirm the administration’s reassuring claims of a “jayvee team” of terrorism being routed by coalition forces, the terror gang’s name and Koranic methods of execution make it harder to convince a skeptical public that none of this unpleasantness has anything to do with Islam, the numbing frequency of such atrocities suggest that there’s something more historically significant to it than those routine murders and car wrecks that the ratings-hungry local stations prefer to cover instead of climate change, and the spectacle of Christians dying for their faith poses all sorts of problems to the modern liberal worldview.
Those of us in the west who still who profess a Christian faith at Sunday worship services and struggle unworthily to live according to its teachings through the rest of the week have been long accustomed to the blessing of doing so without risk to our fortunes or personal safety, but we all still wonder from time to time if we’d be willing to pay the same ultimate price of discipleship as those 21 Egyptians. Anyone outspoken about traditional Biblical views on sexual morality can expect to be stripped of a beauty queen title or denied a high-level position in the high-tech business or have their reality show knocked off a cable network or be denied the right to sell a chicken sandwich in Boston, and even the most quietly and inconspicuously observant Christians will be subject to frequent ridicule on the sit-coms and talk shows, and their kids are going to get an earful of sneering during four years of college, and any presidential aspirants who espouse a Christian faith should expect all sorts of pointed questions about evolution and contraception, but being beheaded or burned alive is not as of yet a concern to the western Christian. Hearing from those parts of the world where Christianity does entail such risks, and of the brave and fervent women there who gladly face that danger for the faith, we cannot help but admire their courage and be humbly thankful we have not yet been called upon to face the same test.
Surely the unchurched are similarly moved to self-examination about the strength of their own convictions, and we suspect that in many cases they find it all the more discomfortingly humbling. Most of our outspokenly atheistic friends are unembarrassed to say they would immediately renounce their non-beliefs to avoid a beheading or some other grisly death, and reasonably argue that this is entirely consistent with their belief in rationalism, but none can be proud that they would be furthering the cause of an extraordinarily evil ideology. That the Islamic State’s evil is murderously misogynistic, anti-homosexual, anti-intellectual, and imperialist, all to an extent that even the most fevered imaginations of the left cannot claim the Republican Party to be, requires some some condemnation that a secular liberal would be embarrassed to recant in any circumstances. The Islamic State might be another Viet Cong or Shining Path or similarly beloved guerrilla movement if they’d only stick to killing Christians and start insisting on unisex bathroom facilities and a low-carbon-footprint economy in the areas they conquered, but the sex slavery and the internecine slaughter and all that God talk make it a hard sell to the sensitive left. No one on the left seems to have anything kind to say about the Islamic State, and one can’t help noticing that they’d therefore rather not say anything at all.
Secular liberals find it hard to comprehend why a Christian would prefer death to apostasy, or why the men and women of our military voluntarily put their lives at risk in defense of the nation, and like John Lennon in his obnoxious secular liberal anthem they try to imagine a world where there’s nothing to live or die for, and this failure of imagination inevitably leads to bad policy. It’s why State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf is on television talking about poverty and discrimination and the other “root causes” of terrorism that can only be combatted with some all-out community-organizing and Keynesian economics, as if thousands of Muslims weren’t fleeing the material comforts and multi-cultural blandishments of the European welfare state to join the Islamic State in its slaughter across a blighted desert, and as if some Peace Corps volunteer could reach into a card file and some private sector opportunity for a jihadi’s head-chopping talents. It’s why the President of the United States is addressing a “summit” on “violent extremism” without specifying any particular ideologies that might be causing such a nasty thing, and warning Christians against “getting on a high horse” about anything the Islamic State might be up to, and ruling out the option of any prolonged combat operations in his request to Congress for ta mere three years’ of the use of military force. The thought that some Great Society programs and soothing words and a few well-placed airstrikes will dissuade the Islamic State and like-minded self-professed Muslims from chopping the heads off Christians and Jews and anyone else standing in the way of their global domination could only occur to someone who does not understand religious motivation.
Nor does the secular liberal understand the crucial distinctions between the various religions, or take notice of the results they motivate. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all the same Abrahamic hooey as far as a modern sensibility is concerned, and Buddhism is accorded a self-congratulatory respect except when it bumps up against Chinese communism and Hinduism is tolerated with certain sense of intellectual superiority except during its frequent conflicts with Islam, but the whole notion of religion and a faith that looks through death and powers greater than one’s self or even the federal government during Democratic administrations is regarded with an eye-rolling suspicion. If only all the world had the same enlightened rationalism as Stalin, Mao, and Hitler, the theory goes, surely the world would be a more peaceful place. Over at CNN they reported on seven days of carnage as “Religion’s week from hell,” noting that “Christians, Muslims and Jews alike fell prey to assaults,” then having an editor of the “Oxford Handbook of Religion and Violence” explain that “if you want to rally troops to your side, few tools are more powerful than religion,” and only then obliquely admitted that each of the acts of violence were carried out by people proclaiming to act in the name of one particular religion. They threw in the case of the self-proclaimed secular liberal and “anti-theist” who allegedly killed three Muslim neighbors in North Carolina, apparently over a parking dispute, but it still seems odd to attribute all the mayhem to “religion” generally, as if all those symbols on the “co-exist” bumper stickers were equally prone to beheading or setting afire anyone they regard as infidels.
The failure to make such distinctions will make it impossible to deal effectively with such fiercely religious foes as the Islamic State and like-minded organizations. The people of more peaceable religions will be needed in the fight, and the fight must offer something worth dying for. Like all other faiths secular liberalism prides itself on its martyrs, from Joe Hill to Goodman, Schwerner and Cheney to the Kennedy Brothers and all those Hollywood screenwriters who had to work in television during the blacklist years, but we expect its foot soldiers would rather serve on the safer battlefield of the Republicans’ “war on women” than engage “violent extremism” selling women into sex slavery. The sense of moral superiority that such politics affords the secular liberal has no more appeal to the religious nature than a life of welfare dependency or a Great Society make-work job, and the west will need more if it hopes to win the hearts and minds of those drawn to a theology of slaughter and conquest.
Whether they’re Islamic or not, the Islamic State and like-minded organizations are waging war on the west, its gay bars and health clinics as well as its churches and synagogues, convinced that they’re doing it according to the most careful reading of Islamic scripture, and will not stop until they have been militarily defeated. Even then an evil impulse will lurk in the heart of man, and something better in our nature will be required to defeat it. Perhaps secular liberalism will yet find something it can effect through government, but for now a higher power seems required.

— Bud Norman

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The Veep Is a Creep

One of the questions those snide man-on-the-street interviewers always ask to demonstrate the public’s appalling political ignorance is the name of the Vice President of the United States. It’s the sort of general knowledge that any enfranchised citizen should possess, and we always wince when watching the videotapes of all those public school graduates who aren’t even embarrassed to admit their ignorance, but these days we can hardly blame anyone who does not share our obsessive interest in politics for not knowing the answer. Vice President Joe Biden — which is the correct answer to that trick question, in case you were wondering — is such an inconsequential public figure, and so assiduously ignored by the media, that he’s not a household name.
The man is an utter boob and a heartbeat away from the presidency, however, and sometimes even the most deliberately unseeing media are obliged to take notice. On Tuesday the vice president had to deal with such routine chores as reading some tele-promptered compliments at a swearing-in ceremony and saying some anodyne remarks during a White House summit on carefully unspecified forms of “violent extremism,” and on both occasions he managed to provoke unfriendly coverage from even the friendliest media.
The swearing-in ceremony for new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter should have been a deeply-buried brief in most newspapers, but the lowly scribes assigned to the affair wound up with some prominenst placement after Biden spent an uncomfortable amount of the proceedings rubbing the shoulders, whispering in the ear, and seemingly smelling the hair of the wife of the man being charged with the nation’s defense. No less an administration stenographer than the Associated Press found that “VP’s Odd Move Gives Pause,” the cheekier New York Post described it as “snuggling,” and the unabashedly conservative PJ Tatler was frank enough to call it “creepy.” The New York Post recalled that Biden elicited a similar discomfort among the object of his interest and all onlookers at the swearing-in for Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, whose young daughter is shown in a photograph in an apparent state of discomfort during the Vice President’s kiss on the cheek, and quotes one of innumerable “tweeters” using the term “creepy.
At the White House summit Biden provoked an even pricklier discomfort by attempting to endear himself to a largely Muslim and African crowd with some talk about how about how some of his best friends back in hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, are Somali. He told the crowd that “if you ever come to the train station you may notice that I have great relations with them, because an awful lot of them are driving cabs, and are friends of mine,” and even the Associated Press couldn’t help but admit that the audience “responded with muted, uncomfortable chuckles.” This obligated a recollection of Biden’s famous gaffe from his 2006 senatorial campaign about the Indian-American ownership of convenience stores and donut shops, although they were kind enough to neglect mention of his 2008 observations on rival presidential candidate being a “clean, articulate” African-American. or numerous other similar embarrassments.
The long history of Biden’s boobish behavior was too much for even such an impeccably liberal publications as Talking Points Memo, where a young writer from the sisterhood was allowed space to wonder “Why Does Creepy Uncle Joe Biden Get a Pass From Liberals?” The author admits she feels badly about giving succor to her conservative opponents who have long complained a media double-standard that protects Democrats from public scorn, and worries that she might be a “bad feminist,” but to her credit can no longer hide her dismay that Biden is not such a national laughingstock that even those man-on-the-street interviewees know his name. She notes some other little-noted instances of Biden’s creepiness toward women, rightly calls him out on his foul language to mark to the occasion of Obamacare being signed into law, although she probably thinks it diminished an otherwise august event, and generously concedes that a Republican guilty of the same offenses probably would have drawn more scorn.
We have no doubt that Spiro Agnew, Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney, and even a vice presidential contender such as Sarah Palin would all agree. Agnew did what Maryland politicians, usually Democrats, have always done, but was brought done mostly by the class resentments of those “nattering nabobs of negativism” that he railed against. Quayle once misspelled the word “potato,” and was scolded by an older man that he was no Jack Kennedy, and his reputation as a fool never recovered. Cheney was too obviously smart to be caricatured as dumb, so he was instead portrayed as the evil genius behind the dumb president. We’re still not sure how Palin’s reputation for saying stupid things came about, although Tina Fey did do a very convincing impersonation of her saying very stupid things. None of them were nearly so boobish as Biden, and even the Darth Vader-ish public image that the press managed to hang on Cheney is quite so creepy, and yet all would have been easy answer to those man-on-the-street interviewers.

— Bud Norman

Crossroads, Paths to Peace, and Blah Blah Blah

That speech President Barack Obama gave to the United Nations’ General Assembly on Wednesday wasn’t all bad, but the good parts were a begrudging repudiation of his past statements and the rest of it was just awful.
There was at last an acknowledgement that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the reason for the Middle East’s dysfunctions, an “illusion” that has previously formed the basis of administration policy, but of course it was accompanied by a claim that “the violence engulfing the region has made too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace.” There was some needed tough talk about Russia’s recent aggressions in Ukraine and America’s commitment to its NATO obligations, which had been described in a previous UN address as “relics of the Cold War,” but except for the very non-lethal aid and ineffectual sanctions that he boasted of nothing that will do any good for the Ukrainians. There was a heartening claim that “America is and will continue to be a Pacific power,” but nothing about funding the Navy at the levels it needs to make that claim more than mere bluster. There was also some talk about how Iran must not let his generously provided opportunities to abandon its nuclear weapons program pass, but nothing specific about what might happen if they continue building the bomb.
The rest of it probably had the assembled delegates, good guys and bad guys alike, rolling their eyes. After opening with some happy talk about what a great time it is to be alive and some flattery about the UN’s role in bringing about this golden era, without bother to apologize for not asking the body’s permission to conduct his various bombing campaigns around the unprecedentedly peaceful globe, he humbly admitted that there is nonetheless a “pervasive unease in our world.” He attributes this to the “failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world,” his previous flattery of the UN notwithstanding, and to “violent extremism.” That failure of the international system presumably refers to Russia’s and China’s failure to secure UN approval for their ambitions, but he made clear that he didn’t blame any that violent extremism on Islam. Even as he was raining missiles down on a group calling itself the Islamic State because it has lately been following Islam’s clearly stated Koranic commandments to behead infidels and conquer new territory he stressed that it had nothing to do with their religious affiliations.
Even in a speech full of such of euphemistically described threats, he found time to throw in some blather about eradicating world poverty while simultaneously advocating crippling the world’s economies with useless regulations to combat the non-existent threat of climate change. There was also the obligatory confession of America’s sins, specifically the shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, that the president can’t possibly know was justified or not, with no mention of the far more numerous shootings of black teenagers by other black teenagers, along with a reference to the wars fought between Christians some centuries ago.
Worse yet, such nonsense was wrapped in the most hackneyed cliches about crossroads and different paths and young people yearning for a better world, along with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt of all people. The president was first elected on a widespread hope that his soaring oratory and personal awesomeness would suffice to bring about world peace, but it doesn’t seem likely to pan out.

— Bud Norman