Pray for the terrorists, too

(This one gets a little Churchy, so be forewarned.)

News from Yemen suggests that an Indian priest, captured in a terrorist raid on a retirement home, may be crucified today, on Good Friday.

There are plenty of “ifs” to doubt the situation’s veracity. No terrorist group has taken credit for the attack, and there are conflicting reports about whether the missing priest’s abductors have or have not made contact with his former order.

But terrorist violence remains an unquestionable reality, whether in Yemen or Brussels. Nailing a church leader to a cross, while symbolic, would sadly be but the latest in a chain of bombings and beheadings – another gruesome act meant to inflict a painful death on the victim and crippling fear upon the living.

Obviously, we pray for the victims, their families, and their friends, who have watched their very realities torn to pieces. We can’t imagine their burden, we can only hope it gets lighter with time.

But with each attack, I feel some pity for the terrorists, too. The rumor of a crucifixion of a leader on Good Friday offers a chance for perspective.

As He was being lead to His execution, Jesus Christ interceded on behalf of the very people about to nail Him to the cross. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” He implored. We are taught that sin is borne of ignorance, of turning a blind eye to God, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The men who drove the nails through Jesus were doing as they were told from the only authority they knew. It isn’t hard to imagine them as philosophical ancestors of today’s suicide bombers, so ready to commit grisly acts based on the promises of trusted elders.

Eventually, those elders go away, though. And that’s when terrorists will stand face-to-face with a very uncomfortable reality.

Have you ever said something hurtful to someone and regretted it? Perhaps, in a moment of weakness and thoughtlessness you pierced someone with an insult. Later, when your wits returned and you thought about it, you put yourself in the other person’s shoes. That’s when you realized the pain you caused. Once you knew just what you did, you hurt, too.

But what if the sin is much more grievous? What if, instead of a cutting remark, you robbed people of lives and comfort? What if you not only committed horrific acts of violence, but took pleasure in doing so?

During a discussion about penance and forgiveness, a priest told me once told me, “God makes a play for every soul.” When someone acknowledges and apologizes for his or her sins, and is willing to make amends, God forgives. But, very importantly, that process begins with an acknowledgement of sin.

That means there may come, for all of us, a moment of clarity. Each of us will have a moment when we understand the sins we have committed and the pain we have caused.

Now, imagine a dead terrorist who meets his Maker. Imagine him looking back on his life and the pain he has inflicted. Imagine the regret as he recalls how happily he instilled fear and how gleefully he made widows, widowers, and orphans.

Imagine his soul’s pain at that moment, when he realizes just how wrong he was.

When you get past the chocolate bunnies and dyed eggs, resurrection and redemption is what Easter is all about. Saul of Tarsus, whose acts against Christians made him the 33 A.D. version of a terrorist, saw a vision of Jesus and became (after suffering a very symbolic three days of temporary blindness) a devout Christian we know today as St. Paul.

Maybe it won’t be too late for our hypothetical dead terrorist. Maybe he will have his moment of clarity, suffer his punishment, and bear the pain which he has inflicted on others. And, when purified, maybe he will be welcomed into Heaven alongside his forgiving victims.

I’d like to think so. In fact, I’ll be praying for it.

It would be a really, really, really, really bad idea for Metro to post Muhammad cartoon ads.

No one has the right to gun another person down due to speech. Obvious, right?

At the same time, mocking someone’s religion is impolite. It’s not punishable by violence, but you could understand the discomfort someone would fee when the key figures of their religious tradition are mocked. That should be obvious, but people still seem to like draw cartoons of the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority will not accept an ad featuring the winning cartoon from the Texas “Draw Muhammad” contest which ended in gunfire earlier this month. Good for them. It’s one of the few good decisions Metro has made. (Though they, did go overboard by banning all issue-related ads through the end of the year. Perhaps Metro can’t help but be a little wrong.)

What does the American Freedom Defense Initiative think would happen if such ads went up on Metro? Anyone with $1.70 and patience for delays can jump on the Metro without so much as a pat-down or a peek inside a suspiciously bulky book bag. It is, like many places, a “soft” target for terrorists now. Muhammad cartoons would make it a desirable target as well. “Soft” and “desirable” and “not chocolate chip cookies” is not a good spot on the homeland security Venn diagram.

Sure, a violent response from radical Islamic terrorists would be evil and wrong, just as it was in Texas. But it is not unpredictable, and because of that there are many people – train passengers, Metro staff, and the like – unintentionally in the crosshairs.

They would not engage in any speech at all, yet would bear the brunt of the repercussions. In fact, they may not want to engage in such speech at all – since Muhammad cartoons are offensive not only to the radicals who will respond with violence, but for the civilized who won’t respond at all. There’s no need to needle the latter to poke the former.

By rejecting the Muhammad cartoons, Metro is not limiting free speech. In the first place, that’s because Metro owns the ad space, and should be able to rent it to whomever they choose. But beyond that, there will be plenty of people who don’t want to bear the predictable consequences of that speech. Why should anyone be allowed to put words in their mouth?

Robin Williams’s death gets a White House statement. Where’s the one for Maj. Gen. Harold Greene?

Hours after the news of Robin Williams’s death broke, the White House issued a heartfelt and sincere statement.

Major General Harold Green was killed in action several days ago, in Afghanistan. The White House was slow to respond to the death of a high-ranking servicemember, and has not yet posted a statement on the White House website.  

Most people don’t know Gen. Greene’s name, while just about everyone knew Williams’s.  He was so adept at shifting among adult-themed comedy, serious acting, and family-oriented silliness that most people have a favorite Robin Williams movie or appearance.

The Facebook and Twitter tributes back that up: Williams’s death is a trending topic.  And the Obama White House has a keen sense of zeitgeist (one that makes their apparent, frequent tone deafness tough to understand).  The White House statement on Williams passing will make it into news feeds and be retweeted, so speaking out on his death – and doing so quickly – becomes a priority.  

Treating death this way is unfair – not only to Maj. Gen. Greene, but to Williams, who deserves to be more than social media fodder for a politician.

Instant Credibility on Syria in Three Easy Words

America may or may not go to war in Syria.  There are compelling, valid arguments for and against military action.  That’s a good debate to have.

Less useful – but still valid – is the infusion of political positioning.  The anti-war left has predictably been quieter for President Obama than they were for President Bush, and some neoconservative hawks who banged the war drum for invading Iraq in 2003 are now rather dovish.  Both sides will point to the other and cry “Hypocrisy!”

For Republicans, who spent the early 2000s arguing so vociferously for war, changing positions is especially tough, as Obama repeats the Bush arguments of a decade ago.  But it should really be an easy pivot, consisting of three words:

“I was wrong.”

It’s a humbling message, but one with some resonance.  Remember that in March 2003, 72% of Americans supported the Iraq war.  A lot of us were wrong about that.  Before 9/11, the concept of war was abstract for most Americans – the stuff of Tom Hanks movies or History Channel documentaries.  Iraq and Afghanistan introduced the public to the realities of young service men and women shipping off to war and sometimes not coming home.

Between the first flashes of shock and awe and the final grudging withdrawal, an awful lot of minds changed.

And Republicans paid a political price for it, too: the Congress flipped in 2006 and the White House in 2008.  (And Joe Lieberman, who supported the war, was all but drummed out of the Democrat party.)  A Republican looking to change his or her mind now will find a public that has trod the same path.


A Rolling Stone Gathers an Awful Lot of Outrage

Boston is aghast (as are other cities) at the now-famous Rolling Stone cover depicting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.  The picture is too kind, too glamorous, and too normal, say critics.  The story is online as of yesterday, but the outrage did not wait.

It’s surprising that the outrage has an anti-terrorism bent but that pro-Islamic groups aren’t railing at the implications.  Check out the sub-title of the cover:

How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell into Radical Islam and Became a Monster

That’s a pretty loaded statement.  The implication is that radical Islam turned an otherwise normal boy into the type who would bring devastation upon the Boston Marathon.

This headline suggests that Tsarnaev did not have evil sewn into his soul;  rather, the corrupting influence of the radical Islamic community exploited his loneliness and confusion to brainwash him.  Of course the image is wholesome-looking – the thrust of this line of thinking is that this could happen to anyone.

One would think a group like the Council on American-Islamic Relations (which has apparently been silent on the issue) would have as many or  more problems with that cover than, say, Hot Air.

Small is huge nowadays

Two seemingly unrelated pieces of patriotism struck me as oddly similar this week.  The first was, obviously, the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.  The second was the not-quite-safe-for-work homage to George Washington from cartoonist Brad Neely.

Neely’s work is kind of out there, but for those who share his sense of humor it’s spot on.  (A sample line: “And we danced, like those people in the hyper-tight light of fried chicken commercials!”  Seriously, what does that even mean?)  Even with limited exposure in venues like Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, Neely’s two or three minute videos are especially suited to a YouTube audience.

Obviously, the Navy SEALS who took down bin Laden crafted a much more significant piece of work on Sunday.  Their achievement, though, was a reflection of a changing military environment just as Neely’s videos reflect a changing media environment.

The major military conflicts to stop terrorism after September 11 targeted nations – specifically, Afghanistan and Iraq.  The plan was to smoke out terrorists by pressuring state sponsors of terrorism.  We found that the strength of our armored columns had limited effectiveness confronting the independent contractors who made up Al Qaeda’s network.  We could contain the snake, but we couldn’t do the one thing we set out to do.

It’s significant, then, that the bin Laden kill mission was set up by intelligence and espionage, and executed by a couple dozen elite servicemen.  There was no invasion of Pakistan, simply a precise action focused on a single piece of property within the country.  One can’t help but suspect that had our leaders not announced the mission’s success, the rest of the world might never have known bin Laden was dead.

A small, elite unit was all it took to snuff out the world’s leading terrorist.  George Washington (who crossed the Delaware for a surprise attack) would be proud.

W: Redemption through revolution

The George W. Bush Presidential Institute will host a conference on online dissidents next week.  For a President who left office after two terms with enemies on both the right and left, this is a possible preview of how Dubya plans to brand his time in office.

President Bush’s eight years were defined by September 11; Bush responded to those attacks by advancing the idea of expanding liberty throughout the world. But with the Iraq War grinding along with no end in sight on January 19, 2009, critics on both sides of the aisle viewed Bush as one of the least competent two-term Presidents in history.

Faced with this, Bush made a smart post-Presidential decision and stayed out of the public eye (save for his humanitarian efforts in Haiti and a pretty good ceremonial first pitch on the Texas Rangers’ opening day).  During his radio silence, the Iran election protests and the China/Google flap demonstrated that freedom-loving people around the world were fighting freedom-hating regimes.

Suddenly, the conversation on world affairs was ripe for W to dip a toe back into the water.  Tech President pointed out that this is a good fit for Bush:

While “George W. Bush” might not be the first person that pops into your head when you think about cyber dissidence, there’s some sense to it. For one thing, you can see this approach mesh well with the sort of hand-on democracy promotion he leaned towards at times during his terms.

Along with a good cause, Bush’s post-Presidential messaging has another smart element: activities like this cyber dissident conference are forward-thinking rather than retrospective.  It doesn’t tell the story of Bush’s foreign policy, it adds to it in order to create the recurring theme of extending freedom.

Bush himself might say, “Even if you don’t agree with me,you know what I believe and where I stand.”  Last time he used that line, it worked out ok for him.

Playing two sides against Afghanistan

It’s one thing for a politician to draw criticism for a policy from his opponents, but the reaction to President Obama’s Afghani-plan speech last night from the left is potentially more problematic.

Obama’s speech was unsurprising – not only had his plans for troop escalation been the worst kept secret in Washington for weeks, he promised to do as much during the campaign last year.  Still, pundits like Michael Moore – normally a water boy for all issue blue – have issued strongly worded rebukes against such a strategy.

Moore’s warning, in an open letter, that Obama would “destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in” him suggests that he wasn’t paying attention to the substance of Obama’s campaign rhetoric.  As a likeable candidate, Obama made it easy for folks like Moore to ignore policy details and revel in the fact that their newest candidate wasn’t a wonkish robot (like Al Gore in 2000) or a New England blue blood (like John Kerry).

Unfortunately for the President, that raises expectations to the level of his follower’s wildest dreams – not a good thing in an environment where success or failure often comes down to the size of the yardstick.