Category: World Affairs

Grieving over innocent victims — Malala and others


Pakistan and the world are reeling this week from the horror of a young teenager, Malala Yousufzai, being shot in the head and neck outside of her school.

The Taliban has taken credit. Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper says it has been told by a spokesman for the Taliban that the girl was targeted for spreading “anti-Taliban and ‘secular’ thoughts among the youth of the area.”

What are her “secular” thoughts? NPR’s Philip Reeves said, “Malala is a national figure. She lives in Swat Valley and was there several years ago when the Taliban took control and began burning down girls’ schools. The Pakistani army rolled in, in 2009, to retake the area. Malala wrote an anonymous diary, broadcast on the BBC, about life under the Taliban. She advocated education for girls, and defied the militants’ ban on this by secretly going to school with her books hidden in her clothes. Her bravery was recognized last year when she was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.”

Malala has been taken to a hospital in the United Kingdom. BBC News reported Tuesday that the medical director of the hospital where Malala is being treated has said doctors are “impressed with her strength and resilience.”

Malala needs our prayers.

This tragedy, as often happens, is bringing people together. Reeves reported Oct. 15 that, “Every now and then, something happens in Pakistan that really strikes a nerve. The shooting of Malala Yousafzai is widely seen as one such moment. Pakistanis held prayers across the land.” They also protested the shooting. “Even little kids are rallying to Malala’s cause,” Reeves said.

Maleeha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States, said, “This is an atrocity that has shaken Pakistan. . . . You know, I’ve been watching the response in Pakistan, which is unanimous in Pakistan — spontaneous and unanimous in condemning what happened. And I think behind this sentiment is a sense that this cannot be allowed to go on.”

Our American ethical sensibilities join with Pakistani ethical sensibilities on this issue. This simply is a great wrong.

But this is not all of the story. While Pakistanis condemn the Taliban violence, some are asking what the difference is between this act of terrorism and the U.S. drone attacks in their country. There is the same result from both — innocent lives are being lost.

We American Christians are confronted by this reality, as well. We do not like to think of our drone attacks as taking innocent lives. While we kill “bad guys,” we also apparently are killing “good guys,” as well. Because of our views regarding the sanctity of life, we cannot easily dismiss such circumstances.

War is terrible and messy. It presents difficult realities for those of us who love others as ourselves.

Christian “just war” principles sets forth that “every effort must be made to protect noncombatants from harm,” said Van Christian, pastor of First Baptist Church in Comanche, in a column on just war last year in the Baptist Standard. That is a good word to remember.

U.S. drone attacks have been very helpful in our war on terrorism, but we view such national policies through the “eyes” of faith in Christ. And, as with other matters, the realities of life confront us in our faith, and we often are discomforted.

We grieve over Malala and pray for her full recovery. Likewise, we grieve over all of the innocents who are harmed in war and pray for an end to the fighting.

Jordanian provides a view from the Arab world

The recent violence in the Middle East is a bit hard for many of us in America to understand. Murder, violence, and destruction because of one terribly made and terribly misguided Internet video? It doesn’t make sense.

It would be easy to be dismissive of the Arab and Muslim worlds, but that would not be helpful. They are people created in the image of God but marred by sin, just as we are in the West and in our Christian churches. Our sins may at times be different, but we do share a common need for the grace and guidance of God.

It is good in such circumstances of cultural difference to listen to others as much as possible.


Marwan Muasher spoke on the topic, “A View from the Arab World,” on Sept. 12, the day after the murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya. Muasher is a vice president with the Carnegie Endowment and previously served as foreign minister (2002–2004) and deputy prime minister (2004–2005) of Jordan.

He had much to say in his address to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, but one part stood out to me. It had to do with the series of revolutions that rocked the Arab world last year and continue even today. Muasher:

“As soon as the Arab uprisings started, immediately they were called ‘the Arab Spring.’ It’s a totally Western construct. No one in the region called it an Arab Spring, except here, because somehow people romantically wanted the demise of dictatorships to immediately transform into functioning democracies overnight. That of course is just wishful thinking. It ignores all transformational processes, particularly in a region that has not witnessed a culture of civil society, of pluralism, of political parties, et cetera.”

We, in the West, called it Spring. It looked like the arrival of a new season of life and beauty. Now, of course, we see things more clearly.

“The romantic period I guess is over now and people now realize that this is not the case. That is not, though, a defense of the status quo—far from it—because I think the status quo in the Arab world, as I said, was simply not sustainable. But it may be an injection of reality into making the point that transformational processes need time, and that if one is to judge what is going on in the Middle East through the prism of two years, then all of us will get heartaches with the developments that are taking place, including the tragic developments yesterday.

“But if one is to take a longer-term view and understand, as I believe, that this is a battle in the Arab world that should have been waged decades ago but has not been waged and is being waged today, then one has to accept that battles are going to result in ups and downs, in challenges that will not move the democratization process along a linear line all the time. This is what we are seeing today.

“The Arab world, while it succeeded to get rid of colonial rule less than 100 years ago, did not succeed at developing pluralistic societies, and the Arab world was left after independence with only two forces, which to this day still exist: either Arab governments that have ruled without any system of checks and balances and have come up with all kind of excuses for not developing such a system; or an Islamic opposition that has used the mosque for political purposes, that has promised the moon to people without having to prove their promises because they were artificially kept out by Arab governments of the system.

“These were the only two alternatives that were available to people: either an unaccountable ruling elite or an ideological opposition that could threaten political, cultural, and religious diversity. This is the situation that the Arab world finds itself in today.”

These words are helpful, I think. They can help us understand that the Arab world is struggling through a very difficult time as they seek to find their way forward. We Christians should pray for these brothers and sisters. We all fall within Christ’s love.

Trade, the great deterrent to war

Those who hate war should always be looking for ways to prevent it. Robert D. Kaplan, in his book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, points to one supreme way. “Trade,” he says, ” is the great equalizer among people and nations; it does more than perhaps any other activity to prevent war.” (p.317)

This seems intuitively true. Just look at the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. If it was for the great oil trade, the U.S. most assuredly would have squashed the Saudi royal family by now because of its anti-western activities through the decades. But our need for oil keeps us from the battlefield there.

Of course, trade can also lead to war — look at Iraq. If not for oil, we almost certainly would not have invaded Iraq. Thinking back to World War II, it’s my understanding that the U.S. was a thorn in the side of Japan’s oil trade, and that led to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

So, is Kaplan right? I think it would be better said that good trade relations can mitigate against disagreements festering into war. Bad trade relations can actually make it more likely.

Kaplan’s book, of course, looks at one geographic region and the importance of trade. If the point I just made about the connection of good and bad trade relations to war is correct, then it’s important to understand this region as we move forward. The world doesn’t need a war between the U.S. and China and any other powerful nations, but bad trading relations can lead in that direction. Kaplan helps us in that understanding.

“The vicissitudes of extremism notwithstanding, a replica of the pre-Portuguese Muslim-Hindu trading cosmopolis is now being rebuilt, buttressed by Chinese investment.” (p.322)

“Indeed, the challenge to America, ultimately, is less the rise of China than communicating at a basic level with this emerging global civilization of Africans and Asians. As for China, I’ve already indicated that it is rising militarily in a responsible manner. It will have its own problems in expanding its maritime influence into the Indian Ocean. And in any case China is not necessarily America’s adversary. But unless America makes its peace with these billions symbolized by the Greater Indian Ocean map, many of whom are Muslim, American power will not be seen as wholly legitimate. And legitimacy, remember, is a primary feature of power in the first place. In an earlier chapter I said that strong American-Chinese bilateral relations going forward are not only plausible but might be the best-case scenario for the global system in the twenty-first century, allowing for true world governance to take shape. But that is true only so far as the bilateral world of nation-states is concerned. As the former third world forges a new kind of unity, driven by mass media like Al Jazeera that abets an underlying cultural synthesis, the Afro-Asian multitudes will increasingly be in a pivotal position to bestow prestige or condemnation on America, China, and other powerful states, depending upon the merits of each particular crisis. They, in addition to being participants, are the supreme audience for power politics in the twenty-first century.”

In America, we need to grasp the truth of Kaplan’s statement, “China is not necessarily America’s adversary.” China has, in many cases, different values from the West, but this giant of nations is changing, becoming more western economically and in other ways. For one thing, seeing China only as a potential adversary may blind us to some of the other issues Kaplan talked about in that last paragraph. And we need to remember, American debt and consumer buying are what have made China strong.

More from Kaplan:

“Great-power politics will go on as they always have, with the American and Chinese navies quietly competing and jockeying for position in the First Island Chain, and India and China competing for sea routes and influence. But these activities will be framed more and more by a global civilization, the product of a new bourgeoisie that in and of itself constitutes a moral force with which to be reckoned.

“Hundreds of millions of Muslims and others, quietly elevated into the middle classes, are seeking to live peaceful, productive lives, even as they confer legitimacy on the great power or powers whose actions help them in what my Persian friend and the novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah both say man is ultimately on earth to do–’to trade.’ Trade is what Zheng He did, and while the Chinese navy celebrates his Indian Ocean exploits, America, too, could learn much from this Ming Dynasty explorer, who saw military activity as an expression not only of hard but of soft power as well: to help protect the global commons and a trading system for the benefit of all. Only by seeking at every opportunity to identify its struggles with those of the larger Indian Ocean world can American power finally be preserved.” (pp.322-323)

Looking to the Indian Ocean

My view of the world has centered upon the West — Europe joined to North America by the Atlantic Ocean. World War II and the importance of Japan and China brought the Pacific Ocean more into the American consciousness. Make room now for the Indian Ocean.

Robert D. Kaplan, in his book Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power, opens our eyes to a part of the world that has long been important in world affairs but rather unfamiliar to many in North America. Kaplan writes the following:

“The map of Europe defined the twentieth century. … “It is my contention that the Greater Indian Ocean … may comprise a map as iconic to the new century as Europe was to the last one.” (p.xi)

“Recently, messy land wars have obscured for us the importance of seas and coastlines, across which most trade is conducted and along which most of humanity lives, and where, consequently, future military and economic activity is likely to take place as in the past.” (p.xii)

The key word in those quotes is “trade.” The Indian Ocean is the scene of a massive exchange of goods between nations and civilizations. The ocean that stretches from East Africa to the islands of Southeast Asia has a long history of trade, then five hundred years ago the West came in the guise of Portuguese, Dutch, French and English traders and navies.

“[Vasco] Da Gama’s arrival in India initiated the rise of the West in Asia. … [I]t is possible that the five-hundred-year chapter of Western preponderance is slowly beginning to close.” (p.xii)

While trade is what ties the region together, religion plays a big part, as well. But while Islam is the dominant faith, it shares space with Hinduism and Buddhism, and the Islam of Southeast Asia is different from that in the Middle East.

“The Indian Ocean region is more than just a stimulating geography. It is an idea because it provides an insightful visual impression of Islam, and combines the centrality of Islam with global energy politics and the importance of world navies, in order to show us a multi-layered, multi-polar world above and beyond the headlines. …” (p.xiii)

There is a familiar expression associated with the pioneering times in American history–“Go west, young man.” Now, we probably should say, “Look east, young men and women.”

A death to be cheered, a life to sadden

When I heard of John Kennedy’s assassination, I was sitting in the corner of my third grade classroom for some unremembered offense.

When I heard the space shuttle Challenger had blown up, I was walking along the second floor hallway of the Administration Buiding at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

When I heard about the 9/11 terrorist attacks I was visiting with Ken Camp at the Baptist Building in Dallas.

Will hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden leave an equally edilible memory. If so, it will be the first one about which I cheered, at least for a while.

I heard the news via a text message from my son, Landon, at 9:51 p.m. (Central time) while I was driving in the car to pick up my other son, Cameron. “We found bin laden and he is dead,” Landon wrote.

My response: “Hooray!”

Landon: “There is a special report on nbc right now and Obama is going to speak soon.”

Trese texted at 9:53 p.m.: “Saying on news Osama bin laden dead.”

Me: “Hooray.”

Tabitha texted at 10:07 p.m.: I think the fact that bin laden has been killed under obamas watch will help him in campaign.”

Me: “I think your right.”

Tabitha: “Facebook is blowing up w comments.”

Me: “I’m sitting at Eustace station waiting for cam.”

Me few minutes later to Tabitha: “NPR just said wikipedia already lists bin laden as dead.” Then, “I fear the reaction overseas.”

Tab: “wow.brian williams said there is delay in obama press conference bc they were confirming w dna info that it is asama dead. And usa has his body. Obama supposed to b on shortly.”

Me: “Glad they’re confirming.”

Tab: “there is crowd outside white house singin we r the champions.”

Me: “Not good.”

Tab at 10:31: “theyve already raised threat levels everywhere as prcaution.”

Cameron arrived at the Shell service station in Eustace about this time. He had been to Frisco to see an FC Dallas soccer game with a group of youth from First Baptist Church in Athens. Shortly after he got in the car and we headed home, President Obama addressed the nation.

Cameron and I listened quietly as Obama spoke. We arrived home and still sat in the car to listen until the president finished.

In the house, I checked Facebook briefly. I was surprised to see some anti-Obama vitriol coming from some of my friends. Others praised the military. Here’s what I wrote at about 11 p.m.:

“We celebrate the death of an evil man tonight, but it’s hard to be happy. Sadness comes because we remember the loss of so many on 9/11 and the many more sacrificial losses of lives since then. The Prince of Peace has an alternative to such evil. May we pray and work to bring Christ to our world of hurt.”

My initial “hooray” had given way to something deeper. I hope we remember more than the news; I hope we remember the lessons learned.