Iraq TV Knows Who Really Created ISIS: Jews, Americans, and Satan

satanisisWell this is … interesting. MEMRI has translated a music video for a “satiric” Iraqi TV show that exposes the real source of ISIS. Naturally, it’s not Islam or the poisonous ideology that’s been painting the Middle East with blood for 1400 years. The inspiration for their behavior would never be so obvious as the text that says

Sura 8, Verse 12: God revealed His will to the angels, saying: “I shall be with you. Give courage to the believers. I shall cast terror into the hearts of the infidels. Strike off their heads, strike off the very tips of their fingers.”

Sura 47, Verse 4: “When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads.”

Nah, someone else had to be responsible, and of course it’s everyone’s go-to villain: the Jews, aided by the Americans and the devil. The video shows a Jewish woman (she’s wearing a Star of David) being wed to Satan by a cowboy, and giving birth to a stereotypical head-chopping ISIS fanatic. As the lyrics of the song say:

Jewish Woman: “Lead me to the altar, oh sisters, with explosives belts and devices. / I hope to get a ring on my finger from someone who will destroy the country.”

Devil: “We will call our child ISIS. / I don’t want to repeat it. / Summon him. Tell him to slaughter people. Summon him. Tell him to toy a little with religion.

At least they got the devil part right.

As long as Muslims, aided by Western cultural sensitivity, keep pretending that ISIS (in which the “I” stands for “Islamic”) has nothing to do with Islam, we will get nowhere. While it’s grossly inaccurate to say it represents the majority of Muslims, it’s equally inaccurate to say it is not Islamic or does not reflect ideas found in Islam. Let’s not lie to ourselves in the interest of political correctness.

Vox: Pope Francis Calls For New Crusade

Max Fisher wrote the dumbest thing I’ve read in ages. Even for something appearing on Vox, it’s Epic Stupid Level 5000 Plus Bonus Troll Points. Here it is:


So, Max is going with the whole “Pope Calls For New Crusade” angle. (My response to that is “If only…”)

Sure, the writing is laughably bad, the history is junk, the spin is pure hit-trolling, the hatred of Catholicism is palpable, and the tone is standard-issue juvenile sneering, but it’s the pure unvarnished ignorance that really shines through it all.

Here’s what Francis actually said:

“In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.”

As an exhortation to a Crusade this lacks a certain panache. I checked with Pope Urban II to see what he thought:


Here’s the funny part about this: like all the kiddies at Vox, Max thinks he’s clever (that’s why they gots to ‘splain the news to us yokels), yet in attempting to appear clever, he only exposes a profound and provincial obtuseness.

Related: What Is Your Middle Schooler Being Taught About the Crusades

We Broke The World

As I read about the horrors unfolding this week–capping weeks of inconceivable violence aimed at Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities–I found myself utterly unable to express anything about it in words. I’ve held off several posts on topics that seemed trite in the midst of such events, finally just Going For Cute as a respite from the unbroken gloom.

I wish I had something profound to add to the commentary my colleagues and others have been offering about the terrible events of the week, but all that comes to mind when I try to write is, “There are enough words out there already. Just shut up and pray.”As the world continues to mint new horrors that cry out to God, all we can do is cling to our faith in God and love for Him and our fellow man.

The danger we face in the west–from the comfort of our homes safely outside of zones of war and disease–is the tendency to let the Self intrude on these events: how we feel, how we react, what it means to us.

That’s natural. We only have our subjective reality and the horror experienced by another can only be understood in relation to our own understanding of horror.

However, I know that I will live and die without ever fearing that I might see my child decapitated before my eyes. This is the very stuff of the Book of Maccabees. They are things we hear about in history but never think we’ll live to witness. And then we do: in Serbia, Rwanda, Mosul. We have no real reference point, and so our attempts to understand it will always fall short.

Christians have one reference point that has to remain at the center of all our understanding: the cross. There’s a reason one hangs over every altar. It is the pivot point on which the world turns. Nothing, utterly nothing, makes sense without.

I finally watched Noah last night, and while it certainly has problematic elements, one thing it does exceptionally well is depict the world very close to the moment at which sin entered in.  As Noah says to Ham in the move, “We broke the world. We did this.” What we’re witnessing now is the fruit of that first sin.

The wood on which Christ hung was felled in Eden, by our hands. And after all this time, mankind still holds the ax at the root.

We are doing what we can–albeit too little and too late–as civilized people to try to help those on the brink of annihilation, and this is as it should be. We cannot solve all the world’s problems, but we damn well better solve the problems we created, even if it means a 4 point drop in the popularity polls.

I find it interesting that the threatened slaughter of the Yazidi triggered US action, but our leaders could barely raise a voice in protest when Christians were being ground into dust. As I’ve said before, the hour is clear: it’s 64 AD, and whether Christianity is a new faith as it was then, or an old faith as it is now, the persecution is for the same reason: we threaten those who seek power as an end. We upset the narrative. We are an inconvenient reminder that mankind not only broke the world, but killed its maker, and did both things as actions of a free will.

Christendom is shattered, but its greatest strengths live on in the hearts and communities of believers. That’s all we’ve got, and really all we ever needed, despite the glories of our past. We must live as Christians, against all danger and threats. We must forgive, against all wrongs. We must hope, against all evidence. We must love, against all reason.

Muslim Professor Murdered for Supporting Christians

Christians and Muslims lived side-by-side for centuries before the ISIS hoards descended upon Mosul.  Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a law professor from the University of Mosul, knew this well, and spoke out against the persecutions of Christians. He paid for his principled stand with his life when ISIS forces killed him.

From Vatican Insider:

Chaldean website – one of the news sources that offers the promptest updates on the inferno Christians are experiencing in Iraq – announced the news. Amidst the ocean of tragedies currently being witnessed in the Middle Eastern country, the website did not want to let this act of great courage go unnoticed. Professor Ali ‘Asali knew what he was risking: everyone in Mosul knows that in Raqqa – the Syrian city which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant seized last year –there are many human rights activists who have paid for their opposition to ISIS’ acts of intolerance with their own lives. But Al ‘Asali was nevertheless unable to stand by in silence.

And so are many other Muslims, who have launched the “I am Iraqi, I am Christian” campaign in response to the letter N’s written on the walls of Christian homes in Mosul. Yesterday some of them turned up outside the Chaldean Church of St. George in Baghdad, with a banner displaying the slogan and posted a picture on Facebook.

The same article reports that the infidel tax (jizyah) for dhimmis (non-Muslim, second-class citizens), which some Muslims portray as reasonable, is $450 a month: an “impossible sum” for the people who have to pay it or die.

In other news, ISIS torched an 1800-year-old church. At least no one was inside. This time.

If the story of Mahmoud Al ‘Asali is true, then he is a hero and a martyr for two faiths. God bless him and all like him.

And, through our tears of grief and rage, may we also recall that for Christians, martyrdom for the Truth is a blessed thing, as Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry observes:

And yet. Yet. Yet there must be joy.The Pauline hope, the anticipation of the Eschaton: yes, in the fullness of time, every knee will bend, every mouth will proclaim that Jesus is Lord, and every tear will be wiped from every eye. And in the Heavenly Jerusalem, the martyrs will reign as gods in unimaginable joy, their glorified wounds illuminating the new Heavens and the new Earth.

But there must also be joy today. Because for as hard as it is for us in the Modern world, for us who are still infants crawling on the path to sanctity, as Christians we must view martyrdom as an occasion of joy and thanksgiving. Happy are you when you are persecuted for my sake, the Lord tells us. Happy are you when you receive the great privilege of being an icon of the Cross, a mirror of God’s glory revealed in the form of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, of being totally faithful to the Teacher.

Through my tears, I must rejoice, for joy is the proper response of the Christian to martyrdom: joy of testimony, joy of fidelity, joy of Christlikeness, terrible joy of the Cross.

May all Christians give perfect testimony of the total love of Christ and give glory to God in the centuries of centuries.


After 1600 Years, Monks Ejected From Mar Behnam by Islamists

The Mar Behnam Monastery (The Monastery of the Martyrs Saint Behnam and his Sister Sarah) was built in the 4th century as an act of penance by Sennacherib II. The Assyrian king had Behnam and Sarah, his son and daughter, executed for converting to Christianity, but later converted and repented.

From that time until this month, the site in Bakhdida has been maintained and expanded by monks of the Syriac faith, which was brought into the Catholic Church in the 18th century.

That has all ended. The monks were visited by ISIS forces and simply thrown out, not even allowed to take their relics:

A member of the Syriac clergy quoted the militants as telling the monastery’s residents: “You have no place here any more, you have to leave immediately.”

He said the monks asked to be allowed to save some of the monastery’s relics but the fighters refused.

Local Christian residents told AFP news agency that the monks walked for several miles before they were picked up by Kurdish fighters.

Earlier this month, Isis issued an ultimatum in Mosul, citing a historic contract known as “dhimma,” under which non-Muslims in Islamic societies who refuse to convert are offered protection if they pay a fee, called a “jizya”.

And thus another deeply rooted feature of Middle Eastern Christianity–one present centuries before Mohammed–is yanked out root and branch by savages.

Islamists Marking Christian Homes for Targeting/Confiscation

Christians in Mosul had until Saturday to “accept Islam, pay extra taxes to Islamic Sharia courts or face ‘death by the sword,'” according to a message distributed by ISIS.

Christians are fleeing, of course, and ISIS thugs are marking Christian homes in order to take care of them later. If the people have not left, they will face the Sharia courts or death. In any event, their homes are forfeit to ISIS forces.

Twitter is filling up with images of homes being marked with the letter “Nun” (ن), the Arabic equivalent of our “N” and the abbreviation for Nasara, or “Nazarenes”: what they call Christians in a gesture of contempt to make them seem like outsiders in their own land.

This is what genocide looks like.

And it doesn’t end well.


UPDATE: In the interest of fairness, I changed the word “Muslims” in the headline to “Islamists.” Christians and Muslims, obviously, lived together in peace before ISIS arrived, and “Muslim” casts too wide a net.

The Astrolabe [Beautiful Machines]

When I was asked to come up with a header for this blog, I submitted two ideas to Patheos: a robotic riff on Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, and an image of an astrolabe. Unable to choose between the two, I suggested that the art department just combine them, and the striking image above was born.

I first encountered the astrolabe in college while I was studying Chaucer, who wrote a famous Treatise on the Astrolabe for his 10-year-old son, Lewis. Although it has few of the literary qualities we look for in a work by Chaucer, it’s still a charming example of 14th century home-schooling pedagogy. He even apologizes for his “rude editing” and “overabundance of words” by explaining that “it’s better two write a good sentence twice for a child, since he’ll forget it [if he only reads it] once.”

Rather than leaving it to Chaucer to explain how an astrolabe works, the following presentation by Autodesk’s Tom Wujec provides a superb (and quite perceptive) explanation of their function and meaning:

The astrolabe is everything technology should aspire to be. It is beautiful. It is functional. It was, for its time, the very pinnacle of technological achievement, yet even today its simple effectiveness is striking. A thousand year old astrolabe could do anything today it could when it was first made. You won’t be able to say the same about your iPhone in a thousand years.

Finally, it is God-centered. A person with an astrolabe was not merely finding the answer to a question as a discrete piece of data. He was not merely learning a bit of information, such as What time is it? or What is my current latitude? He was surveying the universe around him. It was as though he was drawing down the stars so they might speak to him. He knew his physical location in the cosmos because the astrolabe told him so. With himself as the reference point, the universe expanded outward around him, and the astrolabe made sense of it all: the motion of stars, the rising and setting of the sun, the rotation of the earth: all of it was depicted on a complex set of rotating discs.

This was only possible because God had given man an ordered universe, and the ability to understand it. God is the grand artificer of creation, the conductor of the musica universalis. A medieval man would not just see a mechanical depiction of the motion of the observable universe in an astrolabe, but also know that his place in that universe was assured because he was created in the image and likeness of a loving God. Each time he used it, he was not merely doing the equivalent of checking his watch or his phone for the time. He was reestablishing his place and role in creation.

A generous selection of photographs of astrolabes can be found here. Take a moment to see how our allegedly benighted medieval forbears combined design, functionality, usefulness, craftsmanship, and beauty to create one of the milestones in technological development. The Christian and Muslim scholars who created these devices did so not just because they found them practical or useful. They created them because they fulfilled the highest calling of science and technology: to help us better understand the work of God.

This post was originally published in April 2012.

St. Thecla’s Tomb Desecrated by Syrian Rebels, Nuns Still Missing

Twelve nuns kidnapped from the Mar Takla Orthodox convent are still being held by our friends, the Syrian “rebels.” They were taken away in early December in a raid by terrorist Abu Jafar, leader of the Battalion of the Martyr Abu Taan. Jafar pillaged the monasteries there, and sold off the goods in Lebanon.

On January 12th, Jafar and his family were all found murdered, likely due to rivalries among warring factions.

With his death, new reports are emerging about just what happened at the monasteries, including the desecration and looting of the Tomb of St. Thecla. The fate of the nuns is still uncertain.

The Lebanese Calam reported on January 13 that “jihadists plundered the grave of Saint Thekla”. According to Father Makarios Gulwma, secretary of the Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East for the Catholic Melkites told RIA Novosti: “The fighters of Al-Nusra and Free Sham removed the bells of the churches of historic Maaloula, torched the iconostasis of the Orthodox Monastery of St Thekla as well as the Melklite Catholic Monastery of Saint Sergius, and they plundered the grave of St. Thekla after digging it up. They burned all the crosses and destroyed them.” The same witness complained that they stole the bronze statue of the enthroned Jesus adorning the Monastery erected by the Orthodox Foundation of Saint Paul of Syria. The statue was sculpted by the famous Russian sculptor Alexandre Rukavhanikov. Fr. Makarios conveyed the indignation of this martyric town: “They stole our most important symbols, even the bells that call us to prayer. Men of Al-Nusra burned our homes. They want to extinguish the last vestige of Christianity and void out her existence.”

St. Thecla was a companion of St. Paul, and is the featured in the apocryphal work, The Acts of Paul and Thecla.

Please pray for the Christian community in the middle east, which is being exterminated day by day, and for the safe return of the nuns.

Iranian Games Weirdness

This video popped up in my news feed this morning, and it was odd enough to merit a share. (Sorry, no embedded video.) It offers a small glimpse into the world of Iranian game production, as filtered through the lens of Press TV, the official English-language propaganda wing of the Iranian ruling council.


It appears to be a fairly straightforward report on a young national industry’s annual awards show, but it’s just a bit … off, and it winds up feeling like those videos of apparently happy hostages reading out propaganda statements while they blink “help me” in Morse Code.

Western games are popular among Iranian youth, but Iran doesn’t care for the Western cultural influence that goes with it.

Fair enough. I don’t care for it either sometimes. And even though their efforts seem to be somewhere around late-1990s level in technical and design quality, that’s to be expected in a young industry still working to build up their technological and talent base. They’re to be applauded for trying.

The video is a report on the National Foundation of Computer Games 2013 awards. The NFCG was created by the Iranian government to develop and promote the national gaming industry and fight the influence of offensive western games on their culture.

That’s not unusual. There are plenty of similar organizations throughout the world, and a culture as rich in history as Persia certainly has a great deal to offer through a creative medium like video and computer gaming, as long as they’re not making Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ‘Let’s Wipe Israel Off the Map.’

In fact, there is a bit of that in Iranian games. Rather than the American military focus of domestic shooters, Iranain military shooters feature things like “Mohamad Marzoghi, an elite member of the Lebanese Hezbollah commando, sneaking through an Israeli military base on a mission to rescue a kidnapped Iranian scientist in the game Resistance (Tebyan, 2008)” and “a member of the Pasdaran Revolutionary Guards attacking and finally subduing Iraqi forces in the fierce battle of the Fao Peninsula in 1986 in the game Valfajr 8 (Tebyan, 2007).”

There’s also non-mainstream, amateur fare like Fighting the Leaders of Sedition, a free game that asks you to shoot real-life Iranian reformers.

For the most part, however, Iran downplays Islamic elements to focus on their Persian heritage with exotic “Prince of Persia”-style action games such as Quest for Persia.

This short video report makes me wonder just what’s going on in Iranian game development circles. Though the report is produced by Western talent working for Press TV, much of it just odd. For example:

  • One of the guys on the stage helping out with the award presentations appears to be a living statue version of slain Libyan dictator (and foe of Iran) Muammar Gaddafi. Try to imagine a comic Saddam Hussein giving out awards at the 2006 E3 to get an idea of how wrong this is.
  • The organization is called the National Foundation of Computer Games, and everyone is determined to stick with narrative by calling the things on display computer games, even though everything being shown appears to be a video game. That’s not a minor distinction in gaming. (There’s also an Iran Computer and Video Games Foundation, which may or may not be related. Maybe it’s People’s Front of Judea thing.) 
  • The kids are all shown playing Western games.
  • The one winner interviewed is a sound guy. He’s wearing a shirt with a yin-yang symbol on it. Remember, this video is aimed not at Iranians (who will never see it), but Americans, which is why Cool T-Shirt Guy was chosen for the sole interview. Look how understanding Iran is! We even let this guy walk around free!
  • At the 34 second mark, one of the games looks like something my kids did in basic computer class in grade school. You can see from Quest for Persia that they’re capable of better (though still primitive) work. Why not show that?
  • Near the 1:48 mark a woman is shown briefly, and without comment, attaching sensors to a child’s head and finger. I imagine it’s some kind of brain-machine interface device, but without context, it just looks rather alarming.
  • The randomness of the clips accelerates as the story goes on. At one point, for no apparent reason, we see a group of joking boys poised to fight with each other. Hidden message: games make children aggressive!

An Iranian game called “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner” is getting some international attention, but wasn’t featured in the report. Maybe a game named for one of St. Augustine’s most famous quotes was just to much for Press TV. In any case, it looks like a pretty good 2D puzzler, and one I’d like to try: