ISIS Blows Up Ancient Wall of Nineveh

"Nineveh Adad gate exterior entrance" by Fredarch -- Wikimedia Commons

Before the destruction: “Nineveh Adad gate exterior entrance” by Fredarch — Wikimedia Commons

A part of Nineveh’s great wall was dynamited by ISIS militants, according to Iraqinews.com. One of Mosul’s most distinctive ancient structures, the wall dates to the 8th century BC.

According to a local historian, militants

destroyed on Tuesday night much of the historic city wall located on Tahrir neighborhood on the left coast of Mosul….  Using a great amount of explosives, ‘Takfirists’ (Sunni Islamic terrorists) blew pieces of the wall considered the most important historical monument of the Iraqi province and the whole region.

Destruction of ancient monuments is common for ISIS, since some represent pre-Islamic identity while others are considered “idolatry.” They also loot museums wherever they go, but their delicate Islamic sensibilities don’t extend to the destruction of valuable portable artifacts, which are sold on the black market to fun their war machine.

The destruction of the wall calls to mind the dynamiting of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban.

How Did CNN Report on the New “Charlie Hebdo” Cover?

Like this:

cnn

CNN to Muslim world: “Please kill us last.”

Duly noted, dhimmis.

Here is the actual cover, which a news organization would, of course, show in its reporting in any other circumstance:

FRANCE-ATTACKS-CHARLIE-HEBDO-MEDIA-FRONTPAGE

“All is forgiven.”

 

Terrorists can murder and bomb and destroy, but whether or not they accomplish their goals–the destruction of civilization–is completely up to us. They can only defeat the west if we change our behaviors, which means they’ve been winning this long war as we cringe in fear and subject ourselves to increasing levels of surveillance and do things to our enemies that we would rightly call barbaric were they done to us.

They can never defeat us on the battlefield. They can only defeat us in our minds and hearts, and thus they are already winning and will continue to do so as long as we allow them to.

Related:

Charlie Hebdo and a Broken Europe

Dante: Mohammed in Hell

Charlie Hebdo and a Broken Europe

How broken is Europe?

This broken:

crazy
That’s their response to the murder of twelve of their fellow journalists at the hands of jihadists.

You cannot measure my indifference to the wholly imaginary thing called “Islamophobia,” which, like “homophobia,” is a way to pathologize those who disagree with a dominant narrative. A phobia is an irrational fear. In this case, it’s perfectly reasonable to be concerned about a religious movement that has rained blood on the world since its so-called “prophet” claimed to have the final word of God to man.

There’s nothing gained by sloppy sentimentality at moments like this. Charlie Hebdo and its staff were no friends to anyone of belief. They were cynical, nihilistic, and blasphemous, as is their right in our post-Enlightenment, pluralistic world. This relativistic individuality may or not be a good and healthy  thing, but now isn’t the time for that debate.

What’s obvious is that these writers,editors, and cartoonists were able to offend Christians and Jews without any fear of reprisal. They published one of the most offensive cartoons I’ve ever seen. I’ll link it here, but be warned in advance: it shows Jesus (crown of thorns, holes in his hands and feet) sodomizing God the Father and being sodomized in turn by the “Holy Spirit.”

There’s no deeper meaning in the image: it’s just a child’s outburst.  It’s offensive, yet I never considered killing anyone over it. My religion makes it clear that kind of reaction would be a violation of God’s laws. Islam, however, is considerably less clear on the subject, with both the Koran and the Hadith offering dozens of passages alternately urging violence and peace. And therein lies of the problem of the West’s long and violent interaction with Islam.

The outpourings of solidarity and sympathy in France and beyond show that we are still capable of shock and outrage. Good. We’ll need it.

The other thing we will need is faithA pallid secularism can’t defend against a diseased religiosity. Only a healthy faith can drive out a sick one.

I don’t have any illusions that we’ll see a huge turning to Christ in France. Anti-clericalism has been part of that nation’s very flesh and blood for too long. But there is something deeper in there, down in the bone and sinew: the Christianity that made France great.

All Europe and the secular west has been feeding like a vampire from that Christian heritage for two centuries without acknowledging that Christ is the wellspring of all our values and freedoms. Since that wellspring is the very living water Himself, it will never run dry, but the walls of the well are crumbling. Even the great cathedrals, built as living prayers in stone to last for centuries, are just piles of rock without faith, as the prayers that made them live fade into a distant echo. Europe is hollowed out, cherishing abstract notions and values without any transcendence or roots. It can’t survive long in this state without something breaking.

It’s rather poignant that the #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) slogan looks so much like “Jesus is Charlie.” As much as the people of Charlie Hebdo disdained Christ, they found themselves at the foot of the cross nonetheless, as we all do. Their deaths are tragic, grotesque, and enraging, but they needn’t be futile. There is meaning even in tragedy.

For now, from across the sea, in a nation that doesn’t forget how much we owe the French, all I can do is offer a prayer for peace in these dark times. May families of the victims find consolation and comfort, and may St. Joan watch over them, strengthen them, and guide them. And may the love and blessings of Our Lord Jesus Christ be a light in their darkness.

Crowd-sourcing the Search For Flight 370

There are few news stories that capture and hold my interest, but I’ve been following the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Air MH370 very closely. At first it was the simple yet crushing tragedy of 239 souls being lost, most likely to human cruelty. But it’s the echoes of Twilight Zone and Stephen King stories–the sheer strangeness of it all–that has so many people riveted.

In a modern world where our satellites can read a licence plate from space, the idea of losing one of the largest and most advanced commercial aircraft in operation simply does not compute.

Clearly, other people are feeling the same way, since as of the last reporting about 2 million have participated at Digital Globe‘s Tomnod platform to aid in the search by scanning and tagging slices of satellite imagery.

There are elements of gimmickry and marketing in the effort, since the likelihood of amateurs properly identifying aircraft wreckage from satellite imagery seems remote. However, it reminds me of the Oxyrhynchus Project, which used a similar crowd-sourcing approach to scanning and tagging tens of thousands of ancient document fragments in an effort to identify them. You never know what this might yield.

What does Tomnod allow you to do? Very simply, it allows you to scan a small slice of satellite imagery and tag anything that looks suspicious. Digital Globe has satellites that are  photographing a 24,000 square kilometer, and they’ve been shifting their focus as the story develops.

Much of this is just open ocean, but as people see things that might be wreckage, they tag them and submit. I’m assuming that Tomnod is collecting multiple results from the same image slices. That way, they can combine results and only look more closely at things tagged by multiple users, which are more likely to show something useful. With 645,000 tags submitted thus far, there’s no way they can analyze each tag.

Does this actually serve any constructive purpose at all, beyond increasing the profile of the Tomnod brand? It’s certainly possible something may come out of it all. Two million pairs of eyeballs scanning relatively featureless ocean surface may well churn up some usable piece of information. The utility of crowd-sourcing this kind of data crunching has yet to be really proven or dis-proven.

More to the point is the psychological factor, as people transfixed by a tragedy with an undeniably mysterious element find a way to channel their attention into something potentially useful.

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.

Tobit, And Tamerlan: The Dignity of Burial

No one wants the body of marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. His uncle Ruslan, who seems to be the only sensible member of the family, finally stepped forward to claim it, saying “A dead person needs to be buried.”

Meanwhile, a petty tyrant named Robert W. Healy, City Manager of Cambridge, intends to block any attempt to bury this killer in the city, asserting this hitherto unknown power with this glib, lawless, and offensive statement: “Under the State Law, … ‘it shall be the duty of the city manager to act as chief conservator of the peace within the city,’ I have determined that it is not interest of “peace within the city” to execute a cemetery deed for a plot within the Cambridge Cemetery for the body of Tamerlin Tsarnaev.”

Welcome to America, 2013: where a bureaucrat feels no reluctance about asserting non-existent powers in order to trample the religious sensibilities of the vast majority of American citizens.

And I say the “vast majority,” because if you’re a Christian, Jew, or Muslim, the reverent treatment of the dead–both the wicked and the just, but especially the wicked–is a matter of divine law.

If I lived in Cambridge, I’d dig the grave the myself.

I’d be in good company.

Tobit burying the dead.

Tobit was a righteous man. His story is told in the book of the Bible that bears his name, and which is commonly counted among the Deuterocanonical books because they were part of the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible), but not part of the later Hebrew Bible.

Tobit is a man who performs many acts of charity, but the most dangerous is his burial of the dead, particularly strangers, and, notably, those who have been executed.

And if Sennacherib the king put to death any who came fleeing from Judea, I buried them secretly. For in his anger he put many to death. When the bodies were sought by the king, they were not found. Then one of the men of Nineveh went and informed the king about me, that I was burying them; so I hid myself. When I learned that I was being searched for, to be put to death, I left home in fear. Then all my property was confiscated and nothing was left to me except my wife Anna and my son Tobias. (Tobit 1:18-20)

Tobit is able to return home after the death of Sennacherib, but he continues to bury the dead. When he returns, he makes a nice feast, and gives an order to his son, Tobias, with echoes of Luke 14:13:

“Go and bring whatever poor man of our brethren you may find who is mindful of the Lord, and I will wait for you.” But he came back and said, “Father, one of our people has been strangled and thrown into the market place.” So before I tasted anything I sprang up and removed the body to a place of shelter until sunset. And when I returned I washed myself and ate my food in sorrow. Then I remembered the prophecy of Amos, how he said, “Your feasts shall be turned into mourning, and all your festivities into lamentation.” And I wept. When the sun had set I went and dug a grave and buried the body.  And my neighbors laughed at me. (Tobit 2:2-8)

Touching the dead rendered one impure for a period of time. Although it was a necessary thing to do, performing the act for strangers is a profound act of charity. Indeed, Tobit is forced to sleep outside after performing the burial because he is impure, and he winds up blind as a result.

Some of the bodies buried by Tobit have been cast “beyond the wall,” where the unjust would have been thrown. It’s interesting to note, however, that the only place in the law where rapid burial is explicitly commanded is in the case of criminals who have been executed:

‎“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance. Deuteronomy 21:22–23

This passage, of course, becomes extremely relevant in the story of Joseph of Arimathea in the New Testament, where Joseph is considered righteous because he tends to the proper burial of Jesus.

Why does Tobit do it, particularly as such great risk to himself? He makes it quite clear: it’s a central act of charity. He does three things that are righteous: gives bread to the hungry, clothes the naked, buries the dead (Tobit 1:17).

Are any of these beginning to sound a bit familiar? Because you’ve been ordered to do them, too:

  • Feed the hungry.
  • Clothe the naked.
  • Bury the dead.
  • Give drink to the thirsty.
  • Give sheltered to the homeless.
  • Visit the sick.
  • Ransom the captive.

You’ll note the name of these acts–corporal works of mercy–comes from the Latin root corpus, for body, the source of the English word corpse.

There’s nothing in there about “burying the nice folks.” The command to bury the unrighteous is partly a matter of preventing contamination of the land, but it’s also interpreted as something due to any human created in the image of God. (I’ve written a whole series on how bodies and burial were handled in ancient Israel: a major focus of my study during a semester on the OT. This entry in particular summarizes Jewish attitudes toward the dead from a Biblical perspective.)

Mortality entered the world through sin. The person who handled the dead was therefore in the realm of death and sin. That’s why the person handling a corpse is considered impure for a time, but is also considered righteous. They are cleaning up the mess made by the sin of man, and in a very real sense doing close battle with that sin. It takes courage. It takes faith.

We don’t treat our enemies with dignity for their sake, but for our own, and because God commands it. I didn’t know Tamerlan Tsarnaev, and he did not kill any member of my family or community. My reaction if he had would be considerably more complex and challenging, but no different in the end. The dead, the wounded, and their families will deal with the actions of this wicked man for the rest of their lives. He unleashed evil in the world, and his punishment is in the hands of the One who always judges justly.

That punishment is no longer our concern. Only the living are our concern, except inasmuch as we pray for the souls of the faithful departed. Only our reactions matter: what we do with hate, and how we respond to evil. It’s the key thing that makes us different as Christians. It’s not that we don’t fight, or that we don’t have enemies, or that we don’t recognize the evil festering in our midst. We must do all those things. We can even hate, because sometimes hate is remarkably clarifying.

But in the end, when we have to act, it must be in faith, in hope, and in charity. One of the key lessons of Jesus is that we must not tend downward with our enemies, but upward towards the Father. He is our model, and he asks nothing less than that we be perfect. The works of mercy benefit the world because they are proof of life, and a light in the darkness. The worse the darkness, the harder it can be to get that light shining, but it becomes even more imperative that we do so.

Evil is an absence: a corrosion of the Good. It has no true existence. The only possible response to it is goodness, not more evil. We have to fill up that emptiness. Eventually, we have to set down the hate, which brings only more darkness, and fill the darkness with charity, which is the light of Christ.

My blog neighbor Max Lindenman says that a graduate of Yale Divinity School is offering a plot for Tsarnaev, which is just as it should be. We bury the dead–even the unrighteous–not merely for the sake of the dead, but for our own soul’s sake, and to glorify God, whose light shines on the just and unjust alike. We are called to be that light, and we can’t be particular about where we choose to shine.

“I Hope He’s In Hell”

I’ve been reading and hearing variants of the words in this headline since Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev* was killed in a gun battle with police.

Things Christians Shouldn’t Say: “I hope he’s in Hell.”

Since the capture of his brother, Dzhokhar, I’ve also seen various sadistic fantasies about how he should be treated, each more lurid than the last, all of them steeped in blood and violence.

I understand the impulse behind that: I really do. It’s hard to express outrage commensurate with the crimes these two committed, and even harder to comprehend the impulse behind them. The reasonable mind rejects the idea that human beings can be this callous and evil, and since reason seems to have no place in the equation, the mind moves downward into sadism to try to grasp their wickedness and respond in kind.

And that’s exactly the wrong way to respond. The mind needs to move upward to God.

Violence certainly wasn’t the first response of those in Boston: the people who rushed to the aid of others, and the city united in tragedy and willing to assert their pride and fight back. I don’t doubt that many Bostonians still would like “just five minutes with Dzhokhar,” but many seemed more likely to do what humans usually do in response to tragedy, disaster, and violence: become closer to their neighbors, hug their kids tightly, and do good.

The normal human response to the vile acts of these people is to seek revenge and want blood. That’s certainly my first impulse, and it was the impulse that drove the ancient world up until a Man who was also God came along and said, No: you have to do better. Jesus didn’t tell us not to have enemies. He didn’t even tell us not to fight. (Matt 5:39 must be considered alongside Luke 22:36.) He did, however, tell us to love our enemies and pray for them, because he wanted our enemies to be saved as well.

That’s the horrible-wonderful part of this Christianity thing. The proper, Christian response to something like the bombings is the best possible response: help those in need, pray for both victims and the perpetrators, and then just place it all in the hands of God. Because we don’t know what He has planned.

Hell for Tamerlan?

I only turn on TV news if something really big is breaking. At 8 on Friday Fox was on, and Bill O’ Reilly came on and did what the Catholic Church doesn’t actually do: he declared that someone is in Hell. Here was my initial reaction:

Tamerlan may in fact be in Hell.

Oddly enough, I hope he’s not.

Yeah, we’re pretty perverse, us Christians.

I’d rather think that, after his brother dragged his body under the wheel of his getaway car, and as he breathed his last, he was visited by Christ, repented, and found salvation.

It’s a horrible thought, isn’t it?

Justice–God’s justice, more than man’s–would seem to demand eternal punishment. Hell is, in fact, wholly just for those who violate laws of God and man. Nothing would be more just, then, for Tamerlan to spend eternity to swimming in the lake of fire.

But we have to ask, again: is that what Jesus wanted? After all, he did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, and he made no real distinction about the nature, gravity, or wickedness of the sins.

Surely the Christian-hunter Saul should have been knocked from his horse and straight into Sheol for his sins, yet he became one of the greatest of all Christians. Weren’t there thousands of people better suited for the job of Apostle to the Gentiles? And wasn’t Jesus trying to tell us–and the early Church–something very important by selecting a man with blood on his hands to write half of his New Testament? Rather than sending him to Hell, He caught him up to the Third Heaven.

In short, don’t be so hasty in consigning others to damnation. The Church definitively pronounces on those who it thinks is in Heaven, but makes no such pronouncements of those it believes to be in Hell.

And last I checked, it hadn’t delegated that power to Bill O’Reilly.

As for the other half of this headline: people should never use the word “hope” in this way. Hope is one of the theological virtues: the things which allow us to know God and conform to his will. It is a powerful virtue, and should never be used so callously as to wish the opposite of what God would want.

God may in fact will the damnation of of Tamerlan as an act of his divine justice, but he would never want any of his children to “hope” for it. We hope in salvation. That hope should extend to our enemies, with the desire that God’s will be done, because we cannot see all ends. Hell is a place of no hope, no love, no faith. Given that our mandate as Christian is to live with and preach those virtues, we certainly shouldn’t be so quick to abuse them for the purpose of vengeance.

Eternal justice is God’s alone. He can exercise it quite well without your help.

Death for Dzhokhar?

And now it’s time to really confuse my readers, some of whom objected to my suggestion of mercy for abortion butcher and serial killer Kermit Gosnell. Given that the last few popes have urged that the death penalty no longer be applied, this seems wholly reasonable, since both justice and public safety can be maintained by keeping Gosnell in prison for life.

I’m not sure the same can be said in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. This would seem perverse, since Gosnell killed many more people than Tsarnaev, but the key here is the issue of public safety.

If Dzhokhar is convicted and imprisoned for life, two possible scenarios need to be considered. Will a Muslim radical who killed Americans on American soil in an act of jihad become a folk hero to Muslim radicals around the world? Israel already faces issues with terrorists kidnapping their citizens and soldiers and demanding the release of radical prisoners. In addition, there’s a danger of a long prison sentence allowing Dzhokhar to continue to spread his message and radicalize others. He might have 60, 70 years left to him.

And can you imagine him ever being released?

If you can’t, then you really need to acquaint yourselves with the names Bill Ayers, Kathy Boudin, and Bernardine Dohrn, and then imagine 30 years from now, a “rehabilitated” Dzhokhar Tsarnaev getting a cushy teaching post at Columbia.

Weighed against this, you have the obvious witness to mercy, the denial of a martyr’s death, and the possibility that Dzhokhar will repent and embrace Christ.

Support for the death penalty is not akin to support for abortion. Abortion, as the taking of an innocent life, is always gravely evil. The key word there is not “life” but “innocent.” In the case of the death penalty, we are not talking about taking an innocent life, but one that is guilty of crimes against God and man.  Support for it is a matter of prudential judgment. Bernardin’s “seamless garment” argument is theological nonsense.

After considering the Gosnell case, I think mercy is warranted because both punishment of the wicked and protection of society are honored by life in prison, which, given his age, will not be long. I also believe that responding to the poster boy for the Culture of Death and the abortion industry with a plea for mercy is a powerful and needed witness for a Culture of Life.

In the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, we need to consider other issues, however.

Is it possible he will ever get out? Given his age and our short memories, yes, it’s possible.

Is it possible he will be a danger to the public if he is imprisoned for life? Given his motives (radical religious fundamentalism acting in a global war against American citizens and interests), it seems quite obvious that he could be.

It’s too early to tell whether the death penalty will be pursued, and whether Catholics should support it if it is pursued. It’s still an open question for me, but I think as the story and case comes to light, Catholics should be able to learn what they can and make a prudential judgment about the support for, or rejection of, the application of the death penalty.

We do well to reject the death penalty whenever we can. Doing so promotes a wider culture of life and exercises the most powerful witness to God: mercy.

But there may be times when its application is in the good of society, if only to protect society in a way life in prison cannot. The Boston bombings may be one of those cases.

UPDATE: Just to put this all in context for those reaching all the way back to Trent for their thoughts on the death penalty, here is where matters stand:

CCC 2267 Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm – without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself – the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity “are very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”

 

____________

*Here’s a child-rearing tip the Tsarnaev’s should have considered: naming your son after one of history’s most notorious mass-murderers probably isn’t such a hot idea. He was pretty much the Muslim Hitler.

And The Darkness Has Not Overcome It

By now you’ve heard the name of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in the Boston Marathon bombing yesterday. This is Martin:

This picture filled my social media and news feeds this morning, and it just hit me in the gut. My wife is a sacrament coordinator, and Martin is dressed in his first communion suit and holding the same banners she has all her students make each year.

We’re in the First Communion season now, so she’s having retreats and preparing kids like Martin to receive the Lord in the Eucharist for the first time. It’s a wonderful age of openness and wonder and joy, and teaching religion to kids this age is to understand why Jesus said to let the little children come unto him. Theirs of the kingdom of heaven. They are open to the work of the Spirit in beautiful and simple ways. We’ve seen the giddy joy of kids who get it–really get it–coming to the Lord’s table for the first time. They’re touched by God, and they feel it.

To imagine, then, that beauty snuffed out in a second in the most brutal and pointless way imaginable is enough to make you weep and rage. Martin was waiting for his dad to finish so he could give him a drink. He was excited. He’d just had ice cream. He was standing in a crowd with his mother and sister, and then he was gone. He’s left behind a room full of toys and clothes and books that will stab his parents in the heart as each one recalls a gift that brought happiness and a moment lost in time. He’s left behind parents who will carry the intolerable burden of losing a child for all their remaining days. He’s left behind a whole school and Church and neighborhood and extended family full of people who are now touched by a violence from which they normally feel immune.

The first question after an outrage like this is often, “Where is God?”

Theology can offer no comfort to the grieving: only grace can do that. The Holy Spirit sometimes does His most powerful work without any words at all: in someone to hold a hand, bring over a meal, cry with those pain, and simply say, “I’m sorry.” Even commonplaces like “He’s in a better place,” though said with good intentions, are of little help and may actually hurt. Words fail us at these times. Love suffices, and sometimes love just means showing up.

But for the rest of the world, looking at this tragedy from the outside, the question presses on us: “Where is God?”

No one yet has found a better explanation than Augustine: evil is allowed to exist so that good may come of it. And good does come of it. It’s cold comfort to the grieving, but it helps us understand how this world fits together. We see the truth of it in the wake of Newtown, where a deep and impenetrable evil is yielding to good in the actions of those who survive. We already see it in Boston, where people reminded us that there is more good than bad.

Every time the forces of darkness crack open our world, the light rushes in. There is nothing in science, evolution, or psychology that can sufficiently explain people rushing towards danger to help strangers. Nothing. All the materialist explanations are just nonsense. It’s simply a function of grace. Sentient sacks of meat don’t rush into explosions to save other sentient sacks of meat. Only the human soul, which ties us to all others with bonds of love, is capable of that.

So where was God in Boston?

Right here.

And here.

And here.

You see, evil can only triumph for a little while. Its victories are all Pyrrhic. Certainly, evil acts can generate more evil acts, but in the annals of human history evil acts have given us something in much greater quantity: saints. And the worst evil act of them all–the death of the incarnate Word–threw open the doors of heaven for us all. We already know the ending: God triumphs. Evil loses.

Sometimes, humanity is shown our capacity for evil so that we may show our even greater capacity for good.

Can The President Launch a Drone Strike on Columbia University?

Kathy Boudin, like President Obama’s friends Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, is a terrorist. That’s not up for debate. Like Ayers and Dohrn, she plotted bomb attacks on Americans, and participated in the slaughter of three police officers during a robbery to fund her terrorist activities. She spent 20 years in an American jail because that’s what a civilized nation does to murderers, not keep them in some extra-legal status in a shadow prison far from the eyes of American justice.

Boudin is now out of jail. She shouldn’t be, but that’s beside the point. She’s done her time and is now out. Does she still provide material support to terrorists? I don’t know, but Wiki has anointed her as a “former” radical and we’re supposed to celebrate her rehabilitation and restoration to society. Is she remorseful and redeemed? As one who believes in redemption, I hope that’s the case, but the history of her particularly insane brand of leftism–one separated from the actions of the Manson Family only by a hair–doesn’t lend itself to introspection or regret.

Now let’s turn from Boudin to Anwar al-Awalki, who may or may not have been directly involved in terrorist activities, but was certainly a propagandist for them. For that matter, so are Ayers and Chomsky and the late Edward Said and a whole host of American “intellectuals” who lend their support to myriad murderous causes as long as they’re sufficiently anti-American.

President Barack Obama found al-Awalki’s role in inspiring terrorists sufficient to order his assassination by drone strike, along with the deaths of anyone in his proximity, who were immediately classified as enemy combatants by virtue of that proximity. In a separate attack two months later, al-Awalki’s 16-year-old son was also killed. al-Awalki, along with his son and so many others, was tried, judged, sentenced, and executed in the shadows. Americans don’t do that.

Which leads us back to Kathy Boudin. We actually have proof of the blood on Boudin’s hands. We know for a fact that she conspired in a crime that led to the deaths of Peter Paige, Waverly Brown, and Edward O’Grady, and attempted to kill a room full of 18-year-olds at a dance.

Does she plan to inspire others to do the same? I don’t know. Did Anwar al-Awalki?

Will she provide material or moral support to anti-American activities? I don’t know. Do we have proof that Anwar al-Awalki did? If so, can we see it? If not, why not?

The next question is the title of this post. If we did have such suspicions (suspicions, mind you: not proof that can be presented and challenged in a court of law), would the president be within his rights to fire a missile into her office at Columbia University, where this vile witch recently took up residence?

Would the teachers and staff in adjoining offices be declared enemy combatants because of their proximity to her?

American teen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki: murdered by order of Barack Obama

Yes, I understand that Obama’s homicidal drone campaign is used for people who are otherwise out of our reach, and Columbia University is, regrettably, on American soil. Let’s put that aside for a moment and just focus on the parallels, which we tend to get overlooked when comparing our relative treatments of dusky Islamists in foreign locales and white-bread American girls in cushy university postings.

The question is similar to the one Rand Paul asked, and to which he got a only begrudging and not-wholly-satisfying answer. The legal issues are still in flux, but I’m not a lawyer and thus legal issues are not of primary interest to me.

My area of expertise is theology, and so the moral question is paramount for me. Kathy Boudin is being feted by the smart set, restored to a society in a privileged position where she can affect the impressionable minds of students for years to come. Whatever the status of her soul, she has, in the eyes of society, paid for her crimes and been publicly redeemed.

Let’s imagine an alternate scenario 20 years hence. Anwar al-Awalki has spent his time in jail, found Christ, and embraced peace. He’s written poetry! And smart papers! Just like Kathy! His public sins are washed away in the eyes of society. He receives a cushy university position, where no doubt people–such as myself–can protest this as a step too far for a former sworn enemy of the state.

We’ll debate the appropriateness of that job, as we are debating Boudin’s. We will revisit his crimes, which are open for all to see because the evidence for them was presented in a court of law, presided over by a judge with courtesy of council, and decided by a jury of twelve men good and true.

Except that will never happen, because Obama’s America is Mega-City One, and the president is not a chief executive, but the Chief Judge with the power to try, sentence, and execute enemies. Noble Peace Prize winner Barack Obama has turned al-Awalki, who as far as we know posed no clear and present danger to America, into a bloody splotch on the sand.

Please let me clear: I don’t weep for al-Awalki. I’ve read the disgusting Inspire magazine with which is was associated, and it’s a dark and satanic product of pure evil. For that matter, so is The Nation, but we’re not launching drone attacks on Katha Pollitt. (“More’s the pity,” some of my readers are thinking. Now, now…)

Disgusting as I find the presence of Boudin–and Ayers, and Dohrn–among the American intellectual and political elite, American greatness is measured in part by our ability to conduct this kind of debate in the sunlight. In another place or time, these three would have been disappeared in the shadows of something like Gitmo, and although there would be a kind of rough justice in that, it would not be American justice. It would be neither Christian nor civilized. We don’t do it because we’re better than that.

Boudin will not end her life with the last sound she hears being the hum of an inbound Hellfire missile. Whether her redemption is real or not, she has had her chance at redemption–and justice–and the rest is between God and her. Do I believe al-Awalki was capable of redemption? I seriously doubt it, but hope is a virtue, and I have to hope that the light of Christ can shine even in the darkest of places, even in the heart of a Muslim fanatic urging the murder of innocent people.

But America is not a nation of priests: we’re a nation of laws. And even if he didn’t deserve a Boudin-like chance at redemption, he deserved something more than summary execution at the hand of a tyrant. If America can’t offer the world so simple a thing as justice, it can offer nothing.

Do You Remember Bobby Sands? [Catholics Blogging to Close Gitmo]

Susan Windley-Daoust (The Ironic Catholic) and Sherry Antonetti (Chocolate for Your Brain!) are launching one of those perennial Doomed Quixotic Efforts that makes Catholicism the Greatest Thing in the World.

See, we’re a little weird, and America has always rightly understood this and been suspicious of us. Our beliefs cut right across party lines. We value truth over the pretty lie, beauty over efficiency, sacrifice over selfishness, God over mammon.

Even when confronted with grave evil, we know that we must not sink into evil ourselves. We may not be able to save the world or even another life, but we know we must–must–save our own souls, and try to save as many other souls as we can in the process.

This is what causes us to break our lives in service to something higher. It’s what led the martyrs to sing on their way to death. It’s what led St. Maximilian to step out of line at Auschwitz and say, “Take me.”

See, there is something worse than misery, loss, and even death. There is damnation. And it is real. And the pit is always looking to swallow us up.

And so we must be better than the world.

That is why we don’t torture, even when the bomb is ticking. And that is why we don’t hold people in prisons conveniently located beyond the jurisdiction of our laws.

It’s why we have to, once and for all, close this chapter in our history and shut down Gitmo.

Susan and Sherry were prompted to start this blog-around by the news that many–if not most–of the 166 prisoners at Gitmo are on a hunger strike to protest their detention

The first name that came to mind when I read the story was, “Bobby Sands.”

Being an American of Irish descent, I was marinated in love for the old sod and hatred of English oppressors who divided the land and kept my brothers in chains. Active support–or at least tacit approval or excuse-making–for the IRA was rampant in the Irish-American community in the 1970s and 1980s. We might have shaken our head at a bombing and said it was wrong, but we still made excuses for it.

I was quite enamored of the IRA, the way dumb, thoughtless kids often are for grand and violent gestures aimed at injustice and tyranny. As time went on and the violence died down, I thought about it less, but it wasn’t until 9/11 that I really grasped full horror of what I supported.

It’s to my great and lasting shame that it took that long.

When I read about prisoners going on a hunger strike, I went back in my mind to 1981 and the ten men at Maze prison who starved themselves to death to demand political prisoner status. Led by Bobby Sands, the men wasted away and died, causing humiliation for the British government and a huge boon for the IRA and other anti-colonial factions in Northern Ireland.

The men became martyrs and heroes. I remember seeing their faces on posters and t-shirts. People wrote books and songs. The Provos and their US apologists used the incident to milk money from dumb Americans for years.

In the process, many lost sight of a simple fact: these men were terrorists. Sands was implicated in a bombing and involved in a gun battle with the police. He was finally imprisoned on a weapons charge. He was a violent man.

The IRA in the 1970s and 1980s were not a revolutionary force anymore. They were just thugs and murderers: people who would blow up musicians and murder a war hero and his teenage grandson, and claim it as some kind of brave political statement rather than a raw act of cowardice. They were scum.

Yet the English treated them better than anyone brought to Gitmo. Bobby Sands was indeed in prison, where he died trying to make a foolish point.

But he was only imprisoned after a trial. He wasn’t disappeared into the shadows of an unaccountable complex located on a spit of land in a foreign, hostile nation. He was kept in a prison 9 miles south of Belfast. Somehow, the Empire did not crumble because of this.

I have little doubt that the majority of people in Gitmo are violent men. If released, they would probably take up arms and plot against us.

But here’s the thing: like most actual conservatives, I don’t trust the government. I certainly don’t trust any system that claims the right to hold people indefinitely without trial, even if those people are my enemy. Especially if those people are my enemy. The law must be just, even when the person is not. Justice does not serve the criminal: it serves society.

Margaret Thatcher let the Maze hunger strikers die rather than concede their point and treat them as something more than just garden-variety gangsters. We’ve done the opposite. We’ve made ignorant fanatics into political prisoners.

Closing Gitmo will not be easy. Figuring out what to do with these men, how to try them, and where to put them will be a challenge. It will not be convenient. Some of the men may well be completely innocent. We will look bad. The terrorists will get a propaganda victory. The spectacle of a terrorist standing up in open court to proclaim his jihad will be simple nauseating.

Tough. We need to do it anyway.

We do it because if we are not better than the monsters we fight, we deserve to lose. America doesn’t stand for power or victory or prosperity. It stands for freedom and justice. We’ve lost sight of that. Our freedoms are eroded, and our justice is sold to the highest bidder. Perhaps we need to reset our course. Perhaps we need to put the last 11 years behind us, and prove to the world that the greatest nation on earth no longer fears 166 bearded fanatics. Most of all, we need to get right with God, who does not smile on the unjust man.

However we do it, and however hard it will be, the time has come. We must close Gitmo.

UPDATE

Frank Weathers:  Message From the Front Lines of “Operation Enduring Travesty”

Mark Shea: Close Gitmo

Erin Manning: Monstrous inhumanity at Gitmo