Friday, October 2, 2015

Are the Refugees Really an Islamic Invasion?

"This is my country now," said Abu Abdullah. "No one can say I am Iraqi. I am an American. If I need to defend my country, even to attack Iraq, I am ready to do that."


A Muslim father buries his son with honor at Arlington

On a recent visit to Nashville, Tennessee, I visited newly arrived refugees from the Middle East.  I was reminded how important it is that Americans understand this situation clearly so that our nation can respond in a way that reflects our national values. There's so much false information being hyped by merchants of fear and politicians desperate for votes.

Rest in Peace, Humayun Khan, American Hero
Najib is a recent immigrant from the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan. "I'm tired, I've been working ten hours every day, six days every week," he said. "But freedom takes work. If you want the freedom you have to go out there and work for it." He is excited that his children are in school and learning English. He's hoping to bring over many of his brothers and sisters who still live in the war-torn region.



These immigrants are hoping for their children to fit into the new culture. "We want the children to learn English," said Mohammad, who arrived from Baghdad less than a month ago. "It's the language of the world. Arabic is limited." He described the situation in his area of Baghdad as being so bad that one could not safely leave the house.



This facebook meme sums up the anti-Muslim arguments.
"I am looking for work. I am ready to work, I just need help to get my social security card." Ahmad has been in the US less than two months. He is hoping to get work and establish himself so that he can bring over his family. It is normal for the young men to come first, and brings wives, sisters, and parents later.



There are many political pundits decrying the dangers of accepting these Muslim refugees. There are supposed plots to infiltrate America and Europe with terrorist cells who will impose Sharia Law on unsuspecting westerners.


This is the question before us. Are they coming to kill us and then take over? Is this a cloaked Islamic invasion?

Myth#1 They are coming here to Islamize the West.

I spend a lot of time in the homes of Syrian refugees, talking to them about their despair and hopelessness, and also their hopes and dreams.  They hate radical Islam.  They are fleeing from it. One family that I know well fled specifically to keep their children from being radicalized in school. One father described to me his desire to live in any area that is not under the rule of Islam. Instead of flooding to the Islamic State, Muslims are fleeing it by the millions, and their rejection of the Islamic State is a major embarrassment and challenge to the legitimacy of the Islamic State.

The reasons that they are fleeing to the West are not surprising. UNHCR lists many of the major reasons, including poverty and loss of hope. My Syrian friends often express that they no longer see a future in Syria even if the war ends soon. Whole cities are laid waste.  Families are broken apart by death and division.  Many people are injured both physically and psychologically from the war.

Myth #2 The Islamic State is sending a "secret army" to infiltrate the West

Traveling to join the Islamic State is the example of Abraham
People are spreading this because they are ignorant of the beliefs and practices of the Islamic State. The Islamic State preaches "Hijrah" which is the call of all Muslims to come and live in the Islamic State. It is preached as a religious duty for men and women to move to and live in the Islamic State, just as the early Muslims all flocked to Medina to join the first Islamic State in the days of Mohammad. They devoted an entire edition of their online magazine to describing how important it is to come and live in the Islamic State.  They want the refugees more than the West wants them, but the refugees don't want to live under their oppressive rule.

Myth #3 The US will be overrun by chaos like Europe

Europe is not being overrun by chaos, but even if that were the case, it will not happen in the US.  When people use what is happening in Europe to predict what will happen here, they forget something very important: The Atlantic Ocean.  Europe is working to control an immigration situation that is building at their borders.  Refugees who come to the US will do so on an airplane, as part of a tightly controlled process. The Muslim population in the US is less than 1%, and taking on an additional 200,000 refugees will raise it to -still less than 1%.  Muslims are dispersed throughout the US population and have shown very little tendency to form enclaves.


These men are not imposing Judaism on anyone
Myth #4 They will establish Sharia Law

The Constitution does not allow any religious law to be imposed on people.  If Muslim immigrants want to live under Sharia court ruling, they can do what numbers of Jewish and Catholic citizens already do -voluntary arbitration.  It's not legally binding unless both parties agree for it to be so.  Are there any areas in the US where citizens are forced to live under Jewish of Catholic law? Again, most of them have no desire to live under Sharia Law anyway, and the ones who do cannot ever force it on anyone else.

Myth #5 They will stay on welfare

Muslim Americans are middle class and main stream. They are well educated, well integrated into society, and at least as affluent as the national average.  This is especially true of immigrant Muslims.  Poor Muslims are often converts from the spread of Islam among poor, black Americans in prison populations.

Myth #6 We should send them back

This is an evil idea. Sending refugees back into a war zone is wicked.  We look back now in horror at the stories of Jewish refugees who were turned away.  We recoil at the idea that ships had to return Jews to their deaths because no one wanted them, or trusted them.  The voices of fear and bigotry caused our nation, and others, to commit an evil act.  We must not listen to those voices again.  We must rebuke them.  For the people fleeing the Islamic State, ad the butchery of the Assad regime, this is life and death.



Thursday, August 13, 2015

An important but graphic article on the Islamic State

The link below leads to a New York Times article about the systematic sale and rape of women and young girls by the Islamic State.  Because of the graphic nature of the story, I am not including any pictures or quotes directly on this blog.

A Theology of Rape


Thursday, September 25, 2014

A War of the Willing vs. the Determined

As the US enters the ongoing Sunni-Shia war, it does so with the full understanding that our forces will be fighting on both sides of that war. In their rush to declare that this is not a war on Islam, our leaders seem to fail to understand that it is very much a religious war. This is why it will probably be a long war, and there seems to be no resolution which does not eventually require US troops on the ground in Syria.

To better understand the background of the discussion, read this earlier blog post Iraqi-Syrian Civil WarPrimer.

The two sides of the Sunni-Shia war do have one thing in common, they both want to get rid of ISIL. The Shia have fought them since the beginning, and now that the Sunni rulers see them as a political threat, they are stepping up also to fight them. Tepidly, of course.

The major problem with our current strategy is that we want to fight this war against ISIL more than the surrounding Sunni Muslim countries want to fight it. Right now the US is leading the air strikes with token Sunni assistance. Air strikes alone cannot defeat ISIL, because they will quickly learn how to dig bunkers. Someone on the ground will have to go in and flush out the rats.


As you can see on the above map, the network of ratholes will be very extensive.

In Iraq the US is counting on Kurdish and Shiite forces, who can control the ground in their own ethnic areas, but will meet stiff resistance in the Sunni areas now controlled by ISIL. This will in fact be a recruiting boon for ISIL, who can shout to the Muslim world that the Sunnis are being oppressed by the Zionist-loving Americans and their Shiite lackeys. In order to push ISIL out of Iraq, Sunni troops are needed on the ground.

 Turkey could easily provide them, but has not, nor have the other Sunni nations pledged ground troops.  Why?  They have a love/hate relationship with ISIL and are not determined to be rid of them.  The same Sunni states that we need to defeat ISIL have had some hand in funding them.

Another problem is mission creep on bombing ISIL in Syria. On the opening day, the US began bombing non-ISIL targets. Sure they were bad guys, but not the ones we were supposed to bomb. There are lots and lots of bad guys in Syria and lots and lots of reasons to bomb them. The Assad regime is wicked and brutal, Hezbollah is fighting alongside them, and Al-Qaeida is still in Syria.

We supposedly have the needed Sunni troops on the ground in Syria (FSA) but we will have to train and equip them first. They are already talking about how this US help will allow them to overthrow the Assad regime. How long will it take until the US is bombing all sides in that part of the war?  The need to destroy ISIL will morph into the need to topple the Assad regime so that we can finish off ISIL once and for all.  This is how US troops will be sucked into Syria.

President Obama has called the US-led bombings a “coalition of the willing” composed of European allies and a few Sunni states.  "Willing" is not enough. ISIL is determined.  The US should not enter this war until the Sunnis form a “coalition of the determined” and commit ground troops. Otherwise, it will be Americans on the ground. Again.  This time in Syria as well.

Where might ISIL strike next?

ISIL has already occupied a lot of the "friendly territory" available to it, which was the source of early rapid expansion. Lebanon is not a place where many will welcome them, as they have already discovered.  Hezbollah would prevent any serious ISIL incursion.  There is another area where they'd be welcomed by many, and that is Jordan. 

The fall of Jordan, if such happened, would be worse that the loss of Iraq. It would almost force Israel to take action, since there would now be a border with the Islamic State. It would also open up a new road for expansion into the Hijaz, which might well be one of the stronger areas of support for ISIL (among the people, not the rulers).


Jordan is fairly stable and well defended, so this is not a likely outcome, but it is a possibility. I don't think anyone foresaw how quickly the Iraqis would crumble.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Iraqi-Syrian Civil War Primer

The first and most important thing to understand about the ongoing civil war in Syria and Iraq is that it is not two wars in two nations. It is one war between two religious groups. From Tehran to Beirut there is an ongoing war between the Sunni and Shia Muslims -a war which dates back to the very founding of Islam. It is not a fight that will be solved by western military intervention.

The current conflict arose when peaceful demonstrations against the Assad regime in Syria were met with brutal suppression by government forces. As the bloodshed of the mostly Sunni protestors grew unbearable, Sunni troops, units, and leaders of the Syrian Army defected and formed the Free Syrian Army. Early success led them to capture a number of Army and Air Force bases which supplied them with weaponry to fight effectively against the government forces.

Who is ISIL?

ISIL stands for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. The actual acronym name of the group in Arabic is DA'SH. You will see it rendered inaccurately in western media as ISIS Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The “SH” sound actually represents “Sham” -a reference to Greater Syria, which extends from southern Turkey to the Sinai. Their territorial ambitions are much larger than the inaccurate western name implies. The map below designates the areas covered by “Iraq and Sham”. This is the area that they envision as the nucleus for the re-establishment of the caliphate.



This group is a splinter of Al-Qaeida, originally being Al-Qaeida in Iraq. They fell under the influence of an Iraqi terrorist, Abu Bakr AlBaghdadi (real name Awwad Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarri), who was a protege of Osama bin Laden. After the death of bin Laden, he has refused to recognize the authority of the new Al-Qaeida leadership and has taken his own initiative in Iraq and Syria. The ISIL fighters are from all over the Muslim world. Many of them have engaged in the jihadi wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. ISIL was initially welcomed by Syrian rebels in their fight against the Assad regime. Much of the original training was done in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and (ironically) Iran. They have fought in so many theatres with such a wide range of equipment that they are familiar with almost anything they find on the battlefield.

After ISIL entered Syria, there was an initial power struggle between Jabhat Al Nusra and ISIL. Jabhat Al Nusra was the original AlQaeida group in Syria. ISIL tried to exert authority over them and bring them into ISIL but the leadership refused and AlQaeida ruled that they should fight alongside one another in cooperation. ISIL refused this ruling and began taking control of areas of Syria and independently governing them. They have captured an oil producing region of Syria, and the revenues from black market sales fund their continuing operations.

ISIL government has imposed a very harsh Sharia law upon the populations. Women are warned to stay at home. Hands will be chopped off from thieves. Any unIslamic business is forbidden. Extreme punishments including execution by sword are visited on any who oppose the ISIL government. Now large segments of Syria and Iraq are under these harsh laws.

The ISIL are so savage, and the populations under their control have cried out so loudly, that the other rebel factions have turned on them to expel them from Syria. You have to be ruthlessly savage to be kicked out of AlQaeida for being too extreme. Currently ISIL and the Assad regime do not fight one another. Both of them fight the rebels, who are caught between the government and even more extreme Islamists.

What is the Shia-Sunni war?

The Sunni Shia war dates back to the power struggle between the fourth caliph (leader of “all” Muslims), Ali (cousin of Mohammad), and the followers of a powerful Syrian leader named Muawiyah. Ali was ultimately assassinated by one of his former followers who belonged to the Kharijites, a group who broke away because Ali was not strong enough in asserting his authority as Caliph. Muawiyah became the fifth Caliph and the followers of Ali (thereafter called the Shia) refused to recognize him. The war ended in a bloody battle (Karbala) where Ali's son was killed and the Caliphate passed firmly into the hands of those called Sunni. This battle is remembered each year in their highest holiday of mourning by the Shia, who have not forgotten the killing of their leaders even after 1400 years.

This is key -the current Sunni-Shia war is being fought in these regions of Syria and Iraq just as it was 1400 years ago. The Caliphate passed back and forth from Sunni to Shia hands over the centuries, but the struggle to control Islam has not lessened. In modern times, Shia live mostly in Iraq and Iran, with smaller groups scattered in places like southern Lebanon and Syria (The Alawites).

Who are the parties other than ISIL?

Iran (Shia) is the largest factor in the current war. When the (Sunni) rebellion in Syria began to threaten the Assad regime (Alawite Shia) Iran stepped in to support the Assad regime. In addition to sending their own militants (Shia) to fight in Syria, the Iranians also hired unemployed Iraqis (Shia) as fighters to defend the Syrian government. More importantly, Iran mobilized the Hezbollah (Shia) forces in Lebanon to move into Syria and fight on the side of the government.

As the rebels were overwhelmed by the Shia groups, surrounding Sunni countries sent fighters to help the rebels. AlQaeida in Iraq (Sunni) sent Islamist fighters to start the Jabhat AlNusra, with some funding from Qatar. Saudi and Kuwaiti (all Sunni) money funded the Free Syrian Army. The US (supporting both Sunni and Shia) has committed itself to fund and support the Free Syrian Army.

The Syrian Kurds have taken control of the northeastern region of Syria. They have avoided any clashes with government forces, claiming instead to be subject to the regime. Jabhat AlNusra had frequent clashes with the Kurds in the second year. Currently the Kurds are avoiding the conflict.

Update: The Kurds entered the conflict i the summer of 2014 after being attacked by ISIL and losing territory to them.  With US air support the Kurds have made significant advances against ISIL.


Who is fighting whom? (Shia vs. Sunni)

In both Syria and Iraq the fight is a religious one. In Syria the (Shia Alawite) Assad regime has the weakened Syrian Army, and a powerful Air Force that is in the hands of Alawite officers and crews. They are joined by Iranian, Iraqi, and Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, all of whom are Shia.

The rebels are fragmented groups. The Free Syrian Army is Sunni, and relatively moderate, though there are strong Islamist tendencies. There is a collection of smaller Sunni militias allied with the FSA. Jabhat AlNusra is a group of Salafist Sunni fighters from around the Muslim world that was sent to Syria by AlQaeida. These groups form a liberation front together. When ISIL first entered Syria, they were allied with this group.

The FSA/rebel groups are now fighting ISIL, whom they consider too extreme. ISIL is not currently fighting the Assad regime. The Kurds are currently not fighting any group. The Assad regime and Shia allies are fighting the FSA/rebel groups.


What about Iraq?

The same ISIL group that sent Jabhat Nusra and ISIL into Syria are leading the fight against the Iraqi government. They number only a few thousand, but like the Pied Piper, they are collecting other anti-government groups on their march toward Baghdad. These groups are not loyal to ISIL, but will fight beside them against the government.

The Kurds have used this opportunity to move in to protect Kirkuk, which they consider their historic Capital. They will not leave Kirkuk without a fight, so the government may engage them at some point. The Kurdish Peshmerga may be the best soldiers in Iraq at this point.

The Shia Iraqi government has called home Shia troops from Syria. They are mobilizing Shia militias to protect Baghdad. Iran is sending troops to defend the Shia holy sites in Iraq.

Can ISIL take Baghdad?

That is possible, but not probable. We have not seen the Iraqi Army fight yet, so there is no sure answer. The Shia are very strong in that region. So far, ISIL has been in “friendly territory.” There is also the likelihood that the Iraqi Air Force would be supplemented by air strikes from the US carrier group moving into the region. A siege of Baghdad is likely at this point, with some Sunni neighborhoods going to the rebels and the government holding important areas. Beirut was divided by sectarian violence for over a decade (and really still is today), and fighting in Damascus, though not heavy, has followed the same pattern.


What does this mean for the US?

If the US intervenes in Iraq, it will mean the commitment of Air and Special (ground) forces to strengthen the Iraqi government. We will be allies of Iran in this fight. We will be aiding a government that is allied with Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime. We will be on the Shia side of the fight.

In Syria, the US is already committed to supporting the other side of this same fight. We will be supporting the FSA against the government, Iranian, Lebanese, and Iraqi Shia foes. We will be on the Sunni side of the fight.

Imagine if you will, an Iraqi Shia militia that has enjoyed US support, training, and air support. They cross the border into Syria and now engage a Sunni FSA unit that has enjoyed US support, weapons, and training. We are now on both sides of the same fight.

This is a Sunni-Shia religious war. This war is over 1400 years old, and is being fought by the same sides and in the same region that it was 1400 years ago. The party of Caliph Ali (Shia) is opposing the caliphate of the Sunni on the same battlefields where they fought so long ago.


What about Lebanon?


For now Lebanon is safe. The government has taken precautionary steps of rounding up and arresting suspected ISIL sympathizers. We are fairly distant from the current events. The ISIL is the group who set off the series of car bombs in Lebanon earlier this year, so there is a possibility of renewed violence. If Baghdad should fall, which is unlikely, then the situation becomes much more grave.

Update:  A small ISIL force moved into the Arsal region of Lebanon in the summer of 2014 in a surprise incursion but was repelled by the Lebanese Army.  They are currently surrounded and living in caves in the border region, where they still hold perhaps 2 dozen soldiers and policeman captured in their surprise attack.

A final map of the intertwined and complex relationships involved:


Saturday, July 6, 2013

Interfaith Dialogue and the Danger of Losing Meaning


What would you do if a young Muslim man came to you and told you he was not finding truth in Islam and wanted to learn about Christianity? I was shocked yesterday when an executive at a Christian University told us the story of how a young man came to her this way and she told him to go back to Islam to find truth. She beamed proudly as she talked about how he eventually came to peace with Islam. She identified herself as a Christian, but she worshipped the false god of interfaith dialogue and sacrificed this young man on the altar of her idolatry.

Superficial dialogue is not the path to peace or reconciliation. Sheikh Abdullah and I have been friends for a year and a half now. It would be fair to describe both of us as deeply committed to our religious beliefs. We've talked about spiritual issues before as friends, but never with great spiritual depth. There has been a fear that going beyond superficial dialogue would destroy our friendship. We had gone as deep as one could without addressing the real issues of faith that divide Muslims and Christians.

I decided this week to go beyond superficial dialogue and talk about important things, so I paid a visit to Abdullah at his home. After some chitchat I told him that I wanted to talk about serious things. I asked him “If I died today, where would I go?” He didn't want to answer at first, but I kept prodding him with “Truly, truly.” He got that embarrassed smile on his face that he gets when he is caught with his hand in the cookie jar and said “You're going to hell.” He immediately asked me that same thing and I told him “You're going to hell, Abdullah.”

We laughed and hugged and it was like a weight lifted from our shoulders. He loves me and wants me to become a Muslim so that I won't burn in hell. He understands exactly why I love him and want him to follow Jesus. We started talking about all the things we had both wanted to talk about for a year. He wanted to ask me “What do you think of the Quran? What about Prophet Mohammad? Why are there four Gospels? Wasn't your Bible just written by men?”

We enjoyed it so much that he invited over Sheikh Zechariah, a mutual friend of us both. After I told Zecharaih that he was going to hell and I was praying for him to be saved, he jumped right into the conversation. He told me how the Quran was a mircale of God because the message was so beautiful. I told him the beautiful parts were lifted right out of the Bible and that there were some parts I found really ugly.

That brought us to Surat 9:5, one of the “verses of the sword”. It commands Muslims to go out and kill infidels unless they become Muslims or agree to pay the jizya tax. I asked him to read it aloud. As he chanted it in a beautiful voice I could tell he was realizing the implications. “The sound is beautiful but the message is ugly,” I said when he finished. “It tells you to kill me.”

No contextualization can make these words beautiful to an infidel.



“That is only for those who refuse to become Muslim or pay Jizya,” he offered weakly.

“I don't want to say Shihada and become Muslim,” I replied, “so that just leaves me paying Jizya tax. I'm a man. Do you think I want to pay a tax to you Muslims because I am a Christian? That is an ugly idea. Do you want to pay a tax to me because you are Muslim?” He was really left speechless, unable to defend the ugliness of what he had read .

Folks, that's real dialogue, and it's the sort of topics we must confront if we want to live in peace with one another.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Why are they fleeing?

The material I'm posting here is very graphic, but it's a tale that needs to be told.  If you are not an adult, or are easily offended, please do not read any further.

Lebanon is staggering under a load of Syrian refugees.  The number of them is not accurately known, but four hundred thousand are registered with UNHCR for relief.  At least that many more are unregistered, for fear that the Assad regime will not allow them to return to Syria, or even persecute their family remaining in Syria.  This staggering load of perhaps 800,000 refugees is being borne by a nation of about 4 million people.  It would be as if 60 million refugees, more than half the population of Mexico, poured across the borders into the United States.  I'm not sure we would keep our border open as the Lebanese have.

Why are these Syrians fleeing to Lebanon (also Turkey, Jordan, and even Iraq)?  The civil war, which has raged for two agonizing years, has killed about 70,000 so far and devastated entire cities.  People flee with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.  We are regularly distributing not just food, but clothing, blankets, pillows, sleeping pads, and toiletries.

The country is being ravaged by destruction of an unimaginable scale.   One family I spoke with recently had come to Lebanon to earn money to build a house back in Syria.  They are Bedouin who tend fields in Southern Lebanon.  Right now they are working a promising-looking wheat crop.  Before the war they had managed to build a home, but now it lies in ruins and all they have is a shack covered with tarps which sits beside the fields.  Not just their home, but their whole city is a pile of rubble.  Their story is told a hundred thousand times over.

But that is not the worst of it.   The most horrible and inhumane acts are committed by both the government and the rebels.  The Assad regime and it's cronies regularly dump bodies of slain dissidents and rebels for public display.  They are tortured, bound up, and killed execution-style.

Perhaps the most disturbing evils are committed by the rebel forces.  They have begun suicide bombings which not only target religious leaders, but also indiscriminately kill people on the streets and in Mosques.  One Saudi religious leader supporting the rebels has given a Fatwa (religious ruling) that allows rebel soldiers to rape Syrian women.  The most degrading part of this religious ruling is that the women are supposed to submit to the rape as a religious requirement in order to enter paradise.

This is why they flee.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Making It Hurt Less




I had a chance today to visit the Burj Al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp in the southern slums of Beirut. The pictures I had seen of it were fairly accurate, but walking in the gate gave me a real feel for the spirit of the place. “Prison” is the most fitting description that comes to mind. Having spent some time in jail, I can say that the feel is the same.

This is a prison for poor families, where the children play in dark alleyways no wider than a dining table.  The cramped alleyways are congested with water pipes and exposed electrical wires that form a sort of lethal web just over head height. Some of the wires hang down and brush against people as they walk through, and electrocutions happen fairly often. There are few streets as such. The buildings are built so close together that one can barely walk between them, and they are packed in side-to-side, back-to-back in a jumbled mass.



We were allowed to take photos only of this building located
on a main street.  It houses a World Vision relief project.


There are no police here. There is no law. By agreement with the government they never enter the camp, even to pursue a fleeing criminal. Instead, different militia groups control areas of the camp. Each one has it's own stations with flags and armed fighters. It's very much like gang turf in poor slums in the US, except these gangs are armed with AK-47s, grenades, and rocket propelled grenade launchers.

Those living in the camp can leave any time they choose, so one immediately wonders why anyone would ever live here. They have no other choice. By law they are unable to own any property or operate a business. They are also not allowed to work in any job other than a small list of menial jobs like collecting garbage. Even those who earn college degrees cannot hope to ever improve their lot in life. There is illegal work available but the employers exploit them by paying very low wages. So, the people live in the camp.

The most disturbing thing about the generational helplessness is that nothing can be done to change their situation. The answers are all political and none of the parties involved in that will make a decision to end their situation. So, all that aid agencies can do is continuing relief work. Just as you might aid a family who lost their home in a flood, so these families live in a permanent disaster. All that can be done for them is to make it hurt less.

It's exactly the sort of place that Jesus would visit. He would talk to the militiamen about loving their neighbors. He would sit down and eat with a poor family, or gather up those children playing in the dark alleys and tell them a story. As I consider what he would do I am confronted with the question of what I, then, should do.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”