Posts tagged ‘Taliban’

Temporary Peace and Perfect Peace

In a story that has largely flown under the radar, a week ago Saturday, the United States signed a deal with the Taliban that begins the process of ending the war in Afghanistan. The process of withdrawing our troops will be a protracted one, and the end of this war is anything but certain. Mujib Mashal reports for The New York Times:

The agreement signed in Doha, Qatar, which followed more than a year of stop-and-start negotiations and conspicuously excluded the American-backed Afghanistan government, is not a final peace deal, is filled with ambiguity, and could still unravel … 

The withdrawal of American troops – about 12,000 are still in Afghanistan – is dependent on the Taliban’s fulfillment of major commitments that have been obstacles for years, including its severance of ties with international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. 

The agreement also hinges on more difficult negotiations to come between the Taliban and the Afghan government over the country’s future. Officials hope those talks will produce a power-sharing arrangement and lasting cease-fire, but both ideas have been anathema to the Taliban in the past.

This war may finally end – but only maybe. What’s more, the lack of American presence in the region could lead to the re-oppression of historically marginalized groups there:

The United States, which struggled to help secure better rights for women and minorities and instill a democratic system and institutions in Afghanistan, has struck a deal with an insurgency that has never clearly renounced its desire for a government and justice system rooted in a severe interpretation of Islam.

Though the Taliban get their primary wish under this agreement – the withdrawal of American troops – they have remained vague in commitments to protect the civil rights that they had brutally repressed when in power.

In short, the peace agreement that is being forged in this region is a very tenuous one and comes with a price that include the loss of some civil rights.

The prophet Isaiah famously prophesies the coming of the Messiah as One who will be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). What is sometimes missed in Isaiah’s description of the Messiah, however, is how this Prince of Peace will establish His peace:

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. (Isaiah 9:7)

The Prince of Peace will bring His peace by establishing “justice and righteousness.” An enduring peace cannot be accomplished by overlooking injustice and righteousness – by looking past sin – but only by dealing directly with sin. This is why human peace treaties – no matter how noble – always seem to be temporary. For as long as there is sin in this world, there can be no perfect peace.

Thus, though we may wait expectantly for and even celebrate a peace treaty for Afghanistan, we rest assuredly in the perfect peace our Prince of Peace will bring on the Last Day when He will:

…judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. (Isaiah 2:4)

That’s perfect peace. And it’s coming – no matter what happens in Afghanistan.

March 9, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Tackling Terrorism

Credit:  Christian Science Monitor

Credit: Christian Science Monitor

First it was a chocolatier in Australia. Then it was a school in Pakistan. Terrorist attacks have been headline news this past week.

When an Iranian refugee turned self-styled Muslim cleric named Man Haron Monis barricaded his way inside a Lindt Chocolate Café in Sydney, it took a police raid 16 hours after the siege began to free the hostages trapped inside. Three people, including Monis, died.

When Taliban fighters stormed a crowded school in Peshawar, they managed to kill 145 people over eight hours, 132 of them schoolchildren. Stories are emerging of kids being lined up and shot, or shot as they cowered under their desks. NBC News reports that one teacher was doused with gasoline and burned alive while students were forced to watch.

Once again, we are left grappling with grieving families and terrorized communities. And even though, in both of these instances, the attacks happened across time zones, countries, oceans, and continents, at least a little of the fear there nevertheless comes home to roost here.

This, of course, is exactly what these terrorist organizations want. CNN reports that ISIS is calling on their allies and sympathizers to carry out so called “lone-wolf” attacks in their homelands. They attacks do not have to be big, expensive, and well organized – as were the attacks of 9/11 – they simply have to be frightening. Fear, these criminals know, is a powerful thing.

Certainly, national governments need to put into place policies to try to prevent these attacks. Certainly, law enforcement officials need to have plans in place to deal swiftly and forcefully with any terrorist attack. And certainly, surveillance of and intelligence from terrorist groups and lone wolf sympathizers is needed so governments can know and foil terrorist plots them before they have a chance to carry them out.

But what about us? What about people who are normal, everyday citizens like us who are increasingly frightened that we could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be mown down by a terrorist attack?

The fact of the matter is this: we cannot control what will happen to us in the future. We do not know whether or not we will fall victim to a terrorist attack. But we can confront and control the fear we feel right now.

The apostle John gives us a simple strategy for dealing with fear: “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). When a mad man or a despicable organization terrifies people with a dastardly deed, what is the best way for the rest of us to respond? By loving those people.   Spontaneous tributes to the fallen that have arisen in the wake of these attacks indicate that, already, these communities are banding together to love each other through fear.

As of now, I have not seen any relief efforts that we in the states can participate in to express our love and support to the families of these victims in Australia and Pakistan. But with Christmas fast approaching, my guess is, you know at least one person who, though they may not be terrorized, is fearful in some way. Perhaps you know someone who has lost their spouse this year and is worried about how they will deal with their first Christmas apart from their loved one. Perhaps you know someone who is terminally ill and is facing the very real and understandable fears that come with knowingly being at the end of life. John’s words ring just as true in these cases as they do in cases of terror: “Perfect love drives out fear.”

So love who you can love. For in doing so, you bring peace where there is fear. And in a season when we remember some angels who announced “peace on earth to men” (Luke 2:14) thanks to a “God [who] so loved the world [that] He gave His one and only Son” (John 3:16) so we could “not be afraid” (John 14:27), this is most definitely an appropriate mission.

December 22, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Peace and Justice in the Face of ISIS

Credit: NBC News

Credit: NBC News

First it was James Foley. Days later, it was Steven Sotloff. The beheading of two journalists by ISIS has certainly thrust the travesties of this terrorist organization to the forefront of our minds and our news cycle. But these are just ISIS’s latest crimes. At the beginning of August, some 50,000 Yazidis were forced to flee into the mountains of Iraq or face death at the hands of ISIS militants. ISIS also kidnapped hundreds Yazidi women, selling them as sex slaves for as little as $25. Last week, The New York Times profiled the gut-wrenching story of Iraqi soldier Ali Hussein Kadhim who was captured along with hundreds of other soldiers by ISIS militants.  Christians too have been in ISIS’s crosshairs, being threatened with death if they do not convert to radical Islam or pay a tax.

Back home, President Obama is grappling with how to deal with a terrorist threat and crimes against humanity that are half a world away. And he’s been getting pressure from all sides. On one side, a coalition of religious conservatives has signed a petition calling for decisive military action:

It is imperative that the United States and the international community act immediately and decisively to stop the ISIS … genocide and prevent the further victimization of religious minorities. This goal cannot be achieved apart from the use of military force to degrade and disable ISIS … forces.[1]

On the other side, a group of Catholic and Protestant leaders has written a letter to President, urging caution and restraint:

While the dire plight of Iraqi civilians should compel the international community to respond in some way, U.S. military action is not the answer. Lethal weapons and airstrikes will not remove the threat to a just peace in Iraq. As difficult as it might be, in the face of this great challenge, we believe that the way to address the crisis is through long-term investments in supporting inclusive governance and diplomacy, nonviolent resistance, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.[2]

This is a crisis no president wants to face. This crisis also presents an ethical dilemma no Christian finds easy to confront. On the one hand, my preference and prayer would be that ISIS repent of their crimes and peace be restored to Iraq. On the other hand, I am sober-minded enough to know that ISIS shows no signs of softening. When even the Taliban is concerned about ISIS’s extremism, things are not on the right track.

So how do we understand this problem theologically?

A curious feature of biblical theology is what scholars refer to as “proleptic eschatology.” In short, proleptic eschatology asserts that bits and pieces of what will happen on the Last Day show up in our days. For example, the apostle Paul claims that Christ’s resurrection is only “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:20). In other words, the resurrection of all flesh on the Last Day has shown up in the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. Likewise, Jesus describes His return on the Last Day to judge the earth thusly: “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matthew 24:30). But before a cosmic judgment on the Last Day, Jesus describes a smaller judgment in the destruction of the temple at Jerusalem in His day: “I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down” (Matthew 24:2). Jesus’ words come to pass when the Roman general Titus decimates Jerusalem in A.D. 70. The judgment of the Last Day shows up in the destruction of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day.

It is this theology of proleptic eschatology that Paul has in mind when he exhorts his readers: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Paul promises that even if we see miscarriages of justice in our day, God will avenge evil on the Last Day.

But that’s not the only day God will avenge evil.

Paul knows the evil of our day, if left unchecked until the Last Day, would yield unspeakable horrors. This is why Paul continues by explaining that bits and pieces of God’s judgment on the Last Day show up in our day through the actions of world governments: “[The governing authority] is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). The judgment of God against sin on the Last Day shows up through world governments in our day.

This, then, brings us to the Christian’s ethical dilemma. Because, on the one hand, we are called to wait patiently until the Last Day for God’s perfect judgment and justice to be revealed. On the other hand, governing authorities – including our own governing authority – can be used by God as His agents to bring temporal justice to the criminal problems of our day. This is why two sets of Christians can write two very different letters to President Obama.

I, for one, am praying that perhaps ISIS will have a Jonah moment – that they, like when Jonah preached to Nineveh, will hear the warning of God’s judgment, repent, and be spared of His wrath. But I am also very aware that after the preaching of Jonah to Nineveh came the preaching of Nahum to Nineveh – and with the preaching of Nahum to Nineveh came God’s wrath against Nineveh.

The clock is ticking on ISIS. I pray for peace and reconciliation. But I also pray that justice against these terrorists will not tarry long. The spilled blood of thousands is crying out.

__________________________

[1]A Plea on Behalf of Victims of ISIS/ISIL Barbarism in Iraq,” iraqrescue.org.

[2]53 national religious groups, academics, ministers urge alternatives to U.S. military action in Iraq,” Mary Knoll Office for Global Concerns (8.27.2014).

September 8, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Deal With The Devil: How We Got Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl

Credit:  Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

One of my favorite movie lines comes at the end of “The American President.”  After being excoriated by his opponent, Senator Bob Rumson, President Andrew Shepherd storms into the Press Briefing Room to deliver an apologetic for his presidency and his personal life with the cameras rolling.  One of the things he says in this press conference that has long stuck with me is, “America isn’t easy.”

I couldn’t agree more.  In twenty-first century America, we face tough challenges.  We have to navigate complex issues.  America isn’t easy.

The latest example of this truism comes to us courtesy the case of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.  He was captured by the Taliban in 2009.  On May 31 of this year, he was released.  If this was all there was to this story, this would be a story of unambiguous triumph and joy.  But the devil, as they say, is in the details.  And the details here are sketchy, conflicting, and disturbing.

First, there is the detail of how Sergeant Bergdahl was captured.  He claims it’s because he fell behind on a patrol and the Taliban swept in and abducted him.  The Taliban claims he was captured drunk and wandering off base.  According to an investigation by the Pentagon, Bergdahl may have deserted his unit – walking away from his post, which led to his capture.  In an email dated June 27, 2009, Bergdahl expressed a rising dissatisfaction with his military service:  “I am ashamed to be an american.  And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools.”[1]  If Sergeant Bergdahl’s claims concerning his capture are true, this is a tragedy.  If the Taliban’s claims are true, Bergdahl was foolish.  But if the Pentagon’s story pans out, this is a story of one man’s faithlessness toward his brothers-in-arms.  How all this began matters.

Then, there is the detail of what Sergeant Bergdahl’s release cost.  Our government brokered a deal with the Taliban that released five Guantanamo Bay detainees in exchange for Bergdahl’s freedom.  Before this deal, no fewer than five soldiers died on missions to rescue Bergdahl – all this for a man who may have despised many of the very people who were trying to rescue him.  What Sergeant Bergdahl’s release cost matters.

So, what is the appropriate response to this sordid affair?  At this point, I think it’s best to say there is no appropriate response – not because there is no appropriate response period, but because we do not have enough facts to formulate the kind of comprehensive response that this story demands and deserves.  Thus, I am not so interested in deconstructing the details of this story itself, but I do want to address some of the ethical questions it raises.  People want to know:  “Was it right to sacrifice five lives and release five criminals for the freedom of a man who could have been a deserter?”  “What price should we be willing to pay for the civic freedom of one person?”  And, of course, “Is it ever right for the U.S. to negotiate with terrorists?”

In one sense, the saga of Sergeant Bergdahl is parabolic for the limits of human ethical decisions.  Here, we have both good and bad comingled.  Freeing a Prisoner of War – that’s good.  Sacrificing the lives of at least five soldiers and releasing five hardened criminals – that’s bad.  We did something bad to get something good.  How do you reconcile that?

Such ethical angst is perhaps best encapsulated by Bruce Hoffman, director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, in an interview with USA Today.  Commenting on our government’s deal with the Taliban, he notes that though the United States’ official stance is that we do not negotiate with terrorists, this is

…repeated as mantra more than fact.  We have long negotiated with terrorists. Virtually every other country in the world has negotiated with terrorists despite pledges never to … We should be tough on terrorists, but not on our fellow countrymen who are their captives, which means having to make a deal with the devil when there is no alternative.[2]

Hoffman is right.  We made a deal with the devil.  And granted, out of this deal, some good has come:  a soldier has been reunited with with his family.  But whether or not any other good comes out of this deal remains to be seen.  Questions concerning Bergdahl’s conduct still need to be asked and families who have lost loved ones in attempts to rescue this soldier still need to be comforted.  This much I do know, however:  deals with the devil are never as good as we think they are.  There are always hidden costs and huge catches.  In fact, as far as I can tell, only one deal with the devil has ever been truly successful.  It’s the one where someone said:  “Let’s make a deal.  You can strike My heel.  But I get to crush your head.

May that divine deal help us navigate the moral complexities and save us from the moral compromises of our fallen deals.

___________________________

[1] Michael Hastings, “America’s Last Prisoner of War,” Rolling Stone (6.7.2012).

[2] Alan Gomez, “Is it ever right to negotiate with terrorists?USA Today (6.2.2014).

June 9, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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