Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Mercy, Part I by Michael Sean Winters: “Most of us Christians grew up with the idea that the God of the Hebrews was an angry God. Certainly, many Christians have conceived him as such. But, Kasper sets out to destroy this myth and largely succeeds.”

Part II and Part III

Finding Faith in The Simpsons: The Top Five Theological Episodes of The Simpsons by Katharine Mahon: “But hidden inside this deeply flawed family and this caricature of American culture is a honest and rich depiction of family life in 1990’s America. The show explores moral dilemmas, spiritual crises, the love of spouse, parent, child, and sibling, as well as the testing of that love.”

Saudi Arabia continues its outrageous repression of human rights activists by Washington Post: “Saudi Arabia remains determined to shut the windows, close the doors and throw dissidents into solitary confinement.”

U.N. says pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine murder, kidnap and torture by Louis Charbonneau: “Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are guilty of a wide array of human rights abuses, including murder, abductions and torture, and are receiving a “steady supply” of sophisticated weapons and ammunition, according to a U.N. report obtained by Reuters.”

The Mental Virtues by David Brooks: “In fact, the mind is embedded in human nature, and very often thinking well means pushing against the grain of our nature — against vanity, against laziness, against the desire for certainty, against the desire to avoid painful truths. Good thinking isn’t just adopting the right technique. It’s a moral enterprise and requires good character, the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones.”

The Saint Who Taught Me to Worship by Timothy O’Malley: “The vocation of humanity is this kind of praise, a perfect praise in which every form of worship finds its end not in better, more sophisticated (and novel) worship that generates more and more emotion. But in that gift of self, which Christians call love. Worship is not about us, it is not about our affections. Instead, it is about becoming who God intended us to be: members of a symphony of perfect praise of the voice and the will alike.”

ISIS selling Yazidi women in Syria by Raja Razek and Jason Hanna: “Hundreds of Yazidi women abducted by ISIS have either been sold or handed out to members of the Sunni extremist group, according to an organization that monitors the crisis.”

Getting to the Crux of why Catholicism matters by John Allen: “In places such as the Philippines, corruption is a signature Catholic concern, and with good reason. Global Financial Integrity, a research organization based in Washington, estimates that corruption cost poor nations almost $6 trillion over the last decade, draining badly needed resources for education, health care, and poverty relief.”

Russia Is Burying Soldiers in Unmarked Graves Just to Conceal Their Role in Ukraine by Josh Kovensky: “The Russian government couldn’t care less about its dead soldiers. Paratroopers who have been killed in Ukraine are not receiving military funerals, nor are they being recognized for having died for their country. Rather, their graves have been kept unmarked.”

More Workers Are Claiming ‘Wage Theft’ by NY Times: “The lawsuit is part of a flood of recent cases — brought in California and across the nation — that accuse employers of violating minimum wage and overtime laws, erasing work hours and wrongfully taking employees’ tips. Worker advocates call these practices ‘wage theft,’ insisting it has become far too prevalent.”

What’s missing in the Ebola fight in West Africa by Jim Yong Kim and Paul Farmer: “To halt this epidemic, we need an emergency response that is equal to the challenge. We need international organizations and wealthy countries that possess the required resources and knowledge to step forward and partner with West African governments to mount a serious, coordinated response as laid out in the World Health Organization’s Ebola response roadmap.”

Siege of Iraqi town broken by CNN: “Iraqi security and volunteer forces have broken the siege of Amerli and have entered the town, retired Gen. Khaled al-Amerli, an Amerli resident and member of its self-defense force, told CNN on Sunday….The breakthrough came after the United States said it carried out airstrikes and dropped humanitarian aid in Amerli to protect an ethnic minority that one official said faced the threat of an ‘imminent massacre.’ Amerli is home to many of Iraq’s Shiite Turkmen.”

Right to Die, or Duty to Die? The Slippery-Slope Argument Against Euthanasia Revisited by Charles Camosy: “When euthanasia is legalized in cultures where the values of autonomy and consumerism hold sway, we soon end up with the kinds of deaths that almost no one wants. We also end up with a culture that almost no one wants – one that pushes vulnerable older persons, not just to the margins of society, but even to the point of dying in order to make space for the young, vigorous and productive.”

Fears of Genocide Grow in Iraq

The Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) is once again gaining ground in Iraq. As it increases its control of Iraqi territory, it has engaged in mass atrocities and terrorism, while increasingly implementing its totalitarian vision. Kurdish forces have been resisting the Islamic State’s advance, but were forced to pull back in recent days, exposing more Iraqis, particularly members of minority populations, to the Islamist extremists’ violence. Christians have fled IS in large numbers, including 200,000 from the Nineveh plains. Thousands of Iraqi Yazidis meanwhile face grave danger:

Stranded on a barren mountaintop, thousands of minority Iraqis are faced with a bleak choice: descend and risk slaughter at the hands of the encircled Sunni extremists or sit tight and risk dying of thirst.

Humanitarian agencies said Tuesday that between 10,000 and 40,000 civilians remain trapped on Mount Sinjar since being driven out of surrounding villages and the town of Sinjar two days earlier. But the mountain that had looked like a refuge is becoming a graveyard for their children.

The situation has become extremely dire. The Obama administration is pondering (and is perhaps already engaging in) efforts to help those fleeing violence and repression by providing humanitarian support. This may also mean a direct bombing campaign against IS militants. The administration had been reluctant to conduct such a campaign thus far because of the President’s general desire to reduce American involvement and intervention in the region, combined with the legitimate fear of appearing to side with the Shi’a in what many Iraqis had initially viewed as a Shi’a-Sunni conflict.

There are a variety of factors behind the strength of the Islamic State and its success in Iraq. A key factor has been Sunni alienation from the Maliki regime, which has increasingly engaged in violent sectarianism since American forces left the country. Some Sunnis welcomed the advance of IS, though such sentiments seem to be fading now that IS has begun to implement its vision. The decision to pull all US troops out of Iraq in 2011 was a terrible blunder by the Obama administration, as the US presence was restraining Shi’a sectarianism by the Iraqi government. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is of course more directly responsible for this sectarianism and shares responsibility for the withdrawal of US forces, but the Obama administration backed Maliki and was not firmly committed to protecting the gains made by American troops. The surge and Sunni Awakening had opened up a window for Iraq to move toward a more stable, democratic future, but Maliki’s malfeasance and the American abandonment of Iraq closed the window.

Of course, the Bush administration should not escape criticism for the current state of Iraq. The 2003 war was launched with little effort to ensure international support and legitimacy. Once no weapons of mass destruction were found, these problems were compounded. But as bad as these mistakes were, the failure to plan for the occupation and the mistakes made by the Bush administration during the occupation, which led to increased radicalism and eventually civil war, were even worse. Bush and Rumsfeld clung to a failed strategy, while Iraq descended into a civil war that was far from inevitable. The absence of security prevented Iraq from working out the political solutions it would need to achieve greater stability as an extremely young, developing democracy. Finally Rumsfeld was replaced and a superior strategy was implemented, but the legacy of those lost years endures.

Would Saddam Hussein have survived until (and through) the Arab Spring if the US had not invaded? Would he have responded to the Arab Spring even more brutally than Bashar al-Assad, killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, but perhaps making an IS invasion impossible? We will never know. But we do know that the Bush administration’s many errors in Iraq made Iraq more vulnerable to this invasion.

Finally, the Obama administration’s refusal to sufficiently arm the moderate rebels in Syria and help them to displace Assad led to the radicalization of the opposition and strengthening of ISIS. Assad meanwhile intentionally allowed ISIS to gain strength by releasing terrorists from prison, buying oil from them, and refusing to bomb key locations where they had control. The strategy was to try to present the entire opposition as terrorists and force the international community to choose between a continuation of his rule and a state governed by terrorists. While the moderate rebels fought both Assad and ISIS (without proper assistance), Assad allowed the threat of ISIS to grow.

Given the chaos that exists in Iraq, it seems unlikely that Maliki will survive as prime minister. Unfortunately the US has little leverage in pressing for a government that is representative of the entire Iraqi people and likely to reduce sectarian tension. To defeat the Islamic State, Sunni opposition is essential, but this is unlikely if the Iraqi government is run by Iran-backed Shi’a sectarians. Perhaps even Iran will see the foolishness of such a strategy at this moment.

Ultimately, however, the humanitarian situation seems to require more direct American intervention. Establishing emergency airdrops of essential goods seems like an obvious step as this point. Airstrikes may be necessary to prevent IS from gaining more ground. The US could also provide greater support to Kurdish forces. But the US should also use whatever small amount of leverage it has to push for a more representative government in Baghdad before fully aligning with the Iraqi government. Even now, it is essential to push for a reduction in sectarianism, rather than reinforcing it.

Around the Web: A Week of Violence and Brutality Around the World

The week was full of articles detailing horrible acts of violence, brutality, and terrorism around the world.

Suicide Attack at Church in Pakistan Kills Dozens by NY Times: “A suicide attack on a historic Christian church in northwestern Pakistan killed at least 78 people on Sunday in one of the deadliest attacks on the Christian minority in Pakistan in years.”

Terrifying Images From A Terrorist Attack At A Mall In Kenya by Rachel Zarrell, Buzzfeed: “Warning: Very graphic images. According to the Red Cross, 68 people have been killed and more than 175 injured in a terrorist attack on an upscale Nairobi mall by al-Shabab, a Somalian militant group.”

Nigerian Islamists kill at least 159 in two attacks by Reuters: “Islamist Boko Haram militants killed 159 people in two roadside attacks in northeast Nigeria this week, officials said, far more than was originally reported and a sign that a four-month-old army offensive has yet to stabilize the region.”

Attacks Kill Scores in Iraq as Violence Surges by AP: “A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car near a funeral tent packed with mourners and another bomber on foot blew himself up nearby in a Shiite part of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 72 people and wounding more than 120, officials said.”

The heroes inside Syria by Samer Attar: “The situation in Syria is not just about chemical weapons. It is about the systematic killing of innocents by a tyrannical regime violently lashing out to stay in power.”

The Forgotten Crisis in the Central African Republic by Lewis Mudge: “Little known outside France, its former coloniser, CAR has been bedeviled by the twin curses of poverty and misrule. Its former strongman president, François Bozizé, who took power in a coup in 2003, was overthrown by the Seleka in March this year. Emerging from the remote and impoverished northeast, the Seleka, or “alliance” in the national language, has engaged in widespread abuses.”

On Invoking the Deaths of Children: Where Does the Real “Moral Obscenity” Lie?  by Eric Reeves: “Antonov attacks take place on a virtually daily basis according to multiple Darfuri reports from the ground in Darfur; similar reports come from the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. Destruction of wells and villages, the loss of livestock and an unrelenting death and despair — these are the “bombs” the Antonovs drop. And sometimes the children, invisible to us because we choose not to look, or even compel UN observation, are terribly wounded by these bombs. To suggest that their terrors, their pain and agony, their deaths are any less “morally obscene” than gas attacks on children in Syria is a painfully invidious comparison — the more so since in the end, it is politically expedient.”

U.N. Investigator: North Korean Prisons Like Nothing Seen Since Nazi Atrocities by Hayes Brown: “North Koreans forced into prison camps live out an existence unlike any seen since the killing fields of Cambodia or the horrors of World War II, according to the head of a U.N. panel assigned to investigate Pyongyang’s human rights violations.”

D.C. Navy Yard gun attack kills 12, injures 8 by Washington Post: “A gunman killed a dozen people as the workday began at theWashington Navy Yard on Monday, creating an improbable moment of horror at a military facility with armed guards at every gate and leaving investigators seeking clues about what spurred the attack.”