Current Events & Trends
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Current Events & Trends: July–August 2017
Multiple terror attacks strike Britain
We’re going to see a lot of stories like this in the news over the next few years. The migration of refugees into Europe has become the perfect cloak for anyone wanting to commit acts of terror. A suicide attacker has the upper hand because he is only one hard-to-find person.
One person has the power to do a lot of harm, and it doesn’t require coordinating with a group. Recently, a suicide bomber killed himself and 22 others at a pop-music concert in Manchester, England, and an asylum seeker was caught planning another such attack in Germany (“Police in Germany ‘Foil Asylum Seeker Suicide Attack,’” BBC News, May 30, 2017).
Another attack on the London Bridge involved a rented vehicle and multiple stabbings by a group of men. Neighbors of one of the perpetrators reported him to authorities at least twice after he had attempted to convert their children to radical Islam in a local park. Another “was born in Pakistan and raised in London. By the time of his death, he had been brought to the attention of police several times over his extremist views and had even appeared in a documentary about British Islamist extremists called “The Jihadi Next Door” (“How a Man Raised in London Wound Up Involved With Britain’s Latest Terror Attack,” Public Radio International website).
While it’s encouraging to know that officials knew many of the recent attackers and their history with extremism, it’s inexcusable that nothing was done until many innocent people died.
The damage a suicide attacker is able to do—both immediate and in long-term impact—is staggering. Thankfully the police in Germany were able to act when they saw all of the signs in this instance, but recent events in the UK are sobering. Hopefully, we’ll continue to read headlines of attacks foiled rather than attacks actually occurring as we move forward in this new reality. (Source: BBC News, Public Radio International.)
Egypt’s Copts face terrible danger, persecution
While no one in the Middle East is safe as ISIS forces continue their reign of terror on the ground, perhaps no single group has a greater target on its back at the moment than Egypt’s Coptic Christian population.
Copts have been targeted for violence by ISIS supporters for some time now, but the atrocities are getting increased visibility following several high-profile attacks in recent months that have left scores dead. Particularly troubling is the violence perpetrated on unarmed, defenseless churchgoers in Coptic places of worship.
In the face of continued persecution, Egypt’s Copts have stood firm not only in facing violence but also in refusing to respond in kind to their attackers. As pointed out in The Washington Post: “Copts have endured centuries of discriminatory policies at the hands of successive Egyptian regimes, attacks and incitement by Islamist groups, and pogroms by their very neighbors. Yet there has not been a single Coptic terrorist attack as reprisal or violent response.
“For terrorism experts insisting that terrorism is the result of poverty or the lack of political freedom, the Copts—who are just as poor and unfree as the majority of Egyptians—stand as an anomaly and an unwelcome testament to the ridiculousness of their [that is, these so-called experts’] theories” (Samuel Tadros, “The Continuing Tragedy of Egypt’s Coptic Christians,” May 30, 2017).
For Christians in the Western world, the terrible dangers faced every day by Egypt’s Copts should serve as both a wake-up call and a challenge to examine our own depth of faith. Will we one day be faced with the same dangers and choices facing these men and women today? If so, how will we respond? Hopefully, with God’s help, we would respond with faith and an eye on the goal of God’s Kingdom, the wonderful future awaiting His faithful servants. (Source: The Washington Post.)
Embattled ISIS moves underground and online
The U.S.-led Western coalition efforts against the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS or ISIS) are having the intended effect of weakening ISIS forces on the ground in places like Iraq and Syria. As the presence of ISIS is diminished, however, terrorist leaders are looking for other spheres of influence and methods for pushing their agenda of violent extremism.
ISIS has always used the Internet effectively in its recruiting efforts, with well-run websites, social media accounts and an online magazine, but the future of ISIS will center even more squarely on its online presence. “Despite such adversity, it is highly likely that ISIS will not be defeated in the coming months and years . . . ISIS is essentially transitioning to the next phase of its life cycle, moving underground and online as it weathers the current onslaught from American forces supporting a patchwork of anti-ISIS forces arrayed against it in both Iraq and Syria” (Colin Clark and Chad Serena, “What Happens After ISIS Goes Underground,” The National Interest, May 29, 2017).
We’ve already seen some of the terrible results of ISIS’ online recruitment—lone wolf attacks in Western nations, radicalization of Muslim youth abroad and a rally point for terrorist sympathizers. While ISIS may become less relevant in the Middle East, the fear is that it may simultaneously become more dangerous abroad. “If ISIS is close to being defeated—as many analysts have claimed in recent months—why is there heightened concern about its potential to conduct attacks? . . . [In May] the State Department released a travel warning for Americans heading to Europe . . . The United Kingdom just [afterward] elevated its threat level from severe to critical” (ibid.).
The apostle Paul taught that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness” (Ephesians 6:12). It is the spiritual darkness behind ISIS and radical Islam that is the real threat, and that evil spirit knows no national boundaries and cannot be defeated by human means. Only the coming of Jesus Christ will depose the darkness behind ISIS. (Source: The National Interest.)
North Korean leader’s bravado a growing danger
In spite of sanctions, warnings and threats, North Korea presses forward with advanced missile testing. North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong Un says his country will continue to develop weapons to protect itself.
“Kim said the reclusive state would develop more powerful weapons in multiple phases in accordance with its timetable to defend North Korea against the United States. He expressed the conviction that it would make a greater leap forward in this spirit to send a bigger ‘gift package’ to the Yankees’ in retaliation for American military provocation” (Ju-min Park and Jack Kim, “North Korea Warns of ‘Bigger Gift Package’ for U.S. After Latest Test,” Reuters, May 30, 2017).
Calling out the United States shows the confidence the North Korean leader has in his country’s weapons developments. It also shows that very little will stop them from continuing their nuclear and missile programs.
Jesus Christ warned of a coming escalation in “wars and rumors of wars.” We are in such a time now. We hear daily about the developments of weapons in places like Korea and Iran, countries that would do harm to many should they attain the power to do so. But Jesus added after His ominous warning, “See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Matthew 24:6).
This doesn’t mean everyone will be spared from calamity, but it means we should have confidence in God. Though we know of ongoing terror in the world today, Jesus tells us to not be troubled. Knowing that is comforting and shows that no matter what we see in the headlines, our God is in control. (Source: Reuters.)
Prescription drugs now the preference of millennials
The drug debate in America goes on. As a candidate, Donald Trump made a vow to continue waging the war against illegal drugs. He promised to put a wall along America’s southern border—partly to keep down illegal immigration, but also to keep drugs from crossing into the country.
The use of illicit drugs is actually down from previous generations. The Economist recently reported: “Consumption of many illegal drugs is declining. An analysis by DrugAbuse.com, a treatment hotline, shows that millennials (defined as those born between 1983 and 2002) use less marijuana and cocaine than baby-boomers did at the same age. But as the leading street drugs have become less popular, prescription painkillers have filled the void: over the past decade opioid abuse has soared” (“Millennials Are Less Keen Than Previous Generations on Illicit Drugs,” May 30, 2017).
While the use of illegal drugs is declining, the rise in abuse of prescription pain medication is alarming. Because no stigma is attached to the use of drugs prescribed by a doctor, use of pain meds—apart from overt evidence of a problem—is socially acceptable. But acceptability in this case opens the door to greater harm. The fact that opioids are the drug of choice shows that people are trying to mask pain. Whether physical or emotional, pain is what people are running from. Of course, it’s not wrong to seek relief from pain, and strong medications can be helpful in some cases, but we must be careful to not ignore the root causes, form addictions and end up saddled with yet more pain.
Sadly, this world is full of pain, suffering and empty and meaningless lives because so few understand the purpose for human existence and so many have rejected God. But God offers hope and a new world under the reign of Jesus Christ when pain and suffering will come to an end and individuals will no longer have to look for ways to manage their pain on their own. Learn more about this in our free study guide Why Were You Born? (Source: The Economist.)
Balkans remain a regional interest
With all eyes on the Middle East’s continually roiling violence, on the political wrangling between NATO and Russia, and on North Korea’s ever-increasing belligerence, little attention is paid to the Balkans, a region often forgotten but rarely irrelevant. The Balkans’ position at the crossroads of Europe and the Middle East produced a region with a rich, complicated, violent history. Despite the best intentions and efforts of some, the future of the region likely will continue to be complicated and violent.
David Kanin, lecturer at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, explains: “There are many differences between the Balkans and the Middle East, but they have two things in common. Both regions are former pieces of the Ottoman Empire that have not found stability since that empire receded in the late 19th century . . .
The Balkan region—a fluid concept with changing ‘membership’ over the past two centuries—continues to struggle to orient itself in the wake of the collapse of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s. The shards of that country are going in different directions” (“Will the Balkan Tinderbox Ignite Again?” The Cipher Brief, May 24, 2017).
Kanin points out that Western efforts to redraw the Balkan map have proved controversial, to say the least, with Kosovo, the most recent nation-state in the Balkans, still not receiving full international support for its very existence. It seems the best efforts to create stability in the Balkans have not produced lasting change.
Not mentioned by Kanin is the still minor but potentially troubling presence of radical Islamists in the region. Bosnia and Kosovo are both Muslim-majority nations with their own history of a radical underbelly. Given the instability of the region in general, how long until the Balkans yet again erupt in conflict and violence? Given the history of Balkan conflict rippling out to the rest of Europe and beyond, we can be certain that the future of the Balkan nations will impact the rest of us in a big way. (Source: The Cipher Brief.)