Wednesday, February 25, 2015


The Hassekeh province from which the hostages were taken on Monday, is inhabited predominantly by Assyrians, an indigenous Christian people who trace their roots to ancient Mesopotamians. Everyone in Syria knows this. These people have lived here for centuries. Up to150 Assyrian Christians were captured and abducted on Monday. Today is Wednesday here, and the expectation is that IS (ISIS) will release a video threatening the lives of these hostages, unless the U.S. led coalition halts airstrikes and withdraws combatants.

At least 3,000 Assyrians escaped to cities of refuge, but they lack necessities of life. In fact, 600 families are staying in St. Mary's Cathedral in al-Hasakah, Syria. The call has now come from activist groups to people all over the world to protect these Assyrians in Syria.

There is always more to a story than news stories in the West relate in a few paragraphs. Kurdish militias have controlled the northeastern region of Syria and the villages had for a long time been left alone. Lately however, the Islamic State fighters began to exert power. In early February, Islamic State fighters had demanded that crosses be removed from churches. Some Christians, not wanting to be victimized like northern Iraq’s Christians and other minority sects like the Yazidis who were singled out by the Islamic State, decided to take a more assertive role by fighting alongside Kurdish and other militias. For that reason in recent weeks, many villages changed hands as the Kurdish groups, some Arab Muslim factions and a Christian group called the Syriac Military Council joined forces against the Islamic State. When jihadists raided the village of Tel Hermez, driving out a local group called the Guardians of Khabur, who were protecting churches, Kurdish militias together with fighters from the Syriac Military Council entered the town, filming themselves retaking the area and leading away bound men they said were Islamic State members. This seizure of hostages appears to be retaliation by IS, yet it has a distinctly religious motivation.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


This is today's BBC Middle East News for  24 February 2015, "'Islamic State 'abducts dozens of Christians in Syria'"

At least 90 Assyrian Christians, men, women and children have been abducted by ISIS fighters who swept through a strong of villages along south bank of the Khabur River in north-eastern Syria during dawn raids on Monday. This is in Hassakeh province in Syria, where 40,000 Assyrian Nestorian Christians live, speaking Syriac, a form of Aramaic, the language of Christ.  Many Assyrians have fled Syria to escape extremist pressure to convert to Islam, to pay a religious levy or to face death.

Now tell me again that the conflict is not in any sense religiously motivated.

Furthermore, The group's aim is to establish a "caliphate", that is, a state ruled by a single political and religious leader according to Islamic law, or Sharia. As it seeks to move beyond its present confining borders of Iraq and Syria into Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, it demands that all swear allegiance to its leader - Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, better known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

ISIS is now commonly known as IS, and IS members are jihadists who adhere to an extreme interpretation of Sunni Islam, considering themselves to be the only true believers. For them, the rest of the world is comprised of unbelievers who are seeking to destroy Islam, and that justifies IS attacks against other Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Beheadings, crucifixions and mass shootings have been used to terrorise their enemies. IS members have justified such atrocities by citing the Koranic verses that talk of "striking off the heads" of unbelievers, but Muslims have denounced them. Even al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who disavowed IS in February over its actions in Syria, warned Zarqawi in 2005 that such brutality loses "Muslim hearts and minds".


My friend has written in response to my previous article on ISIS, now called IS. He takes exception to my piece, and I think that he misread me, and fails to understand what’s going on. He supports the inane comment by President Obama that dismisses IS atrocities as merely what bad people do. He wrote ...

"Obama is quite right to say that ISIS has nothing to do with true Islamic beliefs. Although there are different branches of Islam, they all promote a moral and ethical code. He is quite right that you cannot tar all Muslims with the same brush, anymore than you can tar all Christians, or where would it end. Shall I blame you Ron for the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition, or the denial of truth imposed on Galileo by the Pope. That good born-again evangelical Christian George W. Bush eagerly bombed and killed well over sixty thousand innocent Iraqi men women and children. He was supported by thousands and possibly millions of other bible belt zealots in the U.S.A. Has that got anything to do with true Christian belief. I too am sorry that Obama said that so many Egyptians were killed. He should simply have said so many people were killed. It was a terrible thing to do whether they were Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Egyptian, German or Inuit. Most religious believers tend to pick and choose the bits of their holy books that suit them at the moment. I seem to remember reading about some guy, who who advised people to take the beam out of their own eyes before pointing out the mote in their neighbour's eye. I think he was not a Christian, but an very orthodox Jew."

  1. with a few edits I replied the following … RonFebruary 24, 2015 at 2:12 PM
    That is a mistaken read of both Obama's remarks and my reason for finding them unacceptable. I would not have objected or wasted my time with the issue if Obama had simply said that ISIS does not accurately represent Islam nor is it true Islam. That's not what he said. He completely disassociated ISIS and its horror show from Islam and religion. That is not being truthful. Even if the ISIS interpretation of the Quran is grotesque, it is nevertheless for those distorted religious reasons that ISIS did what it, by beheading 21 Coptic Christians and by shooting and burning to death, 60 men, women and children at worship in a church. No one is saying that these atrocities should be laid to the accounts of moral, highly principled, spiritually minded Muslims. You do not, however, make that point by ignoring the religious intention of the perpetrators who base their actions on their sourcebook. And of course, such madness done to anyone, of any nationality or faith is wickedly appalling, but you purposely steer from ISIS's point. They did it to these 21 Egyptians because they were Christian and because after torturing them for days, they did not recant, repent and turn to Islam.

    On the other hand, I will disassociate George Bush's military assaults from anything to do with Christianity or my faith. The US military is not a Christian organization, nor is aligned with my Statement of Faith. No military action in our lifetimes by USA or Canada or a Coalition is conducted for Christian/religious reasons. 

Friday, February 20, 2015


That ISIS has nothing to do with Islam, is a reckless conception. Yet that is what President Obama has said. Nearly all Muslims reject the Islamic State. That's true. ISIS does not represent true Islam. That's true. But ISIS zealots are driven by a reasoned interpretation of Islam. Enough 'Wingnuts' reside in every state of the Union that the White House seeks to avert a horrid Islamophobic response at home. We are not in a holy war, so Obama said, "No religion is responsible for terrorism. People are responsible for violence and terrorism." Further, he terms the atrocities 'violent extremism,' when he should call it 'Islamist extremism.' That's what it is. ISIS doesn't deny this.
President Obama (Alex Wong/Getty)

It was disingenuous and disgusting when Obama deliberately described the 21 beheaded victims as "Egyptians", rather than 'Coptic Christians.' They were targeted precisely because of their association with the cross of Christ. Religion is very much at the heart of what is going on in the ISIS world. Americans should be able to count on their President having a clear view and honest acknowledgement that ISIS's Islam is a combination of a revived ancient puritanical Islam and some modern politicized Islam.  The President's disavowal does not serve inter-faith dialogue well, nor mutual tolerance. The Islamic State is unquestionably Islamic, even as it has attracted adventurists and psychopaths.

Graeme Wood has written an intelligent, meticulously researched article for The Atlantic Monthly March 2015 issue, entitled, 'What ISIS Really Wants'. I encourage you to read it.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


"Thou shalt not kill," does not mean what it says. The Sixth Commandment should not be one's default argument when opposing doctor-assisted suicide, euthanasia, abortion and capital punishment, or when advocating pacifism and vegetarianism. The 1611 King James Version of Exodus 20:13, which says, "Thou Shalt Not Kill," is an inaccurate translation. That translation is too comprehensive for the language originally used. The term "kill" means to put to death and such a prohibition would condemn the taking of any life, human or animal. This Sixth commandment was never intended as a complete moratorium on "putting to death" or on "putting a human to death." When the Ten Commandments were first scribed in Hebrew, of two possible verbs, one was selected that best expressed the proscription against the unjustified taking of an innocent human life, which is murder. "You shall not murder." In seventeenth century England, when the KJV was translated, the words 'kill' and 'murder' were used synonymously. Since then, most translations have adjusted to the linguistic and historical reality, that the Commandment was a prohibition against murder. Appreciative of that distinction, an effective debater is compelled to deliver unambiguous, reasoned argument that this commandment against murder pertains to abortion or doctor-assisted suicide or capital punishment. I am not saying that this cannot be done, but that the use of the Sixth commandment as support must be unmistakably understood. That begs the question "What is murder?"

I have already proposed that it is the unjustified physical act of taking an innocent human life. "You shall not murder." Assess the following cases using that definition. A family must decide whether to remove a loved one from life support, knowing that the patient's body cannot survive apart from that intervention and that with the family's permission, the patient's heart will stop beating. The sniper is involved in a fire-fight and pops off enemy gunners one after another. Then in entering a local home, he confronts a family of seven, five of them children, kills them all, because they may be enemy sympathizers.  Aerial assaults by Coalition forces light up an urban target with 'collateral damage' to civilians who lie lifeless in the street. A homeowner wakes up to an intruder, seizes a heavy object and pounds the trespasser to death. A woman drinks wine at a dinner, and later drives home and loses control of her vehicle, striking and killing an elderly couple as they cross the road. It is exceptionally challenging to examine the degrees of blameworthiness, yet the terms 'unjustified' and 'innocent' inform us that we must be discerning about the nuances.  

Further, as I have stated, this Sixth commandment was not a complete moratorium on "putting a human to death." Capital punishment and military defense that takes life, is not automatically censured by this commandment. As unpalatable as it sounds, not all killing is murder. Of the two Hebrew words, transliterated as ratsakh and mut, the first, "לֹ֥֖א תִּֿרְצָֽ֖ח׃," meaning "murder" and other meaning "put to death," the first is never used in scripture with reference to war or to punishment of a murderer.  It may be appropriate to say then, not all killing is wrong. God created humankind in his own image and according to his likeness, that is, possessing certain capacities that distinguish the species from all other creatures. This speaks to the sanctity of human life. Notably, the Biblical account of creation portrays earliest humanity aware of God, at peace with God and at peace with one another for only a brief time. Within the first family, antagonism arose early and one brother's life was taken by another. When considering blameworthiness and culpability, this story demonstrates the fragility of some judgments. The offending brother was not put to death but was sent away, suggesting that the offence was not regarded as "murder," but rather as a death incurred through violence fueled by anger and jealousy and pride. God made that distinction. Similar distinction was in evidence among Hebrews when God made provision for unintentional manslayers (manslaughter), to be able to flee to cities of refuge, where they could remain alive, not pursued or arrested but far from their families, which was their punishment.

This is a comment on social justice using the scripture as the primary resource. Consequently, referring to bad behaviour as "sin," is both understandable and suitable. God saw that humanity had become sinful and evil, "lawless" one might say, so he legislated these guidelines - commandments to modify human behaviour. There are two Greek words as well (phoneuo, apokteino) that mean respectively, “murder” and “killing,” and are used in the New Testament. Since not all killing is wrong, but all murder is wrong, scripture acknowledges the right of the state (government) to take the life of the evildoer, i.e. capital punishment. Killing that is done during times of war and is done at the command of superiors is not regarded in scripture as 'murder.' Therefore, like it or not, there are exemptions for taking a human life, as long as it complies with God's law and will.

As morally exhausting as this is, when Jesus was here, his teaching aimed at revealing the true intention for life in God's kingdom. We might all agree that murder is the unjustified taking of an innocent human life, only to be floored by higher New Testament standard. Of course God condemns the observable physical act of murder, yet the entire truth is that God can look into the human heart to see something there that he regards as murder. Any thought or feeling of deep-seated hatred or malice against someone constitutes murder to God. When we contain hatred in our hearts for another person, we commit the sin of murder in God's eyes (1 John 3:13-16). The referenced section pertains to Christians who have already said they trust in Jesus and therefore their lives should give evidence of righteousness at work. It doesn't even have to be visible outwardly. God sees it.

Saturday, February 7, 2015


Words applied to a topic are like brush strokes applied to a canvas.  A commendable interpretation of a subject requires understanding of the theme and understanding of what words do.  Set ten artists at their easels to paint an identical subject and the result will be ten distinct renditions. Ten pairs of artists' eyes uniquely observe details and depth of field and darks and lights and call for personalized selections of brushes, colours and strokes. Ten opinions about Doctor Assisted Suicide assess the February 6, 2015 Supreme Court of Canada judgement individually. The words that are chosen to speak about this are critical to the social outcome. 

Parliament must within the next twelve months develop a legislative response. None of the three major political parties has expressed a position on this highly sensitive matter. Thousands of citizens, journalists, preachers will express a position.

An artist in good health and with vitality, asked to paint an interpretation of life and death, may spend a month developing two pleasant panels, one depicting a newborn infant in the arm of an ecstatic mother clad in pink and another panel featuring a flag at half-mast against a bright blue sky. A different painter, faced with the same art challenge but who is living with incapacitating pain and who can no longer focus for sixty seconds on the art that once filled his mind and life, might take a house painter's brush and slap one half of a canvas with black to represent life, and the other half with radiant yellow to represent death.  
It will be crucial for legislators, citizens, journalists, and preachers to understand why the second artist painted as he did. It is imperative that words are chosen that are precise and that appropriately respect, eternal values, Canadian charter rights, personal autonomy, and sanctity of life.  The painting rivals the complexity of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.