Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Jihad - What is it?

           There is a word in Arabic that has become increasingly familiar to many of us in the West. The word is “jihad.” To better understand such Muslim groups such as ISIL, Al-Qaida, Hamas, and a seemingly endless number of other radical groups, you need to understand jihad.

          The simplest term in understanding jihad would be the word “struggle.” “Jihad is an Islamic term referring to a religious duty of Muslims. In Arabic, the word jihād is a noun meaning ‘struggle’ or ‘resisting’.” [ wiki/Jihad]

Here is where the confusion begins. The confusion is that most of us in the West only understand jihad as a holy war in which Muslims are attempting to conquer and destroy our western culture and way of life.

          First, jihad is described as a personal, inward struggle that an individual Muslim makes in a quest to become a better person. CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), a Washington-based PAC (Political Action Committee), states unreservedly that jihad is only the personal struggle a Muslim engages in, denying that Islam is involved in “holy war.” [ blfaq_islam_jihad.htm] The author of this article, Austin Cline, goes on to clarify this misconception of jihad. Within Islam are the writings known as the Hadith which are nearly as revered as the Koran (Qur’an) itself. He writes, “The Hadith is a collection of reports of sayings and actions of Muhammad, and it follows the Qur'an as the most important source of Islamic law. In Hadith collections, jihad almost always refers to armed action. As an example, there are nearly 200 references to jihad in the most standard collection of hadith, Sahih al-Bukhari, and all assume that jihad means warfare. It is not surprising, then, that the majority of classical theologians, jurists, and traditionalists understand jihad in a military sense.”

          Second, jihad seems to be the preferred method of forcing the will of Islamists upon infidels, or unbelievers. A rather chilling remark was made by a leader from Hamas, an Islamic terrorist group, who said, “We love death more than you love life.” This should open a window for you into the minds of those who are seeking to conquer us and who wish to subject us to sharia law. In the Koran, it is written in 8:12, “Remember when your Lord revealed to the angels, ‘Verily, I am with you, so keep firm those who have believed. I will cast terror into the hearts of those who have disbelieved, so strike them over their necks, and smite over all their fingers and toes.’” Another translation puts it this way, “When the Lord spake unto the angels, ‘I will be with you: therefore stablish ye the faithful. I will cast a dread into the hearts of the infidels.’ Strike off their heads then, and strike off from them every finger-tip.’”

          I have read and studied the Koran, obtaining a copy of this in Arabic from in Imam I met with in Bahrain in August of 2000 while I was fulfilling my military duties for my reserve command in my role as a Navy chaplain. We spent about an hour together at his mosque, discussing various aspects of the Islamic faith. When I prepared to leave, he had his assistant provide me with the copy of the Koran, various other Islamic literature and several videos on Islam.

          Nothing would please me more than to tell you that I believe Islam is a religion of peace. It is not. That Islam is more than agreeable to complying with the adage, “live and let live” when it comes to following different beliefs. They do not. That Christians and Muslims can come together in some sort of religious harmony. They will not. Sadly, I do not ever see any of this being possible.

          In the book, The Arab Mind, by Raphael Patai, in chapter 13 entitled, Unity and Conflict, section two, Swords and Words, he writes, “When it came to fighting non-Arabs, which in the heyday of Arab expansion meant non-Muslims, the religious fervor instilled by Islam changed the concept of battle radically. It then became a matter of killing or be killed, the only proviso being that if the pagan enemy submitted and accepted Islam, his life was spared. The Arab heroic spirit in these wars was fanned by the Muslim promise of paradise to all those who fell in jihad – a holy war waged by Muslims against non-Muslims – and by the Muslim doctrine that the fate of man was maktub, ‘written,’ that is, predetermined.’”

          In attempting to understand Muslims and the manner in which they think, I must always remind myself that Jesus, the Son of God, loves every one of the 1 billion, 6 hundred million Muslims that currently live somewhere on planet Earth. Knowing the extreme violence these radicals bring to our world, witnessing a seething hatred toward those who are non-Muslims, especially Jews and Christians, I must see them through the eyes of God. To do so means I need the Lord’s strength more than ever.

          God help me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Global Problem

             History has a nasty way of repeating itself. I guess that’s what I find so worrisome.

The United States has been battling Islamic thugs and terrorists for more than 200 years. Surprised? Don’t be.

Here are three relevant points (among many) you need to know about the Islamic faith. 1) The Koran (Qur’an) instructs its followers to force those who are not Muslims to convert or die. 2) The followers of Islam are waiting for the emergence of the 12th Imam and the Caliphate that would evolve from his appearance. “A caliphate is a form of Islamic government led by a caliph – a person who claims to be a political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community.” This would subsequently invigorate adherents to Islam to then strive to dominate the entire world. 3) The form of government everyone would be subjected to under Islam is called “sharia law.” “The sharia is characterized as a discussion on the duties of Muslims based on both the opinion of the Muslim community and the extensive (Islamic) literature.” Sharia is on a collision course with a number of issues generally accepted or at least tolerated throughout the rest of the world. Such as: democracy; human rights; freedom of speech; freedom of thought, conscience and religion; LGBT rights (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transvestite); and women (particularly domestic violence, child marriage, property ownership, and women in the clergy).

The topic of Islam is virtually endless as you might expect when entering into any serious study of one of the world’s faiths. I shared the three previous points regarding Islam so that you might see how incompatible such a faith is with the democracy we enjoy within the republic of the United States. Our rule of law is the Constitution which is drawn heavily from biblical teachings from a solid Judeo-Christian formative base. Islam’s sharia law is simply incompatible with our Constitution.

Returning to the troublesome aspects of Islamists over the centuries, allow me to give you a very brief history of Islam and its attempts to force its beliefs on others. There was a major military move by Islamists to conquer Europe more than a thousand years ago. One attempt to gain a foothold in Eastern Europe was through Constantinople in Turkey, later changed to Istanbul under Islamic dominance. The other move into Europe was through the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Charles Martel, ruler of the Franks (later known as France), and his army met the Muslim forces in the Battle of Tours, successfully stopping the advance of Muslims into Western Europe. He was regarded as the “Champion of the Cross against the Crescent.” And so it has gone over the centuries.

Early in our nation’s history our third president, Thomas Jefferson, was fed up with the trouble our merchant ships were facing when engaged in commerce in the Mediterranean Sea region. Many countries bordering the Mediterranean, as well as the U.S., paid tribute money to Islamic pirates in hopes the harassment of ships, the stealing of cargo, and the hijacking of American seamen and forcing them into slavery to serve on their marauding ventures, reached a boiling point with President Jefferson. He ordered the U.S. Marines to sail to the Mediterranean and take on these racketeers and put an end to this insanity. Under the leadership of Lt Presley O’Bannon, his detachment of Marines fought in the First Barbary War near Tripoli in what is Libya today. Order was restored, and the second line in the Marines Hymn was added, “to the shores of Tripoli.”

General J.J. Pershing and our American military had problems with Muslims in the Philippines in 1919. But more recent troubles may have had their start with the 1979 taking of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Then came the bombing of the Marine barracks in 1983. The next attack occurred on American soil when the World Trade Center in Manhattan was bombed by Islamic terrorists in 1993. And of course we had the 9-11 bombing and destruction of the World Trade Center, bringing about the deaths of nearly three thousand Americans.

Europe seems to be engulfed in a death-struggle with the onslaught of Islam and the enforcement of sharia law. Killings, such as took place in Paris recently, seem to be more frequent and are putting everyone on edge. We in the U.S. wonder if we will be targeted next.

When nations have had problems with any one particular unruly group or country, there is at first an attempt to appease the aggressor, followed by a growing irritation and resentment toward the offending party. And lastly, there is usually a serious visceral reaction pushing back against those who are causing the trouble. This usually means innocent people are targeted and hurt or killed in the process until cooler heads prevail. Immediately following 9-11 a gentleman of the Sikh religion was gunned down while riding his bicycle in our town. His crime? He looked like a Muslim! So, I’m sure those who mercilessly killed him thought they were being patriotic in striking back against the enemies of freedom. They were murderous fools, not knowing that Sikhs are not Muslim, and the headpiece they wear is markedly different than those worn by any of the various Muslim sects.

My contention is this: Without a doubt we have a growing national and international problem with Islam. But our elected leaders had better deal with this problem directly before it gets out of hand. Otherwise, we will see a backlash against Muslims that could become very ugly indeed. It has already begun in Europe.

Let me remind you that as Americans we’re better than this. God help us.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Remembering Mom

              This evening my wife’s youngest sister, Judy, stopped by and had dinner with us. She wanted to visit with her mother who has been living here with us since shortly before Christmas, having fallen back in late November fracturing a couple of vertebrae. After surgery, which required cement being applied to the cracked areas, she needed follow-up physical therapy. That came to an end in mid-December, but she wasn’t ready to return to her home in Los Banos.

Over dinner the conversation rambled into different topics, one of which was my tastes regarding fish. My in-laws and their five children immigrated from the Azores (the island of San Miguel), Portugal in 1966. Judy was the sixth and last child. She has the distinction of being conceived in Portugal and born in the US. They all love fish, especially bacalhau (bah-cah-yah). This is a very salty cod dish that my side of the family has great fun mocking and making jokes about. My nephew, Josh, calls it “bacla-hurl.” When it is being prepared, I can smell it from my car before I come into the house.

This all led to my likes and dislikes in fish and other foods. I began reflecting on my upbringing, and shared some of these memories with the ladies.

Shortly after I was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1948, my parents separated, leading to divorce in 1953 or thereabouts. My mother had worked for Chance Vought Aircraft Company during World War Two. After the war ended, and seeing that the marriage was in trouble, she had to find work to care for my brother and me. She was hired as a secretary for the man who invented the scissor lift, also called a cherry picker. Being on a limited income, and not having any social programs to help single moms, she had to really watch her pennies. So part of our diet included some fish. I probably developed a dislike for it for two reasons: 1) The strong fishy smell and taste, and 2) The ridiculous number of bones you had to pick out, or so it seemed to my young mind.

It was at this point in our sharing that my wife suggested that I retell the story of driving a car when I was three. Actually, I’m not sure how old I was but I couldn’t have been more than four. My mother would often have to run errands for her boss. He would give her his car keys and off she’d go. On this particular occasion she had my brother John and me with her. I’m guessing my brother was picked up after school and she got me from the sitters. Anyway, whatever errand she had to run, we were now back at her boss’s house. He lived atop a hill with the road leading up one side and down the other. She parked and told us to stay put. John, who is five years older, was sound asleep on the backseat. I was in the front seat.

As my mother stood at her boss’s front door she looked back at the car and noticed it had started rolling forward down the hill. In a panic she took off running to catch the car, but it continued to roll faster, leaving her behind. At the bottom of the hill the road required you to turn left or right. About halfway down the hill the car suddenly made a right turn into someone’s yard. The car rolled by the house on one side so closely that it sheared off the water meter. The man of the house was sitting in his living room, startled to see a car go by his window!

My mother had continued running after the car, losing her shoes in the process. In the meantime, the car rolled into the backyard and stopped right where the yard was held back by a wall that dropped onto another level of yard. The car teetered on the wall in a most precarious manner. The man in the house came out and carefully removed my brother and me from the car. My mother was nearly in hysterics at this point. My brother slept through the entire ordeal. I, on the other hand, was behind the steering wheel grinning away. Whether I was sitting or standing, I couldn’t tell you, as none of this is in my memory. It has been suggested that I possibly released the break which started the forward roll; or if the brake had not been set, and all that was holding the car in place was the stick shift engaged, then I may have popped the gear shift loose. The end result was the same.

Personally, I like to think the Lord had one of his angels give the wheel a yank to the right so it would slowly roll to a stop. Apart from the damaged water meter and some cosmetic damage to the car, all was well.

I can only imagine what was going through my mother’s mind as she chased after this runaway car. Her first child, a boy, was stillborn. My brother, her second, was scrawny and didn’t appear to be too healthy (that all changed). My mother’s third child, a girl, had spina-bifida and only lived a couple of weeks (they didn’t have a cure for this problem in 1945). She and my father were strongly counselled against trying to have any more children. So when I came along I decided I liked it perfectly well there in the womb. The hospital in our hometown of Milford, Connecticut did not have a doctor who knew how to perform a caesarean birth. So it was off to New Haven and a large hospital with a more experienced staff of doctors. Having lost two of her four children, then to watching her remaining two boys blissfully rolling down the hill, must have been literally heart-stopping for her.

Mom was released from the bonds of earth last March at age 98. I miss her, of course. But I especially missed her today as I remembered the stories. But I am so happy for her because I know she has been able to hug and kiss the babies she lost these seventy-plus years ago.

I loved my mom for her courage in toughing it out through life’s challenges and setbacks. Not once did she fail in her duties as a mother. I’m so very fortunate to have had her as my mom.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Unbroken Review

          It isn’t often that my wife and I sit and watch a movie at home. It’s even more of a rarity for us to go out to a movie theater to take in a flick. I guess you could say neither of us is much for watching movies. Ever since the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) emerged in the mid-60s with the forerunner of the current code system for rating movies, the films that have been produced for public consumption continually push the boundaries of decency.

This whole rating business is perhaps best summed up in this remark. “Jack Valenti, who had become president of the MPAA in May 1966, deemed the Hays Code – in place since 1930 and rigorously enforced since 1934 – as out of date, and bearing ‘the odious smell of censorship’. Filmmakers were pushing at the boundaries of the Code.” Having come to know Jesus as my Savior in 1972, I knew I could no longer allow myself to be entertained by movies offering increased amounts of gratuitous sex and debauchery. As the years have rolled by, Hollywood makes fewer and fewer movies that meet our strict standards. Call me a prude, or a Puritan, I really don’t care. But I do not need to expose my heart and mind to such trash when I struggle enough every day trying to walk with Jesus in a world that is truly bent on removing all vestiges of godliness.

Perhaps you can see why Isaura and I rarely enter into the world of Hollywood. However, we are optimists, always on the lookout for that rare gem of a movie that seems to fit our narrow parameters.

Another area of concern with movies is the enormous amount of violence that is increasingly more graphic. There is a titillation factor that draws people in for the chance to see even more violence. Now, I love a good shoot’em up, bang-bang as much as the next guy, plus I’ve served in two wars: first as a Marine in Vietnam, and then as a Navy chaplain in Operation Iraqi Freedom. But violence in movies today seems to be used purely for entertainment. This sort of over-the-top violence began with a western called “The Wild Bunch” (1969), using an all-star cast of actors that helped sell it to the public.

 So last Saturday Isaura and I decided to take in a movie that was released on Christmas. It has been hyped more than any other movie I can remember in recent memory. The movie is “Unbroken,” the true story of World War II veteran Louie Zamperini. This man endured untold physical and mental cruelty and abuse during his more than two years in Japanese prison camps. The movie, directed by Angelina Jolie, deviates markedly at times from the book by the same name. “Unbroken,” written by Laura Hillenbrand, brings Zamperini’s life into full focus, something Jolie fails to do. The movie is over two hours in length, and with the endless offerings of violence, I had reached my saturation point, finding myself glancing at my watch. My wife, on the other hand, had her eyes closed for half the movie. As she stated while we were walking out of the theater, “My heart is racing!”

The brutality of the Japanese guards and camp commander in the movie no doubt were true to the story. Much of the distasteful viciousness might have been tolerable had the movie told “the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey famously said. I’ve been acquainted with the Louie Zamperini story for many years. And it’s just here that Jolie failed. Zamperini did in fact endure the beatings and daily targeting for punishment. He survived to return home to his parents and siblings which is pretty much where the movie ends, offering a few scant notes as to what Louie did with the rest of his 69 years!

All he endured created in him a bitterness in his soul that drove him to abusing alcohol. And because of his celebrity status as an Olympic athlete and a war hero, he was wined and dined across the country. He struggled with what we know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for several years until his wife convinced him to go hear this new evangelist who was packing people into his meetings every night in Los Angeles. The year was 1949 and Billy Graham was just beginning his incredible ministry of preaching the gospel. Lou knew he needed help, so he went forward during one of the meetings where he turned his life over to Jesus. He became good friends with Billy Graham and served on his staff for many years. He was involved in sharing the gospel in a number of ways which time and space do not allow for this article. Know this: There is more, much more to the Lou Zamperini story. In fact, in the December 2014 edition of the Costco Connection magazine, their feature article is all about Louie’s life. I was delighted that they were very open about his conversion as well.

Lou Zamperini experienced the forgiveness he so desperately needed from a merciful God. He then realized he needed to show this same mercy by forgiving those whom he hated if the bitterness in his heart was ever to be removed. He traveled to Japan where he shared his transformed life, telling his former prison guards what Jesus had done for him and what Jesus could do for them. He even attempted to meet with “The Bird,” the name for the prison camp commander who was so ruthless in his treatment of Lou. Sadly, this man would not meet with Lou.

Lou’s son, Luke, said in summing up his father’s legacy, “He was always willing and able to tell his story because of the positive effect it had on people, not to his glory, but to the glory of the Lord.”

Now that’s a story worth telling!