Love in the Ruins: Homs, Syria

In Homs, Syria, where entire city blocks have been reduced to rubble by years of civil war, a Syrian wedding photographer thought of using the destruction of the city as a backdrop for pictures of newlywed couples “to show that life is stronger than death,” according to AFP photographer Joseph Eid. Here, Nada Merhi, 18, and her husband, Syrian army soldier Hassan Youssef, 27, pose for a series of wedding pictures amid heavily damaged buildings in Homs on February 5, 2016.

Love in the Ruins: Homs, Syria

Christian Identity Extremists: Righteous, Radical, or just Wrong?

This latest post written by Kyle Huffman for the course Religion and Politics in a Global Context Fall 2014. Please take the time to read this post on Christian Extremism in America. Kyle is an excellent critical thinker, a great student, and a fine human being.

Kyle Huffman, King University

Kyle is 22 years old and a senior at King University.
Kyle Is from Charleston, WV.
He is majoring in Youth Ministry with minors in Bible and Religion and Leadership.
Kyle participates as a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes program at King.
His interests are music, hunting, fishing, and football.

What comes to mind when one hears the word “terrorism”? Is it strictly under the umbrella of Islam? Do the violent images only come from the region of the Middle East? Of course not. But many Americans have the wrong notion that Muslims have the corner on violent extremism and terrorism.

But this viewpoint is naive.

Is it possible to conceive the idea that there are terrorists and militant extremists in other religions, even Christianity? In fact, there are several different types of  extremists and fundamentalists within Christianity and within the borders of the United States. It becomes important, as a student of religion to dive into this topic and try to gain a better understanding of good ole homegrown, American Christian terrorism.

Before we begin to study this phenomenon, we must look at the difference between religious extremists and moderates in any religion. Extremism, opposed to being moderate, is exists outside of mainstream public opinion. Extremism can appear in religion, politics, and economics, and it can appear anywhere around the globe. We are looking at more religious and political extremism, and one example of this would be terrorism.

Extremists generally seek radical change and often use militant tactics to achieve their goals. This is what can give birth to terrorists and their violent actions. Simply put, terrorism is “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” Not all extremism, though, exists in the form of terrorism.

Economist Ronald Wintrobe offers several points that he believes some extremists have in common, and this will help us define an extremist:

1. Extremists are against any compromise with other side.

2. Extremists are entirely sure of their position.

3. They advocate and sometimes use violence to achieve their ends.

4. Usually they are nationalistic.

5. They are intolerant or dissent of any other group.

6. And they demonize the other side.

In other words, in nearly all circumstances, extremists are not prepared to change, no matter the reasoning or circumstances.

Moderates, on the other hand, are much more balanced and accepting of differing views and opinions.

Moderates generally do not participate in violence as a means to reach their political or religious goals. They tend to make an effort to see both sides of an issue, usually due to the lack of an agenda. With that being said, they normally do not challenge the mainstream ideas of society with much intensity. Moderates can be found in the middle of most political issues and offer a medium or “norm” for society. In terms of religion, moderates are known for questioning and rational reasoning–even centuries-old doctrines and ideas.

As we look into learning more about Christian extremism, we have to ask: what are the fundamental beliefs and actions of these groups?  Christian extremists primarily operate out of the Christian Scriptures, the Bible, and in particular, the Old Testament. They tend to take single passages or verses to prop up their actions. Many believe that what they do reflects directly what God commands. They think that a great deal of world’s problems are a result of God punishing the world for violating their belief system.   Almost every Christian fundamentalist group’s credo can be summed up in this: they believe they are right, others are not, and those who are wrong need to change, and if they don’t change, the “sinners” must be eliminated.

A good example of this is the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. According to their own website,, this group operates from their literalist interpretation of Leviticus 20:23: “Do not live according to the customs of the people I am driving out before you. It is because they do these shameful things that I detest them.” The adherents of Westboro Baptists utilize this Scripture and other verses like it as a means of justification to be hateful towards homosexuals.

The Westboro Baptists are not a violent group, but they operate out of hatred, ignorance, and shame. This group is known for picketing military funerals, an action that has been brought to the Supreme Court and other levels of the judicial system several different times all in the name of freedom of expression. These groups continue to protest and stir up controversy in the homosexual community and American Islamic community by holding signs that say “God hates fags” and by publicly burning the Quran. In 1995, the Westboro Baptist Church building was bombed by an IED clearly demonstrating some disapproval from the public of this group’s actions.

Another strong force within Christian extremism is known as the Christian Identity. The main creed of this Christian extremist group is the push for a racially interpreted Scripture and society. In other words, these individuals are white supremacists and they back up their hatred of others with their interpretation of Scripture. Many of these people believe that British whites are the direct descendents of the nation of Israel.   This movement, which rose in popularity in the 1980’s, have had ties to acts of violence such as a number of murders in the early 1990’s.

Like extremists from around the world, they are willing to use violence in the name of God to accomplish their goals.

But are Christian identity groups in America showing violence, one might ask? Most of these groups are not actively and consistently performing violent acts although many are prepared to do so. Many are very militant, having capabilities, weapons, and bases ready for mobilization and action. However, there have been several smaller instances of violence including several acts of assault, one account of murder, and a few accounts of terrorist threats by a Pennsylvania based white supremacy group known as the Keystone State Skinheads.   This group is constantly looked on by the government because of their former acts of violence and their militaristic facilities that seemed primed for action.

In the past, there have been instances of violence in the United States, primarily by members of Ku Klux Klan white supremacy group. The logo of this group was to “reestablish protestant Christian values in America by any means possible.” Especially after the Civil War, this group became very violent with lynchings, murders, beatings, arson, and much, much more. The long and hateful history of the KKK is infused with violence and murder.

The public opinion of this group might not be exactly what you think. Obviously, these groups tend to have a negative public opinion due to the nature of their activities and history. Even though much of the United States would consider itself to be Christian (83%- ABC News July 2014), most would likely disagree with a large percentage of what these groups are doing.

However, most Americans are uninformed about the various militant extremist groups that currently exist in the United States. Of the more outspoken or public groups, the Westboro Baptists have developed quite an infamous public opinion. While this group has a generally nonviolent creed, they continue to encourage and endorse hatred.

The first step in dealing with Christian Identity groups is to become educated that they exist and are prevalent in the United States.

Is Islam the only religion that harbors terrorists and militant extremists? Not at all. Every religion has its fundamentalists–even Christianity. And it is incumbent upon us to know this fact and know what separates the militants from the moderates. Lives depend on this difference in interpretation.

Religion in a Vacuum: How Central Asian Islam was Radicalized

This latest post written by Christopher Buttner for the course Religion and Politics in a Global Context Fall 2014. Please take the time to read this post. Chris is an excellent student and has a very promising future.

Chris Buttner is currently a Junior at King University where he majors in Security and Intelligence Studies.  He hopes to continue his studies into graduate school and then transition into a career with the intelligence community where he plans to become an intelligence analyst.


Christopher Buttner
Christopher Buttner

Central Asia’s historical narrative is one of political turbulence and volatility. The region’s rich history has been formed, in part, because of several geological factors that make Central Asia a unique landscape to attempt to rule. Being landlocked in the center of the Eurasian continent set the region up to be the crossroads of civilizations. Trade routes that would take caravans through Central Asia made the region attractive to civilizations from the East and West alike, presenting an economic prize to whoever could hold on to the territory. The extreme topography and harsh deserts that exist in this region keep Central Asia sparsely populated with its inhabitants clinging to the lush mountain valleys. All of these features are fit neatly between two rivers that separate the region from the rest of the world, offering a final warning to any potential conquerors who may be too shortsighted to not recognize that they too would see many similar attempts at this land if they were to be successful.

Indeed, these factors have made Central Asia a region that has been traditionally “ripe for conquest but difficult to rule”. (Rashid 17) These traditions of trade and conquest exposed the Central Asian people to a myriad of cultures, creating a unique melting pot dynamic. A significant characteristic of this melting pot of cultures has been its religious tolerance, which accepted Islam that came with Arab people around the year 650. (Rashid 21) The region would go on to become a beacon of Islamic intellectualism and produce several widely recognized religious leaders and monuments of religious importance. Bukhara, between the ninth and sixteenth centuries, was the largest theological center for Islam. Takht-I Sulaiman, “throne of Solomon”, has long been a sight of pilgrimage for Muslims in the region for its historical status and association with the ancient prophet from which its name is derived. (Crews 252) Islam, since its introduction to the region, has been a significant part of Central Asian identity. It is only recently, since the Russian overtaking of the region, that Central Asian Islam has become marginalized in the global context.

Russian attempts at colonizing Central Asia, as part of the Great Game between Russia and Great Britain, were successful in a limited sense and also the first steps towards a collapse of Central Asian Islam. The Russians sought to civilize the Central Asian people who they considered to be backwards. An Orthodox-Christian state, Russia feared that a failure to civilize the Central Asians “would bring the seeds of pan-Islamic fanaticism to fruition and compromise the security of the region.” (Thrasher 13) These efforts to destroy the Central Asian identity and force them to force them to accept their subordinate nature would create tensions that would build up to the Basmachi revolts. These largely Islamic revolts would occur alongside the Bolshevik revolution.

The Bolshevik revolution would divide the people of Central Asia about which side to support. While the Russians had been oppressing the Central Asian people, they had no interest in becoming Soviet either. One notable supporter of the Bolsheviks were the Jadids, who believed that they could obtain more freedom from the Bolsheviks. (Rashid 31) These supporters of the Bolsheviks would prove to be wrong and would go on to be wiped out in the massacres of 1937. (Rashid 31) The Soviet Union would prove to be militantly anti-religion. The Soviet Union would denounce religion as the “opium of toiling masses, distracting them from the social struggle against the exploiting parasites”. (Ersahin 9) Islam in Central Asia would be harshly cracked down upon by the Soviet Union. That which remained would become politicized and used as a tool by the Soviets. (Ersahin 20) This oppression of Central Asian Islam would create a void in the Central Asian identity. This essential characteristic of the identity would be missing until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Once the fall of the Soviet Union occurred, the creation of five new states in the region marked the beginning of a new chapter for the region. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were all given a choice between their old identities and communism. To the surprise of many, the transition from communism to an autonomous identity lasted well into the independence period. (Cooley 19) The patrimonial system of governance adopted by the Central Asian regimes set these states up to be characteristically oppressive and power-hungry. (Cooley 16) This system of governance is a relic of Central Asia’s Soviet history. Ironic that it has left these regimes in such a weak state that they are forced to resort to quasi-colony behavior just to survive. The regimes of Central Asia have been particularly oppressive of their people in an attempt to maintain their control of the power structures in the region. In Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, Central Asian states have always ranked towards the bottom with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan being particularly horrible.

The oppressive nature of the last 150 years for the region of Central Asia has perverted its cultural identity and, with it, its ideas of Islam. Islam in Central Asia was once a proud theological culture that preached religious toleration and acceptance of other cultures. It is now represented by a militant interpretation of the Quran and propped up by terrorist organizations such as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. It is difficult to fault the general population for this shift in ideology. Extreme issues call for extreme solutions. There is a reason Hizb ut-Tahrir is not a major player among those who seek a caliphate. There is no basis for believing that these oppressive regimes will suddenly begin to listen and accept the ideology they have worked so hard to quell over the years through peaceful means. This does not condone the methods through which terrorist organizations operate. It only attempts to understand the thought processes that drive people to these murderous organizations.

With only the Kyrgyz Republic being a bastion of hope for legitimate change in the region, progress in this conflict should not be expected. Barring another revolution in the region, oppressive regimes will remain in power in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan and continue to push people to seek a solution through any means possible. Ideology can only be defeated by a better ideology. As long as the reality presented by state officials is worth suffering to get out of, people will flock to these terrorist organizations, whether they adopt the perverted ideology or not. It is also worthy to note that two of the region’s neighbors to the south are some of the most active states in the world when it comes terrorist activity. In 2013, Afghanistan and Pakistan ranked second and third respectively in the world in terms of terrorist activity according to Vision of Humanity’s Terrorism Index. Central Asia is a known transit region for opiates grown in Afghanistan. (Cooley 158) It logical to believe that if drug traffickers can enter and exit through Central Asian state borders easily then so too can terrorists. If the problem is not domestic, it could become foreign.

Of course, terrorism is only a symptom of the perversion. That being said, it is a good measuring tool considering that terrorist organization are only able to operate effectively on a large scale with the support of the public. The fact that these organizations are able to thrive is an indicator of the broader issue. Central Asian Islam has been radicalized.

Works Cited

Cooley, Alexander. Great Games, Local Rules: The New Great Power Contest in Central Asia.

New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Print.

Crews, Robert D. For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009. Print.

Ersahin, Seyfettin. “The Official Interpretation of Islam Under the Soviet Regime: A Base for Understanding Central Asian Islam.” Hamdard Islamicus 28.4 (2005): 7-20. ATLA Religion Database. Web. 6 Dec. 2014.

Rashid, Ahmed. Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. Print.

Thrasher, Matthew J., “How to Make a Colony: Reform and Resistance in Russian Turkestan, 1865-1917” (2010). Honors Projects

King Summer Institute of Global Studies June 14-21, 2015

Don Michael Hudson Jerusalem
Don Michael Hudson Jerusalem

King University’s Dept. of Philosophy & Religion Launches King Summer Institute of Global Studies for High School Juniors and Seniors

BRISTOL, Tenn., Sept 15, 2014 – Applications are being accepted for 25 rising high school juniors and seniors to become the first participants in the inaugural King Summer Institute of Global Studies (KSIGS). The institute will include daily, intensive study designed to help the students explore and apply a Christian worldview to global issues in the 21st century.

Time will be dedicated to the study of the Christian worldview as well as Islam, Judaism, and Asian religions. “As Christians, if we are going to be relevant in the 21st century, we are going to have to understand other religions,” says Dr. Don Michael Hudson, associate professor of Religious Studies and chair of Philosophy and Religion at King University. “The program will be similar to an AP class for students in that they will receive four hours of college credit for the one-week course.”

The Institute will begin on June 14, 2015 and run through June 21. Students will reside in the King University residence halls alongside KSIGS Resident Scholars. Participants will enjoy classroom lectures on topics such as “Ancient Judaism,” “Why Terrorists Hate Us,” “What’s Going on in Iraq?” “Energy and Global Warming,” “Science and Religion,” Security and Intelligence,” and “Look East: Lessons from the Orient.” They will travel to a local Greek Orthodox Church in Bluff City, Tenn., a local Mosque in Johnson City, Tenn., and the Basilica of St. Lawrence in Asheville, N.C. Students will participate in community service projects in the region as well as enjoy a multitude of activities including an Olympic challenge, obstacle course day, the ropes course at River’s Way, kickball, dodge ball, capture the flag, and a day long trip white water rafting.

“The mission of the summer program is for the students to develop an informed, relevant Christian worldview for the 21stcentury,” says Hudson. “What we are attempting to do is look at what it means to frame a Christian worldview; what a Christian worldview is; and what a Christian worldview is not only in light of Christianity but also in context of other religions. We want participants to explore these tough questions.”

Rising high school juniors and seniors interested in the King Summer Institute of Global Studies are asked to complete an application. Applications will also be taken for four King University students or graduates who will be named as KSIGS Resident Scholars.

The cost for the Summer Institute will be $500.

“We currently have seven scholarships available for the Institute,” says Hudson. “We also have 18 additional opportunities for anyone who might be willing to provide a scholarship for a student. The scholarship amount would be $500, which would cover the entire cost for the one-week Summer Institute for one student. We encourage the community to become involved and help make this happen for students interested in broadening their understanding of a Christian worldview and how we can address global issues in the 21st century.”

“We are excited to offer this new, fun, and engaging opportunity for juniors and seniors who have a desire to make a difference not only in their lives but also in the lives of others,” says Hudson.

For more information on the King Summer Institute of Global Studies or to apply, contact Dr. Don Michael Hudson or 423.652.4154.

Boko Haram Déjà Vu: What Would God Want With Our Daughters?

Reuters TV
Reuters TV

Update September 15, 2014. It is now 5 months out, and not one girl has been rescued.

On the night of April 14-15, 2014, Islamic extremists in northeastern Nigeria committed a heinous, unspeakable crime by abducting almost 300 girls from the “sanctuary” of the Government Secondary School in the town of Chibok.

For God’s sake who would do such a thing and why?

 Who Are They?

The militants don’t call themselves Boko Haram—this was a moniker given to them by outsiders, residents in the northeastern city of Maiduguri. Boko which originally meant “fake” but now connotes “western” and Haram which means forbidden or taboo. Loosely translated, the name Boko Haram reflects the Jihadists’ religio-political agenda: “Western education is forbidden (sinful)”.

Boko Haram’s adherents claim to live by the Qur’an: “Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors.” The insurgents espouse and push a radicalized interpretation of Islam. This interpretation forbids Muslims participating in anything associated with Western culture.

As with every religious impulse, politics and socio-economics lie simmering beneath the surface. Founded in 2002, Mohammed Yusuf sought to push back against the Westernization of Muslims in Nigeria. Yusuf and his group, Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad— “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad,” established a mosque and Islamic school in Maiduguri.

Yusuf’s insurgency was fueled by rampant poverty and lack of education for Muslim children residing in predominantly rural areas in northern Nigeria. Much of Nigeria’s wealth, in particular oil, lies in the Christian dominated south. According to BBC, the majority of Muslims in the north experience poverty, lack of health care, and astonishing female illiteracy. The UN declares Nigeria to be one of the most unequal nations in the world even though it is the wealthiest African nation.

Poverty + inequality + religion = insurgency

Since its inception, Boko Haram has sought to establish an Islamic state ruled by strict adherence to Sharia law. To what end? This is nothing new. Most every revolution seeks the same utopia: justice and equality for their sect regardless of the means or the consequences.

This is not Islam; this is an interpretation of Islam. This is definitely not God; this is their sordid fabrication of God.

“Fundamentalism is religion materialized, the word made flesh, as it were, with the flesh rendered, all too often, into shattered body parts by the forces of holy rage.”[1]

Politics is the handmaiden of religion.

What Do They Want?

Like most fundamentalists, Boko Haram considers anyone outside their belief system to be infidels and worthy of censure. They alone know the righteous path. The insurgents view the Nigerian state as illegitimate, even when the country had a Muslim president.

In 2009, Mohammed Yusuf militarized his idealist vision against Christians and Muslims, but the Nigerian government killed him. Abubakar Shekau took the helm and remains the leader to this day.

In a video obtained by the AFP news agency, Abubakar Shekau claims responsibility for the kidnapping of the 200+ schoolgirls in Chibok. According to Shekau, the girls were abducted for economic reasons—the girls are to be sold as brides for $12.50 or to be given to members of the insurgency.

The motive, though, for the kidnapping remains as mysterious as the whereabouts of the girls. To date, the Nigerian government has not found the girls, and Western forces have scaled back their search.

Shekau has clearly stated his reasons for terrorist acts. “This war is not political. It is religious. It is between Muslims and unbelievers (arna).” In Boko Haram’s ideology, the term arna encompasses anyone who lives outside the scope of the faction’s theology—including Muslims. Yes, the insurgents are targeting Christians, but they also include Muslims.

Fundamentalists don’t nuance.

The insurgents’ tactics are not new. The Economist reports that over 3,500 Nigerians have died at the hands of Boko Haram in the last year. And the April 14 kidnapping of girls was not an isolated event. Over 100 people have been abducted since May 2014.

According to best counts, 216 of the girls remain missing.

Why Our Daughters?

 Tragically, kidnapping daughters for religious means has historical precedents. As shocking as this is, the actions of Boko Haram are not new in the least. Women are property within some Monotheistic sects and traditions. As “property” the militants can barter the girls’ lives. “We will not release them while you detain our brothers,” proclaims Shekau on a video.

As usual, it has been disheartening to observe the global response. Many are outraged indeed, but we remain ineffective.

Most disturbingly, though, certain segments of American Christianity/right-wing media have used this atrocity as more fodder for their condemnation of Islam. Ironically, those who do so are no better than the abductors.

The girls are intellectual property to be bartered for a right-wing ideological war.

When the American right wing utilizes this “transaction” they are committing egregious errors.

*They misunderstand and misrepresent the nature of Islam even though most Muslims condemn the kidnappings.

*They fail to grasp or accept the political, socio-economic, and psychological realities fueling any religious impulse. Religion can be a fluid masquerade.

*And they forget their own complicity in past kidnappings. That’s right—kidnapping daughters is a theme in the Christian Scriptures.

Joshua Judges Ruth

In the last chapter of the book of Judges we find the ancient Israelites engaging in intertribal warfare. This is during the so-called confederacy of Israel’s history when tribal leaders ruled rather than a national king. In a previous narrative, an anonymous woman was gang raped, murdered, and dis-membered into 12 body parts. This happened in the tribe of Benjamin. One body part was sent to each tribe.

The Israelites come together, led by the tribe of Judah, and they almost wipe out the tribe of Benjamin in their frenzied war. According to the biblical text, 25,000 men were killed, but 600 Benjamite men escaped and hid in the wilderness. The men of Israel returned to Benjamin and put the cities “to the sword” even down to the animals (20:48). Men, women, children, and animals.

Sadly crazy right? It gets worse.

The men of Israel make an oath: “No one will give his daughter to marry a Benjamite.” But then their resolve leads to their regret. “Why should one tribe of Israel disappear from Israel?” Because of their ridiculous actions and vow they are now in a bind. They cannot give their daughters to the 600 men nor can the Benjamites marry a non-Israelite. What to do?

The men of Israel concoct a devious, two-step plan. They will kidnap virgin daughters and give them to the 600 men.

Step One: find out which Israelites did not fight in the previous battle and take their daughters.

The men of Israel send out 12,000 warriors to attack the “guilty” party, and they command them: “ ‘Here’s what you should do. Kill every man and every woman who is not a virgin.’ And the men of Israel found 400 hundred young women who had not slept with a man, and they took them” (21:11-12). They kidnapped 400 virgin daughters, but 200 men remain without wives.

Step Two: Kidnap more virgin daughters.

“The men of Israel commanded the Benjamites, ‘Go and hide in the vineyards and wait. The young women of Shiloh will come out and start dancing. When this happens, come out from the vineyards and seize the women for wives.’ And that’s what they did. “While the young women were dancing each man seized one and took her away to marry” (21:20-21, 23).

By now we are at the end of the book of Judges—just two verses to go. Where is the outrage? What happened to these women? What are their names?

“And so the Israelites left Shiloh, and went back home to their tribes and clans, to their land” (21:24).

Silence. No condemnation. The end? In this story, the men traffic young women in the name of land and identity. The men of Israel are blind to not only the immorality of the kidnappings, but they appear oblivious to the horrors experienced by the young women. The women disappear into the text and into history.

Judges presents ancient Israel in the throes of social and political chaos. Tribal factions are warring for claims in the midst of the mayhem. Within the scope of the Hebrew Bible, Judges is a call, a yearning, a demand for a righteous king who will bring justice.

Listen to the last verse: “In that day every man did what was right in his own eyes. There was no king in Israel” (21:25).

The theology of Judges is quite straightforward: a righteous king would not allow such things to happen. So this is not the end of the story in the Hebrew Bible; it is a segue.

In the meantime though, what about the daughters? In the midst of any militant ideology our daughters become pawns and victims. They disappear—again.

When Westerners compound ignorance and prejudice in this particular Boko Haram act we also commit a moral failure. These young women become symbols, tokens to advance our causes. These young women become double hostages—one to the terrorists and one to our ideas.

But they have names. They have faces. They are human beings.

“Between the two poles of (society’s) contradiction(s), x and y, the young woman, the virgin daughter, has to pay with her life for the society’s incapacity to solve the conflicts.”[2]

Their lives depend on our interpretations.

[1] Malise Ruthven, Fundamentalism: The Search for Meaning. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 190.

[2] Mieke Bal, Death and Dissymmetry. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 231.