Murder Most Foul

The Taliban have now begun slaughtering their South Korean hostages, according to recent news reports.

Much has been made, not without good reason, of the monumental stupidity and arrogance of the hostages themselves. For these lunatics to imagine that their mission to convert fundamentalist Muslims to Christianity would accomplish anything other than to get themselves killed, or to create an excruciatingly unpleasant situation for their own government (it now looks as if they have succeeded at both), was staggeringly, unsurpassably idiotic. A troupe of voles might, with equal prospects of success, have visited a viper’s nest to lecture its residents on the rewards of being small, warm, and furry.

But for all that the Korean missionaries are imbeciles, they are gentle and harmless. The Taliban, on the other hand, are neither, and that they are willing to execute these helpless wretches — however unsurprisingly, considering their routine policies of brutal oppression and casual violence in the name of their execrable cult — places them, I think it is fair to say, outside the circle of humanity itself. May the civilized nations of the world spare no exertion to rout and extirpate these beasts.

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  1. Jeff says

    You could not have put that in a more coherent manner. Great piece of writing mate. I agree, these missionaries are nothing but imbeciles …

    Posted July 25, 2007 at 7:12 pm | Permalink
  2. Tim says

    don’t be too quick to speak and judge
    you can say all you want and continue to live your complacent life in front of your computer for another 50 years, never daring to die for what you believe in (if you actually believe in anything). I guess you think that’s “smart”. good for u. I guess that’s admirable?

    Posted July 25, 2007 at 10:31 pm | Permalink
  3. Malcolm says

    Well, that’s certainly a nice range of responses.

    Thank you, Jeff.

    Tim, having taken 51 years to arrive at the opinions expressed in these pages, I think I can fairly say that I’m not being quick to judge. And I’ll bet that our readers — who are a quick-witted bunch — will already have noticed that, unless you have just done so since leaving your eloquent comment, you haven’t died for any of your beliefs yet either. So I think we’re even on that score.

    Having made two judgments in this post (the first being that these missionaries were fools to attempt what they did, and the second that the Taliban are despicable brutes), I’m not sure which one you are taking me to task for. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, and assume that it’s the first, and not the second, that has your knickers in such a knot.

    There is nothing the least bit “admirable” in these people placing themselves in such grave danger for no imaginable benefit to anyone — and by doing so causing, I have no doubt, immeasurable anguish to their friends and family, as well as putting their own homeland in a tremendously difficult position. Lower the flaming sword of God for a moment, if you can, and consider how many people’s lives have been adversely affected by this breathtakingly ill-considered escapade of theirs.

    But perhaps you too are so inflamed by missionary zeal that you feel you ought to follow in their footsteps. As you say, it must be great to get right out there and die for something you believe in! If so, you have my blessing, if you can arrange the appropriate State Department waivers.

    And hey, maybe the first lot will have softened the Taliban up a bit by the time you get there. After all, they’ve only dumped one bullet-riddled missionary on the street so far — a bit off the pace, I’d say — so perhaps their faith is wavering a bit.

    Posted July 25, 2007 at 11:09 pm | Permalink
  4. Cory says

    Being a believer too, I must admit I find it strange that my brothers would go over there. As much as it is important to share the good news of the gospel God has given his children a divine wisdom in the discernment of our actions in doing his will. One thing to remember when Christ was tempted; and was said to him (if you are the Son of God cast yourself down from this mountain. for it said the Angels will help him). Jesus said to the Evil one It is written You will not tempt the Lord your God. We must not tempt God in our calling, but seek his Will. Going over there was not a good choice, but all of us have made many bad choices in our lives. Now we must pray for their safety.

    Posted July 25, 2007 at 11:09 pm | Permalink
  5. Malcolm says

    Hello Cory,

    I think it’s safe to say that whatever good qualities these missionaries may possess, divine wisdom is not foremost among them.

    By all means, pray for their safety. I’m sure that will help. Well, not for the one who has already been executed, of course. But it couldn’t hurt to remind God about the rest.

    Posted July 25, 2007 at 11:35 pm | Permalink
  6. Cristian says

    Dear Malcolm,

    You have a point in what you say.

    People’s beliefs and philosophy on life come from their experience. And since everyone has a unique set of experiences, people’s philosophy on life differs. From their set of experience, their perception of what is ‘true’ is based. I guess your philosophy on life comes from your experience. But these Korean people must have their own set of experience of life different from yours. Who knows if they have really experienced God? You will never know, because you are not them. Only God knows (I know you don’t believe in God, but if there is one). Therefore, we are not sure whether divine wisdom follows these people or not. If you have judged that it doesn’t, your judgement remains only as your personal opinion.

    Thanks for reading my comment.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 7:51 am | Permalink
  7. Tim says

    Hi Malcolm,

    I have to agree with you that i haven’t died for my beliefs yet, nor have I been in that kind of circumstance. And that is exactly (italics) why I hold my tongue (and yet you call then stupid and arrogant).

    But lets see who these people were. They were Christian nurses and doctors providing medical aid. Now if they weren’t Christians, just nurses and doctors, would you call them stupid and arrogant? Would you call the non Christian aid workers there stupid? Would you call the journalists who go there stupid? Would you call anyone who step one foot in the middle east stupid?

    (And Cory, why do you say they were testing God? Jesus did say that Christians will be persecuted and ridiculed (obviously). Maybe God did call them there and allowed them to die. If so, you are not laughing at them, but at God.) (I can see Malcolm dozing off when reading this paragraph ;D)
    And I wonder, if these people were of any other race, would you dare call them imbeciles? (definition: A person of moderate to severe mental retardation having a mental age of from three to seven years and generally being capable of some degree of communication and performance of simple tasks under supervision. The term belongs to a classification system no longer in use and is now considered offensive.)

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 7:59 am | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Hi Cristian,

    As for whether divine wisdom informed the decision of these people to undertake their mission, we can only go by appearances, as you say. How does it look to you?

    Yes, you are quite right, by the way: the judgments expressed here are only my “personal opinion”, if that was ever in doubt.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 10:12 am | Permalink
  9. Malcolm says


    Ah yes, just providing medical aid. I’m sure that the notion of spreading the Gospel of Christ amongst the heathens never entered their minds.

    “Arrogant”, because they flamboyantly inserted themselves into one of the most dangerous places on Earth without making the least effort to arrange for their own security, and in defiance of Korea’s own foreign ministry, doubtless assuming that besides healing the sick and comforting the afflicted they were going to encourage a Muslim or two to join the flock. Do recall that the penalty for apostasy in those parts is death, which goes a long way toward explaining the historically negligible Islam-to-Christianity conversion rate.

    “Stupid”, because the result — namely, their own capture and likely murder, and the giving of themselves as hostages to Islamic fundamentalist butchers — was so easily foreseeable. I would say that for any conspicuous outsiders (and obvious kafirs, to boot) to gad about the Afghan countryside by the busload in plain view, without the slightest regard to their safety, is “stupid” in any customary sense of the word.

    “Imbecile”, as you point out, was indeed used in the early 20th century as part of a technical taxonomy of mental deficiency, along with other familiar terms, such as “idiot” and “moron”. This system was abandoned long ago, and the words have since entered common usage as more general terms for being, shall we say, not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But perhaps I was too harsh. “Morons”, then, if you prefer.

    Let me assure you that considerations of race never entered my mind in composing these remarks. I am old enough to know that dimwits come in all flavors and colors (there, by the way, is something I “believe in”, if you were wondering); here in America we have them in teeming and abundant variety. I am an equal-opportunity curmudgeon.

    Finally, do bear in mind, as I explained to Cristian above, that the views expressed herein are only my opinion. You are certainly entitled to yours.

    Thank you for your comments.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  10. Malcolm says

    I also want to make clear to all that in no way whatsoever does any of this excuse or exculpate the vile Taliban, who are of course the actual villains here, not the missionaries.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  11. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – From various reports I’ve read, the hostages were not engaged in evangelizing, only medical relief work. Maybe some of them did cross that line, but I don’t think one should assume as much.

    The issue of mental dexterity is an interesting one given the celebrated “inversions of common sense” that comprise a key part of the christian message — the wisdom of stupidity, if you will.

    just sayin’….

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    Hi Bob,

    That certainly isn’t the impression I have: every last mention of them in the news refers to them as “missionaries”. Korea is well-recognized as being second only to the US in sending Christian missionaries to the Middle East; these were sponsored by a Presbyterian church, etc.

    For example, from the website Religious Intelligence:

    THE TALIBAN have seized 23 South Korean missionaries, and have threatened to kill them unless Seoul withdraws its 200 troops serving with coalition forces in Afghanistan.

    On July 19 the 18 women and five men were seized on a bus travelling from Kabul to Khandahar. The missionaries, evangelical Christians, are members of the medical aid group Korean Action in Khandahar.

    I don’t think we can reasonably imagine that their “mission” was solely secular in its intent. Furthermore, even if they did limit themselves strictly to medical work (and do you really imagine that they did? Have you ever known an “evangelical Christian” not to evangelize?) they certainly would have been regarded by the locals as conspicuous outsiders, and meddlesome Christian infidels, and would obviously have been seen by Taliban rebels as low-hanging fruit of the ripest and most attractive sort. To have blithely ignored their peril as they did was stupendously foolish.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 12:32 pm | Permalink
  13. bob koepp says

    Malcolm –
    The few reports I’ve seen that directly addressed the question of the mission of these missionaries emphasized that it was strictly to provide medical relief. This would not be at all unusual. I can, however, readily imagine is that these people would make strong professionions of their faith when confronted with demands to deny it. Also, what reason do you have for thinking that they “ignored” their peril, rathing than acting in spite of it? You might think that in either case we have evidence of stupendous foolishness, but that ignores the way foolishness can be a matter of principle. (Compare Socrates’ foolish defense when on trial for his life.)

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 12:57 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Hi Bob,

    They might have taken some rather simple measures to protect themselves, as all other foreign-assistance workers do in these dangerous parts, rather than flitting about the countryside in their bus as they did. In contrast to Socrates’s trial, they would have had to capitulate on no matter of principle to have done so.

    As for acting in spite of their peril, rather than ignoring it, I note that they are not now stoically yielding to their fate, in saintly acceptance of God’s will, but pleading for earthly help from their discomfited government. It is as if it came as a sudden surprise to find that the Taliban are not only deaf to Christ’s message, but are unmerciful brutes as well. A little forethought might have gone a long way.

    Finally, I simply do not believe that their mission, given who they were, was solely to provide medical, and not spiritual, assistance. Looking at the outpouring of criticism that their escapade has generated, it isn’t surprising that it’s getting that sort of spin. But no one denies that they are evangelical Christians, and in my experience, at least, it is difficult for people of that mindset to be in the presence of the unsaved without attempting straight away to do something about it.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 1:30 pm | Permalink
  15. bob koepp says

    Malcolm – I’m afraid that your experience of evangenlical christians has given you a rather distorted view if you think “they” find it difficult to resist evangelizing. That you “simply do not believe” medical missionaries would restrict their activities to the provision of medical assistance (unless, of course, they are invited or provoked to do otherwise…) says more about your limited expereince than about “their” mindset.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 2:00 pm | Permalink
  16. Malcolm says

    Well, Bob, maybe you’re right, although my experience is hardly all that limited; I have known a great many in my day. But yes, perhaps this lot were strictly “on mission”: splinting bones, dispensing medicaments, etc., without uttering the merest murmur about salvation, and with nary a Bible in sight.

    I seriously doubt it, though. From what I have been able to gather, Korean evangelical missionaries are distinguished for being exceptional in several ways: not only in their zeal and their naiveté, but also in their reckless disregard of their own unfamiliarity with local customs. I’ll be glad to offer some sources on that, if you like.

    Anyway, even if they were restricting themselves only to the medical aspect of their mission, the only point I’ve been making here is that they were foolhardy to the point of idiocy to go about it as they did. It’s the Taliban who are the bad guys.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  17. Malcolm says

    It’s interesting to see what sorts of posts attract a lot of comments. The thesis here — that the missionaries were nuts, just absolutely daft, to do what they did in the way they did it, but that the morally culpable ones here are the Taliban, who have shown themselves once again to be murderous thugs — would, I should have thought, have been fairly uncontroversial.

    But you never know, it seems. I suppose if I had been nicer, and not used harsh terms like “stupid”, and “imbecile”, etc., folks wouldn’t have been so miffed. But I defend the use of those terms on the grounds that this was a fine example of the concepts those words betoken.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  18. bob koepp says

    Malcolm –
    I appreciate that you have saved your moral condemnations for the Taliban. When you impugn the intelligence and/or motives of the missionaries, however, the only reasons you’ve expressed seem to me to reflect bias on your part — not sound information. From what you say here, I seriously doubt that you have known a great many medical missionaries. I think, rather, that you are finding it difficult to get past the “evangelical” label, which probably means something different to you than it does to a great many members of evangelical sects.

    Please note that I have not defended the evangelical medical missionaries — I’ve only questioned whether you know what you’re talking about.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 3:08 pm | Permalink
  19. Malcolm says

    Well, Bob, I do have to wonder how many Korean Christian medical missionaries you have known, also. I have certainly met plenty of evangelical Christians, and they tend to, well, evangelize.

    I have made some honest efforts to learn about Korean missionaries generally, and it does indeed seem to me that they aren’t inclined, usually, to hide their religious light behind a bushel.

    However, I’m not impugning their evangelical motives, any more than I impugn the motivation of anyone who seeks converts to their religion. And there is nothing whatever to impugn about being motivated to provide medical assistance. So I’m not talking about motives at all (although to whatever extent they were motivated by a desire to convert fundamentalist Muslims into Presbyterians, they were utterly delusional).

    But regardless of their motives, surely you must agree they didn’t go about their misson very intelligently, which was really the point here.

    But perhaps you are right: I could have been nicer about it, though what the blogosphere is coming to if one can’t rant about the occasional imbecile now and then, I don’t know.

    Kevin Kim? Any thoughts?

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 3:20 pm | Permalink
  20. bob koepp says

    I have personally known exactly zero Korean christian medical missionaries, although I’ve known a number of Korean christians, and I’ve known a number of medical missionaries. Among the latter, virtually all would have called themselves evangelicals, but none, to my knowledge, sought out converts — though, as I said, if they had been invited or provoked to speak about their beliefs, they would not have held back.

    Your comment that the evangelical christians you have known “tend to evangelize,” smacks of hasty generalization. I’d be willing to bet that the majority of evangelical christians you’ve known did not even mention that they were evangelical or christian, and did not try convert you.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 3:44 pm | Permalink
  21. Malcolm says

    Hi Bob,

    Hasty generalization? Come, now:

    Here’s the first sentence of the Wikipedia entry on Evangelism:

    Evangelism is a Christian movement for emphasizing personal conversion and the authority of the Bible or, by extension, any other form of preaching or proselytizing. Evangelist Ray Comfort, host of the TV show dedicated to evangelism The Way of the Master, says “simply put, Christian evangelism is when we share our faith with others.” Christians often characterize evangelism as “…one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

    You will have difficulty finding any definition of the word that does not emphasize proselytising. From Princeton University’s online dictionary:

    (n) evangelism (zealous preaching and advocacy of the gospel)

    From MSN Encarta:

    1. spreading of Christianity: the spreading of Christianity, especially through the activities of evangelists

    I think it is not unreasonable to assume some motivation on the part of these self-described evangelistic missionaries to spread Christianity among the people they planned to meet in Afghanistan. Again, as I have said, this was not the point of this post — but to be as confident as you seem to be that they were there only to provide medical assistance, while maintaining a taciturn silence on religious matters, seems almost prejudicially unwarranted.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 3:58 pm | Permalink
  22. Kevin Kim says

    I tried leaving a short comment here before, but it was either deleted or it never made it past the “send” button (perhaps I copied the security image incorrectly).

    The impression we have here in Korea is confused. Were they missionaries or weren’t they? Were they sent directly by Saemmul Church, by an aid organization with ties to the church, or by a different entity? Did the government repeatedly warn this and other groups not to go to Afghanistan, or was that a Korean netizen rumor? All of these questions are still up in the air, and the Korean media aren’t helping with their sloppy reporting.

    If it turns out that these folks were indeed missionaries, then I’ll say they should have been better informed about the dangers of going to a place like Afghanistan. One photo that has made the rounds here in Korea shows three people (at least two of whom are girls; their faces are digitally masked) standing on either side of a sign at Incheon International Airport warning people to stay away from Afghanistan. The people in the photo are obviously smiling and making “V” signs with their hands. The photo is rapidly coming to represent all that was wrong with this trip.

    A word about Western and Korean culture: an American friend and I were talking about this crisis, and I noted that many Westerners are assuming the Koreans on the trip should have informed themselves of the very real dangers of heading over to Afghanistan. As a Westerner, it would be my first impulse to run to some references, study maps of our proposed itinerary, and learn something on my own about the culture, history, and current political situation of my destination.

    But this isn’t how Korean culture usually works. The trip organizers, whoever they are, are the ones primarily responsible for informing their charges of the risks involved. A lot of the blame for the current situation rests on them, because in Korea, authority and information work on a trickle-down principle. If the trip leaders had done their scary best to put the fear of God into these missionaries (if missionaries they are), it’s doubtful that the group would have been quite so smiley and happy.

    Ultimately, of course, blame for whatever deaths occur rests primarily on the Taliban, and I agree with your feeling that these bastards should be hunted down.


    PS: The photo in question is here. The sign strongly cautions people not to go to Afghanistan except for the most pressing of reasons. The captions under the photo indicate that this pic was ripped from a news broadcast. The first line of the caption says, “Saemmul Church Aid Trip, Departure Photo.” The second line says, “this past 13th, Incheon International Airport.” The final line isn’t relevant: it’s a “crawler” talking about the 4.2 Richter San Francisco earthquake.

    PPS: Suggested reading: The Marmot’s Hole, where the crisis is being tracked and updates are being made. Much of Robert’s recent focus has been on Korean attempts to blame America for this state of affairs.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  23. bob koepp says

    If your principal criterion for identifying someone as evangelical is that they proselytize, I’ll stand by my charge of hasty generalization. Why? Because the simple fact is that the majority of members of evangelical sects do not proselytize, though they probably do support the efforts of other, active proselytizers. But so-called “mission work” is much broader than proselytizing and converting the heathen. (Although I don’t consider myslef a christian, I have contributed to a few “mission funds,” after satisfying myself that the mission in question was earthbound charity — because the organizations I was donating to could demonstrate a record of delivering “the goods” very efficiently.)

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  24. Malcolm says

    Hi Kevin, and thanks for weighing in with that most informative comment.

    Bob, as I pointed out above, proselytizing is by definition at the heart of evangelism. That these hostages are missionaries from an evangelical organization was not in dispute, as far as I knew, though Kevin’s comment muddies the waters a bit.

    While “mission work” may well include other worthwhile goals, the very raison d’etre of evangelical organizations is to spread Christianity, and I think it is, as I said, disingenuous to imagine that this is not part of every evangelical missionary’s agenda. In fact I can well imagine that not to make such an effort would be considered a serious failing, as it would leave the lost unsaved.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 4:39 pm | Permalink
  25. Malcolm says

    Found this at the Marmot’s Hole (thanks, Kevin):

    I shouldn’t have to say this, but as mind-bogglingly stupid as I believe the hostages were, stupidity should not be a capital offense. Nobody in their right mind should want to see these people harmed in any way, especially by a bunch of medieval savages who gave aid and comfort to the people who slaughtered 3,000 innocent people in New York and Washington DC on Sept. 11, 2001 and work to this day to destroy the best chance Afghanistan has had for a future in decades. We all hope and pray (well, if you’re the praying type) that the hostages come home safe.

    I agree. This was the point of my own post as well.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  26. bob koepp says

    Malcolm –
    While proselytizing might be, by definition, at the heart of evangelism, that does not mean that all (or even most) evangelicals (i.e., members of evangelical organizations) personally engage in proselytizing. And it doesn’t mean that every missionary representing an evangelical organization has an agenda of spreading christianity through proselytizing. Some of them might just think that giving aid and comfort to the broken and downtrodden is their “calling.”

    (also, skipping back in the postings, I don’t think I have anywhere expressed confidence that the hostages “were there only to provide medical assistance, while maintaining a taciturn silence on religious matters.” I’ve simply questioned the manner in which you apparently assume otherwise.)

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 5:21 pm | Permalink
  27. Malcolm says

    Hi Bob,

    Well, I do have to wonder why anyone would be a member of an evangelical church in the first place, let alone become a missionary, if they didn’t have it in mind to spread Christianity. There are lots of other agencies that do medical work, if that’s all you’re interested in.

    When I mentioned the missionaries being there “only to provide medical assistance, while maintaining a taciturn silence on religious matters”, I was positing that as the assumption one would have to be making if, as you suggested, one declined to assume that they were doing any proselytizing.

    But seriously, Bob, if someone is not only an evangelical — a religious calling that is all about preaching and proselytizing at its very foundation — but has also chosen to be, within such an organization, a missionary, it really, really does seem reasonable to me to assume that they have some spreading of the Gospel on their minds. How could they not? Wouldn’t a sincere evangelical missionary, surrounded by the lost, feel morally obligated to try to share the good news of salvation through Christ? Isn’t that what being an evangelical is?

    I wish we could poll the audience on this one. Show of hands?

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  28. bob koepp says

    Malcolm –
    “When I mentioned the missionaries being there “only to provide medical assistance, while maintaining a taciturn silence on religious matters”, I was positing that as the assumption one would have to be making if, as you suggested, one declined to assume that they were doing any proselytizing.”

    The logical error here is so elementary that I’m embarrassed to have to draw attention to it.

    As for what an evangelical is, instead of polling your audience to find out what an evangelical is, I’d recommend polling members of evangelical organizations. I think you’d find that there is some division of labor in such organizations, with the majorityy providing material support to a small minority who are actively engaged in proselytizing. I think that you’d also find, at least in some of these organizations, the majority providing material support for non-proselytizing charity workers. Making the right assumptions can be a tricky business.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  29. Malcolm says

    Hi Bob,

    Well, we’ve beaten this pretty much to death, but I do feel the need to respond.

    I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. I think there’s no logical error in what I said, if we assume that the parties in question are not merely employees or other nonbelieving functionaries of an evangelical organization, but are themselves evangelical Christians. Perhaps you are suggesting that such an assumption is unwarranted, but this is the impression I have gathered from all the news accounts I’ve read.

    As for what an evangelical is, all my previous experience, as well as every definition I have been able to adduce, supports the notion that an evangelical Christian is one who considers it a basic tenet of his faith that a good Christian ought, as Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark, to go “into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature”. Even in nonreligious usage, an “evangelist” is someone who lobbies others to see the benefits of some new product, business method, or political viewpoint. That the term “evangelism” implies a belief in the importance of trying to bring others around to your faith is, I think, beyond dispute. I was just kidding about polling the audience; it was just my way of saying that I think most people would agree.

    While it may well be that there are members of evangelical organizations whose task within the organization is not specifically to proselytize, a faithful member of an evangelical church must, I think it’s safe to say, share its core values, or wouldn’t be there at all. (There are lots of religions to choose from, after all.) Among those core values is the importance of spreading the Gospel of Christ, which is considered the greatest possible gift, for those who do not accept Christ as Saviour are doomed for all eternity.

    So I fail to see how an evangelical missionary (not the janitor who cleans the church, but a missionary, mind you), surrounded by those who have not yet accepted Christ, would not be moved to share his faith, in the hope of offering salvation.

    Therefore, either A) they do so, or B) they do not, which I characterized as maintaining “taciturn silence” (redundant, perhaps) on religious matters. It’s one or the other.

    In other words, either they speak about their religion, or they don’t. Perhaps the loophole you have in mind is that they might speak about it in some way that falls somehow short of “spreading God’s word”. But given what evangelicism is, that would still be a conscious withholding of the message. Which is what I meant. Again, I’m sorry if I didn’t make that clear.

    Posted July 26, 2007 at 8:02 pm | Permalink
  30. Kevin Kim says

    Bob and Malcolm,

    Check out my friend Charles’s comment over at this post on Dr. Hodges’s blog. It’s relevant to your current exchange.


    Posted July 27, 2007 at 4:08 am | Permalink
  31. Brian says


    By “trip organizers,” are you referring to the team leader who was the first to die a few days ago, the guy currently being lionized by the Korean press (no doubt his church has the hagiography going to the presses as I type this) as a selfless individual who cared more for his young charges than himself. BUllshit!

    THere isn’t a thesaurus big enough to give a writer enough synonyms for “stupid” to explain what these people did, all under the “leadership” of Pastor Bae. Besides the obvious danger of losing their own lives, their actions have no doubt fueled, or will fuel, more sectarian strife; caused a great deal of suffering to their family, friends, and fellow Koreans; and as the cherry on top of this enourmous mess, they have put their country smack dab in the middle of an international incident with various countries taking sides and the diabolical Taliban smack dab in the middle no doubt enjoying all the attention and leverage they now hold. What’s the upside? The church now has a few pictures of their members “witnessing” to poor Afghans? At what cost?

    If Pastor Bae really, genuinely cared about his sheep, he would never have taken them to Af-fuckin-ghanistan. There are plenty of much safer alternatives to taking impressionable youth to that hornet’s nest.


    Posted July 27, 2007 at 5:01 am | Permalink
  32. Gak Seolli says

    The Taliban are doing nothing other than what Korea’s own Daewongun was doing a mere century and a half earlier. That the war-ravaged lands of Afghanistan haven’t “caught up” to the rest of the world should really be no surprise. This lack of historical commensurability is key. Unless you are ready to call George Washington and Thomas Jefferson brutes and savages for owning slaves, which I doubt you are, the castigation of the Taliban is mere posturing, and rather racist and imperialist posturing at that. “You must accept our sweet dumb missionaries, because that’s the way we do things!” The Taliban, no matter how morally repugnant we may find them, doesn’t have to answer to anyone in regards to what they do on their own land. They’ve guaranteed no safety for foreigners, offered no invitation to missionaries. They’ve quite plainly done the opposite, a fact the Korean Government and others have wisely heeded. If Taliban come to Korea, or the USA, to do their bidding, you are certainly obliged to “extirpate” them. Until then, this moral castigation is but chest puffing that only serves to fuel the fires of a more general anti-Islamic hatred that consumes a certain segment of the West.

    Posted July 27, 2007 at 5:39 am | Permalink
  33. Kevin Kim says

    Gak Seolli,

    I’m not anti-Islamic, and it would be embarrassingly simplistic to think that hatred of the Taliban somehow equates to anti-Islamic attitudes, even among “a certain segment of the West.” For some prejudiced souls, maybe Taliban-hatred and Islam-hatred are the same, but there’s no necessary connection between the two.

    But if you’re seriously arguing that the Taliban are somehow blameless or above judgment, well… I don’t know what to say to that. Condemnation of the Taliban isn’t an exclusively Western phenomenon, so let’s not turn this into a bogus argument about paternalistic “Orientalism” in the West. The Taliban are free human beings, gifted with choice, who are responsible for everything they do.

    Respecting another culture is one thing; using moral relativism to justify the murder of unarmed people is something else. Condemning the murder of helpless victims isn’t chest-puffing.


    I’m assuming we’re on the same page, then. If Pastor Bae was one of the organizers (was he?), then a certain portion of blame does go to him. Verily, he has his reward.


    Posted July 27, 2007 at 8:44 am | Permalink
  34. Gak Seolli says

    Spare me Kevin. You’re misreading is risible.
    1. did not equate hating Taliban with anti-Islamic. I did say that the type of chest puffing here, namely, calling them brutes and beyond the circle of humanity, certainly contributes to the cause.

    2. did not argue that the Taliban are blameless or above judgment, seriously or otherwise. I did argue that our grounds for making outrageous claims about the humanity of the Taliban based on this case are shaky, based on related claims in history. I also inquired into the rights anyone had to enter their territory and what rights outsiders would have to demand that the Taliban allow certain behaviors or visitors on their lands. Did the Taliban not make it pretty clear that outsiders and non co-religionists should stay out of their land? The US/Korean governments got the message, By what right do we declare that their declaration is invalid?

    3. specifically did NOT argue for moral relativism, in fact, argued the opposite. If we hold the Taliban to such and such a standard, such that murder of innocents equals exile from the “circle of humanity,” let’s hold it across the board, through time and space. Let’s condemn the slave-holding presidents of the USA, or, if that doesn’t work for you, how about the helpless victims who suffered at the hands of the U.S. military in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Ramadi, or Guantanamo.

    I hold no truck for either the wicked Taliban or the ruthless U.S. imperialists. I’d prefer to live without either and I will not engage in the moral relativism that allows some to arrogantly dehumanize one while defending the other. Should the Taliban step one inch into my nation and try to assert their law where my citizenship holds sway, I will fight them to the death. But I will not engage in the imperialistic project that maintains for itself the right to determine which laws and which standards will operate over the entire face of the planet. Granted, genocide muddies the waters significantly, but what the Taliban is engaged in here certainly doesn’t reach that standard, and in fact, pales to the crimes of the United States. Thus, I state again, until the righteous condemnation levied here is brought down equally against a state guilty of far greater crimes, I will certainly maintain the charge of racism and imperialism – not because I respect their culture, but because I respect my own.

    Posted July 27, 2007 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  35. Malcolm says

    Gak, I couldn’t agree less; I have a feeling you might be Ward Churchill, writing under a pseudonym.

    All this deserves a detailed and thoughtful response, which I am, sadly, unable to offer at the moment, as I am at work today and traveling this evening. It will have to wait for my next chance to write. Monday at the latest.

    Posted July 27, 2007 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  36. Gak Seolli says

    Mr. Malcolm:
    Well, if simple name calling suffices, I’ll just dismiss you as a neo-con, a low-rent V.D. Hanson, or, since you obviously seem to be shooting for it, a latter day Col. Kurtz.

    Sadly, I can’t say I await your response with any expectation, as I can’t imagine anything other than the typical “monkey out of the hat” where any and all misdeeds can be expunged through the glories of institutional capitalist democracy: “Yes, well, we may kill in record numbers but… we have “courts martial”, “trials by juries of peers,” “fair and free elections” and a rocking GDP to boot! And many immigrants want to come to our shores!” All true facts no doubt, but utterly irrelevant to the charges at hand. Those charges would be this – that the US has killed far more people, in far more heinous circumstances (and not even on its own land!) but remains within the circle of civilization, while the Taliban comes in for the most vicious condemnation possible, dehumanization and rhetoric that echoes the worst of the West’s racist, imperialist past.

    Far from taking the blame away from the Taliban, as Kevin believes, it logically extends the blame and ridicules the posturing from those who defend far worse crimes done in one’s own name. Such a move is hardly guilty of “ignoring the complexities,” the typical evasion offered when the harsh gaze gets turned inward, instead, this critical position takes the complexities far beyond where one’s personal comfort level can endure… and hence, we’ll get a litany of rationalizations and rhetorical flim-flam that will do everything but actually debunk the charges at hand.

    Finally, one need not be Ward Churchill, or even of the left, to take on “the sins of the father.” My war veteran Grandpa, ol’ timey crusty Republican that he is, has enough sense to be able to call a spade a spade, and has commented that the likes of this hearty blustering against the Taliban is but a diversion to distract from the US’s own catastrophic failure during this particular historical moment. Maybe Grandpa’s become a tenured radical in his golden years. Or maybe he’s able to see with clarity the sad facts of history’s pitiful ironies.

    Posted July 27, 2007 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  37. Malcolm says

    Well, perhaps you are right, Gak. It appears that we disagree not in this or that detail, but fundamentally and axiomatically, and I imagine that any discussion we might have would be infinitely tiresome, and utterly fruitless. We could spend long and predictable hours flagellating one another, but life is short, and it’s hard to see a good reason for either of us to bother.

    I’m sure you can find other forums, as well as nations, that are more to your liking.

    Posted July 28, 2007 at 12:18 am | Permalink
  38. Wow. Hugely interesting exchange. Perhaps I can bring some levity to the discussion. About 10 years ago, I was backpacking around Asia and in Sumatra came across a tribe with very odd customs. Upon some investigation, it turned out they were Christian cannibals (with the cannibalism largely snuffed out by the government). I was fascinated and asked some folks how this had come to be. Turns out there were a number of cannibal tribes in that area that basically ate their enemies. Well one day, some missionaries arrived, so they ate ’em. A few months later, more arrived and they got eaten too. Eventually, they began wondering who these nutty folks were, listened to a couple and got converted. They wouldn’t give up the cannibalism (at the time), so became Christian cannibals.

    There are a couple of morals here (which are well covered by the discussion), but this whole incident reminded me of those Sumatran Christian Cannibals.

    Posted July 31, 2007 at 9:39 pm | Permalink
  39. Malcolm says

    Hi Salim! Nice to hear from you.

    I don’t know quite what to add to that story, other than that I suppose it proves the old adage that you are what you eat.

    Posted July 31, 2007 at 11:46 pm | Permalink
  40. Tim says

    Hi Malcolm,
    I find it extremely sad that the afghan government was willing to exchange 5 taliban prisoners for 1 italian reporter while this government is unwilling to exchang even 1 taliban prisoner for 23 korean aid workers. Also, where in your blogs have you ever called the italian reporter dumb, stupid, moron etc…? double standard perhaps? (i did pose similar questions earlier but you avoided to answer them)

    Salim, i guess what you’re trying to say is that “A dog returns to its vomit, and a sow that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud.” (2 Peter 2:22) or “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11)
    Thanks for siding with the Korean aid workers Salim. If you weren’t, then you need to refine your logic for a bit.

    Posted August 1, 2007 at 9:50 am | Permalink
  41. Malcolm says


    I made no comment on the Italian reporter because I hadn’t followed the story as closely as this one. I should think that a gaggle of reporters traveling in an unprotected bus on a dangerous highway in Afghanistan would be acting stupidly as well; generally, I think, the press are much more careful about their security than the Korean group were.

    Like you, I find it sad that the Afghan government were willing to exchange Taliban prisoners for the reporter; it encourages and emboldens the hostage-takers. Had they not done so, perhaps the Koreans might not have been kidnapped either.

    As for your “double standard” remark, if I understand you correctly, you’re suggesting that I’m judging the Koreans more harshly because they were on a religiously motivated mission, rather than a secular, journalistic one. Well, to some extent you may be right; I’m sure, for example, that if these kids had gone to Afghanistan to try to get the locals to become Scientologists, or atheists, your own partisan support for their project might have been undercut ever so slightly too. As a secular sort myself, I do see reporting the news, or delivering humanitarian assistance, as being of greater intrinsic value than converting people from one religious cult to another. But I do also understand that everyone acts according to their own vision of what matters, and people may disagree. Like everyone else’s, my opinions are informed by my own values.

    My criticism, though, is really only about their spectacular naiveté and foolhardiness, which so far has got two of them killed, greatly discomfited their own and the Afghan government, given leverage to the vile Taliban, and caused a good deal of unnecessary suffering generally.

    Finally, I’m not sure what you mean by “siding with” the Koreans. Of course Salim and I – and all civilized people – are sickened by their plight and hope that they will be returned safely. They were fools to do what they did in the way they did it, but they certainly do not deserve to be slaughtered by brutal fanatics for their unwisdom.

    As I have said over and over, it is the Taliban who are the morally culpable party here.

    Posted August 1, 2007 at 10:39 am | Permalink
  42. William says

    Hi, I’m also trying to learn what on earth these Koreans have got themselves into. Without passing any judgment on the articles nor their subjects, here are a bunch of links to articles on their (mis-)adventure which I have found so far:

    Video of Koreans at work in Afghanistan

    For the one, the original English text is at the bottom

    From International Herald Tribune of UK

    From Time

    Also from Time – 11 webpages long

    From Der Spiegel of Germany

    From Asia Times

    From the Telegraph of UK

    From The Daily Mail of UK

    From Chosun Ilbo of South Korea

    From the Turkish Press

    From “The Ledger”

    From “The Spec”

    From “NPR”

    From Christians Today, based on Reuters’ reportage

    From Crosswalk

    Posted August 13, 2007 at 2:40 am | Permalink
  43. William says

    Final correction (I hope – sorry, guys):

    From International Herald Tribune of UK

    Posted August 13, 2007 at 3:05 am | Permalink
  44. Malcolm says

    Hi William,

    Thanks for the links! Sorry for the delay, but comments with more than a few links must be moderated, and it took me until this morning to see this.

    Posted August 13, 2007 at 10:17 am | Permalink
  45. William says

    No problem, Malcolm. I’m not here to raise further controversy, and many of the links go to news agencies of some repute from different countries. So, hopefully, your readers can also get to see various reportages and draw their conclusions on a broader base of information.

    And, may I say, I quite enjoy the sparks that come from the discourse you have with various readers in both articles through the comments.

    Posted August 13, 2007 at 12:42 pm | Permalink
  46. Malcolm says

    Why thanks, William. Some topics do indeed seem to get people going, and I learn a great deal from the comments of my many astute readers.

    I’ve put up your list of links as a separate post. In particular I’ve been trying to get at the extent to which the missionaries were there to spread the faith; it’s a touchy subject.

    Posted August 13, 2007 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  47. William says

    Malcolm, indeed it’s a sensitive thing. It’s so hard to ascertain at this moment what exactly they did there, because both the Korean Christian community and the Korean foreign affairs department would definitely emphasize the “aid” part of their mission; to admit that they also engage in any evangelical or proselytizing activity, however subdued, could mean condemning them to punishment by the Taliban and could only bring more complications to the current negotiations (as well as costing them much of the world’s sympathies, may I add). Only when they get home and feel comfortable to spill their beans, would we have a chance to know whether they really engage in any “faith-sharing” activities.

    However, YouTube has quite a few seemingly professionally-produced clips of the missions by various Korean missions into the Middle East (some even by busloads of kids), which would seem to suggest that such missions would usually include a component of “faith-sharing”. Now, I’m not saying this particular mission currently in distress also had such a component in its activities conducted, but allow me to say that I wouldn’t be surprised if it did have one to certain extent.

    Posted August 13, 2007 at 7:21 pm | Permalink
  48. William says

    The first half of this clip is reportedly on the group of actual Korean hostages, recorded as they first arrived in Afghanistan. I also see these shots in our newscasts, and they were also attributed to the group of captives.

    Posted August 14, 2007 at 4:31 am | Permalink