Syria-Bound Russian Missiles Fly Too Close to Sun

Wednesday was Vladimir Putin’s 63rd birthday. To celebrate, he played ice hockey with some aging stars, scoring seven goals in a 15-10 win. Putin also ordered the launch of 26 cruise missiles into Syria from warships that were stationed nearly 1,000 miles away.

“That we fired from the territory of the Caspian Sea, at a range greater than 1,500 kilometers, and hit targets precisely, this shows high qualifications,” Putin bragged in a televised interview with his defense minister. (Russia also put the display of military firepower on YouTube.)

Also notable about this brazen show of might is that the missiles traveled through two countries, Iran and Iraq, before hitting their 11 targets in Syria. This means that both countries either gave their permission or simply didn’t confront Putin about the use of their airspace on his birthday.

But as with nearly any good birthday fête, Thursday brought a hangover:

That’s right, Russian Icarus’s reckless gambit has potentially backfired—though it’s still unclear whether the missiles that reportedly crashed in Iran were launched Thursday or were launched on Wednesday.

“Monitoring by U.S. military and intelligence assets has concluded that at least four missiles crashed as they flew over Iran,” two officials told CNN’s Barbara Starr. “One official said there may be casualties, but another official said this is not yet known.”

Russian media said the Iranian defense ministry called the reports “intensified western propaganda.”

But if the reports are true, this development has another irony. Earlier on Thursday, reports detailed just how assiduously Iran had lobbied Russia to begin its controversial airstrike campaign in Syria.

A Self-Defeating Crusade Against Salman Rushdie

Twenty-seven years after the publication of his book The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie’s most notorious work and its legacy still engender controversy. On Tuesday, The Guardian reported that Iran is threatening to boycott the Frankfurt Book Fair because Rushdie is to make the festival’s opening keynote address.

“This has been organized by the Frankfurt Book Fair and crosses one of our political system’s red lines,” said Seyed Abbas Salehi, Iran’s deputy minister for culture and Islamic guidance. “We consider this move as anti-cultural.”

The Satanic Verses infamously prompted Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei to issue a fatwa against Rushdie, a British citizen, in 1989. The religious edict technically still stands, but is no longer part of the Islamic Republic’s state policy. Iran renounced the death threat to restore ties with the United Kingdom in 1998. During those years, Rushdie’s travel abroad was limited and he was frequently accompanied by security wherever he went.

In his recent statement, Salehi defended the edict, saying “Imam Khomeini’s fatwa on this issue is reflective of our religion and it will never fade away.”

But at what cost? The Frankfurt Book Fair is one of the world’s largest festivals of its kind, and those who would suffer the most from an Iranian boycott would be Iranian authors themselves. The Guardian notes that nearly 300 Iranian publishers attended last year’s festival, representing some 1,200 books.

“The publication of polemic literature and its consequences affect not just authors but the entire publishing industry,” writes the festival’s website in promoting Rushdie’s speech. “That’s why freedom of expression and boundaries are key topics at this year’s book fair.”

The Wrath of Hurricane Joaquin

After dumping heavy rain on the East Coast all weekend, Hurricane Joaquin is heading farther northeast, toward Bermuda.

Joaquin, the third hurricane of this year’s Atlantic season, has weakened from a Category 4 hurricane to a Category 2. Its maximum wind speeds have decreased from 130 miles per hour to 100 miles per hour.

Bermuda is already experiencing hurricane conditions, and the eye of the storm is expected to whirl past the British island territory late Sunday night. The U.S. National Hurricane Center predicts three to five inches of rain there, and says isolated tornadoes are possible.

In the United States, Joaquin appears to have done its worst in South Carolina this weekend. More than 18 inches of rain in roughly 24 hours fell in the state, leading to severe flooding. Charleston got nearly one foot of rain on Saturday, breaking the city’s record for that day that was set in 1998. Three people have died as a result of the hurricane, and hundreds of of homes and businesses have flooded.

The state has closed interstate highways in and around the capital city of Columbia, and 600 members of the National Guard have been dispatched for rescues and evacuations, said South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley on Sunday.

“This is an incident we’ve never dealt with before,” Haley said.

President Obama signed an emergency declaration for South Carolina on Saturday, directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts in the state.

The Associated Press interviewed several South Carolina residents who are struggling to decide whether to weather the floods or leave their homes. Here’s one:

From her window, Peggy Capps could see the water from Black Creek pooling in her backyard. … “Everyone has been told they should leave, but I haven’t made up my mind,” she said.

The 79-year-old Capps lives with her son in a neighborhood that runs along Black Creek. She said they could go into town and stay with a relative. But Capps doesn’t want to leave behind her 7-year-old cat, Tiger.

“I’m not sure I would be able to take him and I don’t want to leave him here. I don’t know how long I would be gone,” she said.

Before Joaquin reached South Carolina, it spent 36 hours swirling past the Bahamas, dumping up to 18 inches of rain on the island chain. The hurricane destroyed homes and buildings, uprooted trees, and caused widespread power outages. A cargo ship carrying 33 people went missing off the coast of the Bahamas on Friday. On Sunday, rescue teams found debris that appeared to belong to the ship. On board were 28 U.S. citizens and five Polish nationals.

FIFA’s Blatter Under Pressure

Updates on October 2 at 5:07 p.m.

Visa, McDonald’s, and Coca Cola, among the biggest sponsors of the FIFA World Cup, have called on Sepp Blatter, the head of soccer’s governing body, to resign immediately.

Here’s McDonald’s statement:

The events of recent weeks have continued to diminish the reputation of FIFA and public confidence in its leadership. We believe it would be in the best interest of the game for FIFA President Sepp Blatter to step down immediately so that the reform process can proceed with the credibility that is needed.

Coca Cola said:

For the benefit of the game, The Coca-Cola Company is calling for FIFA President Joseph Blatter to step down immediately so that a credible and sustainable reform process can begin in earnest. Every day that passes, the image and reputation of FIFA continues to tarnish. FIFA needs comprehensive and urgent reform, and that can only be accomplished through a truly independent approach.

Visa added:

We believe no meaningful reform can be made under FIFA’s existing leadership. And given the events of last week, it’s clear it would be in the best interests of FIFA and the sport for Sepp Blatter to step down immediately.

CNBC reported that AB INBev, the parent company of Budsweiser, echoed those calls.

Blatter’s response:

The pressure from the corporations comes amid increased scrutiny of both FIFA and Blatter. FIFA has faced allegations of corruption for years. Those drumbeats became more prominent after the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively. They were capped in May by a joint U.S.-Swiss operation that resulted in the arrests of several FIFA executives in Zurich.

Last week, the Swiss attorney general’s office announced it had opened a criminal investigation into Blatter. As my colleague Matt Ford reported:

Blatter faces allegations of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation during his presidency. According to the attorney general’s office, the allegations center on a contract Blatter signed with the Caribbean Football Union in 2005.

To put in perspective FIFA’s clout and the power exercised by Blatter, consider this from Matt:

FIFA commands tremendous financial resources and international clout. Blatter sat at the center of the web of regional and continental fiefdoms that shape the world’s most popular sport for more than 17 years. Corruption allegations dogged various FIFA officials throughout his tenure, and as recently as last week, but Blatter endured, aided by his mastery of the organization’s election processes and his dispensation of patronage to smaller, far-flung national soccer organizations that backed his reign.

But that reign ended on June 2, days after Blatter was re-elected to a fifth term as FIFA’s president when the U.S. announced its indictments. Blatter resigned the presidency and announced new elections. He says he will stay in the position until that election takes place in February 2016. But it’s unclear if the pressure from the biggest corporate sponsors will allow him to stay in office until then.

The Pope’s Meeting with Sex Abuse Victims

Conservative Christian communities are split between doubling down on their advocacy, or walling themselves off from mainstream culture.

According to a growing number of Christian leaders and thinkers, America in 2015 looks a lot like the declining, dissolute Roman empire. Conservative blogger Rod Dreher, a Protestant-turned-Catholic-turned-Orthodox Christian, has introduced what he believes to be the best way forward for Christians embroiled in the culture wars: The Benedict Option. Dreher asks whether Christians ought to emulate the 5th-century Roman saint, and undertake “communal withdrawal from the mainstream, for the sake of sheltering one’s faith and family from corrosive modernity and cultivating a more traditional way of life?”

Saint Benedict was born around 480 AD in Nursia, Italy, an area of southeastern Umbria now best known for its wild-boar sausage. He lived at the time of the rise of Christian monasticism, a tradition founded several generations earlier that encouraged Christians in Europe (and, eventually, the Middle East) to leave their families of origin and trade communal life in society for monastic life in the desert, either alone or in small clusters led by abbots. Benedict’s studies took him from Nursia to Rome, a city he found degenerate and full of vice. Repelled by the licentiousness of urban life, Benedict retreated with his family servant to the Sabine Mountains, where he became a monk, led a monastery, and eventually wrote the Rule, a 73-chapter handbook on prayer and work that led to the founding of the Order of Saint Benedict, a group of monastic communities.