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.
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.”
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.