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Finding hope and purpose in ISIS's latest attack

Credit: Wheeler Andrew via AP

Two men acting on behalf of ISIS attacked a small church in Normandy, France on Tuesday morning, killing Father Jacques Hamel, the parish's eighty-six-year-old priest, and critically injuring another. The terrorists were then shot by police as they attempted to exit the church while a third individual, thought to have been associated with the jihadists, was taken into custody. The attack took place during Tuesday morning mass while Father Hamel was officiating the service.

One of the witnesses, Sister Daniele Delafosse, told reporters that the two men went to the altar where Father Hamel was speaking, spoke an apparently religious oration in Arabic, and then forced the priest to his knees before slitting his throat. French President, Francois Hollande, described the attack as a "cowardly assassination" perpetrated "by two terrorists in the name of Daesh," another term for ISIS.

The assault is the latest in a growing trend, exemplified most recently by the truck that killed eighty-four in Nice less than two weeks ago. And while it's the first such attack to take place inside a church, the French government has worried for some time that Christian places of worship would become targets.

In April of 2015, authorities arrested a twenty-four-year-old computer science student from Algeria named Sid Ahmed Ghlam, who was thought to be targeting churches. Ghlam had been ordered by a Belgian militant to attack a church in Villejuif but was thankfully arrested before he was able to do so.

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The first Olympic record falls in Rio

Credit: Michael Kappeler via APThe first record has already been broken at the Rio Olympics and the games won't even start for almost three weeks. As The Guardian's Chitra Ramaswamy reports, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will provide 450,000 condoms for the Olympians at this year's event—an average of forty-two per athlete. That's roughly three times the amount given out in London four years ago that prompted tabloids to call it "the raunchiest games ever." And while fears over Zika likely contributed to the historic number, the decision to provide 100,000 female condoms for the first time increased the total number quite a bit as well.

If that number seems excessive, keep in mind that the environment around the Olympic village once the athletes finish their competition quickly devolves into "a frat party with a very nice gene pool," in the words of soccer player Julie Foudy. As US goalie Hope Solo added in an interview with ESPN's Sam Alipour, "Athletes are extremists. When they're training, it's laser focus. When they go out for a drink, it's twenty drinks. With a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you want to build memories, whether it's sexual, partying, or on the field."

And while the opportunity to finally relax after dedicating the better part of one's life to preparing for the Olympic games fuels much of the debauchery, Alipour notes that other motives come into play as well: "Many on-the-prowl athletes maintain that they're driven by a simple human need: intimacy . . . For most Olympians, the ramp-up to the Games is lonely . . . the Olympics represent the perfect opportunity to find a partner who understands where they're coming from." To that end, American water polo captain Tony Azevedo remarked, "Think about how hard it is to meet someone. Now take an Olympian who trains from 6 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day. When the [heck] are you supposed to meet someone? Now the pressure is done, you're meeting like-minded people . . . and boom."

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Who is Theresa May?

Credit: Ben Cawthra via APTheresa May is soon to be one of the most powerful people in the world. The former Home Secretary will follow David Cameron as Britain's Prime Minister in a succession that will take place far sooner than most expected. However, when Andrea Leadsom withdrew from the race on Monday, May was left without an opponent and quickly gained her party's support. Cameron described her as both "strong" and "confident" in offering his endorsement, and Leadsom echoed those sentiments in offering her support as well.

While strong and confident seem to be a fitting description of May, others have used slightly less glowing terms to describe her tenacity. Former cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke described her as "a bloody difficult woman, but good." May took the comment in stride, saying, "The next person to find that out will be Jean-Claude Juncker," the president of the European Commission with whom May will negotiate the details of Britain's exit from the EU.

Those negotiations were not a foregone conclusion in the minds of all British citizens when May first became a candidate for the post. In the Brexit decision, May sided with former PM David Cameron in voting to remain in the EU. However, she has since stated that "Brexit means Brexit. The campaign was fought. The vote was held. Turnout was high, and the public gave their verdict." She went on to promise that her goal now was to make Britain's exit as successful as possible.

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The Chilcot Report: Lessons from the past

Credit: Dan Kitwood via APIt took seven years, but Britain's inquiry into their involvement in the Iraq war recently concluded with a twelve-volume, 2.6 million-word report. As one might expect, the findings have not been kind to former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his regime. Among the more damning aspects of Sir John Chilcot's report was the conclusion that Saddam Hussein posed "no imminent threat" to the British people at the time of the war. While Chilcot noted that it might have eventually been necessary to remove Hussein from power, they had not yet reached the point where it was absolutely necessary to do so.

The report would go on to state that "the judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction—WMD—were presented with a certainty that was not justified." Moreover, "despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated." Much of the report pertains to those consequences and the coalition's inability to achieve a satisfactory end once Hussein was removed from power.

Despite these findings, Blair maintains that joining the U.S.-led attack on Iraq was warranted. He issued a lengthy and heartfelt apology for the lives lost in the conflict but reassured their family and friends that the deaths of their loved ones were not in vain—an accusation many of the bereaved have levied against Blair and others.

While many have been quick to offer their opinions on what the report means and how it should be used going forward, the future implications of Chilcot's findings remain unclear. Soon-to-be-former Prime Minister David Cameron told Members of Parliament that it was vital that Britain "really learn the lessons for the future" so that the same mistakes will not be made again. Others, such as Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, appear more focused on casting blame and exacting punishment. Corbyn speaks for a growing contingent who believe that the UK should give the International Criminal Court "the power to prosecute those responsible for the crime of military aggression," such as Blair.

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Russian Government Seeks to Squelch Churches

Credit: Ivan Sekretarev via APThe Russian government cracked down on extremism and, in turn, threatened religious expression in their latest move. The Duma (their parliament, similar to the U.S. House of Representatives) passed a series of strict anti-terror laws that require phone and Internet providers to store all communications records for six months— they also outlaw any Christian missionary activity.

The proposed legislation has been termed the "Yarovaya law" after United Russia lawmaker Irina Yarovaya. She crafted the bill in response to the October bombing of a Russian passenger plane in Egypt that killed 224. Opposition and security experts call it some of the most repressive legislation since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. 

The loaded, Orwellian bill empowers a Putin administration to keep watch over those on Russian soil. Here in the US, Apple successfully kept the FBI from forcing it to build a backdoor into its software, but that is not the case in Russia. They would require tech companies to make cryptographic backdoors mandatory in all messaging applications. The bill also revives a Soviet standard that places criminal liability on individuals who fail to report to officials someone who is planning to or committed a crime – including a priest who listens to confession.

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