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Libya PM Targeted, Russia-Belarus Drills, Gazpacho Tactics

Students of Kolkata's Aliah University protesting against the Hijab ban enforced in a few colleges in the Southern state of Karnataka in India.

Students of Kolkata's Aliah University protesting against the Hijab ban enforced in a few colleges in the Southern state of Karnataka in India.

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Bertrand Hauger and Jane Herbelin

👋 Bonjou!*

Welcome to Thursday, where Libya’s prime minister survives an assassination attempt, Belarus and Russia start joint military drills and a Republican congresswoman spills her gazpacho. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re also looking at the world of private jet travel, a means of transportation that soared during the pandemic.

[*Haitian Creole]


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Russia military drills with Belarus: Belarus and Russia started ten days of joint military drills on Thursday, as tensions remain high over the Kremlin’s buildup of forces along Ukraine’s borders. Moscow has said the aim of the exercises is to “practice suppressing and repelling external aggression.” Around 3,000 Russian troops are believed to be in Belarus, which according to NATO marks the biggest Russian deployment to the ex-Soviet territory since the Cold War. On a visit to NATO’s headquarters, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that the Ukraine crisis has entered its “most dangerous moment” as the threat of a war looms.

COVID update: The U.S. plans to begin the distribution of COVID-19 shots for children under the age of 5, as early as Feb. 21, according to the U.S. Centers for DIsease Control and Prevention. Paris banned a French “Freedom Convoy” of hundreds of motorists protesting against COVID-19 restrictions from entering the capital city. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Jonhson outlined plans to lift all domestic COVID-19 restrictions in England within weeks, including the legal requirement to self-isolate.

Libyan Prime Minister survives assassination attempt: Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah survived an assassination attempt in Tripoli, after gunmen fired on his car as we was returning home early Thursday. The attack came amid intense rival factions over control of the government.

Church sex abuse panel in Portugal reports first 200+ cases: A lay committee investigating historic child sex abuse in the Portuguese Catholic Church announced it had received allegations from 214 people throughout its first month of work.

Olympics drug controversy: The 15-year-old Russian superstar figure skater Kamila Valieva has turned up for training as usual Thursday morning at the Winter Olympics, despite having tested positive for a banned substance. The International Olympic Committee had announced that the medal ceremony for the figure skating event had been suspended. Meanwhile, Austrian Johannes Strolz bounced back from being dropped from his team to winning the gold medal in the men's Alpine combined event on Thursday, following in his father’s footsteps.

Space storm destroys 40 of Space X’s Starlink satellites: Elon Musk's company SpaceX confirmed that a solar storm had destroyed most of the Starlink satellites it launched last Friday, with 40 of its 49 satellites expected to fall back to earth.

Pro Trump representative confuses the Gestapo with gazpacho soup: Controversial Republican U.S. congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene triggered a wave of viral jokes on Wednesday as she accused Democratic leaders of “gazpacho” tactics on Capitol Hill. She apparently confused Hitler’s secret police with the popular Spanish cold tomato soup …


Canadian daily Ottawa Citizen devotes its front page to the “Freedom Convoy” protests that have paralyzed Ottawa’s city center for more than a week. What started as demonstrations against mandatory vaccinations for truckers crossing the U.S.-Canada border has grown into broader dissent against the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The leader is demanding an end to the protests, which have forced some factories to shut down due to the blockade of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge on the border.


마늘 소녀들

The South Korean curling team known as the “Garlic Girls” (마늘 소녀들, maneul sonyeodeul), a nod to the iconic produce of their region, starts competing at the Beijing Winter Olympics today in a round-robin match against Canada. The team had gained fame with its first Olympic gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games, before prompting debates about the mistreatment of athletes in South Korea, when its members denounced their coaches’ harsh training and abuse nine months later.


How the pandemic spread private jet travel beyond the super-rich and powerful

Once the reserve of the super-rich and famous, private jet travel soared during the pandemic. Amid border closures and travel restrictions, private charter flights are sometimes the only option to get people — and their pets!? — home.

✈️ During the pandemic, a surprisingly wide demographic have turned to private jets not because it was a luxury they could afford, but out of desperation, trying to reach a destination in the face of border closures and widespread flight cancellations. Last year, private jet hours were close to 50% higher than in 2020, according to the Global Business Aviation Outlook. While some of the increase can be attributed to more travel in 2021 because of COVID-19 vaccination, it still amounts to 5% more hours than before the pandemic.

🐶 More than just saving time through skipping security lines and long waits at airports, flying private jets also lets the super wealthy, and those desperate enough to break the bank, sidestep other regulations. As part of its zero-COVID policy, Hong Kong has severely limited flights. High cargo rates for animals and flight cancellations are making it very hard for pet owners to leave the island taking their furry friends along. Those desperate enough are spending upwards of $25,665 to privately charter themselves and their pets. Many are pooling their resources to share in the cost.

🧳 In Morocco, private jets were the only way for many to enter the North African kingdom after it suspended all air travel from Nov. 29 until Feb. 7 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. Close to 6,000 Moroccans were stuck abroad. In this case, many weren’t looking for a luxurious travel experience but were just desperate to return to their home country. Traveling in groups was one way to decrease the expense, to as low as $1,400 per passenger for a flight from Europe, but for some this still means relying on family support or finding other ways to raise money.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


“I didn't kill anyone, and I didn't hurt anyone. Not even a scratch.”

— Salah Abdeslam, the only surviving member of the ISIS cell that targeted Paris in the 2015 attacks, has denied killing or hurting anybody during the trial of the attacks that left 130 people dead. Adbeslam said he supported the Islamic State of Iraq but chose at the last minute not to detonate his explosives, though prosecutors believe his suicide belt malfunctioned. The French-Moroccan is the only defendant, among 20, to be directly accused of murder and hostage taking.


$4.3 million

The Enigma, a 555.55 carat black gem believed to be the world's largest cut diamond, has sold for $4.3 million in an online auction. The gem, known as a “carbonado,” is an extremely rare billion-year-old black diamond which contain osbonite, a mineral found only in meteors — meaning it could originate from space.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Garlic curling and gazpacho on the menu? Let us know what’s happening in your corner of the world!


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Should Christians Be Scared Of Horror Movies?

Horror films have a complicated and rich history with christian themes and influences, but how healthy is it for audiences watching?

"The Nun II" was released on Sept. 2023.

Joseph Holmes

“The Nun II” has little to show for itself except for its repetitive jump scares — but could it also be a danger to your soul?

Christians have a complicated relationship with the horror genre. On the one hand, horror movies are one of the few types of Hollywood films that unapologetically treat Christianity (particularly Catholicism) as good.

“The Exorcist” remains one of the most successful and acclaimed movies of all time. More recently, “The Conjuring” franchise — about a wholesome husband and wife duo who fight demons for the Catholic Church in the 1970s and related spinoffs about the monsters they’ve fought — has more reverent references to Jesus than almost any movie I can think of in recent memory (even more than many faith-based films).

The Catholic film critic Deacon Steven Greydanus once mentioned that one of the few places where you can find substantial positive Catholic representation was inhorror films.

On the other hand, a great many Christians think horror films are harmful. They argue that seeing these compelling and arresting depictions of fake evil desensitizes you to real evil and makes you more likely to be possessed by demons. This is especially true for movies involving demonic possession.A Catholic priest in the Philippines has warned people about watching horror movies because he had to free a woman from demons who inhabited her after seeing “The Nun” and “Twilight” movies.

The renaissance of horror

None of this has prevented the horror genre from being a reliably profitable box office draw, especially this time of year. The genre is consistently one thehighest grossing in proportion to its budget. This has continued with “The Nun II,” which has had had an extremely successful opening weekend,nabbing the No. 1 spot at the box office this past weekend. “The Nun II” is set four years after the first film. It follows Sister Irene as she once again is called upon to do battle with the habit-garbed demon Valak.

The “Conjuring” films are an interesting part of the general renaissance of horror films that has gone on in recent years. Unlike films like “Hereditary” or “Get Out,” which revitalized the genre by using fear as a metaphor for psychological or social issues like grief and racism, “The Conjuring” and its spinoffs focused squarely on giving the audience the scares.

“People wanted more violence” Chaves told EW, describing the reaction of “The Nun II” test audiences. “There was already a good degree of violence and gore in the movie, but people wanted more of it. So, we did a little bit of additional photography and we ramped that up. It just goes to show how audiences are always changing, evolving. Even in the earliest version, it was more (violent) than what was in your traditional Conjuring movie. I think horror audiences have been on this journey, this horror renaissance, where they've seen a lot of horror movies, they've seen a lot of violence. It's something they wanted more of and we gladly gave it.”

Unpacking demonic influences

Alyssa Plock, aYouTube film critic who tries to help Christians unpack the messages in the movies and TV shows they watch, talked to Religion Unplugged about why she warns people about watching horror movies. This is what she said:

"Yes, watching demonic things in movies can open you up to demonic influence and sometimes even possession, especially if the movie is void of the lens of Christ's power. There is evidence for this in Christian doctrine and in the universal experience of deliverers and ex witches and warlocks. Doctrinally, Jesus says the eye is the lamp of the body and if the eye is dark, the whole body is filled with darkness (Luke 11:34-36) The Old Testament also discusses the dangers and divination and witchcraft, which are often found in these movies, and in the New Testament, we are told that the power behind idols is demons (1 Cor 10:20).

Horror films 'can be tremendously valuable in our society — and Christian culture.'

The first two of the Ten Commandments put God in his right place with no place for idols or demons. Watching these movies, especially where the demons reign and are only subject to human authority and not the blood of Christ, opens you up to demonic teachings. I like the warning against being taken captive in Colossians 2:8 because it connects philosophies to spiritual forces. Even if watching a horror movie does not lead to possession, it certainly puts Satan's side in the teacher's position. And who wants that?”

She recalled a story told to her by a friend in deliverance ministry — a practice among some Christians who cleanse others of demons and evil spirits — that illustrated that point:

“A friend of mine tells the story of a man who came for deliverance from night terrors. One swoop! The demons and night terrors were gone. Only, after a month the dreams started to come back. So my friend prayed deliverance again. Again gone. Again they came back. Finally my friend asked, "Are you still watching your horror movie collection?" The man said he was. And my friend said, "I will not get rid of the demons again until you get rid of the horror movies, the source." The guy got rid of them, got prayer, and the dreams left for good.”

“The Exorcist” remains one of the most successful and acclaimed movies of all time


Cheap thrills

“The Nun II” is a movie built around basic scares and little else — even more than other movies like it. The best of the “Conjuring” movies spend as much time indulging in the wholesomeness of the heroes like the Warrens as they do the monsters — if not more so. Here, the characters are established just well enough that we care about them (which, admittedly, is a step above the first “Nun” movie) but not developed on much during the majority of the film. The themes are established and paid off, but little time is spent developing them either. There are a few moments where the visuals and the mood are effective and clever, but they are over way too quickly as well.

Instead, most of the movie is built around going from one loosely connected repetitive scare to another. Rinse and repeat. All this means is that if you’re here for “The Nun II,” then you’re here because you want to be scared.

This emphasis on getting cheap thrills from dark and disturbing material is what often makes Christians uncomfortable with horror, even if they don’t think that it directly causes demonic possession. Why would a healthy person want to be subjected to this? There is a genuine fear that indulging in this kind of vicarious enjoyment of violence would lead to people becoming desensitized to it and — even worse — potentially becoming violent themselves. This was a big accusation against slasher films like the “Friday the 13th” and “Saw” franchises in the 1980s and 2000s, respectively. And “The Nun II” director’s words about audiences wanting more gore proves that point.

This fear is not entirely unfounded. TheAmerican Psychological Association notes that some studies have found that exposure to violence in television can increase aggression and fear in children and desensitization to the suffering of others, and there’s good reason to believe it’s causative rather than correlative — although as a factor in causing violence, it’s quite small. Of course, this is with kids, not adults.

Horror as a positive force

Tyler Smith, a film critic and host of theBattleship Pretension website and podcast, is a Christian who created a documentary exploring horror films and how they can be positive for people.

Nonetheless, even Smith said he is open to the idea that horror can open you up to the demonic:

“I suppose anything can open you up to demonic forces. Art is no different. Art is unique, though, in that it is often meant to pull the audience in and allow them to experience what the artist is conveying. So, while I am hesitant to go so far as saying a person could be actively possessed by a demon just by watching demonic-themed movies, an argument can be made that, by requiring the audience to face this material head on, it could ‘give the devil a foothold.’ By dwelling on this material, the undiscerning viewer can become so preoccupied with darkness that it can begin to take root in their general outlook, to the point that demonic forces might be able to convince said viewer to do things they otherwise wouldn’t.”

'Man versus demons will lose,' she said. 'Man with God versus demons will win.'

Even so, he thinks horror films are uniquely able to offer positive things to viewers that we shouldn't be so quick to dismiss.

“Thematically, horror movies are uniquely equipped to overtly address concepts like good and evil, and what separates the two. In a time when these concepts are increasingly declared subjective, horror often takes the stance that evil is very real and can only be stamped out by good. Similarly, horror can tackle modern issues in a way that other genres can’t. While a drama must embrace subtlety in dealing with these issues, lest they be denounced as preachy, horror can face them head on, often without the viewer being consciously aware of them, distracted by sensationalistic stories and extreme imagery. While this is obviously true of high-minded horror, it is equally true of what might be considered a lower, more exploitative, class of horror.

For years, George Romero made some of the goriest, trashiest, most disturbing movies of their time. In the middle of the blood and guts though, he also explored human relationships and prejudices in extreme circumstances, forcing the audience to face – perhaps unconsciously – their own attitudes and actions towards those that were different than them.”

Smith also said horror films “can be tremendously valuable in our society — and Christian culture — because it is willing to take a long, hard look at the ugliness and evil that we spend so much time and effort shielding our eyes from.”

“The Nun II” is set four years after the first film.


Saving your soul

Plock said she’s more skeptical of what horror films have to offer — and more cautious of the bad messages they can send.

“What we watch is teaching us in a mild or extreme measure. The Bible says do not fear 365 times, one for every day of the year. In contrast, horror movies, and particular slasher movies, are designed to make you get high off of fear. This has a terrible effect on the viewer. The movie and you in your participation are glorifying fear. You will either learn to constantly be in fear or to never be in fear where some fear is needed. If you give demons legal right to your mind through idol worship, witchcraft or the lessons they are spewing in horror movies, you do have reason to fear them but now you are numb to it. You are choosing them over God’s word and lowering your protection.”

In more specific terms, she suggested people “avoid humanistic supernatural horror movies as they teach you that you can win this fight on your own, and you cannot.”

“Man versus demons will lose,” she said. “Man with God versus demons will win. ‘The Conjuring’ and ‘Nefarious’ are safer movies and do not glorify evil. They are dealing with the realities of a dark realm driven by Satan and his minions as well as the light of God that can overcome it. ‘The Conjuring’ can overplay Satan's power though. Deliverance does not have to be a hard fight. There is no comparison to Jesus and the angel Lucifer he created.”

Let’s play devil’s advocate and say it wasn't bad to watch horror films: Why would anyone want to? Why does anyone want to be scared?

Interestingly, people who love horror films have good reasons for loving them. People who love horror films do so because theyenjoy the experience of getting scared and surviving. In fact, people who watch horror films tend tofeel more powerful and capable of achieving their goals after they’ve watched them. This is actually extremely psychologically healthy.

If the Bible commands us not to fear, horror films might actually be a recipe for helping us do that.

The pushback might be that Christians shouldn’t feel psychologically strong on their own. As Plock pointed out, they may grow to believe that they are capable of standing up to the darkness themselves and that they don’t need Jesus to do so. One can argue (Alyssa doesn't argue this, but I have talked to Christians who do) that healthy confidence instead comes from embracing your weakness and wholly relying on Jesus for your safety and peace. In my own life, I have found that I have had the most confidence and peace that Christianity promised when I learned more and more to face the things that scare me with prayer rather than stay away from the things that scare me with prayer. But I can understand the other side to it.

Dealing with your fears by safely exposing yourself to them makes you mentally and emotionally tougher, which is why people during the pandemic who watched horror films tended to be less anxious than those who did not. In fact, sociologist Jonathan Haidt credits much of the increase in anxiety and depression over the past decades to an explicit rejection of making yourself mentally tougher by exposing yourself to your fears and an embrace of a lifestyle of running away from things that scare you. He calls this kind “fragile” thinking.

If the Bible commands us not to fear, horror films might — in many cases — actually be a recipe for helping us do that.

What about “The Nun II”? While I don’t think it spends enough time on its virtues, that doesn’t mean there aren’t virtues to be had. It is a story about good but flawed people who see evil in the world and stand up to it. But they can only stand up to it by getting on their knees and putting their full trust in God that He will act on their behalf. (It has one of the best visual third-act uses of the power of faith in the Eucharist that I’ve seen in film).

That said, they have a wonky view of faith — that it’s the faith that has power and not the person they have faith in — so no one should go to them for correct theology. But they are putting their faith in the right person, and when they do the results are clever and spectacular.

I still find it hard to see much worth your time in jump scare-a-thons like “The Nun II.” If you do, however, at least this one will point you in the right direction.

Support Worldcrunch
We are grateful for reader support to continue our unique mission of delivering in English the best international journalism, regardless of language or geography. Click here to contribute whatever you can. Merci!

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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