In 2010 the Iranian nuclear plant creating uranium enrichment was attacked not by missiles or bombs but by a cyber attack. Those attacking it had managed to plant a virus into the Iranian computer system that effectively wrecked the machinery and stopped the creation of uranium enrichment, at least temporarily, halting Iranian progress towards arming themselves with nuclear weapons. So sophisticated was the virus that analysts are sure that it could only have been produced by one super-power, namely USA. Evidence also shows that there was a pact between the USA and Israel to mount the attack and to stop the possibility of the Iranians possessing or using nuclear weapons.
Although many have said this was not the first shots fired in cyber warfare, it was one of the most major outbursts of conflict. Some have said that cyber attacks on ATM machines in USA that followed soon after have been revenge for the actions against the nuclear plant in Iran.
The attack on the nuclear plant raised huge questions. An American president has to go to Congress to ask them to declare war, this was not done on this occasion. Nor are there any treaties in place to stop the conflagration of war erupting from a cyber attack. No rules are in place and the possibility of something still worse happening looms large without such treaties being in existence.
What seems now to be becoming true is that cyber warfare has the potential to make armies, navies, and air-forces obsolete. The wars of 21st century will not be conventional wars that we have known but cyber wars. A nation can put a virus into a system that will cut off water to a city, light to a country, electricity to a hospital. Knock out telephone systems, destroy machinery, blow up installations, close down radar systems, stop any technical system from working – and often go away having created great harm, undetected.
Great indignation has been shown by the USA over the last few days, about what it believes may have been a cyber attack. But the truth is that USA has been arming itself in cyber warfare. President Obama got a $52billion dollar budget to develop cyber defences and attack capabilities.
What no side seems to have got around to is making treaties which limit, control and contain the possibility of such a type of warfare. There are treaties that control nuclear warfare, germ warfare and other types of warfare but not this type of war from taking place.
In today’s Gospel we hear of the voice of John the Baptist announcing the coming of Christ. He describes him as the lamb of God, perhaps pointing ahead to the fact that like a sacrificial lamb offered in the temple he too will lay down his life. He tells us that although Jesus comes after himself, John the Baptist, in time, in every way Jesus is before him, in importance and power. He says that the reason for him, John the Baptist, baptising was to prepare the world for Jesus’ coming. And finally he tells us that Jesus is bringing something that will change hearts, a baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes we call John the Baptist the first witness and the first martyr of the new testament. What more eloquent words of testimony could there be to Jesus than these that we hear in this passage and what more eloquent testimony could there be to the seriousness and the truth of Jesus life than the laying down of John the Baptist life for him. The first witness of the new testament tells us that it is dangerous to know Jesus, dangerous to speak in his name, dangerous to be his witness, dangerous to believe in him, dangerous to speak in his name – many down through the ages have found the same.
In the time of Jesus warfare was waged with swords and spears, chariots and armour. Today warfare can be waged by a single person behind a computer screen who could shut down a city, depriving it of all the things it needs to survive. It’s indeed a brave new world!
To be a witness to Christ like John the Baptist is to believe in a dangerous thing, a new and different world, a different way of doing things, different possibilities - many have set their face against this type of world and that many would fight to oppose.
A world with different rules and different outcomes. A world in which people can act justly, morally and for the good of others. It is a world in which forgiveness is not only possible, it is essential. It is a world in which hatred isn’t enivitable but can be avoided. It is a world in which war doesn’t need to take place, and in which arms and strategies of war don’t need to be planned for. Pope Francis has spoken of this in recent days in terms of believing in non-violence. This is the world in which the power of redemption is abroad, the world in which the Kingdom of God has entered into it, broken through, arrived and announced by the John the Baptist and by the Lord himself..
At the start of the new year of 2017 people are playing high risk games that endanger the security of the world. These games have no rules, no treaties and no agreements which stop something worse from happening; they have players who are reckless gamblers who have come to the table – it could be a poisonous cocktail.
At the start of the new year we hear of a single voice crying in the wilderness in testimony of Jesus. His voice witnesses to one who can change hearts and minds, who can turn every situation to the good, who speaks for ultimate truth, ultimate justice and the ultimate good in every situation and who says things can be different. In following him we always find a solution which is good and better than our short term fixes or where our temper and selfishness and foolishness leads us. His words are of love not hatred, his words are of forgiveness and not vengeance, his words are of peace not of war.