David Dolan, Jerusalem
Listening via television to evangelist Billy Graham's stirring words of spiritual comfort and encouragement at the national prayer and memorial service in Washington DC on Friday, I recalled that the last time I saw the towering World Trade Center was the same day I spoke at his ministry headquarters in Minneapolis. It was a great honor to address his staff of over 300 dedicated workers last August 6 just before boarding a plane to Newark airport on my way back to my home at the center of the world, Jerusalem Israel.
After going through tight Israeli security (I never complain) during my El Al check in, I sat for a couple hours at the airport watching the reflected sunset over nearby New York City. The golden summer rays illuminated the western sides of the glass and steel towers that dominated the skyline in the southwest corner of Manhattan Island; the sides I was gazing at across the Hudson River. Now the shimmering towers are gone, and America--and through it the world--is at war.
Some have written to ask for my reaction to the prayer of the Dean of the Washington Cathedral, invoking â€œthe God of Abraham, Muhammad, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.â€ This brings up a related question I have been asked during several US radio interviews this weekend: Can we trust the Muslims living in our midst if we go to war against Islamic extremists and their supporters?
The answer to that important query is a definite yes and no (well, nothing is certain in times like these). I will explain that shortly.
As for the God of Muhammad being the God of Israel, it is true that Islamâ€™s unique prophet was formed by the same Supreme Being that created all of us. But the â€œgodâ€ who speaks in the Islamic holy book, the Koran, is quoted as calling for â€œholy struggleâ€ against the infidels until Islam reigns supreme. Since the infidels are mainly said to be Christians and Jews, there are two possibilities: Either this is indeed the same God of Israel who spoke in the Bible, and He has suddenly decided to wage holy war against His biblical covenant people, both Christians and Jews, or it is not the same deity. With all due respect to my Muslim friends, as an observant Christian I think the second alternative is the obvious one.
Islam resembles Christianity in that there are various sects and divisions inside of it. Indeed, bitter wars have been fought over the centuries between some of these rival groups. The Muslims living in your city or town are most likely to be members of the mainstream Sunni wing of Islam. However some may be from the smaller Wahabi subgroup whose members rule Saudi Arabia--the sect that Osama Bin Laden belongs to. If they hail from Iraq or Iran, they are likely to be from the Shiite wing that rules Iran and sponsors the radical Hizbullah militia in Lebanon.
The Wahabis are the most fanatic and puritanical sect within mainstream Sunni Islam. This explains why extreme fundamentalists like Bin Laden have become totally disillusioned with the ruling royal family in Saudi Arabia, whose corruption, gambling and womanizing is notorious in the Muslim world. Bin Laden and his ilk blame this corruption on the massive oil wealth that has flooded the desert country in recent decades; money that mostly comes from the West. They believe that the Islamic holy land has been desecrated by its association with Western governments and oil companies, and indeed they have substantial reason for thinking so. Unfortunately they have chosen to focus their anger on the West as a whole, and especially on the United States, the "Great Satan."
The Islamic Wahabi fanatics have found natural bedfellows in the fundamentalists who rule Sudan and Afghanistan. They have supported Sudan-based efforts to topple the pro-Western Mubarak government in Egypt. Bin Laden and his followers are less connected to the extremist Iranian regime. However, they are thought to have developed close associations with Shiite groups in recent years, especially Iranian-backed Hizbullah jihad warriors stationed in southern Lebanon. The pattern for such cooperation was set by Syria, a non-Shiite Muslim state that has close ties to Iran. They also have Palestinian contacts and agents. There is credible evidence that Bin Laden has grown close to Saddam Hussein in recent years, who cleverly portrays himself as the chief Muslim victim of the Great Satan and the man who will liberate Jerusalem from detested Zionist rule. Israeli intelligence officials suspect that Saddam was the ultimate sponsor of last week's attacks upon America.
The Wahabiâ€™s puritanical Islamic worldview is undoubtedly shared by many of the Muslims who live in the West. Indeed, as difficult as it is to say in the midst of the immediate aftermath of the horrendous suicide attacks in New York and Washington, such Muslims are not far off the mark when they point to the USA as being the main source of moral corruption and filth spread around the globe via many television programs, movies, the internet, music videos and publications. Some Muslims living in the West have fled for shelter from extremist regimes. Almost all believe that America is wrong to support Israel, but most are probably not willing to commit acts of violence to buttress that view. The problem is, a few will be, and it is often hard to tell who they are.
Still, we must resist the temptation to label all Muslims as fanatics who will potentially plunge a knife into our backs at the slightest provocation. Yet we have learned the hard way here in Israel that Islam is an extremely powerful force that can sometimes turn an apparent longtime friend into a vicious opponent. The fact that over 80% of Palestinians tell pollsters they support suicide attacks upon Israeli civilians is a shocking revelation that reflects very negatively on their faith (over 95% are Muslims), even if their grievances are widely perceived as justifying â€œviolent resistanceâ€ against Israel. After all, Israel already handed over nearly half of the disputed territories to Palestinian control as part of the Oslo peace accords, and was in the process of turning over most of the rest when Yasser Arafat nixed Israeli compromise proposals and reverted to the path of war one year ago. The Palestinian leader has done virtually nothing since then to arrest terrorist leaders who boldly proclaimed that they were behind the slaughter of teenage girls, restaurant patrons and bus passengers.
Does militant Islam represent a threat to our way of life? Several Australian parliament members asked me that crucial question when I was invited to speak to them in Canberra last June. The sad answer is clearly yes, and the US and its allies have no choice but to forcefully stand up to its obvious desire to destroy Western democracies. It was not the United States that declared war last week, but the demonized terrorists and their sponsors who determined to kill thousands of innocent people. Still, we must do everything possible not to label all practicing Muslims as potential suicide bombers or violent attackers. It is simply not the case. Many are genuinely shocked and horrified by the terrorist atrocities. And Western nations, built on Judeo-Christian values, must also examine more closely the manifold things that they export to the rest of the world, and repent of those which hardly reflect well on the God of Israel that they generally profess to believe in.