The Institute on Religion and Democracy | 9.11.15
By Alan Dowd
began as a picture-perfect September day. It ended with Manhattan maimed, one
side of the Pentagon charred black, a patch of Pennsylvania smoldering with
faint traces of battle, and thousands of innocents erased.
Whatever we call September 11, 2001—the beginning of a war, the end of
America’s invulnerability, the exclamation point to decades of terror—one thing
is beyond debate: It changed us. Gen. Tommy Franks, who commanded the early
phases of America’s counterstrikes against al Qaeda and its partners, called 9/11
a “crease in history,” a fault line that changed how we understand the world
the hardest things to understand about the war unleashed by 9/11 is that, 14
years in, we are closer to its beginning than its conclusion. Americans hoped the
death of Osama bin Laden would hasten an end to his war. But now we know “bin
Ladenism”—the movement inspired by the author of 9/11—is anything but dead. To
those who have been listening, this comes as no surprise. After all, just days
after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush tried to brace Americans for
“a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.” In October 2001, Adm. Michael Boyce, then-Chief of
the British Defense Staff, suggestedthe war against terrorism “may last 50 years.” By 2004, U.S. generals were calling
the campaign against terrorism “the long war.” Gen. Martin Dempsey recently called
the struggle against jihadism “a 30-year issue.”
military commanders grasped the essence of the post-9/11 challenge: Defeating jihadism
would require time and endurance. It would resemble not World War II or Desert
Storm, but rather the Cold War—a long, ideological-political-military struggle
against a tenacious, transnational foe. In this light, NSC-68, the pivotal
national-security document penned in 1950 that provided a roadmap for fighting
Soviet communism, appears strangely relevant: Now, as then, our enemies are
animated by a “fanatic faith, antithetical to our own,” the challenge is
“momentous, involving the fulfillment or destruction not only of this republic,
but of civilization itself,” and success depends on recognition by “all free
people” that this “is in fact a real war in which the survival of the free
world is at stake.”
counter that there’s no comparison between jihadism and communism. The former
is disparate and diffuse, with no broad appeal, no base of operations, no
pathway to global power. The latter had international appeal, a global reach
and a monolithic industrialized nation-state as its base.
it’s worth noting that ISIS (the al-Qaeda offshoot that controls
parts of Iraq and Syria) increasingly
looks and acts like a nation-state: It controls a landmass the size of Italy,
with 2 million subjects under heel and a steady stream of oil revenues; it’s
attracting 1,000 followers to its death creed per month; it has bested the
Iraqi and Syrian armies in battle; it has fought a U.S.-led air armada to a
stalemate; it has franchises in Jordan, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Somalia, Nigeria,
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines. The FBI is investigating suspected
ISIS operatives in all 50 states. Moreover, ISIS, al Qaeda and other jihadist fighters
have been drawn from—and dispatched to—virtually every corner of the earth. They
have struck in Manhattan, Madrid and Mumbai, Beslan and Bali, Britain and
Boston, Pennsylvania and Paris, Waziristan and Washington, Copenhagen and
Canada. That’s global reach and international appeal.
President Barack Obama may truly believe “the tide of war is receding.” But our
enemies are surging: Director of National Intelligence James Clapper called
2014 “the most lethal year for global terrorism in the 45 years such data has
been compiled.” There are 41 jihadist-terror groups in 24 countries
today—up from 21 groups in 18 countries in 2004. They are targeting the liberal
order forged after World War II, and they are tearing away at the fabric of
enemies sought to stamp out belief in God, today’s envision a world where
everyone either submits to their vision of God or dies. ISIS, al Qaeda and
their ilk take literally Muhammad’s injunction “to fight all men until they
say, ‘There is no god but Allah.’” Their goal is to create the conditions for
a decisive battle between the faithful and faithless, and ultimately to
construct a transnational theocracy. It would be anything but
paradise on earth.
what the Taliban did while in power—and continues to do while trying to reclaim
power: The Taliban banished girls from school, ordered
Hindus to wear identity labels, beheaded people for dancing, turned soccer
stadiums into execution chambers, burned people alive and imprisoned Christian
missionaries. Today, the Pakistani Taliban is bombing Christian churches.
Thanks to the U.S. military, about 2.5 million Afghan girls are in school. In response,
Taliban militants have launched poison-gas attacks against girls’ schools to
terrify their families and teachers back into the darkness.
It was the
Taliban that allowed bin Laden to turn Afghanistan into a spawning ground for jihadism.
Bin Laden warned that his cult of killers “do not
differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians; they
are all targets.” That became obvious on 9/11, when bin Laden’s war reached our
shores. A little girl not yet three years old was the youngest to be
murdered. Her name was Christine. Her grandfather describes her as “love personified.” She died in the unspeakable
hell of Flight 175, when it plowed into the World Trade Center’s south tower.
ISIS has been called “worse than al Qaeda”—and perhaps deservedly
so.As proof of its savage piety, ISIS (whose adherents
are Sunni Muslim) has summarily executed thousands of Shiite Muslims; drowned and burned alive POWs; murdered
Yazidis; and beheaded Christians. ISIS has imprisoned
children as young as
eight; executed imams, teachers and hospital workers; ordered
Iraqi Christians to convert or die; and conducted
a systematic campaign of
rape in conquered territories.
the enemy the U.S. military has been fighting for 14 years. In a world where
might still makes right, it is the U.S. military—not international treaties,
presidential speeches or UN resolutions—that protects us from such enemies.
However, the U.S. military is not at war with Islam—after all, in the past
quarter-century, U.S. troops have rescued Muslims in Kosovo and Kurdistan,
Somalia and Sumatra, Kuwait and Kabul—but it is at war those who would force
people to submit to Islam. It is at war with people who “do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and
civilians.” It is at war with murderers and rapists masquerading as holy
men. It is at war with those who seek to
destroy civilization. Make no mistake: There’s a vast
difference between those who use force to defend civilization and those who use
force to dismember it. Our defenders strive to
protect the weak. This enemy targets the weak. Our defenders weep when
innocents are slaughtered. This enemy cheers. Our defenders are sickened by theCharlie Hebdo attacks, Boston
bombings and Garissa siege, by 7/7 and 9/11, by the
Muslim-on-Muslim megacrimes that scar the Middle East. This enemy is emboldened
by them.Our defenders believe war is a necessary evil, this enemy
that war is a divine commandment.
sure, Islam doesn’t claim bin Laden’s mass-murderersor the Islamic State’s butchers or the Charlie Hebdo killers. But the hard truth is that all of them claim
Islam. To suggest that the solution is for everyone else—Christians, Jews,
Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, cartoonists—to try harder not to offend Islam is
self-defeating. As Christ followers, we know the pathway
to real peace among peoples is the one pathway to the Father: Jesus.
But until Jesus returns, there will be profound disagreements among us. The
solution to such disagreements is to agree to disagree—never to force someone
to believe or die.
the primary burden here—a duty to eradicate the cancer and reform their faith. Ironically, the strongest call for reform—at least
among Muslim leaders—is coming from an autocrat in Egypt, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi,
who recently called on Islamic scholars
to lead a reformation. Noting that his faith has become “a source of
anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world,” he
declared, “We are in need of a religious revolution.”
Sisi is an imperfect vessel, but what he saidneeds to be put into practice. If not, Islam’s
civil war will tear civilization apart.
Add it all up, and the post-9/11 world is a frightening place. As followers of
Christ, we have a role to play in helping our neighbors through this time of terror.
If the military commanders are right, and we’re still closer to the beginning
of this struggle than the end, then we’re at a kind of crossroads on this
anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Pleading His case through the prophet
Jeremiah, God once told His people to “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask
for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you
will find rest for your souls.”
As believers, we have stood at the crossroads since Jesus ascended
into heaven. We can endure today because we know what He did yesterday and because
we know He holds tomorrow. That may not be true for our neighbors. For them,
this is not a crossroads—it’s a dead-end of despair.
In his book The
Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey describes Christians as dual citizens.
“We live in an external kingdom of family and cities and nationhood,” he
observes, “while at the same time belonging to the kingdom of God.” Because of
this dual citizenship, we are light for a world darkened by despair; we are
salt for a world bent on destruction; we are ambassadorsfor Christ. He is making His appeal to the world through us.
Christ was a dual citizen. And He showed us how to be ambassadors
of heaven. Before Jesus set about His task of giving hope to a hopeless world,
He prayed. Jesus prayed before He began His public ministry, before choosing
the Twelve, before feeding the 5,000, before and during His hour of death. He
prayed in all things.
We should follow His example. We should pray for our neighbors and
their fears, for our defenders and their families, for our leaders and their
decisions, for our world and its afflictions, for the right words and the right
moments. And then we should share good news.
The good news is that, with Christ, we don’t have to wallow in
yesterday or fear tomorrow. We need not be distressed by wars, by rumors of war,
by gathering storm clouds. If nothing else, 9/11 taught us that no one can
prevent or escape the storms. But Jesus taught us that those who anchor on the
rock of His word rather than the sands of this world will not be lost, that there are shafts of light piercing this darkness, that one
day the Light will flood the darkness.This is the ancient path, the timeless way to a
heart at peace. As heaven’s ambassadors, it’s our calling to guide our
neighbors onto that path.